25 Feb LA’s INDIE POP DUO KiSMiT MEET STRUGGLE WITH STRENGTH IN STUNNING “COMPASS” MUSIC VIDEO
Don’t let the almost-always-frosted-with-sprinkles facade people tend to paint fool you into thinking anyone has a perfect life. Even the most coveted stars with caravans of followers have a spectrum of emotions, just like you and I. (And, let’s be honest, true growth rarely, if ever, stems from flaunting flashiness.) Over the past year, I’ve personally come to learn it’s often in our darkest places, breaking bread with our dreams, our reality, and our fears, where we have the potential to become something greater than we once were. In those uncertain moments that can span days yet seem like decades, we gaze at someone (or something) constant in our lives—not necessarily for guidance, but for comfort. That feeling of protection, even from ourselves, invites the type of clarity that not only helps us reorient ourselves, but also helps us flourish.
LA-based indie pop duo KiSMiT absolutely conquers this cyclical concept with their newly released, profoundly moving music video for “Compass.” (Watch it now.) I don’t mean to type in hyperbole, but I’ve never seen anything like it before. Full disclosure: I can’t watch it without teary eyes. And I think it’s because KiSMiT created and then captured something VERY REAL.
While one could easily credit Carly’s stunning performance to her theater background, I think the greater reason the video touches its viewers so deeply is that it’s a true reflection of her actual emotions, her actual struggles, and the actual bond she shares with Baz—who’s both her partner in music and her partner in life. Those authentic feelings grace the screen in a way that’s organic and transparent thanks to their close friend and director of movement, Chantal Cherry, who worked hand-in-hand with Carly utilizing a tailor-made improv process. (Oh yes, you’ll read ALL about it in the interview.) Beneath the aesthetics of the movements, lies the cornerstone of the video—the song itself. Still-yet-to-be released, “Compass” unites elegance, struggle, and strength to produce a cleverly soft yet distinctly powerful track that nearly holds you in its arms. Here are some of my favorite lyrics:
Down this old road with a new map,
Know where I need to go but I’m doubting the path
And there you are reminding me that I’m exactly where I should be,
the north star of my heart
It’s not about having it figured out,
it’s holding strong as we navigate on
In this interview, you’ll learn: when and why KiSMiT penned “Compass;” how they prepped for and created the “Compass” music video; all about the duo’s just-released, super-sexy single, “Look No Further;” and their much-anticipated upcoming spring tour.
The conversation from our interview is chronicled below in a pure Q & A format.
Q & A:
What were you doing when the first vision for the “Compass” video came into focus?
Carly: I was having a particularly emotional day. I’m old enough to know when I’m in my own way. Things were foggy and blurry, and something pulled me back to “Compass.” We still haven’t officially released the song—it’s more of a ballad than our other stuff. (I grew up listening to Sara Bareilles, Regina Spektor, and early Adele. This like power ballad/ Kelly Clarkson stuff.)
“Compass” came to mind and I thought, I’m just going to turn it on and dance in my house. Before I knew it, I was in a ball crying. And it felt really good to cry. I thought, Whoa, maybe there’s something here with this song. This all happened around November—that end of the year/ reflective time of the year/ darkest part of the year. You know, right about to be the holidays… I realized there is this very emotional part of me, where—if I can get myself to a place of hearing it—could be a lot bigger than me simply having a cryfest in my house.
I didn’t overthink this one, and I tend to overthink everything. And it just worked. Now that the video’s been released and we’ve been flooded with positive feedback, I feel like, if I knew being a hot mess onscreen could be so powerful, I would have done this years ago!
How did you + Baz go about building your team for the video?
Carly: Chantal Cherry, the video’s Director of Choreography, is Basti’s long-time friend from South Africa. Her and her wife live here in California. They’re both dear friends of ours. (Chantal also directed the choreography for our “Cosmic Love” music video.) I was wrestling with this idea for the “Compass” video, and talked to Chantal about it over lunch. I can’t remember if it was her or me that suggested we should do an improv video, but I’m grateful we went for it.
Our manager Dana Delany’s boyfriend, Alex Tafreshi, is a videographer. We wanted to do a project together, so it all just came to be. With the dance and the cinematography, there was this real trifecta in the room that I had never felt before. Everybody had their space and it was just really respectful. Alex, the DP, was capturing all the magic, and then Chantal and I were sharing a new language. She was helping me reach a place I didn’t know I could get to by myself.
And Dana was there and Basti was there, and those two were like my rocks. It held such an intimate and safe space. For the record, “Compass” is Dana’s favorite song of ours; she’s pushed for it and pushed for it. And, in the past, Baz and I kept saying we weren’t going to make a “Compass” video. So, the whole time we were shooting, we kept telling Dana, “Thank you for making this happen.” It was a really, really, beautiful shoot day.
