Going to a club is typically seen as a celebration, whether you're turning up for a friend's milestone birthday or want to let loose from the stress-filled work week. But there is a shadowy corner in the club that not many choose to explore, and Kingdom is bringing that gloomier side to our party experience to the light. The electronic-R&B producer (whose real name is Ezra Rubin) is basking in the Feb. 24 release of his debut full-length album Tears in the Club, which flip-flops between both sides. It radiates just as brightly as those sparklers on V.I.P. champagne bottles while also sinking deep into our dark thoughts just as that last cocktail that spins your intoxication into overdrive.
The yin and yang of being in a club reflects Kingdom's move from Brooklyn to Los Angeles a few years ago. “There’s been a bunch of storms and I get to pretend that I live in Seattle or New York," he tells me over the phone. "The sunshine gets a little monotonous sometimes, so I’m actually enjoying the moody weather." He likens the album's songs to colors when I revealed they create hazy, dreamlike visions in my head while I listen. “What Is Love” featuring SZA is pink, while “Each and Every Day” and the title track are shades of blue. The soulless "Haunted Gate" gets black, while "Breathless" is a vibrant red. Fans will be able to experience these colors when Kingdom hits the road this month for a few release parties.
"We’re doing ones in Boston, Chicago and New York. Then in April I’m doing international dates," he says. "I’m playing Sónar festival in Hong Kong on April 1, which I’m really excited about. I’ll be doing a bunch of different shows in Europe after that." Read on for my Q&A with Kingdom about digging a little deeper with emotions for Tears in the Club.
FUSE: Your music sounds much lighter once you moved from New York to Los Angeles. "Nutureworld" is so bright and airy compared to your previous work. Has LA changed your mindset on producing?
Kingdom: I think it has a little bit. And it’s interesting you point that song out because it’s the most LA-sounding one. Spending more time in my car and with my headphones makes the music a lot more West Coast. There’s so much R&B on the radio here and so much R&B culture, so there’s a little bit of that smoothness. It’s like watching a really slow sunset.
I feel like the meaning "Tears in the Club" can reflect so many things, from the recent tragedies at Pulse nightclub to crying because
you saw your boyfriend kissing another girl. What's your story behind the title?
It started as just the casual name I gave that song on the album. But then it stuck with me and I kept thinking about it. It’s about bringing unexpected emotions into a club and some feelings that might not be normally appropriate and acceptable in those spaces. It’s also been an interesting few years where I took some time away from DJing and being out on the road as much. But it was also somewhat a retreat from the club and going into more emotional territory. There was a couple of instances before I started the album, just witnessing fights at the clubs for the first time. I haven’t seen that much violence in all my traveling as a DJ but I’ve recently seen more brawls. It was shocking to see. And this wasn’t the intention behind the album, but with Pulse and other incidents it shows that the club is not necessarily a safe place for everyone.
Have you cried
in the club before?
I have! Not recently but it has happened to me. There have been some pretty upsetting incidents and it does feel especially tragic in that moment because there’s so much effort being put into everybody having fun. The club has the lights going and there’s all this atmosphere. I think that’s what I like about the [album] title because it’s breaking that expectation.
One song that immediately struck me on the album is "Each and Every Day." I love the high pitched-vocals, the sharp beats and those little hiccups. It's so different for you.
With that one I was thinking back to New York with Swizz Beatz and producers I grew up loving who made these rough, stompy sounding rap instrumentals. Even some old Busta Rhymes and Neptunes productions as well. Also at that time of making the record, I was really obsessed with Vine and I’m so sad it’s gone. So I got into following different singers on Vine. Some of them were in high school and they’re all posting their vocal covers, and they’re layering and harmonizing with each other. I was really obsessed with the technology they were using. I saw a sample of Najee Daniels covering a gospel song by Tye Tribbets and doing his own take on it. So I looked up the song and it was a different melody. So I sampled that and made “Each and Every Day.” I was about to get it mastered before realizing so many people on Vine just get sampled and never credited. So I decided to hit him up and see if he was down to make it an actual feature even though it was just one sentence.
So what's your favorite song on the album?
“Down For Whatever” with SZA. I just love listening to her vocal on that one and the way she rides the beat. She’s so intentional with every little note and pocket that she sings, and I get lost in that sometimes.
How did you initially link up with her?
I’ve been a fan of SZA for a while. My brother actually introduced me to her music when she was just dropping stuff on soundcloud. He helped us get in touch and we met in New York about two years ago. We had short studio sessions over the course of that time for the album.
I'm sure working with Syd was cool too. She has such a mellow and chill vibe.
She’s just as chill in person; it’s all completely accurate. We’d spend these long studio days together and she makes writing look so easy. It just flows out of her. We’d write all day, smoke a joint and get back to it. Everyone knows she’s a talented engineer and produces herself. So when she cut her vocals, she kind of pushed the engineer out the way and started chopping up her own takes. That was cool.
I’ve always seen you has one of the pioneers of the modern electronic-R&B movement. How do you think the genre has shifted?
I think it’s really exciting and becoming a bigger thing where more artists want to work with electronic producers. In a way, it shifted into existence. A lot of R&B albums often had an electronic track and I think now it’s becoming its own genre where people dedicate their whole album to this kind of sound. The change that I hope to see is that people don’t just hire their label’s preferred producers to replicate that sound. I hope they go and look to see who’s innovative in that field and work with people who have been playing with it underground for years.
I love that you always highlight a lot of black R&B singers in your music. It's become rare nowadays since most people just use them as a background artists.
I don’t do it just because I feel there is not enough credit given, because it’s not out of sympathy or anything like that. I do have a natural connection because I’ve been listening to female R&B singers since I was really young. But there is an element of what you’re talking about being involved because I do feel like the female voice is often pushed to the side. As far as female features, I’m excited when one that I like gets featured on a big rapper’s or a pop artist’s record. But still that female side gets layered in, so I wanted to make it front and center. It’s definitely the focal point.
I read a recent interview where you discuss your feminine side. Do you attribute feminine
and masculine qualities to your music?
I think both elements are present in my music for sure. But with this album I’m letting a little more vulnerability show. Especially in the instrumentals where there’s this softer, more introspective vibe that I’m showing. In a way there is more femininity than masculinity on this particular album. It was a point to give that side of myself a little more shine.
Are there any plans to expand your Fade To Mind label or connect with a bigger company? Like Sony or UMG, for example.
Well we do work with Warp Records in London on some of our projects. They’re a slightly bigger indie label and they help us do some great stuff. In particular, like printing out really nice vinyls and CDs. But I’m also interested in linking up with a bigger label and definitely looking to sign more vocalists. I do want to expand the label and continue to build it with more albums.
Bringing it back to these club references, do you prefer your songs to be played in club or large
I feel safer in the club even though I told you it’s not safe [laughs]. But I do like the darkness. There’s also a safety in that where you can hide out a little bit. So I love that. But at the same time, I’m ready for festivals to bring the club vibe into that atmosphere. It can do both but I feel a majority of this record is more car and headphone music that reminds you of the club. I grew up in a really rural area as a kid with just like 5,000 people in it. There was no access to clubs or nightlife culture. I was just driving around and walking around in the woods listening to that kind of music and imagining, like “I wonder what it’s like to go to a drum and bass party in London” or whatever fantasy I was having. So I think a lot of my music has that element where you’re not actually at the party, but you’re thinking about the party.
Below, watch The Internet talk about bringing energy to festival shows at Bonnaroo 2016: