Private Playlist is a listening session with Southern California’s most notable musical figures in their private creative environments.
”I write from a pretty unconscious space,” says LA-based songwriter kezia. And although their music nods towards bright Gen Z pop production, it has a moonlit melancholy that hints at heavier things. Hailing from the Bay Area, kezia cut their teeth at underground parties and took that extroverted energy back to their home studio, fusing a party-ready sound with the darker hues that emerge in solitude. From that intoxicating brew came their debut EP, “Claire,” released in June 2021.
For this edition of Private Playlist, kezia selects their favorite songs with the most spellbinding lyrics, including Radiohead, Stevie Wonder, and Modest Mouse.
“When I don’t feel safe in my relationships, inside of my own mind, inside of my own body [or] in my environment, music helps me feel safe. Music helps me feel at home. Grounded.” — kezia
Paramore was the first band that I ever really stanned [and] the first band I bought an album from. I want to say I was eight or something when “Twilight” came out, and that was my first introduction to Paramore. “I Caught Myself” was featured on the “Twilight” soundtrack. The themes of heartbreak and disappointment have been so prevalent in my life. With relationships and friends, sometimes we have this idealization of what the relationship is. We can have this version in our head that’s completely separate from reality. And I think this song grounds me in my reality, takes me out of my fantasy a little bit, and helps me feel less stupid when I fall into those situations.
My process of consuming music [goes in] phases. I’ll go through a phase where I’ll play a song, or a certain amount of songs, every single day until I can’t listen to it anymore. That’s how I synthesize moments and how I synthesize music. Oftentimes I attribute certain songs to periods of my life and things I’ve gone through, [but] there’s not a specific standout period where this song is super-significant because I come back to it a lot.?
When I first started to learn guitar and take lessons, my teacher was really big on R&B, soul, [and] a lot of classic genres. Amy Winehouse’s “Frank” was one of the albums he put me onto when I was just learning music. Amy talks about love, pain, and war in such a disgustingly honest way, but it’s also so poetic. That’s probably one of my desert island albums.
I’m biracial. My dad is an immigrant from Tanzania and my mom was born in the States, and she’s a white woman. So my house was always filled with either African music or pure alternative music. It wasn’t until I started taking guitar lessons and playing and learning music for myself that I got more into soul and R&B. Of course, I had cousins that listened to R&B and hip-hop and stuff like that. But that was when I found my love for classic genres like blues, jazz, classic rock, and all these different worlds. If I had never learned to play music or started playing guitar, I don’t know if my ear would’ve been as expanded.
My first introduction to Amy was “Stronger Than Me.” My guitar teacher was like, “This is the song we’re going to learn this week. And I want you to sing and I want you to play this song.” Originally I had just signed up for guitar lessons, but he found out that I had a passion for singing. And that was something we started to incorporate into our lessons. I remember hearing the song and feeling so powerful and wanting to emulate her, to channel her. She comes on the track with so much attitude and [she’s] so blasé, like she doesn’t care. She’s just telling her story, she’s just talking mess. The songs she was writing were so different from what I had been introduced to at the time, because I had come from such an alt-rock, punk-rock, grunge-rock background, and she opened up this feminine world of music that I had not really entered before. And it was as intoxicating as it could be for a 12-year-old girl.
Everybody knows Stevie Wonder, because everybody’s heard a Stevie Wonder song in their regular life. But [after] listening to and analyzing this song, “All I Do” has to be one of the greatest love songs ever written. The sonics, his delivery, the way the song ebbs and flows instrumentally and melodically. It’s pure passion, pure love, pure heart. It’s a forever song in my opinion.?
This song has always lived somewhere in my subconscious. You know how we all have a bank of songs that we know, but we may not be super familiar with? “All I Do” was one of those songs where I’m like, “Why has this not been my favorite song before? Why am I just now loving the song the way that I do — not only listening to the song, but seeing the song, learning the song, playing this song?” I could only imagine how Stevie felt when he was writing it and performing it, because performing the song is a whole different feeling and a whole different connection. It’s totally different when you’re enjoying it and listening to it, [versus] playing and singing it for yourself. Having had the chance to perform this song, it made me feel very powerful. It made me feel like I could do anything.?
And I stand by the notion that words are spells. I really do believe that. And “All I Do” is a powerful love spell. A powerful, powerful, powerful, powerful love spell that translates in any language across all borders. Anybody can listen to this song and feel good, and get up and dance, and feel sexy.
FREE NATIONALS feat. CHRONIXX
The music itself on Free Nationals’ “Eternal Light” is really good, but it’s [better when] combined with the message. “Good vibration / Yeah, that’s the positive vibes / That we create (yeah) / The sounds that make you feel right / We keep it blazin’ yeah / Forever shining this light / We keep it blazin’ / Forever shining this light.” It’s one of those songs that doesn’t really need much explaining or introduction, because the song speaks for itself. And it really cuts through.
