Kimokal: Not Just Another Sound

by Julius Kensan
22nd February 2016
We spent an afternoon with the rising electropop duo Kimokal and talked about their debut album, O, their habit on creating a song within a day, as well as tested them on how well they know each other.

Imagine being more than half an hour late for an interview with one of the rising local music bands – and possibly the most promising music act to have stirred the music scene in recent memory – you can only hope the duo that formed the said electropop band, Kimokal, Kimo Rizky and Kallula Harsynta Esterlita, would understand the predicament of being stuck in a horrendous afternoon traffic jam where a mere 10 metres feels like miles away.

Entering Double Deer Studio, the record label that represents Kimokal, Kimo’s tall and lanky figure easily propels him to your attention. I immediately burst into apologies but it turns out Kimo isn’t too bothered with it. In fact, he is so warm and welcoming that even if I were to be late for more than an hour, he would have still taken it in his stride. He promptly points the way to the recording room – a simple space occupied by a handful of musical instruments, a MacBook, a huge flat screen TV as well as a few framed portraits of Beatles – and explains that Kallula would arrive shortly for she is trapped in the unbudgeable traffic too.

While waiting for her to arrive, Kimo recounts the band’s performance during the launch of their debut album, O (commonly mistaken as the alphabet “o”, it’s meant to be perceived as a circle, which refers to the idiom, ‘comes full circle’), at Institut Français d’Indonésie (IFI) early January this year. Without missing a beat, Kimo briskly shows a video clip of it, in which both of them performed behind a see-through screen while hypnotising graphic artworks were projected onto it. And right in the midst of listening and chatting, in walks Kallula.

“Him doing his chores and me doing mine.”

Formed in early 2014, it’s hard to imagine that the creation of Kimokal is almost purely coincidental. As a music producer and lecturer in Digital Music Production course, Kimo often produces disco-influenced tracks and invites guest singers to contribute their vocals. Kallula was one of them. “I was hesitant at first. I’m not into electronic music and was involved with my own alternative rock band called LCD Trip back then. But then I heard the song and thought, ‘Alright, I’m just gonna make you the lyrics like right now’,” she confesses.

And that resulted in their first ever single, Under Your Spell, which debuted on May 2014. “We placed the single on iTunes but we needed a name for us. So we went with Kimo & Kal because that’s basically just Kimo and me,” Kallula explains. But as luck would have it, social media platforms like Instagram doesn’t allow its user to use ampersand for profile name. The duo ended up ditching the “&” and went with just Kimokal.

Despite that, the change was, in a way, symbolical. Now, instead of two different individuals in a band, Kimo and Kallula are intertwined as one entity under Kimokal. And that also bleeds into the way they work for 0.

“We don’t want the process to take too long, so I’ll be working on the music, while she will take care of the lyrics and the tone,” Kimo explains. Kallula sums it up as “him doing his chores and me doing mine.”

They are also very forthright in speaking about what goes into the tracks. “I’m just gonna be honest. When I was working for the tracks, Lonely Child and Foam, I was listening to London Grammar. So the tone and the mood gravitate towards there. While for Take Control, I was listening to Grimes at the time. But the characteristic of my vocal is still there. It’s just the way I play with it,” she explains.

Now that the album is already out and the music is met with much enthusiasm, do they feel like they are finally coming to a full circle as their album’s title suggests?

“Well, I don’t know about him, but for me personally there is this combination of past, present and future. It is the beginning but you can also put it as we’re starting from zero and we never know what we will develop into. Right, Kim?” she turns to Kimo and he swiftly picks it up where she left.

“Yes, the future is still a mystery. For me, out of the three aspects, I’m more focused on the present and what’s in front of me. In my experience, while making this album, I was neither too concerned with the future nor the past.”

“We’re not exactly hangout buddies.”

