Not everyone has to like your music for it to be “good.” — I used to be so eager to show my friends the music I was working on, only to be met with ambivalence. It took me years to recognize that I was seeking feedback from people without considering their own tastes. There are always going to be people that hate your favorite bands, so it only makes sense that they wouldn’t like your music either.
As a part of our series about “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Became An Artist” I had the pleasure of interviewing Kukuni.
Kukuni frontman Willy Christie is a Kansas-born / Los Angeles-based musician, ganjier, chess player, and disc golfer, pursuing his dreams of music and making an honest living in cannabis. His mother is a deaf choir teacher, and his father is a legally blind tennis pro. Needless to say, they ingrained a sense of “anything is possible’’ from a very young age. Kukuni is best described as psychedelic, indie, experimental art rock with pop sensibilities; wavy and groovy; dark but uplifting. Kukuni’s lyrics are rife with symbols, myths and fables; the language of the subconscious. The sound takes you into the dark forest of the human spirit and shines a light on the path less taken. Kukuni’s music represents the internal space we all return to when creating; the room in which our strangest ideas float around, waiting to be transformed into something beautiful.
Kukuni’s self-titled album was conceived in late 2019, during a six month period of self-imposed writing isolation. Willy claims to have “accidentally” sacrificed an entire summer to the project. Coming out of the cocoon in the winter of 2019, he vowed to never again stay inside for an entire summer. Then COVID happened. After writing the bulk of material, Christie brought in the help of producer Tony Buchen (John Carroll Kirby, Sam Gendel, Smashing Pumpkins) and drummer Robby Sinclair (Chet Faker, Natasha Bedingfield, Linda Perry) to help take the tracks to the next level. The album is now available on Liquid Culture, a community of artists and creators dedicated to preserving and furthering the psychedelic experience.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
Thank you for having me! I grew up just outside of Kansas City, in Overland Park, Kansas. I had a pretty normal, suburban childhood. I went to a small Catholic school down the street from my house. My 8th grade class had 24 kids and we all went to the same church, so you couldn’t get away with much. My mom was a music teacher and was always singing around the house. She would have my brother and I actively listen to songs to pick out instruments and different harmonies. Also, being in a Catholic school, choir was mandatory.
Can you share a story with us about what brought you to performing with a band?
I was in my (very) early twenties and had been playing guitar for a few years at that point. I had been jamming with a lot of different friends, and eventually found a group of close buddies that wanted to play regularly. When we realized that nobody wanted to hear us improvise for an hour, I took the initiative and started writing songs for the band.
Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began performing?
It would have to be between one of two things: The first one would be playing “F*ck Tha Police” by Rage Against the Machine as the police were shutting down a huge house party we were playing (shout out to Hoodstock). And the second, more recent happening, would have to be playing a Kukuni set at a cannabis consumption lounge here in Los Angeles.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
I’ve got a few projects in the works right now, besides my very interesting and exciting main project, Kukuni. I recently started an impromptu stoner rock project called Indica Roast, and I’m also working on an experimental ambient record with one of my favorite artists, Luke Temple.
Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?
I used to live with a guy named Mike. He started out as “Couch Mike,” and later graduated to “Magic Mike.” It was truly wild watching someone like him living in the world. Generous to a fault, but always landing on his feet in the most unbelievable ways. There’s one story in particular that stands out to me: He was at a low point in his life, financially, when he accidentally broke my guitar as it was resting on a couch. I knew he didn’t have any money to replace it, but he insisted that he was good for it. Just a few days later, we were at the gas station on our way to play disc golf. Out of nowhere his eyes widened and he just kept looking at me and then over his shoulder. After we checked out, I asked him what was going on. He told me he found two $100 bills on the ground! He then proceeded to give me one of them to help pay for a new guitar.
Where do you draw inspiration from? Can you share a story about that?
I find that I’m most inspired when I’m reading or listening to talk radio, but I find inspiration has a way of mixing things up..for better and for worse. There’s a song called “Zorrillo” on my last album out on Liquid Culture Records that I remember being inspired to write. I was looking up the symbolism of skunks and what it meant to have them appear in dreams, when I read that skunks are usually associated with pacifism. It was so intriguing to me, I had to explore the concept by writing a whole song about it. I guess I had never considered them to be necessarily peaceful animals, but when your only defense is being stinky, I suppose you’re not actively picking fights.
How have you used your talent to bring goodness to the world?
I’d like to think that my music is a positive influence in and of itself. I strive to make each song meaningful, and the general theme to my creative output has been to help others heal and search for meaning in their own lives.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
1). Not everyone has to like your music for it to be “good.” — I used to be so eager to show my friends the music I was working on, only to be met with ambivalence. It took me years to recognize that I was seeking feedback from people without considering their own tastes. There are always going to be people that hate your favorite bands, so it only makes sense that they wouldn’t like your music either.
2). Trust yourself. — You can’t please everyone, and you can’t know what anyone else is thinking. The only thing you can know for sure is your own taste and what YOU like. It’s taken me years to really understand the value of my own convictions. It’s often the songs I think about the least, or am most hesitant to share (for lack of “seriousness” or “intention”) that end up being the most “me.” My entire last album was written with no audience in mind, no intention of ever releasing or performing it, and yet, it has become my favorite collection of songs that I’m most proud to share.
3). Stop doing things you don’t want to do. — Whether it’s a job that doesn’t respect you, a relationship that doesn’t suit you, or a project that doesn’t feel right anymore, it’s important to remember that you’re in charge. Saying “no” can be hard, but it is also liberating. Every job I’ve been fired from has led me to a better, more fulfilling job, so I figure I might as well beat them to the punch. And this goes for pretty much any situation where saying “no” or walking out the door is daunting, but absolutely necessary. Stay fluid, and stay inspired. The universe seems to always have our best interest in mind.
4). The next idea is always better. — I used to get bogged down by perfectionism, not wanting to waste a good riff or chord progression. I was sharing my frustration with an older musician friend, and he shared this little bit of wisdom with me. As artists, we are constantly learning and improving, and so it’s inevitable that when you look back at the beginning of a project you see all of the places where you can improve. Simply because you tend to get better at things with time (and the more time spent on a project), the more you’ve grown. It’s important to keep that energy moving forward, knowing the next idea will always be better.
5). You don’t have to try to be original, anything you do will be the most “you” thing that exists in the world. — Touching on trusting yourself, but focusing more on the constant drive to be as unique and original as possible. The only problem is that we are already incredibly unique, and it’s in leaning into our own first instincts and intuitions that we can align our creative output with our most authentic selves. I’ve shown friends songs that I can’t help but feel are biting a particular artist, or heavily inspired by a very mainstream or popular artist. More often than not, those influences aren’t even picked up on. As Picasso said, “Good artists copy, great artists steal.” In the end, his “stolen” inspiration led to some of the most unique and groundbreaking pieces of art to this day.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I would love to see psychedelic therapy and transpersonal psychology become more mainstream. I really think that spirituality is the missing piece in a lot of Western modalities, and that acknowledging and nurturing that essential part of our humanity is the key to widespread healing.
We have been blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she just might see this.
I’d like to have lunch with Jay-Z, that way I could ask him for $500,000 instead.
What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!
Thank you! Thanks for having me.
Willy Christie of Kukuni: 5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Became An Artist was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.