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10 Years, One Shed: Building A Meticulous Musician's Debut

Jan 9, 2020
Originally published on January 9, 2020 6:36 pm

In 2019, Kalim Patel became a Grammy-nominated producer. He worked with James Blake on Assume Form, which was nominated for best alternative music album. Now, he's releasing a full-length album of his own music as Khushi, a childhood nickname and a Hindi word for "happiness." His new album is called Strange Seasons, and he thought it might never come out.

"There were a lot of times along the way when I thought it wouldn't ever come to pass and I would never actually finish it," Khushi says. He was worried that his "whole life would just be this process of trying to finish" the album and that he'd be stuck in "some sort of perpetual penultimate" stage.

In the end, it took Khushi 10 years to make Strange Seasons.

"I'm a combination of a perfectionist and a snail," he jokes, citing a real fear of failure that held him back. "It's that process of having an idea in your head, and when it's just in your head, it has limitless potential; it could be anything."

Khushi recorded the album over the course of six years in a shed in the Hackney borough of East London; it was right next to a train station, and the noise of passing trains — the rumbling, the horns — was an ongoing battle for such a perfectionist. But in the end, maybe it taught him a little something about letting go.

"At first I was like, 'Ah, darn, it's ruined the take,' " Khushi says. "But listening back, it's actually the last sound you hear on the end of the song ["Like A City"] and now, at the end of the album. It kind of feels right, because I spent a long time in that shed working away on this thing and finishing it was sort of the way I got out of there and then finally was able to explore more of the world outside of the shed."

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That world brought him into contact with fellow British singer-songwriter James Blake, who reached out and asked Khushi to produce his 2019 album, Assume Form. Then Blake returned the favor to mix Strange Seasons.

Khushi says Blake brought "extremely sensitive ears" and "some really beautiful, insightful musical decisions" to the table, citing the song "Sane Man." It starts sparse and calm, and Khushi wanted it to grow as the song goes on.

"It builds and builds towards a big drum climax at the end — the drums all click in on the second half," he says. "That was James' idea, and it really just helps elevates the track, makes it sound like a beast has just stormed the studio and is running riot."

Thematically though, Strange Seasons is not in beast mode, knocking things over, so much as quietly unveiling personal truths, or considering why they stay covered.

"This album comes from the sort of feeling of having hidden or repressed myself to some extent, or having learnt to do that while growing up," Khushi says. "I feel like lots of people, we learn to hide our emotions if they're not convenient for other people."

It may have taken over a decade, but Khushi is ready now, having found a peace with a meticulously crafted set of songs.

Strange Seasons is out Jan. 24 via Warner Records.

NPR's Sam Gringlas and Jolie Myers produced and edit this audio for broadcast. Cyrena Touros adapted it for the Web.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

In 2019, Kalim Patel became a Grammy-nominated producer. He worked with James Blake on "Assume Form," which was nominated for best alternative music album. Now he's releasing a full-length album of his own music. It's called "Strange Seasons."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FREEDOM FALLS")

KHUSHI: (Singing) Freedom, freedom falls. Freedom, freedom falls.

SHAPIRO: He's releasing this album under the nickname his parents gave him as a child, Khushi - K-H-U-S-H-I. His mother is Indian, and Khushi is the Hindi word for happiness.

KHUSHI: Yeah, it stuck with me till about the age of 11. And then my cousin, who was one year older and had experienced one year of the horror that is secondary school, came to me and said, don't go to secondary school with a name that rhymes with cushion, wussy. So then I changed to Kalim.

SHAPIRO: As a kid, Khushi sang in a choir and played guitar. After a couple of years, he started writing his own songs and finding a different sound - more electronic with dense harmonies and pulsing beats.

KHUSHI: So early on, most of my stuff was based around the guitar, and the early solo stuff I released was mainly guitar. And I was very proud of that, but I also felt that if I came across that music myself and it wasn't my own, I might not fall in love with it. And I thought it was - OK, maybe it's time to break free of this guitar. But having said that, well, the last song on the album, "Like A City"...

SHAPIRO: Yeah, I was going to say, that's the one place that I do hear it. Yeah.

KHUSHI: Yeah, it makes a little comeback right at the end.

SHAPIRO: Yeah.

KHUSHI: And it's something that I think I will bring back into my music with the other sounds that I've started to use as well.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LIKE A CITY")

KHUSHI: (Singing) Like a city (unintelligible), like a heartbeat (unintelligible).

I recorded this album in a shed in Hackney.

SHAPIRO: In East London.

KHUSHI: Yeah. And the shed backs onto this train station, and just at the end of this take, a train went by, which is something I had to battle through the whole recording of the album.

SHAPIRO: You would have a perfect take.

KHUSHI: Yeah.

SHAPIRO: But in the middle of it, there would be a rumble and a honk.

KHUSHI: Exactly, yeah. And at first, I was like, oh, darn. It's ruined the take. But listening back, it's actually, like, the last sound you hear on the end of the song and now at the end of the album.

SHAPIRO: Wow.

