Kyan, the Cambridge-based, singer-songwriter prodigy, is winning plaudits and praise with his soulful, emotional songs and arresting videos. His debut visual album, Nothing Beyond is a personal tale of soul-searching and redemption. The Spoils spoke to him about finding inspiration in Cambridge’s history and embracing the green spaces the city has to offer.
“Cambridge has a tradition of classical and folk music but it doesn’t have a big contemporary music scene, so growing up there I had the freedom to experiment and not feel boxed in. I grew up listening to my mum and sister singing and I taught myself to play piano from about 11 years old. I got a Yamaha DJX2 keyboard for Christmas when I was 14, and became obsessed with it, writing my own songs. I wanted to be Stevie Wonder.
It’s ‘normal’ to excel academically in Cambridge and that attitude does rub off. I had a place to read English Literature at University College London but I decided to concentrate on my music, and I’ve never had any regrets about choosing a music path.
We’re very lucky to have two world famous music venues, Cambridge Junction and The Corn Exchange in Cambridge, so for a kid to see artists like Corinne Bailey Rae and James Morrison coming to your town and to realise what the potential is, that’s amazing.
The Portland Arms is a great place to see acts on their first tours. Before I signed to my record label I had my showcase there. I wanted people to know I was different and not pretend I was from London. It was great seeing these super important record executives in this little Cambridge pub.
One of the things I do love about Cambridge is the incredible classical choral tradition. I’m not religious in a traditional sense but I’d recommend anyone visiting goes to the evensong at St John’s College. It’s the most transcendent, beautiful sound and the harmonies resonate gloriously.
An incredible event is the annual Singing on the River, when everyone gathers and sits on the banks of the river listening to King’s College Choir performing from the punts. It’s a magical scene.
Mill Road is the place to go to escape the chains and find independent restaurants and shops. My hair is a bit of a signature for me and I get the best hair cuts I’ve ever had at Piero’s, plus the best chats. Last time I was sitting next to Dick Parry, who played saxophone for Pink Floyd and were a huge influence on me as a band from Cambridge.
I’m really into nature – one of the reasons why I love travelling to different parts of the world. My flat and music studio is near the Cambridge Botanic Garden and wandering there, I instantly feel transported and free. I also love kayaking down the river to Grantchester. The trees hanging down are almost Amazonian and I love being by myself, just gently moving. The video for Like Summer has a similar visual, with me floating through the ancient canals of Mexico City. I like being around people and most evenings are just spent hanging out with my friends at home, but I do need my own green space to stay grounded.
There’s a perception that Cambridge locals are separate from university life, an 'us and them' mentality, but that’s just not true. I’ve been to May Balls and played at and been invited to formals. A friend invited me to a university social club salsa night a few years ago. I thought it was going to be weird, but I love it and I’ve discovered there’s a real salsa community. I went through a really competitive phase and started practising my moves. It’s like my party trick.
I got bored of going to the gym and now I’m really into yoga and often go to sessions at different colleges. I’ve just started Satyam yoga. My mind is quite crazy and I’ve found yoga is a good way to switch off, to feel energised and yet completely relaxed. The first time I went I found myself overwhelmed by the feeling of people coming together.”
Follow Kyan on Instagram or visit kyanmusic.com
Main image credit: Kyan on the set of his visual album Nothing Beyond, Samantha Andre