By Jocelle Koh
Once you’ve heard of Kentö, the vibrant electro-pop singer-songwriter and producer is someone you won’t soon forget. Not because of his unique upbringing; that saw him shuttled between US, Brazil and Japan in his youth, or because he identifies as part of the LGBTQI+ community and a person on the autism spectrum.
No, it’s what he did with those experiences that have made him such a magnetic force. Kentö advocates for outcasts with a gentle strength that seems to sit with the listener, rather than impose its presence. This presents itself most succinctly in his mysteriously flamboyant new single “Silhouette”, which the artist describes as a representation of his ‘timeless’ sound.
And timeless it certainly is. In a time where tween pop stars reign ferociously and content is rendered increasingly disposable, Kentö sings about self-love on a track that displaces time and space; creating a delicious bubble of grinding beats and anthemic melodies that can be played on repeat all night long.
Unknowingly, the artist inspired by the likes of Duran Duran and Kate Bush has paved a path for listeners to consider their growth outside the constraints of a 15-second Tiktok or a 2 minute song, and to rediscover that spark that lies in all of us. We chatted with him about his sultry and empowering new single “Silhouette” and everything that has led up to his philosophy of self love and defining ones’ own space.
Q: We love your new earworm single ‘Silhouette’! Can you tell us about the story behind this song?
A: Thank you! ‘Silhouette’ is a very special song for me. I had the idea a few years ago and it stayed in my head for a while before I decided to really start writing it. At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic I called my friend Bec Hollcraft (BECCA, BENNIE BECCA) and we began co-writing the song over a few months. It’s about knowing who you are, and being that unapologetically. There will always be people and situations in life that will get you down, but it’s important to stay focused and on your path.
Q: You put aside a pop/punk project to pursue this new sound that we hear on ‘Silhouette’. What is it about this new sound that resonates with you more deeply?
A: Pop/punk music will always have a special place in my heart. Who doesn’t love a little My Chemical Romance or Green Day?
For this song and this new album, I wanted to really take time to develop a more timeless sound that I felt could connect to people of different ages and backgrounds with both synthetic sounds and organic instruments.
Q: Did you meet any challenges in writing or producing this song?
A: I think the back and forth online via zoom, FaceTime, e-mails etc was maybe the biggest difference this time around. (I don’t know if I would necessarily say, “challenge.”) Normally I would get together with everyone in a studio and we would knock out a song pretty quickly, but this was definitely a different experience where we were all over the world. On a positive note, it did give me time to sit with the song and really process all of the dynamics of what I wanted each sound to be like. It also gave me the opportunity to work with some people that I wouldn’t normally be able to because of geographical limitations.
Q: Silhouette is about self love and positivity. Why is this a message that’s so important today both in the LGBTQI+ community and in the global community?
A: I think that when you are part of any marginalised group you tend to feel like an outsider, so self-love is just as important as the love you get from around you. Sometimes it’s hard, but just knowing no matter what, there are people out there just like you is key. You can always find people out there who will become your “chosen family.’
Some of us don’t have the blessing of having a supportive family in our lives and it’s our chosen family that can be there to pick us up as we fall. On top of that, I think that this is a message that transcends not only the LGBTQI+ community but also just every community. Keep moving forward. Make your path and do it with all your heart — good things will come.
Q: You come from a very diverse upbringing. How has your heritage and experiences shaped what you hope to express in your art today?
A: I don’t think I would be the person and artist that I am today without the influences that I grew up with between the US, Brazil and predominantly Japan. The festivals, the art, museums, colours, and food all play a part in my sound and the visuals that go with it. One example is the style of drums from Brazilian music, Japanese music and French Music. All very different and all have a place in different songs on my upcoming album ‘Strangers.’
Q: You’ve mentioned you were brought up in Japan. What kinds of music were you exposed to, and how did your time there influence your current sound?
A: There are a lot of different influences culturally, instrumentally and musically in Japanese music. Growing up I was influenced by both traditional music and JPOP. I learned how to sing the way I do by listening to artists like Oda Kazumasa, Mr. Children, Hamasaki Ayumi, and Hirai Ken. I continue to be influenced by bands and artists like Sakanaction who have found ways to reinvent themselves blending rock, pop, traditional and electronic sounds.
Q: Being part of the LGBTQI+ community and on the autism spectrum definitely have allowed you to see the world differently to many others. You’ve described this as your superpower. How does this superpower aid you in your art and daily life?
A: Growing up, I felt very misunderstood for my differences, however, I do feel lucky that despite any of the negative things that society might put upon people like me, I had people around me — family, friends, even strangers — who allowed me the freedom and understanding to be who I am. Where I didn’t find understanding or freedom, I found ways to create it for myself.
If there isn’t a path for you somewhere, it’s okay to make one for yourself. Not only do you make space for yourself in the world, but you open up space for others. I think differences should be embraced, and the real magic happens when we go full force with them in whatever we do.
Q: While pride month is ending soon, we believe that any time is a great time to celebrate and give voices to the community. Do you have a word of advice for anyone celebrating pride month?
A: Pride month is a wonderful symbol of the people we honour who have paved the way for us today, but it doesn’t just end when the month ends. There are so many places and people in the world that deliberately hurt our community and we still have a long way to go. My advice would be to find your chosen family that will allow you to embrace yourself and flourish as who you are. Let’s stay safe and be part of the side of history that makes positive change.
Q: Your new album ‘Strangers’ is in the works. Is there anything you can share about the album?
A: I started working on my ‘Strangers’ about five years ago, and I’ve written over 30 songs for it. (That we’ve narrowed down to a solid amount.) I wanted to make an album that reminded me of why I love music. It is something that focuses more on creating a timeless sound rather than on what is just trendy at the moment. The album has a few surprises that I can’t wait to share with the world.
In ‘Silhouette’ Kentö sings: “Make it last, make it good so they’ll never forget/Your silhouette“, and this line rings truer for me than I care to let on. An unforgettable track and an even more unforgettable story, Kentö has woven together unconventional circumstance and a plethora of cultures to come to the conclusion that just because spaces don’t exist doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t. An optimist who has seen it all, in turning obstacles into a space for himself, the artist has created a new brand of positivity that opens the doors for countless others. And THAT, is the impact which makes him unforgettable.