Charlene Kaye is an Asian American singer-songwriter most widely known for her solo work under the name KAYE and as a former lead vocalist for San Fermin. KAYE is a force of nature and her creativity has no bounds. Based in NYC, she is paving the way for Asians around the world who don't often see themselves represented in creative fields. Read her conversation with Elle and be inspired by her determination and dedication to her art.
Elle: What is the most expensive lesson you've learned?
KAYE: That pain and change usually happen side by side, and that growth is the byproduct.
Elle: What was your experience growing up as Chinese American? Pursuing a creative career is not always welcomed by Asian parents and I know this to be true from my own experience. How did you find the courage to pursue a career in music early on?
KAYE: My mom has never really understood or supported what I do and that’s been very painful for me over the years, but I’ve reached a place of acceptance about it. In Asian culture, what matters most is stability and security, and being an artist will always be a risk. I know how much she sacrificed coming to this country to offer my sister and I a better life, more opportunities—and I appreciate it—but I can't be a doctor or a lawyer simply for the financial stability (I know it's a cliché, but it's a cliché because it's true!) I knew from a very early age that I needed to be close to music and art to survive—and when I was separated from it, my spirit suffered and I got sick. So creativity became more of a means of survival as a means of joy.
Elle: Following dreams is not for the faint hearted and you've had to make a lot of sacrifices to create your music. What have you learnt about yourself through this process?
KAYE: Being an independent musician is not for the faint of heart, and you have to take your work very seriously and very lightly at the same time. One of my favorite books about creativity is Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert, and she has this wonderful quote: "My creativity must be the most important thing in the world to me (if I am to live artistically) and it also must not matter at all (if I am to live sanely)." I write every word as if the future of humanity depends on it, and I also acknowledge that everybody pretty much only cares about themselves and has their own lives to think about, so I grant myself the freedom to be as irreverent and self-pleasing as possible, knowing nobody really cares.
Elle: You said “It's hard to be what you don't see.” I agree. Can you share your thoughts on why you said this. And can you share what you'd like Asians or anyone around the world to see when they see you.
KAYE: When I was a kid I desperately wanted to play rock and roll and be in a band, but I never saw anyone who looked like me doing what I wanted to do. I still don’t! Representation makes us believe it’s possible to tread a certain path, because it’s been tread before by others. So without any precedent set, you end up battling this intense impostor syndrome and constantly feeling like you’re climbing uphill trying to get people to believe in you. I never saw any dope Asian lady rockers when I was a kid, so I try to be that for the younger version of myself—even if nobody cares but me.
Elle: What does Walk How You Want mean to you?