Interview: Kenichi & The Sun Unveils Her Hauntingly Introspective Album ‘White Fire’

KENICHI & THE SUN © Antje Taiga Jandrig
KENICHI & THE SUN © Antje Taiga Jandrig
Kenichi & The Sun (Katrin Hahner) builds eerily beautiful genre-defying music that creates a stunning, yet obscure sound on her upcoming debut, ‘White Fire’.
Stream: “COMING” – Kenichi & The Sun

Facing a few of life’s cruelties, Katrin Hahner of Kenichi & The Sun has taken her immense hardships and fueled that into her striking new album White FireWith its enveloping soundscapes and hypnotic arrangements, she has constructed a unique listening experience that truly soars.

White Fire - Kenichi & The Sun
White Fire – Kenichi & The Sun

Formed in 2019, Kenichi & The Sun progressed from the dark sound of Miss Kenichi to the mystical, ethereal quality she has stunningly evolved to. Reminiscent of Tori Amos and Bjork her dreamy, evocative style transports listeners to a whole other world.

With powerful, gripping tracks like “Coming” and “Splendour” listeners feel every raw emotion oozing out into mesmerizing atmospheres. Spending vast amounts of time isolated under the Iceland snow, it reignited her immense love for her craft resulting in eerie, eclectic music that tells a distinct story.

‘White Fire’ (teaser) – Kenichi & The Sun
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Atwood Magazine:Your imaginative release White Fire showcases your stunningly haunting vocals atop soaring synths and rich percussion, how did you develop such an eerie yet luxe sound?

Katrin Hahner: Thanks so much for the compliments. The production of this album took a lot of steps and turns. Usually I would lay down the beat for the whole track or a melody instrument and then flesh out the rest around it. With this album though I approached it more conceptually and worked my way through the songs more like (I imagine) a writer would write a novel. I recorded and fully arranged minute by minute and part by part, chapter by chapter. Sometimes there’s three chapters in one song and the story never goes back to the beginning. And these chapters sometimes have an entirely different set of instruments. Therefore the production had to go through several phases. First lots of midi demo-ing, drum beats and stacking tons of vocals, then replacing some of the synths with analog synthesizers, playing certain drums analog and leaving others digital, adding new parts, as a third step recording drum, bassflute, clarinet, strings, horn section and vocal overdubs and lastly weaving it all together in the mix, adding bits and pieces here and there to gloss everything into one glow. It was a new and longwinded, somewhat complex way of writing and producing, but absolutely worth it. Lots of fantastic people involved too.

So your album is inspired by the center of fire where the heat is strongest which is white, hence the name White Fire. Metaphorically, it represents stripping everything away until all that’s left is truth. Can you explain this concept in more detail?

Hahner: In many ancient healing traditions, fire is used in medicine making. Toxic plant and animal components can be transmuted into healing components through a process that includes firing and making use of the ashes. I honestly at first didn’t even set out to make another album. I just followed my curiosity and tried to expand my horizon. Whenever I encountered any „myth“ about who I am and what I am and how I do things, I just threw it into the fire and took a different route. And of course all the other things that happened, getting past my addictive behaviors, the suicide of my friend, the time in Iceland, my father´s passing…These were all pivotal, life altering experiences. My father’s passing and the time we had together before had turned a relationship from a somehow unhealthy one into a more deep and beautiful connection. Like in the medicine making process, sorrow was transmuted into beauty. I carried his ashes to the grave, so „White Fire“ just seemed right on all levels. A cleansing fire sweeping through my life.

KENICHI & THE SUN © Antje Taiga Jandrig
KENICHI & THE SUN © Antje Taiga Jandrig

In many of your photos and videos you wear a white-haired wig and a gold, purple and green mask. What does that signature look symbolize?

Hahner: The concept of femininity and feminine power is something that interests me. I studied theatre and theatrical performance and I always loved the tremendous power of the greek choir and its ritualistic androgyny. A mask can either disguise or reveal, either way you want to use it. I use it to reveal things. You face, your style, your hair, your name: it´s all, to a certain degree, a concept, even if you call it your „natural“ one. It´s always curated. Either by you or by others or nature curated it for you. I had a desire to step into a different version of myself, my feminine body/character. Masks and costumes are portals to another dimension of seeing. They reveal whats underneath and allow you to look beyond the agreed version of reality.

What prompted your evolution from the dark, moody sound of Miss Kenichi to Kenichi & The Sun?

Hahner: Kenichi is a character in an anime movie that teaches a robot girl how to be human. I am constantly figuring out how to be a human being and what that actually means, how togetherness works and how to relate to everything around me. Since my last release as Miss Kenichi, I have worked in theatre and lots of art productions and the sound of my music expanded with it, became more quirky and inventive, so it simply felt right to expand the playing field as well and create a hub under which everything finds its space. Miss Kenichi just naturally transformed into Kenichi & The Sun.

KENICHI & THE SUN © Antje Taiga Jandrig
KENICHI & THE SUN © Antje Taiga Jandrig

How has living in your hometown of Berlin influenced your music?

