Dreamy but Down to Earth: Khazali is the Embodiment of his Own Sound
Khazali’s music exists to uplift his audience, and it works.
Meet Khazali, the singer-songwriter on the rise, dominating Spotify’s top-tier lists with his introspective lyrics and uplifting sounds that give their listeners a space to feel their emotions and embrace them. But upon speaking to him, he maintains a grounding attitude towards his work and his accomplishments as his dedication to his sound is at the centre of his music journey.
I had the pleasure of speaking to Salem, who goes by his last name Khazali, who joined me over Zoom from his sun-stricken room. With a smile on his face and an expression of satisfaction and relief following the recent release of his second EP, ‘Born for This’, he takes me through his journey as an artist with admirable dedication to honouring all the details that make up his identity and his music.
First things first, I wanted to say congratulations on your new EP that just came out yesterday. How are you feeling?
Thank you. It feels really good. This EP has definitely been very important to get off my chest, because music is pretty much the way that I process everything, as you know, as a lot of artists do. But this has been a particularly tough year for me, for a bunch of reasons. And music has really been the way to transcribe it into something meaningful, kind of like a time capsule of this year.
That's really well put. Tell me a little bit about yourself and how did you get into music?
I grew up in London and I was brought up by my mum, who came to the UK from Morocco. One thing that I really appreciate about my childhood is that my mum noticed my love for music and would let me explore it, which was very important to me. Growing up in the immigrant community, there's a pressure to pursue serious things because there's a lot of risk involved with [pursuing creative passions]. People usually move countries to make a better life, so the serious subjects like maths and medicine are usually favoured by immigrant parents, I think, for good reason. But I really appreciate that I was allowed to explore my creativity and I ended up going to university to study graphic design. While I was at university, my interest in art expanded, especially since I got to mix with people who did many different disciplines.
Then, I kind of collided with the music world. I was really just experimenting. I didn't have a childhood dream of becoming a musician or doing music in a more serious way. It all just happened kind of by accident. I learned songwriting really intuitively. During my university years, I developed my love of music through different projects and I started writing in a more serious way. But then, [after university] I completely dropped that love for music to become a graphic designer.
Although, during the pandemic I felt like I was at a real turning point and I was like, ‘okay, I'm gonna go for it.’ I ended up releasing my first single ‘You’ll Be the One’ in 2020, and the response to that was great! I had barely released any music and I was suddenly on New Music Friday (a Spotify playlist), after releasing that one single, which was such a big deal. Everything that's happened along the way has shown me that this is what I’m meant to be doing, because there were so many points at which I hesitated getting into music. That's one of the reasons why I named that EP 'Born For This’. I needed a reminder that even in the toughest moments, my life has shown me that I'm meant to be doing this because I'd never directly chased after it but it's come back into my life.
You took music on but it embraced you back in a way.
Yeah, and one of the things that I really appreciate about my journey is that because I didn't have massive expectations of how things were gonna go so far in my journey, everything that happens feels really like a blessing.
You have these really introspective lyrics that make you think, that give the sense of a safe space to think about things and let them come to you, but I wonder, how would you describe your sound? And what's your aim with your music?
My favourite part of what I do in terms of music is actually songwriting. I sit at a piano and that's how it usually starts. My aim with songwriting is to hopefully make people feel how I felt when I first started discovering my favourite music, or, the first time I heard some of my favourite albums. When I was a preteen at around 11 or 12 my mum gave me a bunch of CDs with the lyrics sheets and everything, including ‘Back to Black’ by Amy Winehouse and ‘Made of Bricks’ by Kate Nash. Some of my favourite songs to this day are from those albums. That was really important to me. I guess my aim is to hopefully create songs that give people memories. I like to think of my music as a soundtrack to people’s important moments. I know it’s a massive aspiration to have.
I wanted to ask you about your process, how do you go about songwriting?
