Originally from the Ocean State, Kai Nanfelt dazzles listeners with his undeniable talents as a singer and songwriter. Exercising his skills with singing and writing at the age of 18, the Boston University graduate then went on to pick up the guitar at 21, which is when he began struggling with anxiety and depression. Writing became his outlet, and he began pouring his emotions into his lyrics and developing his vulnerable sound.
Making music for the aimless and anxious, Kai Nanfelt wears his heart on his sleeve as he hopes that his music can be an outlet for others, much like writing is for him.
Through the warm and lavish chords that sweep through the enticing progression, Kai Nanfelt’s latest single, “Sober,” exudes a heartfelt gush of real-life experience that meets the emotion that tends to greet these moments. Kai Nanfelt has a knack for placing substantial importance on mental health and other sensitive topics in his writing, including substance abuse, domestic violence, abortion, and suicide. We are opened to the vulnerability that Kai Nanfelt has us tapping into as we realign our minds and sink into our seats in order to grasp the definitive connotation through unity and hope in this track.
The somber vocal expressions shed are placed with the instrumentation's simplicity, which justly has us drawn towards the urgency of the raw sentiments that he holds in his tonal distinction. Delving into a world where the expressions shared are more felt than heard, Kai Nanfelt takes the cake as he continues to tug on our heartstrings through each euphonious note divulged. Through reflections of burning passion that are intertwined with true talent, Kai Nanfelt is one to keep on your radar with his artistic versatility and storytelling endowments with each record he releases out into the world.
Congratulations on the release of your latest single, “Sober.” With the amount of emotion that is placed behind this masterpiece, how do you know when to separate certain emotions from the music that you create? Is there ever a line to be crossed?
Writing emotionally is really my “bread and butter.” I’m inspired by the early-days Ed Sheeran (specifically his album +), “sad boi” style of songwriting. I’ve found this to be my only real outlet for my emotions, as I’ve had trouble communicating my feelings in the past. Additionally, I play from feeling, not musical theory, so all of my songs start with an emotion or passion. Of course, I have my more “surface-level” songs, but I’ve found my deepest pieces connect with audiences far more. I also feel more connected to these songs personally, and don’t need to “perform” them - I just let my emotions take control. I place a heavy influence on mental health (and other sensitive subjects) in a lot of my writing, because no one talks about that in their music today. There is a massive void, and I think my songs can make a huge impact on the lives of listeners. I’ve too often seen shallow music hitting it big, and wonder why they didn’t spend more time on the message behind the song. It’s all about the lyrics!
With, “Sober,” what did the creative process entail as you brought this song to life? What moment inspired the song?
“Sober” is written for my childhood best friend. I wrote it one day while I was studying abroad in London, after he tried to commit suicide (for the fourth time - the first time was when we were in 8th grade... and we’ve been thick as thieves ever since). This time was especially hard for my friend because it was the first time we had been apart from one another. I was normally there for him in his worst moments, but it was much harder to do from a distance. He always struggled with substance abuse, depression, and anxiety. That day, he tried to overdose on pills and booze but called me in the middle of the night (London-time). He told me what he did, and I immediately called his parents before they got him hospitalized. It was around 3 am for me, and I had work the next morning at a music label. I couldn’t sleep, though, and wrote “Sober” instead. The emotions came pouring out, and as I cried over my guitar, I realized I had stayed up until 6 am - and had my first draft of the song. I sent it to my friend, got ready for work, and waited for him to wake up and hear it. We had a good cry, and he vowed that he would never try to hurt himself again. Since then, he’s done much better, and brags that I “released a song about him.” I am so proud of him for the progress he’s made, and this release was a testament to that.
With an extended list of influences including John Mayer, Ed Sheeran, and of course, Brandi Carlile, how do you allow their inspiration to speak into the music that you put forth?
Ed Sheeran is who inspired me to start singing when I was 18-years-old, but I didn’t take a stab at songwriting until I became obsessed with John Mayer’s music at 19-20 years old. His lyrics inspired me to become a poet. However, Brandi Carlile is the reason I’m still pursuing music…… (storytime). It was a week before my 21st birthday. I had heard a song or two by her before, but that was about it. Anyway, she was the host for the Newport Folk Festival that weekend (Newport is my hometown). This was the first year that a female had ever MC’ed the festival, and I was absolutely enamored by her presence. It was a really special day, featuring an all-female lineup. She performed a few songs, and I enjoyed her music.
That night, I was at a dive bar watching a local band play. I leaned over to my friend and said, “I’m ready to give up on my music. I need a sign like right now, that tells me otherwise.” And at that moment, Brandi replied to my comment on her Instagram. I had completely forgotten that I commented (more like commended) on a photo of her and Dolly Parton performing together. She said to me, “So sweet!! I was given a gift today. Next year it goes to someone else and I’ll be so happy for them. Dreams do come true.” And I knew that was the sign. I saw her play again the next day - a duet performance of her song “The Joke” with Hozier. When she sang the chorus, I burst into tears. It was the first time I had cried in 5 years. I bought my first guitar that Monday and immediately started learning. And since then, my music has taken flight. Brandi put me in touch with my emotions, and I haven’t looked back. I know songwriting is my soul purpose, and she’s the one who made me realize that.
As an artist, everyone has a different method when it comes to creating. What happens to be your favorite part of the creative process?
My favorite part of the creative process is hard to pinpoint - sometimes I’m inspired by a vocal melody, other times a lyric, or sometimes a guitar riff. I’m pretty chaotic with my writing, haha! My favorite part, if I had to pick, would probably be coming up with the lyrics. That is when I’m most genuine with myself - even when I don’t want to be.
What has been keeping you inspired throughout the last year, to keep creating music? What's some advice you can give a fellow artist finding it difficult to do so?
This year has honestly made it really difficult to stay inspired. On top of the pandemic and disgusting racial injustices we’ve all faced, my year has sucked. I broke my leg in February; lost my job I had been guaranteed post-graduation; had my college graduation from Boston University over Zoom; this June I had to say goodbye to my dog, Bella, of almost 16 years - 5 minutes before learning my grandma had suddenly passed away (literally on the way back from the vet); re-broke my leg two days after that; spent the entire summer in misery; lost my grandpa a few months after my grandma, and got COVID-19 at his funeral for good measure.
I don’t mean to vent - but it’s important for what I’m about to say: I let myself be a victim of 2020, and it really destroyed me. I barely played guitar or wrote for a lot of the year. I was, simply put, insanely depressed. But I hit my breaking point and said enough’s enough. I had “Sober” ready to release in January but didn’t do so until December because I let 2020 get in the way. I realized that I had to take control of my life, and that is something we as artists especially need to hear. There is an answer. Write about how you feel, because I guarantee there are millions of others who feel the same way. When one door closes (or for musicians, many doors), another opens. It may not be so clear right now but just go for it. The answer will present itself in due time. Hell, Sober has 35,000 streams in 3 weeks! I NEVER would have imagined that, but it’s inspired me, even more, to continue to create. If you are a creator, it’s your purpose. Do your thang! We are the soul for the voiceless.