Track by Track is a new music feature that presents artists with the challenge of digging deep into their latest album one song at a time. Today, KAINA takes us through her debut LP, Next to the Sun.
Chicago is a city of many bright, inclusive, multi-faceted artistic genres. It’s a place where collectives thrive and support one another, producing some of the most compelling music of the modern era. Having been immersed in that creative energy over the last few years, KAINA represents the best of all The Second City has to offer on her debut album, Next to the Sun.
A first-generation Latina born and raised in the Illinois metropolis, KAINA has become a prominent presence in the local scene. She’s worked in various capacities with the likes of Saba, Jamila Woods, Ravyn Lenae, and The O’My’s, both on record and behind the scenes. She counts former Consequence of Sound Artist of the Month Sen Morimoto as one of her best friends, even bringing him on to help as her co-producer on Next to the Sun.
Just as her resume touches all corners of Chicago music culture, so does her sound. With flavors of her Venezuelan and Guatemalan heritage seeded throughout, Next to the Sun taps into R&B, hip-hop, and a particular Midwestern soul. Singles like the rich and rhythmic “Green” and the trilingual Morimoto collaboration “Could Be a Curse” capture all these various spirits with a gentle intent; these are the works of an artist embracing the whole of her identity in a sound that’s equally unique and epitomizing of all Chi-Town can be.
Ahead its wide release on July 12th via Sooper Records, stream KAINA’s Next to the Sun in full below.
For more on the record, KAINA has broken down Next to the Sun track by track — with some surprise help from Sen Morimoto.
I wrote this song at some point in 2013/2014 so around the age of 17. At the time I had a lot of overflowing feelings about immigration but didn’t really have the courage to talk about it in any other way except a song. Even then, I don’t think I was ready to share the sort of heavy feelings that come with thinking about immigration and the state of the world until now. Maybe it’s because of how overwhelmingly emphasized it currently feels, or the camps and the families and kids dying — but it is interesting to me how not much has changed in that time and how relevant my lyrics from 5 years ago are. In the song, I say, “There’s room for plenty, in this house.” I use the house as a metaphor for the States and how people want to get rid of immigrants yet they cook, clean, service people and even then, most have a place for anyone at their dinner table. There is room for all of us to thrive, coexist and do well.
This song is about something that doesn’t serve you anymore. I feel that people aren’t honest enough sometimes about the feelings that don’t feel so great. In the song I say, “Someone once took my voice, I couldn’t let it go.” There was a period of time when making music didn’t feel good. I felt that my voice was used and exploited. That was a really difficult feeling and I couldn’t shake it and I also knew that I was having a hard time getting over it — so that’s where this song was born.
I also write, “No one feels the way I do.” At first, I thought this felt silly because it’s so dramatic. It’s a feeling I typically disregard because my logic tells me that I am selfish to feel this way because everyone feels bad at times, but that is sort of the point. As people, we are allowed to feel like nobody feels the way we do and to an extent it’s true but it’s even funnier to feel this way because we all feel it together.
“Next to the Sun”:
The title track! I think this is one of the songs I am most excited by when I listen through the album. A lot of the songs on this album started out as what I thought were crappy beats and songs I was making at like 3 am in my bedroom. I wrote the bass and guitar on the chorus’ and then wrote the hook over it not ever thinking it would become anything else. I think I love it so much because Sen kept some of my guitar and bass and showed me how to expand and make something out of my self-claimed “crappy beats”. It’s also one of my favorites because I think it is a great representation of the album, which is learning how to deal with the complexities of your identity and the duality of it all. I say:
“Put me in the clouds,
Right under heaven,
Next to the Sun, the Sun
Wanna feel it all,
The burn and the lesson,
I’m talking about how the thing that hurts, the pain we run from happens to be the very thing that evolves us as humans. In my first verse, I also talk about how low points and high points can simultaneously feel like bliss, again, playing into that concept of duality.
“What’s a Girl”:
I feel like maybe this is my break out track — not in relation to my career but my emotions on the album. I think I am very contemplative and analytical until this moment where I’m sort of just being blunt about how I feel. As a first-generation kid, you’re in a complicated position because you know that you have more privileges than your family that sacrificed so much but at the same time, you don’t get access or resources to the same things even though you’re logically supposed to. So this song is about my frustrations of being stuck in that middle place where I have a lot but also not much because of the government or the structures of the world, my position and how much harder I have to work for everything as a young first-generation Latina. It explores themes of duality and identity again, which is definitely central to my album as a whole. This song is also pretty old and was made around the same time as “House”.