Follow the whole “Compass” team on Instagram:
@20twentypro – Alex, DP, Editor
@chantalncherry – Director of Choreography
@dana4s – Manager
@jorelcorpus – Mix
@jettgalindo – Master
@bakerymastering – Master
@lencka818 – Violin
@davemackaymusic – Keys
Can you tell us anymore about the improv process and how you and Chantal approached it?
Carly: Chantal knew I wanted to get to a really vulnerable, raw place. I know—from my acting background—how to do that with a scene partner. I didn’t know how to do that through dance *without* singing. None of my previous tools were present.
We talked a lot about what the dance was exploring. Chantal is such a beautiful teacher and inspirer with coming up with a language for dance. We started to work with these things she called scores, which are kind of like themes. At first, we would move together. Then, I would move alone. A lot of the movement involved trusting that my body was enough, and that I didn’t have to create anything—that it would just come out.
The leaps and the kicks and the jumps that are really show-y, was stuff I knew I could do, but it was wayyy more interesting to get really small, really specific, and feel the movement in my hips or my left hand. I’d watch the takes back, and think, here I am showing off, and then here I am being really ugly, which is something I normally wouldn’t want to watch but what I was so much more interested in.
Chantal is such a badass feminist; she’s such a grounding force. In rehearsals and between takes, she’d say things like, “Be ugly, don’t be pretty. You don’t need to do a kick and be graceful. I want to see you…struggling…”—that was a new way in.
In terms of the scores, we had three. One was called EDGE—going to the furthest, scariest place, be it running full force, jumping, or any other extreme movement. Another was WIPING DOUBT, which dealt with repetition. “Compass” talks about light and dark. I feel like a lot of my dark involves patterns, and how frustrating those patterns can feel. The same thing—or in this case, the same movement—over and over again can get me to a point of frustration. The contrast to the two dark scores is the third, which we called BUTTERFLIES. Chantal created this beautiful image of butterflies coming out of every single cell of mine and filling a room or filling my whole arm. An image of all the joy, of all the light, of all the calm after the storm.
It was really cool to come up with our own language and then walk Alex through it. On the day of the shoot we chunked out our takes in those three sections. We started with EDGE and did it over and over again, moved onto WIPING OUT and did it over and over again and finally ended with BUTTERFLIES, the joy and celebration.
I’m a double Virgo—a perfectionist AND a planner. Improv has always been a really scary place for me, because there’s no plan. With the “Compass” video, it was integral to know, Okay, this is our structure. And I just had to show up and be present on the day of—which was new and hard and awesome.
It’s so cool to learn about the layers underneath what was happening and how this team of people made this possible.
Carly: I’m still overwhelmed when I think about it. It was a life-changing project. I’ve gone to dance classes since with Chantal and told her, “Chantal, I’m a different dancer. You MADE me different dancer.” And she says, “No, YOU made you a different dancer.” It’s so beautiful that work was powerful enough to leave an everlasting imprint.
In what ways did you prepare yourselves for the performance?
Carly: I took a lot of baths and floated in a lot of warm water. I think so much of why the reaction is genuine is that I just *was* lost. In all honesty, I was kind of confused and in a searching place.
The video had a really quick turnaround. We rehearsed for maybe two weeks and then we shot. And we knew it was this crazy, right-before-Christmas project. That time of year is really social. I had wanted to go get drinks with friends, and I did some of that. But then I’d go home to journal and do what I needed to do to stay clear. I knew the video was going to be scary in ways I hadn’t expected. Like anything that’s really nerve-wracking, the fear creeps out in really sneaky ways—not necessarily just the night before or morning of something like I would expect. I was really proud of the risk that I was taking, and self-love grows from that place.
This is the first project that Baz and I haven’t worked on together. This was such a test to myself that we decided it would be my domain while he focused on producing some of our new music. He only came to one rehearsal before we shot. And I felt nervous again, like when we were in college with our own separate musical theater shows and he’d come see me perform. I felt like, OH, my crush is in the room!
Describe the vibes onset.
Carly: Everyone was really attentive, and I think we were all wondering what was going to happen. I put a lot of pressure on myself as we all tend to do. In the first few takes, I felt this kind of haziness. I had my own moments of, okay you have to shake this off and trust that the movement will come. I’m such a worry-wart and it’s exhausting. At the end of every show, experience, or travel plan, it always turns out better than whatever my biggest fears were. I knew that going into this. I knew that there was no other option than to trust.
The vibe was really peaceful, silly, and sweet. It was in a beautiful loft space. Dana was perched behind the monitor. Chantal was right behind Alex, seeing what I was doing and also seeing what was on the monitor. We would pretty much do a whole take to the song and then regroup. I’d drink some water and eat a cutie. Then we’d keep going back until we felt like we had enough footage.