Amerie’s “All I Have” is another one of those perfect albums that you listen to top-to-bottom, and it’s one of the foundational albums of the 2000s. She chronicles this entire relationship throughout the project. And she goes through the highs and lows very honestly and very frankly. She talks directly to her lover and to the audience throughout the entire album. And I feel like the album is quite sonically cohesive. It’s very cinematic, theatrical, and romantic. It makes you want to get up and dance, but sometimes it makes you want to cry, and sometimes it makes you want to scream at the top of your lungs. It’s a real feel-good album, [but] she goes through thoughts and feelings that people are really terrified to say: themes of possessiveness, heartbreak, innocence. That magical “I’m falling in love with you” feeling. The honeymoon, the break-up. And she captures it perfectly.
Modest Mouse’s “Ocean Breathes Salty” is one of these foundational songs. If I’d never heard it, life might look a little different for me. I always have memories of traveling when I’m thinking of this song, whether traveling somewhere physically or somewhere in my mind to a place that feels safer, to a place where I feel more understood when the world around me doesn’t make a lot of sense. This is my comfort song. I can come back to this song and always feel safe.
One primary function of music is emotional safety, mental safety, spiritual safety, and sanctuary. When you hear an ambulance going by, you probably don’t feel very safe. But when you’re listening to your favorite music, it can evoke a sense of safety. And when I say this song saved my life, and certain artists and albums have saved my life, it’s because when the world around me doesn’t feel safe, when I don’t feel safe in my relationships, inside of my own mind, inside of my own body, [or] in my environment, music helps me feel safe. Music helps me feel at home. Grounded.
I listen to Radiohead’s “Jigsaw Falling Into Place” when I want to feel free, when I want to feel sexy, when I want to feel like the wind is blowing in my hair and I haven’t a care in the world. I listen to this song when I’m feeling a little mischievous. A lot of rock music makes me feel more grounded in my sexuality. Even just listening to the first verse: “Just as you take my hand / Just as you write my number down / Just as the drinks arrive / Just as they play your favorite song / As your bad day disappears / No longer wound up like a spring / Before you had too much / Come back and focus again.” That makes me feel like this is the start of an adventure, like we’re about to embark on something. So it’s all good feelings when I listen to it.
Check out KCRW’s other Private Playlists:
Inara George shares tips for raising music-literate kids during quarantine
Chris Cohen shares Algerian synth funk, avant jazz, and more far-out sounds
Hand Habits’ Meg Duffy offers an earthy soundtrack for the homebound
Mia Doi Todd recommends space-age sounds and Brazilian tunes
Neon Indian shares music for your inner monologue
Thundercat on the importance of albums as a journey
Dorian Wood is walking a tightrope and trying not to look down
Jeff Parker is busy studying music in hibernation mode
TOKiMONSTA is rediscovering her love for the guitar
Adrian Younge and Ali Shaheed Muhammad on finding solace in Gil Scott-Heron
Aimee Mann looks past the snark to appreciate Steely Dan’s craft
Madame Gandhi on Fela, feminism, and the bravery of Brian Eno and Jon Hassell
Alice Bag is doing the live music withdrawal dance
M. Ward is listening to music by his influences’ influencers
San Cha believes we can create, no matter our circumstances
Bob Mould seeks artful inspiration from Janelle Monáe, Elliott Smith, and the Byrds
La Santa Cecilia’s La Marisoul finds hope for the future in music
Pete Tong is comfortable with musical melancholy
Go Betty Go’s Nicolette Vilar shares music that’s honey to her ears
Mary Lattimore is communing with musical kindred spirits
Ndidi O selects music for a melancholy autumn
Julianna Barwick recommends music with emotion and experimentation
DUCKWRTH brews a perfect blend of classic and contemporary
Maral shares music that creates its own unique world
Lyric Jones is all about music that makes you hit rewind
Open Mike Eagle on dark purple jams and musical velvet paintings
Machinedrum keeps it chill with music for self-reflection
Channel Tres shares the classic songs that created his world
Qur’an Shaheed is revealing her inner truth through music
Karriem Riggins embraces the infinite possibilities in creating
Xinxin’s Janize Ablaza spins a soundtrack for space travel
Lady Blackbird honors fearless and transcendent artistry
Gabe Goodman longs for the sound of live musicians in a room
Genevieve Artadi is learning Bach and living moment by moment
Frankie Reyes marries technology with tradition
The Koreatown Oddity is raising his daughter on a colorful musical diet
Dante Elephante is slowing down his life with sides of vinyl
Sasami explores the wholesome world of animal songs
Vinyl Williams collects opalescent musical jewels from mysterious beaches
jez.who shares music for empathy and affirmation
Ana Roxanne fills your head with a selection of her favorite vocalists
Topaz Faerie traces her journey from sublime jazz to futuristic pop
Ah Mer Ah Su makes the case for danceable melancholy
Rosie Tucker recommends songs of hope, humor, and resiliency
Bedouine swoons to her favorite songs that evoke a mood
Edith Crash shares music that opens doors to other worlds
V.C.R’s seeds of musical growth, from Minnie Riperton to Erykah Badu
Wallice extols the virtues of teenage mixtapes and moody sleepover soundtracks
Bachelor shares their soundtrack to suit the many moods of friendship
The Growth Eternal drops into his favorite musical landscapes and environments
Pianist Paul Cornish unpacks 5 crucial records from boundary-stretching musicians