“Waiting on a Day”:
This is another song that started out as a “crappy beat.” I think I was frustrated with myself this day because I tend to take forever to get myself to say how I am actually feeling. Sometimes I get so scared of sharing my true feelings because I don’t want to ruffle any feathers or make anyone feel bad. In this song, I am saying that I’m always waiting on the perfect time to share how I feel, which I’ve come to learn is always hard regardless so I might as well do it. Obviously easier said than done and I am still working on it, but I think it’s always important to practice asking for what you need out of people or life – we have to stop compromising or ignoring feelings that really hurt us.
I love this song — it is innocent and wholesome, which was sort of inspired by the words on the intro of the song. The little voice is someone I consider to be a little sister, her name is Joei. I grew up in this performance group from the age of 9 to about 19/20 called The Happiness Club (the name was made in the ’80s ok). It is a youth performance group featuring kids from all over Chicago of all backgrounds and ages that aims to uplift the spirit of an audience through songs, writing, dance, etc. The creative director is this amazing woman named Tanji Harper. Tanji very quickly became like a second mom to me, she really taught me how to perform and how to interact with an audience – she also just taught me a lot of ways to be a good human. She eventually gave birth to Joei who is 9 now and the age that I met her mother. Joei and I have a similar relationship to her mother and I, talking about boys and kids at school and being scared. Sometimes I ask for Joei’s opinion on things and when I asked for love advice I decided it was so good I had to share it with you all.
Aside from how sweet and full-circle thing song is I think this song is a perfect example of how I could be dealing with all of these complex themes of identity and positionally in my head but still also be feeling something really simple on the human spectrum of emotion, like being a young woman and wondering if my crush will let me in to love them.
“Could Be a Curse” feat. Sen Morimoto:
Surprise appearance by Sen:
Kaina came over after a long day and we were both feeling kinda down so we decided to work on some music. I showed her a little chord progression I was working on for guitar and she started singing the melody that became the lead guitar part and the chorus. When we were working on drums Kaina showed me some bolero music she was really into so we layered a bunch of tracks on the MPC to recreate that feel. We started writing lyrics back and forth that just kinda came out naturally. Kaina had been telling me about this idea to write a song in Spanish, English, and Japanese so when it came time to write our verses she said this is the one. My verse is about someone who finds respite and connection to another in a dream. When life is hard in waking life this character retreats to their dreams to find their friend. — Sen Morimoto
Working with Sen is the biggest pleasure — he is my best friend and so talking about tough feelings are really easy with him. As he mentioned, we wrote the hook together and it was just about us having bad days and finding comfort in a feeling that everyone feels but doesn’t talk about much. My verse has a lot to do with generational habits — getting into a mental trap that hard work leads up to nothing — which is false. I think that is a thought pattern I learned from my family and I would like to help us release. My family is so lovely and loving to other people but we all have a hard time being nice to ourselves and taking a moment to reflect on our efforts.
“So Small / So Vast”:
The spaced-out song. The song I am realizing and thinking about how I am both everything and nothing and that is so scary and so fulfilling all at once. In my first verse, I am talking about how I could be anything in the world big or small and would be able to find comfort in it. The second verse is more of a wish for myself, as I mentioned for “Could Be a Curse”, my family and I have a hard time accepting our efforts and internalizing success — our biggest blocks in life are ourselves. So the second verse of “So Small / So Vast” is me talking about how every day is sort of hard for me and a shot in the dark but that I am hoping I can let go of my fears and allow myself to be as free as I would like to be, taking a leap.
“Green” feels like the destination of the journey through this album. “Green”, like all the other songs, is about so many things at once. At its core, “Green” is about allowing yourself to feel all the feelings, it is about not questioning them and validating them for what they are – self-acceptance. It’s also me thinking about lineage and how my parents and I were going through similar feelings at the same age and that everything probably felt brand new to them too as they grew into their adulthood in the US. There are moments in my life where something feels scary and brand new but somehow feels familiar and then I think about how my parents overcame so many moments and I will too.