Interview: Kolai (of Ave. To)

Interview: Kolai (of Ave. To)

When I saw producer Oddisee was part of a new project called Ave. To, I knew that couldn’t go wrong. Surprised that it was a lounge/mellow album instead of hard Hip Hop, but great nonetheless. We hooked up with Kolai to talk about this extraordinary project.


Ave To

Ave. To is a group consisting of three guys; The Unknown, Oddisee and Kolai. This year they released their debut ‘Three Way Intersection’, a beautiful cross-over of Hip Hop, Jazz, Soul and everything in between. I had a chance to interview Kolai about their musical journey.

Preview: Ave. To – Sand To The Beach

Can you tell me a little bit more about your collaboration? I know it’s between you three, but how did you meet and why did you decide to form a group and to make an album?
We met through a common friend who’s DJ. Rich then introduced me to Amir. Like many producers they had created music that they loved but had not found its place with their typical listeners. I loved the collection of tracks they made me listen to from the get go. I liked the approach they wanted to take: organically styled yet ‘machine made’ beats laced with tons of live musicians.

It’s hard to put a label on your music. It can be defined as a cross-over between Hip Hop, Soul and Jazz but it’s also has influences beyond those genres. Can you name some of your biggest musical inspirations?
I love music. That’s it. I like Bach and the Beatles, Stravinksy and the Stones, Beethoven and Bowie, Prince and Arvo Part, Vaughan Williams and Stevie Wonder, Antonin Dvorak and Miles Davis. If I’m moved, it’s good. If I become happy to be alive, it’s good.

Apart from that, are there also non-musical things you guys get your inspiration from for your music?
History. Politics. Relationships. Religion. Philosophy. These themes are in my head most of the times. They help mostly when writing lyrics though. When it comes to music I prefer to look for raw emotions rather than intellectual meaning.

You collaborated with quite a few musicians on your album. Are there any other artists/musicians you guys really want to work with?
I would be willing to work with anyone who can play and likes the project. This is especially true when selecting the musicians for Ave.To live-shows. I can’t say I’d like to work with a particular big name though. If Stan Getz could come back to life and play a little Tenor Sax that might make my day of course.. lol! I much prefer musicians who don’t expect everything to revolve around their name and skills. If we want to make a trumpet record sure, let’s book Dave Valentin. In this case the goal is to make Avenue To music. So what we need are skilled musicians with an interest in being part of a large musical tribe.

Your album ‘Three Way Intersection’ just released in Japan but also in the US. Are you guys satisfied with the responds and feedback you got on the album?
It’s better so far in Japan than in the US. That is not surprising. Mostly I think the reaction is that of confusion. Retailers wonder if it’s a Jazz-record or a Hip Hop record or a Lounge record. Of course this confusion is incomprehensible to us. If you have a Hip Hop-store, then give it to the Hip Hop-heads and they will find something to relate to in this record. If you have a Jazz-store, give Avenue To’s album to the Jazzheads and observe how they too can find happiness in this record. And finally give the cd to your DJ’s and/or play it in your lounge or at your party and you’ll see that it is actually also a perfectly respectable lounge record. We must re-double our efforts to hammer this message home to our American market. We are beginning to be successful. It matters that when people hear it once they recommend it. This is what we are seeing so I am happy about where things are headed.

Preview: Ave. To – Mama’s Koolaid

Next to Ave. To you guys are also working solo. Can you tell me a little bit about that? Any upcoming solo-projects/releases we should know about?
I am working on the first EP for singer-songwriter Selective Intelligence. An eclectic selection of jams, at times sultry, at times pensive, always filled with intense emotions. I’m very excited to have DJ Smash and Ahmed Simour remix two of the tracks. The package should have about 8 tracks. Look for it later this Fall on Asahra!

Our magazine mainly focusses on Hip Hop so I want to ask you this (very cliché) question: what do you think of Hip Hop nowadays?
I’m not and expert in that genre but it seems to me that Hip Hop has matured and is enjoying its golden age. It might even be the beginning of the decline. One day some business man with big bucks noticed you can make even bigger bucks with hip hop. Some artists and producers are really talented and also learn to play the game. Others think that just playing the game is what it’s about. So you end up with music that promotes superficiality, materialism, violence, greed, and lust. Though obviously profitable this kind of music does not appeal to me. A whole bunch of such artists have popped up in hip hop in the last 15 years and I don’t care for them at all.

I saw some blogs offering your album as a free album. What are your opinions on that?
That is the flip side of the net. Luckily musicians have been abused for thousands of years. That being said only musicians have the right to give their music away for free. Others don’t have that right and should not do it. When artists put years of their life in a record, the least people should feel is a little bit of respect. Don’t just steal music to make your blog more appealing. That’s insulting.

What can we expect from Ave. To in the (near) future?
We are working on our live act. It’s a delicate operation to translate such a complex and dense studio-project into a live band. If we wanted to have everybody on stage we’d need a 15 piece band. We are working on a tour; Get ready!

Of course we’re also gearing up to a second album. We’ll take our time and do it right. Like for the first album. Avenue To, as the name indicates, is not a sprint to the finish line. It’s a long journey. Three Way Intersection is the first step, not the last.

Words by: Danny
More info: Ave. To

Just an ordinary guy always on the hunt for extraordinary music. Not just as the founder of The Find Magazine & Rucksack Records, but also as a freelance music journalist (bylines at Tracklib, Bandcamp, Wax Poetics, DIG Mag, among others) and—above all—out of love for all kinds of good music.