After moving to the Pacific Northwest from Estonia at a young age, the Yagolnikov siblings gained a huge online following with recordings based from their Camas, Washington residence. They have largely drifted under Portland’s indie radar, but have released two albums of electronic tracks fronted by sister Olga, brothers Tim and Alex on keys and guitar, and eventually Olga’s beau Tommy providing live drums.
Their music has well placed layers, it’s soft enough to dance and work to, and yet the symphonics, electronic melodies, and Olga’s echoing poetry are hypnotizing. Songs embed themselves into the mind, causing incessant humming of the tracks throughout the day. The band named themselves Kye Kye, which is symbolic of higher powers and the greek letter “chi” or “X”. Their most recent album, this month’s release of Fantasize, was partially mixed by four- time Grammy winner Michael Brauer; and currently has them touring abroad, visiting The Parachute Festival in New Zealand and making waves with their haunting electronic pop.
The first single from Fantasize, “Honest Affection”, features a beautiful video full of cinematic beauty and reels from WWII, a vague drama that features a girl with a trinket from the past in modern-day Japan, the rest of the story is explained in crisp shots of a man with his sword in the forest, and touches on decisions of love and honor. Olga is a shadow narrating in a red room, and one thing is for sure, the trill of her voice as the Kamikaze spirals downward, is dead-on.
Fantasize offers texture in each track. There are heavy beats, misty synths, and clear vocals that crawl and soar. Standout tracks include “People”(which mirrors the disco of Blondie or perhaps Reflektor), the cascading “Dreams (2AM)”, the goose-bump inducing orchestration of title track “Fantasize”, and the spacy, heavier swirl of “Her” .
Oh, and there’s this cover of U2’s “With Or Without You”, recorded at home:
Eleven got a chance to catch up with Kye Kye’s Olga and Tommy just before their January 21st release of Fantasize:
11: So this is a family affair?
KK: Yes it is! We are all family. It started off with Olga, and Tim and then, Alex (brother) came in a little later on. That’s when our first project formed and out of that came Kye Kye.
11: And with Tommy you are a quartet now?
KK: Tommy joined later on before we officially formed “Kye Kye” We always played before without a drummer. After he was in the group, we kind of started taking our music more seriously, touring, etc. and that’s the same line up we have today.
11: And you are from Estonia? How does your heritage impress into your music?
KK: Correct, our father and mother were musicians back in Russian and Estonia and that was pretty much a huge part of our childhood, having music all around the house when we were young, watching our parents make cds, play concerts, was something that was normal to us, so for us to end up as musicians kind of makes sense. We notice a lot of our tastes even for writing can be traced back to some of the old Russian programming/songs we listened to as kids, etc.
11: When did you make the move from Estonia just outside of Portland to Camas, WA?
What was that like for you?
KK: We moved from Estonia when we were pretty young, but we were still really integrated in our cultural roots (Our parents still speak it, language, food, etc). Portland area ended up being our home and we absolutely always love this city!
11: And how did you come to make music? like were you just fooling around in the basement and decided to stick with it?
KK: Initially it was sort of a fooling around thing, and when we got more into it, we realized that it was something that came really naturally to us. Tim was in a band doin’ his own thing for while way back in the day and me (Olga) just dinked around on the guitar, but when we both started writing together it just clicked.
11: Who are some of your influences and inspirations? I have to say I am reminded of a little St. Vincent, Frou Frou, and that one of my favorite songs on Fantasize is “Her” –it sounds- just a tad- like you collaborated with the artist Tobacco.
KK: That’s so awesome! All great artists. As much as we want to say all the really cool bands in the world, it really came down to which artists/songs we connected to/what we grew up with. We listen to a variety of things so narrowing down a genre or an artist can be really hard. Its sort of everything and anything that spoke to me.. I’m really big on the sappy stuff though ,the stuff that makes you think. I guess you wouldn’t really catch me in a car crankin’ “We Cant Stop” all by myself.
11: Why is your sophomore release called “Fantasize”?
KK: Fantasize is kind of a mental journey we went through and are going through still, a process of trying to figure out how to handle our thoughts and emotions, more-so a personal experience that sprouted from the thought “I just want to be happy.” So is it about what I do, or my perception of the world? We chose “fantasize” because we sorta want to revamp the meaning. I feel like our culture created it to be a darker reference but the actual definition is: indulge in daydreaming about something desired. Our human tendencies a lot of times is to become really impatient when we really want something, to have it all at once rather then taking the time to sit on a thought. Letting your mind find a place were sometimes we’re afraid to let it go. Just saying: there, let it travel and find an answer.. “Fantasize” . A wise man once said “The more you know, the more you realize you don’t know” which to me personally makes me feel limitless and pushes me to always discover.
11: How is this album different or a growth from previous work?
KK: It has been almost four years since we recorded our first record Young Love. So a lot of time has past and we had a lot of time to just figure out a more specific vision for what we wanted things to sound like. Things just change as time goes, you cant help it , things evolve and grow. As writers we feel like we’ve just grown a lot and this record has just a bit more of maturity integrated in it’s elements.
11: Where did you record the album? How did Nashville treat you?
KK: Nashville was our home for the month that we recorded Fantasize. We recorded it a Bottom Bunk studios with Chad Howat, and had such an amazing experience! Nashville is kinda our second home and we seriously love that city (Tim actually lives there now).
11: What are some of your favorite styles, an instrument, a lyric, or something new you tried or enjoyed using on this record?
KK: We have seasons of listening to certain styles of music and I think when Fantasize was written we just wrote was what naturally coming out of us. One style that we feel made its way a little onto the record is R&B, little bit of disco, and more classic elements that we love the vibes of on this record.
11: What about touring?
KK: Touring has been really fun for us as a band and we are really excited to venture into more tours supporting other bands, as well as going into our own full-production headlining tours also! Probably our favorite show was this year at a conference down in Long Beach called Adventure Always. A room full of artists that were all dancing their butts off to our music was a memory that is super special to us.
11: Reading some of your lyrics from your first album Young Love…and seeing some of your fans comments…well, are you considered a “Christian band”?
KK: We don’t really want to categorize our music because we feel when you start saying who your listening audience is, or what spiritual beliefs are in your record, you automatically start to cut off people who aren’t in those categories. We all grew up in Christian homes, and faith is a big part of what we write about, but we don’t consider ourselves a “Christian Band”. We really are just musicians: Musicians who write what they are experiencing.
11: How do you hope your music and mission is interpreted?
KK: We honestly view our music as a response to things that have happened to us, and are happening to us. And that’s exactly how we hope that our music is interpreted, as an honest response. I think a lot of bands have agendas that they want to push using their music as a front, and for us, we feel like the music can get lost in all of the noise surrounding it. Music isn’t something that we want to market things through, but an honest expression of ourselves, that people can connect to. Being an indie band has actually been super enjoyable. Having control over what we write, where we tour/who we tour with, our art direction, etc, is something that we have all enjoyed and we have gotten the opportunity to build our own team of people that are helping us take our music to the next level.
11: What does Kye Kye mean?
KK: Kye Kye is derived from the Greek letter “Chi” in the Greek alphabet. The letter is part of the word Chi-Ro that means Christ. You often see it look like an “X” like in “X-mas”.
Interview by Brandy Crowe