Throughout our conversation, Kallula remains poised and often focuses straight into my eyes while answering the questions. In contrast, Kimo is very much at ease and informal, occasionally propping his head against his hand and closes his eyes while waiting for Kallula to finish her answer. For outsiders, it would look as though Kallula is the older sensible sister to the carefree and unaffected Kimo. The fact that Kallula is a year older than Kimo further establishes this impression. But, in actuality, it’s pretty much the opposite.

“Once after a performance outside of Jakarta, Kimo wanted to return back to hotel room first and rest. Few hours later, he called and told me to return to hotel soon and that I better be behaving myself. And I just went, ‘Byeeeee’,” Kallula recounts with a laugh.

Indeed, Kimo’s sense of protectiveness towards Kallula could very much be contributed to the fact that he is married (his wife, Amanda, is currently the manager of the band) and a father to a newly born son.

“So my hope for Kallula in the near future is that her personal life will slowly shift towards the same direction as me,” says Kimo half-jokingly.

She turns to him and says, “Eventually…”

“That’s why you should get married,” he quips back.

Not wanting to lose out to Kimo’s witty wisecrack, Kallula responds back, “With whom? Find me one first then.”

With so much bantering going on between the two of them, there’s this sense that the two of them are pretty much inseparable like a pair of Siamese twins. I ask if they often contact each other outside of work.

“We’re not exactly hangout buddies. Well, she does come to the studio pretty often. But I guess you can’t say that we’re close…” Kimo trails off and turns to Kallula.

“This is a pretty good question. I feel that as you get older, your circle of friends just going to get smaller. I have my own group of girlfriends and Kimo has his own family. But we are close. Like if I have any personal issues, I will turn to him but the output of that will be channeled to the songs,” says Kallula.

Kimo agrees, “That’s so true. It’s like ‘You’re upset? Let’s make a song!’”

Kallula nods and continues, “It’s also a good thing that we have his wife’s full support on this. Even though we often travel out of Jakarta for performance, there is no jealousy or anything like that, you know? Also there was once where the four of us (including Kimo’s wife and his son) share a room together. So we’re basically like a family. We deal with each other’s shit and it’s like ‘your problem is my problem and my problem is your problem’.”

A family. That’s a bold claim. So I decided to test them. Do you know each other’s birthdate?

They stare at each other, lost for words in that split second.

“Well, we’re both Aries. So, hmm…,” Kallula drops her head trying to pinpoint the answer.

“But hers is in March. I remember that,” Kimo replies, trying to score a point.

“And yours in April. I remember that too.”

“My guess is that it’s either 23rd or the 27th. Is that right?”

“It’s 26th,” she discloses.

“Shit, I missed it by a day.”

Now it’s Kallula’s turn. “Yours is on 19th?”

“Nope. A hint. It’s the total number of tracks in our album.”

“So it’s on the 10th.”

“Yep, it’s on the 10th. So I guess it’s proven. We’re not that close,” says Kimo with a hearty laugh, obviously unbothered.

“We really do feel that this is the best thing that has ever happened to us.”

No matter, it’s clear that both feel most at home when working with each other. “When we are together, we just clicked. We never have to create anything that takes more than 24 hours. If we feel like it’s not gonna work, we just move on. But if it does, we could finish the whole track within a day,” explains Kallula.

Kimo also vouches for it. “That’s why when we work on a song, it has to be swift. If it takes more than a day, it’s better not to continue.”

She further elaborates, “Because, for us, if we can’t get the right mood, then we won’t force it. Other than Kimo, I’m also closed with Dipha (Barus, a local DJ and producer). And I’ve been working with him on a single that is due to be released this February for a whole year. We ended up changing the song and it was a very frustrating experience for me but at the same time I have to be patient because this is for Dipha.”

That’s also explains why, out of various solo projects that Kimo and Kallula are working on, Kimokal remains their home. A home, which both of them could always return to. Kallula admits, “We feel blessed that we are able to do things on our own terms. And to me, that’s liberating. We really do feel that this is the best thing that has ever happened to us.”