With my latest EP that I wrote, it was the product of just a bunch of different sessions with amazing songwriters, Luke Bower, Uma Bunnag Blacker and Joe Brown. The way that we approached it was that we thought about what we felt and then we tried to turn feelings into chords. For the first time in my music journey, it felt like such a simple and quiet process.
For this EP, a huge shift was that I was writing in a very quiet atmosphere. I wrote a lot of the EP in the countryside and I think that was really important to the process. It felt like I could actually breathe out and open up a bit more. The songwriting process for me right now is definitely trying to turn a feeling, which is something quite abstract and quite hard to describe, into a sound. It's definitely easier said than done. And I'm also not always successful at it. But I think it's also just worth trying anyway. With this EP, it was hard to do but we finally did it; hard work really, really pays off.
With over 200,000 monthly listeners on Spotify, I know that this is already happening. And that's something amazing to accomplish.
Thank you. I remember when I was writing my first single, I was like, ‘I want a group of friends to be sitting in the sun in the summer in a park and playing the song on a Bluetooth speaker.’ I want it to be that kind of song that people enjoy during good times with other people. That's why when I'm writing my music, it's mainly quite an uplifting sound. Because even though some of the stuff that I talk about is quite serious, I try for the music to have a positive spin, and hopefully that will make other people feel good.
That’s very aspirational. You’ve mentioned the records that your mum gave you. Were there any other inspirations you had? Any favourite musicians genres that inspire you?
There are some really key albums that I listened to while I was a teenager, for example, ‘The English Riviera’ by Metronomy was a really formative album for me. I was very interested in the subject matter of Lady Gaga’s ‘The Fame’. In terms of songwriting and storytelling it’s probably one of my favourite albums. We all know that Lady Gaga is just such a brilliant world builder and that's something that I hopefully would love to do with a debut album, whenever that time comes. The same goes for ‘Born to Die’ by Lana del Rey. Creating a universe is something that I'm quite interested in. It's something that I am working towards.
I was having a conversation with one of my friends whose opinion I really trust and I usually play them a song quite early on in the process and they told me that it feels like I finally found my voice, style and sound. That was really important to me, because I think it's really important for artists to always evolve and keep working on what their sound is and find a trademark or a signature. But at the same time, I am interested in references as well, because I think that trying to sound too unique can become too abstract. I'm always thinking about what sets my melodies apart.
How do you feel like you come together as an artist? You used to be a graphic designer, do you think you’ll ever expand into other disciplines again?
I like that question, because I actually do think about that quite a bit. I think I've definitely defined myself as more of a singer-songwriter. But if I had to describe myself in one word it would be ‘artist’ because I do have the discipline of understanding graphic design, songwriting, performing…I really have an interest in what it would be like to act too. I like to think of myself as a lot of things. But I think the easiest way for me to understand myself right now is through the lens of songwriting, but I don't think there's any reason that that won't change. I guess we'll find out in the future.
You have a show coming up in London in October. I want to ask you, how do you feel about performing? Is that something you enjoy?
I think, you know, there's a difference between making music and performing music. I know some artists are really comfortable with performing in front of people, others are way less comfortable with that, so where do I fall in terms of the spectrum of like comfortability with performing? I think I definitely fall into the category of artists who love performing. In fact, sometimes during the songwriting process, it's actually important to think about what it would be like to perform it. I’ve never had stage fright, which I'm so grateful for, because I see performance as another form of connection. It's probably my second favourite thing after actually writing the songs. I'm so excited about the show in London, because it's at one of my favourite venues, the Camden Assembly. I've seen so many great acts there, and a lot of my teenage memories are in that venue. So it's gonna be great to have my own show there.
After the interview, Salim and I bonded over our shared roots and left each other with a wave after an enriching conversation and many positive takeaways. Khazali is an artist on the rise with a good head on his shoulders - I will certainly continue to watch out for him on the good vibes playlists and wherever he goes next.