Interview: New York’s Kaede. Boldly Proclaims Her Identity On “Basic Ukulele Song”

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New York, Long Island’s Kaede. is an artist who’s still in the midst of finding out who she is.

In an attempt to help her become more widely accepted by the Western community, her parents gave her an easily pronounceable name – Anna. It’s an understandable decision as she admits that “a lot of White people would butcher my siblings’ names which are only 2 syllables”. Thus on her journey to become a full-fledged artist, Anna took hold of the name Kaede., which was the name that her parents initially wanted to give her.

“I want my artist me, Kaede., to eventually catch up to the real me, Anna,” she claims. Taking ownership of her Asian identity, “Basic Ukulele Song” is the first step in Kaede.’s career as an introduction the world on who she is, and for people to know that perfection is nothing but a myth.

Listen to “Basic Ukulele Song” here, and read the full interview below.

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Turntable Thoughts:

What made you decide on getting into a music career?

Kaede.:

Music’s been a part of my life since I was a kid. It’s been the one consistent thing in my life. Music got me through rough times and I wanted to be able to do it with someone else. If my music could somehow impact how someone else feels, then that alone is reward enough.

On top of that, in certain areas of the music industry, Asian Americans are looked down upon. So with that, I wanted to be unrelenting in my Asian identity, hopefully having more representation and showing that Asians aren’t strictly limited to the traditional fields of like medicine or law, which we have been stereotyped into.

Along with my music business degree in college, I want my career to provide representation that we won’t be limited by our nationality or race.


Turntable Thoughts:

So, tell me about “Basic Ukelele Song”. You said you hoped it would reach out to people?

Kaede.:

I guess it’s more a song that relates to music people a lot more. I think that a lot of people in music feel pressure to be…perfect. I have tons of tracks in my laptop that I have never released because I was constantly suffocating in that pressure to be perfect.

Though eventually, I just had to go like…fuck it and put out a basic song. I wanted my song to be able to reach out to people, so they know stuff doesn’t need to be perfect; you don’t need to be perfect. If you enjoy it and if you’re brave enough to put something out then do it.

Turntable Thoughts:

What made you decide that the ukulele was the instrument for you to use?

Kaede.:

I was really just like ‘Fuck it, I really wanna to put something out’. So, I picked up my ukulele and wrote the song in 15 minutes.

I also play some other instruments but the ukulele is just like an instrument my voice feels safe with, cause it just sounds the most basic. So many people play the ukulele too so I felt like it sets me apart as a musician, but also shows I’m just a regular person too.

Turntable Thoughts:

Tell me about that 15 minutes. What was your songwriting process like?

Kaede.:

My songwriting process took me a while to figure out. I wrote this song when lockdown just started here. At the time, I had this pent-up frustration of not making myself releasing any music yet.

So, the song is literally a result of me being sick of not having anything out. The lyrics just naturally came out to me.

At the same time, I also wanted to establish who I am. I try to be very vulnerable in my songwriting process. I kind of was like, ‘I wanna be honest but I’m scared to put this out’ but at the same time I’m not a very scared person at all. Who I am as an artist is a total 180 of who I am as a person.

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Turntable Thoughts:

What’s the relationship between artist you and the real you?

Kaede.:

There’s a lyric [in “Ukulele”] where I say “My name is Anna but I try to sing as Kaede.”

In America when it comes to Asian names, a lot of people are like ‘Oh can I give you a nickname instead?’ but I’m like ‘No…that’s my name. Respect that.’ My real name is Anna but my parents considered naming me Kaede, which is a Japanese name.

So, I asked why they didn’t, and they told me a lot of White people would butcher my siblings’ names which are only 2 syllables. It was kinda sad that my parents gave me a name that was easier to pronounce, just because they thought other people wouldn’t be able to pronounce it.

As an artist, I felt like I was given the chance to choose my identity – so I chose Kaede. because it’s me telling people that I’m Asian and you’re going to have to respect that. I’m not going to have an easier name to pronounce just for your sake.

It’s sorta like a good ‘fuck you’ to the music industry, but I think it encompasses a lot of who I am.


Turntable Thoughts:

Tell me about the inspirations that went behind the song.

Kaede.:

Mxmtoon! She’s a very well-known pop ukulele artist and her songs influenced my choice in using the instrument. There were some other artists as well but they’re kinda escaping me right now.

Still, I could have left it as a simple ukulele track but I also chose to add some sub-bass that’s more pop and also beats that are more singer-songwriter-y. It’s a mixture of genres and influences.


Turntable Thoughts:

Do you have any expectations for what you want to achieve later on in your career?

Kaede.:

I definitely want to expand into different genres.  Looking at the music I’ve made up to now, I’m pretty genreless but one thing that’s consistent, well except for “Basic Ukulele Song”, is the implementation of traditional Asian instruments – specifically Japanese ones.

I mixed these with a lot of Western sounds so I think that taps a lot into my dual identity. I’m not just Japanese and I’m not just American; I’m Japanese-American.

Another goal I have is to put things out without being scared of outside judgement. It’s very ironic because, as a person, I don’t really care what anyone thinks of me. I love who I am and have a lot of pride in my personality. I want my artist me, Kaede., to eventually catch up to the real me, Anna.

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Turntable Thoughts:

Now that “Basic Ukulele Song” is out in the wild, what do you have planned for future releases?

Kaede.:

On my Twitter, I’ve released some private previews, which is where I do most of my promo. It’s basically a My Hero Academia fan account where I post anime stuff and also my music. [laughs]

The next song that I’m going to be releasing is a lo-fi type song. It was received pretty well and it was based on my most recent breakup actually. It’s going to be very minimalist lyric-wise and won’t showcase a lot of my voice, but I think it will show a lot of how my emotions translate into music.

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Based in Melbourne and Malaysia. Jensen is a part-time journalist and full-time music fan.

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