‘Demon Era’: Nastiya Kai emerges with debut Alt-Pop album

"Demon Era is my story. It really did heal me and I’m beyond grateful for that"
15 June 2024
Photo by Anastasiia Litvinova

Emerging onto the alt-pop scene with striking momentum, Nastiya Kai recently ​​shares her debut album Demon Era under her own label, Nastiya Kai Music. 

Hailing from Los Angeles, Nastiya Kai is a self-taught musician whose journey began with piano lessons at a tender age and blossomed into songwriting by the age of ten. Enduring challenges of bullying, mental health struggles, and isolation during her school years, she found solace and expression through quietly strumming her guitar in the dorms of her boarding school. 

Through shifts in careers, universities, and countries, music remained Nastiya Kai’s steadfast companion, culminating in her debut singles in 2023. Drawing inspiration from a diverse array of artists spanning genres like Caroline Polachek, Sub Urban, David Bowie, Daughter, The Naked and Famous, Crystal Castles, The Prodigy, and Bob Dylan, her music resonates with fans of avant-pop luminaries including Billie Eilish, Grimes, and VÉRITÉ, carving a unique niche in today’s dynamic pop landscape.

Demon Era, her explosive 13-track debut album, navigates through a deeply personal odyssey of turmoil, mental health, betrayal, desire, empowerment, and self-actualization. Defying genre constraints, the album offers a rich tapestry of sounds—from the gritty hyperpop of London to the poignant power ballad Hey Bridget and beyond. Each track on the album encapsulates Nastiya Kai’s raw strength and emotive depth, weaving together a cohesive narrative of her distinctive journey.

Demon Era is very impulsive, a little rushed, honest. It’s almost as if I’m catching up on all the lost time.

Photo by Anastasiia Litvinova

With your debut album Demon Era now out, what inspired the creation of this project, and what personal significance does it hold for you?

Demon Era is more than an album to me and it’s more than just a collection of songs.

The thing is, I lived quite a turbulent life and feel a major disconnect with the person I used to be. In 2020 I started my life from a blank slate and shut off everything before that.

I’ve collected a bunch of bad memories and stories that I sort of pushed to the back of my mind and kept pretending don’t exist until I realized I can’t do this anymore and I’m tired of hiding. It’s been eating me inside

So when I started making music full time about 1.5 years ago I thought to myself that the only thing that can possibly heal me would be an album that’s almost an autobiography of mine.

I didn’t actually have the intention of working on an album. I could barely name chords at that point so this just wasn’t in the cards for me

But then somehow every song I wrote was becoming part of that album without me realizing it. Meeting my producer was the turning point to all this. We wrote Bury Me the day we met (Well, the day we met again. We haven’t seen each other in 2-3 years at that point).  I wrote the lyrics in a matter of 2 days and he finished the beat in 2 days too. I had started working on Demons about a month before that so once I brought it to him we finished it in a matter of a few days too. It just started happening. Then Hollywood and Calm Down came about, then Party At My House that’s literally a story about a day in my life from a couple of years back.

There came a point where it hit me that the album is happening and that’s when I really started storytelling and figuring out the order of the tracks and all.

Demon Era starts off with London because that’s where my Demon Era began and ends with Demon Era , a silly song I wrote 2 years ago that’s almost me making peace with my dark side and moving on with my life as a happy and healthy person

Demon Era is my story. It really did heal me and I’m beyond grateful for that.

Photo by Anastasiia Litvinova

Commencing your musical path at a tender age, how do you think your early encounters with piano and songwriting have impacted the themes and narratives explored in Demon Era?

They allowed me to experiment more and also be more eager about it. I’ve been wanting to make music for so long and wasn’t allowing myself to do so because I was too scared of being judged, of not being good enough, of wasting time. So it’s the encounters that never happened that made an impact on Demon Era.

When I started working on the album I couldn’t stop. It’s like all this creativity I locked up inside of me for years just burst out

Demon Era is very impulsive, a little rushed, honest. It’s almost as if I’m catching up on all the lost time.

What you can also hear in Demon Era is my very raw songwriting. That’s also the impulsiveness. I just wanted to say what I needed to say without sugarcoating anything.

Can you share the backstory behind one of your favorite tracks from Demon Era?

One of my favorite tracks on the album is Death Wish. I wrote it on a night where I couldn’t sleep, my thoughts were racing and I just wasn’t in a good place. So I sat by the keys but wasn’t inspired at all.

I found a note in my notes app that literally said “baby I could be your death wish” so I was just humming that and playing around with chords.

It was roughly 3am-ish, I was at home in complete darkness. This is actually my favorite way to write as it’s just me and my thoughts. And then I think because I was feeling down and emotional already I started thinking about my first real adult love and also the only time I was broken up with because of something I did.

I finished the chorus that same night, finished the verse in the morning. I got so emotional I was just crying for a full day but it felt so good and raw and honest. I never questioned this song once. This is also the first out of the 4 songs on the album that I co-produced

I’m actually working on an acoustic version of it and hoping to release it soon

Photo by Anastasiia Litvinova

Describe your sound in 3 words

Competitive, chaotic, impulsive

How do you navigate through the competitive landscape of the music industry?

I try not to think about it. I would love to say that competition motivates me to work harder and inspires me to be better at what I do but that’s not the case. I function best when I compete with myself. I love proving myself wrong, doing things I thought I wouldn’t have the strength to do etc etc. To think of the competitiveness of the industry is very overwhelming for me personally. If I go there then I start thinking that there are so many other artists that are better than me, that deserve this more than I do, comparing myself to everyone else. It just isn’t a healthy mindset for me. I’d rather admire everyone who’s had the courage to go after their dreams than think of the industry as of a playing field

Who are the primary artists that have influenced your music?

Whenever I get asked this different names come up in my head. I was blasting Avril Lavigne in the car the other day and remembered the day I heard Complicated for the first time. I was around 9 and barely spoke English then but I was obsessed. I also remember thinking that this is going to be me one day.  

I guess it depends on the age as I did go through phases. I see a little bit of everyone and everything in my music so it isn’t just a few people

But off the top of my head it’s definitely Daughter for the lyrics, Kyla La Grange too in terms of my writing style, M83 taught me how music can awaken emotions you didn’t even know you could feel. However, this is only a small part of a massive list.

How do you perceive the role of technology, such as AI, in shaping the future of the music industry?

I saw an instagram post today that said “I want AI to do my dishes and laundry while I focus on my creative work and not the other way around”. This is exactly how I feel too. I’m old school. If we have AI doing and coming up with everything for us what’s the point of existing? This totally eliminates the thrill of learning and applying your skills, setting goals, achieving those goals. AI is definitely a shortcut for most creative outlets, but do we really want AI to generate voices for us instead of using a real vocalist? I feel like the AI is being used incorrectly as of now. I don’t even use Chat GPT. Maybe I’m too much of a millennial for this

On average, how much time do you spend working in your studio each week?

It really depends. If I’m on a roll then I set everything aside and write until I don’t have anything to say anymore. I spent the entire month of April locked up in my apartment because I couldn’t stop writing and I knew I can’t take that for granted. So I fully finished 7 songs and haven’t written anything since May 1st.

Music happens when it happens. If there’s one thing I learned in the past year it’s that nothing good ever comes out of forcing yourself to create.

What’s your message to your listeners?

Be honest with yourselves. Be kind. Be grounded. Everything happens for a reason and it always gets better