Photo: Craig Barrit and Bryan Bedder/Getty Images for Gray Goose Essences
The drought is over — Kehlani has an album out, titled Blue Water Road, and after five years she’s about to be back on tour, starting at the end of this month. Around 3,000 New Yorkers were treated to a preview at Sunday’s Gray Goose Essences In Bloom concert at Pier 17, complete with Kehlani-approved cocktails. (By the way, if she could make a Kehlani “essence” it would be “passionfruit ginger,” she tells me. “Feel the pressure, Gray Goose.”) Kehlani performed an hourlong set of mostly songs from the new album, interspersed with conversation — ie, Kehlani speaking, the crowd screaming. In a flowy green ‘fit, she was surrounded by sunset, skyline, and ocean, clearly in her element.
They dedicated a performance of “melt” to girlfriend 070 Shake, who was there, and talked fans through their experience of dealing with great loss before a tearjerking rendition of “altar.” Kehlani’s music has always been healing, but they’ve never been as at peace as they are right now, and it showed. You can hear it on the album, too — it’s a no-skips walk on the beach with meditative instrumentals and smooth, self-assured vocals. Onstage, watching Kehlani sing surrounded by a huge floral arrangement, that the foundation of every song was love was obvious.
Perhaps the most soothing concert I’ve ever been to, the evening felt like a dip in a perfectly cool ocean. The ocean is never without waves, though — hips were moving throughout the crowd and onstage. It was a beautiful night, the kind that makes you grateful to be alive. As the sun went down, the moon glowed over the stage like it was a spotlight just for us.
This feels like some of the happiest work you’ve created — can you talk about the state of mind that came from?
I just entered a super committed and serious spiritual growth period. That required a lot of discipline and focus, and cleaning of all these things I’ve gone through basically since birth. It made me draw really inward and also be really reflective — but also make all these changes in my life based on how I was contributing to my own suffering. Unlocking that, and separating from how much I was messing my own self up for the sake of interacting with the chaos, in all these toxic dynamics and patterns — once I cut all of that out, I had space to be light, and I had room to figure out what actually made me happy and what I wanted. Then came the album.
I think my favorite song on the album might be “Tangerine” — I feel like tangerines are such a sensual fruit. What do you think is the most romantic fruit?
Probably strawberries. That’s basic. But I feel like in romantic settings, it’s always some strawberries in sight. Though the other day, I did set up a little beach picnic for my girlfriend and there were grapes on the table and I’ve never seen that. I was like, Okay, table grapes.
The music video for “Melt,” um, melted me. What was it like creating that with someone you love?
It was really cool to be all the way in Brazil. It was an absolute honor to shoot it with my friends slash production company slash co-creators who are all absolutely incredible and able to do with nothing. I think that’s the coolest thing about the people that I work with is we can just be like, Let’s pick up a couple cameras and just go outside, and it just becomes really beautiful. To do it with my girlfriend was really amazing, and also something I’ve never done. It was kind of a challenge, because this is our very private, personal, beautiful thing between us that our friends and family get to see. So that was nerve wracking, but it was honestly my favorite shoot I’ve ever done. It was so fun.
You’ve had your romantic life scrutinized by the public a lot. Was it challenging to go public in that way?
All of the bullshit that’s been out there has been because of the bullshit. So putting out something that was just purely amazing was refreshing, but also nerve wracking. Because I was like, y’all could take this and make some bullshit. But I’m good with Twitter at this point. We’re not friends. But we don’t beef.
I feel like the vivid visual language is especially strong with this album. Do you think of yourself as a visual person?
I’m super visual and I’m very big on sensory imagery as well. That’s my favorite type of writing in general. I love poems that tell you what color the room was, what it smelled like in the room, what texture the wall paint was, and paint the picture. So I feel like I’ve always been a picture painter. But that also comes with having a Pisces moon and my brain being on movie mode 24/7 Like, I’m the one that’s looking out the window and I’m like, This is a film. There’s this film roll going in my head at all times.
I love the title Blue Water Road, it makes me want to listen to the album while floating in the ocean. What’s your relationship to water?
Water is so, so, so important in my spiritual practice. It is the force for everything — the ocean being the biggest mother there is, and the river being specifically my mother, religiously. My favorite body of water is the river, that’s my girl. And now that I’ve started surfing, I have a brand new relationship to the ocean, which has been a complete blessing because it wasn’t always the case. I’ve always loved the ocean, but to be able to have this deeper connection daily has been incredible. I feel off if I spend too many days without being inside of it.