A Braver Way Of Thinking: Kevin Abstract Interviewed

“I want to be as inventive and free and entertaining and as great as I possibly can be…"

Know thyself. When BROCKHAMPTON parted ways, Kevin Abstract not only lost his band, he lost his support structure. Forced to build anew once more, he came full circle, re-engaging with the passions that first fired his imagination.

Grief comes in waves. Sometimes you’ll be trying to go about your day, covering yourself in a veil of normality, when a sense of loss will crash over you, leaving you hopelessly adrift. In the days and weeks after BROCKHAMPTON performed for the final time, Kevin Abstract was left with a numbness; aware of an emptiness inside of him, he could scarcely acknowledge it let alone overcome the feeling. “Without even thinking about it,” he says, “I fell down into this space. And it took me a while to crawl back out of it.”

When CLASH first encountered Kevin Abstract, he was the ringleader, the curator, and the master of ceremonies. We charted the rise of BROCKHAMPTON in a 2018 cover story, and caught their final UK show at London’s O2 Academy Brixton in 2022. Returning to his story in the weeks following the release of solo album ‘Blanket’, we speak over Zoom and find someone a little quieter, a little more introspective. The weeks and months after BROCKHAMPTON’s finale isn’t something he wants to dwell on. It’s clear these were painful moments, a realisation of one chapter ending. It was more than that, though. Kevin Abstract lights up around people – he needs that input, the excitement of conflicting ideas. “I’m very collaborative. It’s just the nature of who I am,” he asserts. “I need some sense of community in order to make something I’m proud of.”

Unplugging from the world, Kevin Abstract initiated a reset. He started to truly learn about himself, uncovering unfulfilled ambitions, lingering memories, and bruised emotions in the process. “I got rid of social media,” he tells me. “I wasn’t on my phone that much. I was locked away in the house for a month, just dreaming. Not really thinking about expectations. I wasn’t teasing anything. I was just able to move freely.” Gradually, he found his tribe again. Pushing into new conversations, Kevin Abstract surrounded himself with screenwriters, photographers, filmmakers, each with their own perspective. “I think there’ll be a time where I’d be up for the challenge of making something completely on my own, just to see what those results are,” he explains. “But for now, I have to be open to talking to random people here and there, and connecting with them through similar sensibilities.”

Stepping outside of music, he was able to find fresh vantage points and different ways of creating. “It’s just such a new process for everyone involved, myself included. I have to be learning from whoever I’m working with because then it feels more rewarding. It made me want to do more, and practice more. One of the reasons we were able to become successful in the first place is because of how prolific we were,” he reflects. The velocity, he observes, prohibited any sense of introspection. “We just didn’t put too much thought into it. It was based on intuitive decision-making, and not really giving myself the time to be hypercritical of what I was making.”

He continues: “The more isolated I became post-band… the more critical I became over my work.” It’s a strange thing to hear. The man who spearheaded the colossal success of BROCKHAMPTON acting as though he’s a beginner. Is he his own worst critic? “It’s not by design,” he says slowly. “It’s rooted in my past, and in my childhood. It lingers over my work, and my adult life.”

The past helps shape his new album ‘Blanket’. Perhaps more so than any of his other projects, this one feels like a solo record. It’s shaped by singular experiences, and specific tastes. It taps back into the indie rock records Kevin Abstract would listen to on the back of the school bus; Modest Mouse, Arcade Fire, Sunny Day Real Estate. He blends this with a fondness for millennial R&B, and hard-hitting rap production. “It reminded me of music I was listening to when I was 14 living in Texas. That’s what matters, really, that I’m connecting with it in a real emotional way. I’m always pulling back from there trying to impress that version of myself,” he smiles. “I try to tap in with that person to keep me grounded… and happy and gracious.”

The process has resulted in some of the most honest and striking art of Kevin Abstract’s career. Working with key collaborators Romil Hemnani and Jonah Abraham, ‘Blanket’ is a viral work, reinforcing his core values while also looking to the future. Making sound collages to soundtrack a “super gloomy morning in Texas”, Kevin Abstract re-imagined his school bus rides as a place of sanctuary. “The fanservice thing can only go so far. It has to start with me being proud of what I’m making. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if people like it or not,” he affirms. “I finally got something where I can say: this is for me, and I want to listen to it.”

Filtering through the record, what hits you most is the stubborn eclecticism Kevin Abstract employs. ‘When The Rope Post 2 Break’ is his homage to modern R&B, viewed through his idiosyncratic lens. “I think that was the first one that proved the vibe of the album as a whole,” he notes. Citing the Sean B, Joe Cee, and Boyz II Men tracks spun endlessly by his sisters, he blurs the lines between R&B melodies and indie rock experimentation. “It’s interesting to be able to take some of those kinds of melodies and put them on chords that feel closer to Modest Mouse or something… I want to become a master at merging those worlds.”