KHUSHI: And it kind of feels right because I spent a long time in that shed working away on this thing, and finishing it was sort of the way I got out of there and then finally was able to explore more of the world outside the shed.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LIKE A CITY")

KHUSHI: (Singing) Oh, like a city drowning him with some possibility.

SHAPIRO: Is it true that you spent 10 years working on this album?

KHUSHI: Yes. Some of the songs on the album were written 10 years ago, some of them even a little bit more than that.

SHAPIRO: Why do you think it took you so long to close the book on it?

KHUSHI: I've been asking myself that. I think it's because of the combinations...

SHAPIRO: Asking your therapist, talking about it with your therapist...

KHUSHI: (Laughter) Yeah, because of all the fear.

SHAPIRO: I mean, is that really why - because of the fear?

KHUSHI: Well, probably on some level, yeah. I mean, I was going to say, in a more throwaway way, I'm a combination of a perfectionist and a snail. But then, why am I those things? And probably, to some extent, there's some degree of fear, of - it's that process of having an idea in your head, and when it's just in your head, it has limitless potential. It could be anything. And that process of actually birthing it into something that's real and coming to terms with its limitations or the ways it might not fulfill the potential in your mind - and I just wanted to try and fill the potential of all these ideas I had on the album, and it took me a really long time to get there.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THIS IS")

KHUSHI: (Singing) This is not quite what I intended, but it's where I've ended. It's where I've ended. It's where I...

SHAPIRO: We can't talk about this album without talking about James Blake because you produced his last album. He mixed this album of yours.

KHUSHI: Yeah, he did (laughter). Yes, indeed.

SHAPIRO: What do you think each of you brings to each other's work?

KHUSHI: Oh, yes. I mean, he brought - in terms of his mixing to my album, he brought extremely sensitive ears, some really beautiful, insightful musical decisions.

SHAPIRO: Is there one you can point to?

KHUSHI: OK, so one good example is the song "Sane Man," which starts extremely sparse and extremely calm.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SANE MAN")

KHUSHI: (Singing) Sitting at the foot of your slope, hanging on the tail of your cloak.

And I wanted it to grow and grow as it - as the song goes on.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SANE MAN")

KHUSHI: (Singing) Put a little light on (unintelligible).

And it builds and builds towards a big drum climax at the end.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SANE MAN")

KHUSHI: (Singing unintelligibly).

And the drums all kick in on the second half of that. There's some 808s that kick in, these big, subby sounds.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SANE MAN")

KHUSHI: (Vocalizing).

And that was James' idea. And it just really helps elevate the track, makes it sound like this beast has just stormed the studio and is just running wild. And it just gets me every time, and I can never thank him enough for that.

SHAPIRO: I don't want to get too personal, but I don't really have a sense of what many of these songs are about, where in your life they come from.

KHUSHI: I guess a lot of it kind of comes from - it comes from this sort of feeling of having hidden or repressed myself to some extent or having learnt to do that whilst growing up. I feel like lots of people, we learn to, say, maybe hide our emotions if they're not convenient for other people, or we learn to hide our hurt just because it makes it easier for people around us to deal with - basically, all the sorts of different myriad ways that we learn, maybe, not to be truthful with the world about exactly who we are and what we feel. And the song that maybe hits on that theme the hardest is "Children."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CHILDREN")

KHUSHI: (Singing) Hide myself so I can't be found.

The chorus line is, you can scream. You can shout. But please don't let it out in front of the children, in front of the children.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CHILDREN")

KHUSHI: (Singing) You can scream. You can shout. But please don't let it out in front of the children, in front of children. This is all counterfeit, but just don't let it slip in front of the children.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CHILDREN")

KHUSHI: (Singing) But just don't let it slip in front of the children, in front of the children.

So that kind of ties in with this idea of, like, just keeping up a facade the sake of your family or for the sake of your friends or for the sake of appearances or for the sake of living a life that you feel like you should be living or you feel that others want you to live, even when that doesn't fit with what is really going on for you or really - what you really want or how you really feel.

SHAPIRO: So as a person who's always tried to put on the facade, how does it feel to pour out this album of your music under the name that you used as a child that you stopped using for fear of being teased when you were at school? I mean, that's big.

KHUSHI: That's a great question. It feels great, and it feels perfect. I almost remember thinking I couldn't release it under any other name. It has to be this. There were a lot of times along the way when I thought it wouldn't ever come to pass and I would never actually finish it and that my whole life would just be in this process of trying to finish this thing that I never finished.

SHAPIRO: Eternally pregnant.

KHUSHI: Exactly, yeah. Yeah, some sort of perpetual penultimate - but it happened in the end.

SHAPIRO: Well, Khushi, congratulations on the new album, and thank you for talking with us about it.

KHUSHI: Thank you. It's actually a pleasure.

SHAPIRO: The new album is called "Strange Seasons."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FROM ME")

KHUSHI: (Singing) You don't strike me as the type to start a scuffle, but I see fire in your eyes each time someone's in your way. Something's clenched, a sense of hidden inner struggle. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.