I was particularly nervous about the emotional part, and I didn’t know how I would deliver that on shoot day. I wasn’t alone in the bathroom with my own fears. I was in a room full of people in a space we’d paid for. The owner of the space kept coming in and out, which started to bug me. It was that frustration that allowed me to get to the darker places I needed to emotionally, so I’m honestly very grateful for the owner’s interruptions. Once I knew I reached that place once, it gave me permission to continue going there. I knew I had more in me.
The hardest part of editing was watching me “ugly” cry. After the shoot, we all came home and immediately reviewed the footage to find the best shots. The fact that this team wanted to eat some food together after the long shoot and dive further into it was a testament to all the characters involved in the project. So, so above and beyond. Once we reached the crying parts, everyone was like, “F**k! It’s hard to watch you crying again.”
Let’s talk about the song “Compass” itself. (I LOVE it, but I want to know what *you* love about it + why you wrote it.)
Carly: It must have been 2016—we hadn’t even recorded Cosmic Love. We were very much just trying to play and just trying to write. Our dream was way less focused, and our image was less clarified. Sometimes, I would get into a tizzy and feel like I was late or old or whatever. SO, I was having this particular meltdown and Baz said, “Why don’t you just sit at the piano and see what comes out? If you don’t want to play after five minutes, don’t.”
And then, of course, I just sat there and this came pouring out in an hour. And it was a really therapeutic release. Songwriting can be so different. Sometimes it’s just sitting down to do the work and be in the moment creating, more often than not it’s therapeutic. Transforming the ugly pain into something a lot more beautiful than what eats away at your gut. “Compass” was definitely the latter about working through something. The first lyrics were like, “dancing through the motion, unfamiliar routine, stumbling emotions, with every step in between…point A & point B…,” and beside some fine tuning of imagery, the bare bones came out in one swoop. Even the bridge just came out.
I realized it’s so much bigger than me. This is me getting out of the way and being a channel for something larger to come through. I think about art school and academia—a lot of it was so ego-centric and about needing to prove something and take ownership of it. The older I get and the more yoga I do, the more aware I am of my ego and in turn the happier I am trusting my gift and sharing it in the hopes that I can leave the most optimal contributions while I’m on this earth.
I’m so lucky to have such a beautiful support system. When I sing “Compass” at a show, it’s for my mom, my grandma, and the whole village that’s brought me to this moment. It’s emotional and one of my favorite parts of every show, because it’s a moment of real gratitude. Mom, I’m up here, but you took me to every rehearsal. And Basti, you pulled out the piano seat and sat me there. “Compass” has always been this lingering anchor that brings me new life and takes me to a place that some of our upbeat/dance-y stuff doesn’t.
Can you tell us about your newest single “Look No Further?”
Carly: We wrote “Look No Further” last year. Baz and I just celebrated our six-year anniversary, and while we’ve talked about love and many other topics in our music, one area we haven’t talked about is SEXY stuff. A large part of what’s so magical about our relationship is that we work in the studio and behind closed doors. And we’ve sustained that for the last six years! We have to save some aspects of our relationship for ourselves only, but sharing some of the intimacy in a world of so much violence was important to us.
It was really fun to put things in a different gear and play around. The bridge was birthed from me wanting to have the intimate sound of a breath as a groove. We recorded a few breath variations and Baz spliced them up and used them to make a beat.
Baz: It was a lot of fun to put this song together. This mellow, yet active R&B groove is a zone I could live in all dayyy. It complements the message of ‘Look No Further’ quite well. I laid much of the groundwork (programmed drums, played guitars, wrote the bass line), but it came to life a little more with each friend we had play on it: Drew ofthe Drew put in synths and added thumping bass dirtiness, Moez Dawad overlaid percussion and drums, and Balam Garcia added the extra guitary sheen. We are blessed to have so many talented members of the KiSMiT crew.
What’s next for KiSMiT?
Carly: Next month, we’ll be releasing another single—“No Turning Back”—along with its music video, and that’s going to launch us into our No Turning Back tour!
We’re playing at the Peppermint Club in LA on Saturday, March 30th at 8pm, continuing up the coast to Seattle for a show at the High Dive on Saturday, April 6th at 8pm, and then heading over to NYC to play Rockwood Music Hall on Wednesday, April 10th at 10:30pm. If you live in any of those cities come out and see us!
Connect with KiSMiT:
Watch the “Compass” music video:
Listen to “Look No Further:”
Apple Music: https://itunes.apple.com/au/album/look-no-further-single/1451213743
Watch the “Look No Further” music video:
Listen to what KiSMiT is Listening to (our exclusive playlist):
Spotify Playlist MMM: KiSMiT
Read our last interview with KiSMiT:
Upgrade Your Indie with KiSMiT’s Pop-Funk EP, Cosmic Love
Photo by Danica x Alena Photography @danicaxalena