A record of blurred lines and cut ‘n’ paste crossover, ‘Blanket’ thrives on bringing together unanticipated elements. Take the self-explanatory ‘Madonna’, a homage to Her Madge-esty, one that took the seed of her ‘Music’ album and let it grow wild. Tyler Johnson and Kid Harpoon were on hand to aid the construction of the song, a process of collaboration that seemed to allow Kevin Abstract to utilise his singular creative voice. “Honestly? They just let me be me,” he notes. “It helped my confidence, and that led to a braver way of thinking.” The American poet, songwriter, and vocalist Kara Jackson appears on the closing song ‘My Friend’, a work that is beautifully clear in its intent. “I’m a fan,” he says of his collaborator. “I’m humbled for her to be a part of this, and for me to be a part of her world. We share similar sensibilities. As artists, we’re seeing the world through a similar lens. At least, that’s what usually connects me to the people I end up working with.”

A patchwork mosaic, but curiously whole, ‘Blanket’ ends on a note of sonic delight. “A lot of art right now, probably by design, feels like it lacks beauty. That’s maybe just a reflection of the times. Any moment I get where I can add hope or beauty or colour to my work, I’m trying to lean into that. I want to make art that makes you feel good.” The absence of live shows as an outlet for his performance energy lends a certain directness to ‘Blanket’. Each track has an added edge, a sense of someone pushing his emotions and ideas in one singular direction. “The beauty of a live show, for me, is never knowing what’s gonna happen. I like that because the people in the room get to have that experience, and it’s so off the cuff. It’s not the perfect version of myself… it’s more raw. And there’s more myth around that; there’s more of a story to tell.”

The process of constructing ‘Blanket’ saw Kevin Abstract piece himself back together. He could have buckled, and he could have regressed after losing his band. Instead, he used the time to analyse old wounds and embark on a true journey of recovery. “I lost a lot of confidence pretty early on in my career,” he notes at one point in our conversation. “I was maybe 23 when that happened. You’re young, and everything at that point feels like a life-or-death situation.”

“All the BROCKHAMPTON lore, you know… the controversies,” he says, with a palpable sense of distaste. “It distorted my perception. It altered who I am as a human… and my reality in general. It affected my confidence in a negative way.” The end of BROCKHAMPTON brought all this to the surface, but in the cold light of day Kevin Abstract was able – finally – to do some work on himself: “Ending the group helped me regain confidence. I think I’d gotten lost.”

Right now, he’s working towards a higher purpose. Endlessly supportive of those around him (he’s a mentor to countless new artists, most of which stays off the record), Kevin Abstract wants to abandon genre, and embrace art in its fullest capacity. Citing everyone from Kurt Cobain to Frank Ocean and Michael Jackson as points of reference, he notes: “For me, I’ve always been a fan of the leaders of culture, people who would create these juxtaposition-type of records… records that felt like a collage, with detailed intention and purpose. I wanna become a part of that lineage.”

In many ways, he already is. For a moment Kevin seems taken aback, laughing in a bashful, self-deprecating way. “I’d be flattered by that,” he says, before collecting his thoughts. “But I want to do more, and be better… to truly earn that. And it just comes down to me being more disciplined and working harder and truly studying what came before me. Trying to make the best possible thing with this current platform.. not taking this moment for granted. At all. I want to be as inventive and free and entertaining and as great as I possibly can be.”

By giving himself space to finally heal old wounds, Kevin Abstract has redefined his purpose, and ignited a fire deep inside. “I was assuming too much,” he says of his past. “I thought I knew more than I actually do. My audience are the ones that actually care… they’re going to come to the shows, and stream the music. They respect me when I do what feels right, intuitively. And that’s a beautiful thing.”

Glowing with creative energy, Kevin Abstract has already returned to the studio. With ‘Blanket’ fresh in his mind, he’s seeking out new voices, and different challenges. Shortly after our interview he’ll be working with electronic auteur Toro y Moi – making music without boundaries, simply for fun – and he’s eager to build his solo catalogue. ‘Blanket’ is both a bridge between two worlds, and a starting point.

“I’m trying to reach that level where I become a little bit more prolific,” he says. “I’m chasing quality, and interesting, strange bodies of work. I don’t plan on slowing down.”

As seen in CLASH 127. Order your copy here.

Words: Robin Murray
Photography: Cole Bat
Creative Direction: Rob Meyers

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