Introducing kiskadee and his debut album ‘A Room To Breathe’

" I love the vast expanse of Iceland and going there for a bit of space and a change of scene really fed into the pacing and aesthetic of the album"
10 July 2024

From Iceland’s solitude to electronic symphonies

London-based producer and composer Jack Chown, known by his moniker kiskadee, has swiftly risen to prominence in the electronic music scene. His journey has been enriched by collaborations with Benjamin Francis Leftwich, Tycho Jones, and engineering work for acclaimed artists like Jessie Ware, M.I.A, and HAELOS. Transitioning from a behind-the-scenes maestro to a center-stage artist has been seamless for kiskadee, whose music is characterized by emotive melodies, intricate beats, and lush soundscapes.

KISKADEE released his debut album, A Room To Breathe, under UK independent label Another Rhythm, following the success of his previous offering, Believe In Love EP. This album represents a significant milestone in his artistic evolution, blending his classical and film background with a newfound electronic exploration inspired by the serene landscapes of Iceland..

As with most of my music, it’s more of a reflection of how I feel in a given moment rather than having a particular message or hidden meaning.

Take us back to the genesis of A Room To Breathe. What inspired this debut album, and how did the time you spent in Iceland’s vast, icy expanse inform its thematic direction?

So I’d been releasing EPs and singles for a couple of years having started the project in lockdown 2020 but really wanted to get my teeth sunk into a bigger body of work and something that could be a more rounded representation of me as an artist which is where the idea for the album was born! I also wanted to take some space away from London which obviously has a rich alternative electronic scene at the moment but can be a little overwhelming to carve your own path through. I love the vast expanse of Iceland and going there for a bit of space and a change of scene really fed into the pacing and aesthetic of the album! 

You’ve somehow managed to strike a balance between icy electronic grids and naked human feeling in your music. Musical mastery is all about defining your artistic voice. But how do you infuse that distinctiveness into every note, every beat, and every melody, creating a work that’s quintessentially you?

Thank you, those are some very kind and humbling words! It’s been a real journey getting to a place where I feel like the music I’m putting out is a representation of how I feel and see the world which is what the kiskadee project is really. I think it’s all about trusting your instinct and trying not to look over your shoulder too much at what other artists are doing and copying their style. It’s a bit of a cliche but once you get into that world, the work can begin to sound really dated really quickly. More practically, I do a lot of film composition outside of the project in various formats/mediums where there’s often a brief from the director/producer/client. I’ve tried to start writing little briefs for what I’m creating with my own project too as I find that really focuses the process which helps too. 

With Time / Falling, you’ve crafted an EP that wraps listeners in a kaleidoscope of sound. Could you take us through the creative process behind these tracks and what emotions or messages you aimed to convey with each?

As with most of my music, it’s more of a reflection of how I feel in a given moment rather than having a particular message or hidden meaning. It’s interesting you used the word ‘kaleidoscope’ as I lean pretty heavily into synaesthetic elements when writing/producing and get really into how particular sounds ‘look’ to me which may sound a bit mad but I promise is a thing haha With those two tracks in particular, I thought they paired quite well together as I was in quite a hypnotic state with both of them in very different ways. Whereas Falling starts with that echo-y piano line before dropping into a blissed out beat, Time has a very simple repeated vocal line which I quickly get lost in. 

Time marks a shift with your inclusion of vocals. What was the catalyst for this change, and in what ways do your vocals advance the story being told?

Yes! So I’ve used my voice on other tracks before but it’s usually quite hidden as a texture so this is definitely the first time it’s been so upfront. To be honest, I was just trying to find an interesting sample with a double-meaning (am I saying ‘there’s always time / let’s all waste time’?) but eventually just started layering up my own vocals. It was a really liberating process and definitely something I’m going to explore further going forward! 

Your experience as an engineer for artists like M.I.A. and collaborations with Benjamin Francis Leftwich have been influential. Looking back, how do these pivotal moments resonate within your current music, and what connections do you see between your past and present creative selves?

Oof, that’s a good question! I definitely think being a fly-on-the-wall with these artists has exposed me to so many different creative processes that I’ve been able to funnel into my own work – little tricks here and there. Luckily, it also taught me to use the studio as an instrument which is an approach I really lean into now too. 

More literally, Ben’s voice is in Euphoric Recall which is a nice reminder of these times and there are a few other collaborators who’ve snuck into the album tracks. Ben in particular was so generous with imparting wisdom on growing as an artist and being patient etc. which I’ll always be very grateful for! It’s been amazing seeing him go on to be both an incredible artist / songwriter. 

Transitioning from producer/engineer to solo artist comes with its challenges. While reinventing yourself, what potential showstoppers did you encounter, and how did you resourcefully find a solution?

I guess one of the main hurdles to overcome was finding a visual identity for the project. I’m so indebted to my various collaborators on this including Jordan Woods who’s incredible photography is across all the press/live pics and has really defined an aesthetic for how I’m putting this project out. I met Jordan through Rudi Falla who’s an incredible musician / artist too, and has designed all the artwork for the album. 

What sparked your fascination with electronic beats, and how does your background shape the infectious energy you bring to tracks like Time, where the crowd is clearly the priority?

I grew up as a drummer/percussionist so the shift over to electronic beats felt pretty natural when I started producing and was introduced to more electronic artists such as Bonobo who’s been a big influence. I’m also always trying to combine electronic and organic sounds with what I do so that those influences and background are still felt within what I do. In a track like time, I hope that these beats are lifted up by the organic textures underneath, especially the piano and strings which is a reference to my classical/film background too. It’s all in there! 

A Room To Breathe reads like a gentle invitation to catch your breath and reconcile your inner doubts. As you wove these themes throughout the album, what inspired the title that headlines it all?

The title actually first came from a friends feedback after one of my first live gigs where he said I needed to leave some more ‘Room To Breathe’ within my tracks…that they were too dense for an audience. He was right! Haha…and that conversation really influenced the creative process with these tracks and seeing them in a live context away from the studio. There’s also a double-meaning there with giving myself some Room To Breathe by taking myself out of my immediate context and putting the project together in Iceland. Additionally, I really hope the space within the tracks allows the listener to zone out and catch their breath, as you say!

What’s the professional payoff when you put your music out through Another Rhythm? In what ways has this label become a part of your artistic identity, and how has it affected the kind of work you’re producing today?

Another Rhythm have been so great to work with! It’s still quite a new relationship as these are the first tracks I’ve put out with them but it’s been awesome to have a team around the project for the first time and people to bounce my creative ideas off of and be supported by :) 

The question on everyone’s mind: what’s next for kiskadee? Are there new collaborations in the works or innovative projects on the burner? How do you envision your artistic evolution in the years to come?

I’m actually writing this as I head back from playing at Glastonbury for the first time which was fun! I did a DJ set on the Thursday night followed by an immersive/surround ambient set on the Saturday morning which was also a collaboration with Jasmin Harsono. I’m heading to a few other festivals this summer and hope to continue these kind of collaborations as well as an upcoming collaboration with a dance collective, scoring a documentary and a new EP for kiskadee so plenty to keep me busy! :)