Interview: Kevin "K.O." Olusola of Pentatonix
Wed, 11 Mar 2015 09:09:00
Kevin Olusola Videos
Kevin "K.O." Olusola of Pentatonix has quite a bit in common with Jimi Hendrix. He's an innovator who takes what already exists musically and transforms it into a wonderful, wild, and whimsical world. The Renegade EP [iTunes link] evinces his immense "cello beatboxing" talent as he takes these two dynamic elements and merges them into a sonically engaging journey that's undeniably next level—that's the only way to say it. Hendrix would be proud!
In this exclusive interview with ARTISTdirect.com editor in chief Rick Florino, Kevin talks The Renegade EP and so much more.
Did you approach The Renegade EP with a distinct vision in mind? The original composition and re-interpretations both fit an overarching theme.
It sort of fell into place. When I say, "I started making this album," I really just began making music in probably 2013. "Renegade" is a piece that I started writing in 2011. I thought up doing Demi Lovato's "Heart Attack" as a single for fun on YouTube. I began doing "All Of Me" and "Stay With Me" in 2014. All of a sudden, I realized, "I have all of these pieces. Let me see if I can combine them and make an album." Then, I started tweaking things as I was making it. I finally created a full, cohesive sound and idea for this first EP. I'm really proud of it. What I love about people like Pharrell is they're tastemakers and they created a sound, but it's a sound that can be popularized in the music industry. That's my goal. That's what I'm trying to do first and foremost. I want to create a sound that could have a place. You haven't heard that kind of sound someone like Santana has in a while where the instruments hit and translate to a lot of people. That was my goal for this first album.
It doesn't sound like everything else, but it captures that classical aesthetic.
Absolutely! I had a vision for how I wanted each song to go—in order to bring it to its classical roots. The way I had to play it, I wanted to give it that pop-esque feeling. There's a sound vision where it all had to be very cohesive. For example, the difference with my arrangement for "All Of Me" is I thought of it as if I were a singer. Once again, my goal is not to be a cellist, but the medium of my voice is a cello. The way I play it, I want it to very much have a singing quality. It's a literally a four-part singing harmony. Everybody's interacting with each other. For Sam Smith, I wanted to give it a drive and a grittiness. That's where the beatboxing really came in to allow that singing quality of the cello to really soar. I wanted to play it literally as if I was singing, once again. It pretty much gives it a different feel. Even though there's classical instrumentation, there's a pop feel that I think could really resonate. I try to keep that in mind.
What does "Julie-O" mean to you?
Well, "Julie-O" is a song that I heard when I was in my ninth grade year. I was at this summer Suzuki cello camp. It had so much swag [Laughs]. Literally, that's the only way I could explain it. I never thought I could do it. I was living in China during my senior year in college, and I decided while I was there, "You know what? Let me tackle this." I understood the beatboxing piece a little bit more, and I wanted to see if I could put the two together. It took me a full year to work on it, so I had it the way I liked it. I put the video up, and it went viral. It's sort of the thing that started this journey for me into the music industry. That's how Pentatonix found me. It's how Quincy Jones found me, and it did a lot of things for me. It means a lot to me. It's the first installment of how my musical journey progressed.
What's the story behind "Renegade?"
"Renegade" is the first original piece I've ever written for this type of sound. It took a while too. I worked on that for about two years before I even actually road-tested it. It was such a hard thing to figure out how to do these two things together and make it playable. To finally know I got it to a place where it makes sense feels like a big accomplishment. Those two songs really mean a lot to me.
When is the moment you can see the whole vision for something like the EP?
That's a good question. I feel like it really started to materialize towards the end of 2014. I had demos of each song, and I said, "Oh my goodness, I think I have an album." I didn't realize it until then. I presented it to RCA, and they said, "Hey, this is really cool! There hasn't been a Santana type figure in a while. This is a cool new sound that could be that." When that happened, I thought, "Okay, now I have something here!" I've got great partners who helped me figure out how to do this.
What's been inspiring you outside of music?
To be honest, it's entrepreneurship. There are a lot of people in the music industry who have inspired me like Pharrell Williams. It's the ideas he's put together to be an entrepreneur. The same goes for Jay-Z. People who do a lot of things in the venture capital world really inspire me. These are people who have amazing ideas, want to get them across, and work hard to put out their unique vision. Other entrepreneurs are really inspiring. And, I'm just continuously reading. I love reading Fast Company, Forbes, and The Atlantic. I love music, but this world is not just about music. I never want to lose touch with that.
What's the title mean to you?
There's a positive vibe to it, but it's very progressive. There's a melody that everybody can understand. This is really cool, even though it might be crazy. That's when "Renegade" came together. I kept thinking about Don Quixote. People thought he was crazy, but he looked at the world and said, "You guys are crazy. This is the way it should be." I'm not calling people crazy, but different viewpoints can be misconstrued. I want to show how classical music can be reinterpreted.
If this EP were a movie or a combination of movies, what would it be?
Oh dude, that's a good question! I'd say A Beautiful Mind just because I love that movie. It's this guy who's being an introvert and looking within himself to figure out all of these different codes and ideas he has. That's one thing I'd definitely relate the EP too. This is weird, but I'd say When Harry Met Sally. It's two people trying to figure out this relationship. It's a really fun comedic movie. I'm trying to meet this new sound. I think about how I figured it out in China, which is the most random place to figure out. I hope people see this as not just serious but really fun. I'm trying to meet my style of music. We butted heads for a while, but now we're finding a partnership that works.
Have you heard The Renegade EP?