Hahner: Berlin is rough and has a special kind of darkness. A conflicted place, lots of friction. But there is also a special kind of freedom. You can be and do anything you want. Anything can happen and if you know how to deal with that kind of freedom, it´s a wonderful bubble for dreams and adventure. And of course many of the amazing people I work and collaborate with live here, so they influence me too.

Much of your introspective work is inspired by long periods of time spent in solitude in Iceland, how did that experience shape your life view?

Hahner: Iceland is raw, powerful, incredible nature, pure energy. The moment I step off the plane I feel plugged into a massive battery and get charged.  Wide landscapes with little light and noise pollution. I love al Perfect conditions for an extroverted introvert like me, who likes to be alone for long stretches of time and just hang out in nature and marvel at things in solitude and silence and then return to the arts and the buzz and meet people. Reykjavik has an incredibly high quality of arts and culture, so the country just combines both my desires in a wonderful way. I worked as music director for a theatre play at the city theatre with director Thorleifur Orn Arnasson, an amazing experience, which was followed by a few artist residencies with the Icelandic Association of Visual Arts.  I loved it so much and met so many amazing people there that I just didn’t leave for a long time. It’s become my other home, I spend a few months there every year.

You’ve overcome so much in your life with the passing of your father and the suicide of a close friend, what helped you find the strength to overcome these traumatic life experiences and what words of hope would you give someone going through similar difficulties?

Hahner: I don’t know if I have words of hope ( I wish I had); I just know what I did that helped me. I tried to accept what is and not resist it. I allowed the pain to move through my body and tried to offer the least resistance possible. That also meant a lot of awkward moments and I didn’t hide it. Nobody should be ashamed of tears or sadness or grief or the anger that comes with it. It’s not always pretty, but you can’t bottle it up or numb it all the time, because it will come around to bite you sooner than later. But honestly, our society is still really illiterate when it comes to feelings, it’s unsettling actually. It’s more acceptable to stumble around totally drunk or high in the middle of the day, than it is to just cry or be weak or be in pain. There is a lot to be learned societally. Until we learn that the numbers of addictions to all kinds of stuff will rise and rise.

I was recording the last overdubs for White Fire in Berlin with Robbie Moore at Impression Studio when my dad was ill and passed. I cycled to the studio every day through a park and would stop at a random point and just fall down, lay flat on my back and stare into the sky, feeling this crazy fatigue/grief. A heavyweight of a million tons pulling me down. Grief is very physical. So doing physical things to remedy it, rather than just talking about it, makes a lot of sense to me. I also swam whenever I could, water around me felt soothing, so I jumped in every lake I could find. I spent lots of time in nature listening, laying around in the grass, amongst trees, allowing the weight to pull me down and not fighting it, learning to befriend this amorphous feeling of loss. I am grateful that I am a very curios person and have the ability to always find beauty or something joyful in almost every situation. I had this strange moment at the funeral when I was walking behind the priest and I couldn’t help but admire the colorful, precious, embroidered velvet/silk robe, the colorful robes of the boys and girls, the golden vessels, the polished shoes, the frankincense, the sun rays, the blue sky and the birds singing as if nothing happened, some cars passing by, a child laughing somewhere. It felt surreal as if I was part of a painting that I was also looking at. And then the tears and all the sorrowful faces and the heavy urn in my arms and the huge pit in my stomach. Life is so complex. Light and dark very closely intertwined. It is what it is. Keep looking for the beauty in everything. Life is precious.

KENICHI & THE SUN © Antje Taiga Jandrig
KENICHI & THE SUN © Antje Taiga Jandrig

Who are some of your favorite artists and how has their music inspired you?

Hahner: Oh there’s many, anything I see and hear inspires me in some way. Some of my favorites at the moment are: Painter Agnes Martin inspires me with radical quietness, her way of looking at „inspiration“ and the abstract mysticism of her paintings. Talk Talk and Mark Hollis never cease to inspire me.  I really love Susanne Sundfor´s music. Her voice!

Artist Anna Rún Tryggvadottir inspires me with the poetry of her work and her view on nature/artificial. She creates super intelligent and very poetic manipulations of natural material. Erykah Badu forever inspires me with her life, her humor, creativity and music. She really is a living goddess. Icelandic artists Gyda Valtisdottir transports me into a sacred daze, a beautiful fever dream. Canadian writer and Poet Anne Carson has inspired many of my songs. Her genius is just unbelievable. I just ordered her play/book „Norma Jean of Troy“ where she weaves the lives of Marilyn Monroe and Helen of Troy together. Brilliant!

What does the future hold for Kenichi & The Sun?

Hahner: Hopefully health and creative flow and faith and trust and courage. I hope we get through this world crisis and learn from it whatever it is that we need to learn as societies, as humans on the planet.

My album White Fire will be released in September, as a limited vinyl edition together with a handprinted edition of super beautiful  posters and other artsy things. There will be concerts, videos. More music, more art, more life to be lived.

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White Fire - Kenichi & The Sun

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