Kali Ra turn negatives into positives with eclectic, experimental debut album ‘Re: Done’
For many of us, “conflict” is a dirty word, something to dread and avoid. However, for Northeastern Pennsylvania musicians Jami Kali and Ray Novitski, who together go by the name Kali Ra, it’s a necessary step in the artistic process.
“Conflict is just lurking around the corner all the time,” Kali says, “but it can be a good thing because it presents obstacles for you to overcome. I always try to learn from it and take something away from the experience.”
Kali Ra’s 11-track debut album, “Re: Done,” dropped last Thursday, about a year and half since the pair first started collaborating and roughly six months since NEPA Scene reported on the project’s fundraising efforts back in October. The pair originally expected to complete and release the album much sooner, but complications both personal and professional slowed the production’s progress.
True to Kali’s philosophy of turning negatives into positives, though, all that time spent together navigating the storm ultimately brought the musicians closer together and now has them operating as a well-oiled machine. If nothing else, the chaos certainly provided plenty of artistic inspiration.
“A lot of the lyrical content expresses a sort of frustrated mindset,” Kali says.
“The album title is a play on words: ‘Re: Done,’ like in ‘Regarding the fact that we’re done.’ The whole album tells a story of these experiences where we learned something from them and then we’re done with them. It’s like, ‘Here’s what we got from that. Now we’re finished with the whole situation.’ At the same time, there’s the idea of being “redone.” It seems like it’s been like this with every musical endeavor I do; I always reinvent myself.”
With a laugh, Kali adds, “I don’t know if it’s some kind of mental disorder. I don’t think it’s ever going to end.”
Indeed, the chance to explore new territory was one of Kali Ra’s strongest draws for its members, who are also members of other local bands. Kali is one-half of dream pop duo Mock Sun, while Novitski fronts prog-rock band Signs & Wonders. Trying to juggle multiple projects admittedly added to the difficulties behind “Re: Done” but, in the end, it was all worth it.
“It’s like having a couple kids. You can’t neglect one, but one is always going to be jealous of the other. You have to find a way to make everybody happy and still make yourself happy,” Kali says.
“Mock Sun has a sound. Signs & Wonders has a sound. Ray and I are the kinds of people whose musical tastes are all over the place, so I think inside we’ve both been dying to dabble in all these different genres. This album was really our chance to explode. There’s a hip-hop song that reminds me of Beastie Boys … and then there’s a song that feels almost opiate-induced. Ray sings on it, and he’s playing this character who goes off talking about his twisted life. It reminds me of Tom Waits or the band Morphine. There are outright pop songs, dark pop songs, a disco song; it’s all over the place. We were insane when we were doing this, but it was great.”
You’d think that after such a protracted and apparently arduous production, Kali and Novitski would be looking to take a load off. Of course, you’d be wrong. Kali is already hard at work on a new Mock Sun album, “Post Hypnotic,” scheduled for a summer release, as well as a second album with her solo project, Kali Ma and the Garland of Arms. Novitski, likewise, is writing music for another side project, Me and the Squirrels.
Neither are ready to call it quits with Kali Ra either. Originally envisioned as a “one-time thing,” Kali Ra hopes to continue creating new material and is seeking members so that it can tour as a full band.
“As we were coming to the completion of this album, we began getting excited about the next step,” Kali says. “It’s funny, you come to the end and it’s just done. This idea came up when discussing poetry, that any act of creation is like a self-consuming artifact. It’s like an ouroboros, the creation that destroys itself. It ends, and then you’re just like, ‘Cool. Well, that’s done. Now what’s next?’ It feels so good to be finished, but the journey is not a means to an end. The means themselves almost feel better. It’s the journey; that’s the part that’s most satisfying.”
Photo by Brittany Boote Photography
by Bill Thomas
Bill Thomas is a new contributor to NEPA Scene.