By Emily DiAlbert, Editorial Director
Photo by Joey Medlen
Q&A with Kali Dreamer, Columbus-based rapper, guitarist, gamer and anime enthusiast.
Tell me about Kali Dreamer’s origin. What inspired you to start releasing music?
Kali: Music is something that I’ve always been inspired by, but I didn’t really start taking music seriously until I took up guitar at 18 when I was bored and came across “Smells Like Teen Spirit”. I feel like, for a lot of people, Nirvana kicked music off for me, and I remember calling my mom like, “Yo, could you get me an electric guitar for Christmas?”
What’s the story behind your name?
Kali: I play this game called “Final Fantasy XI,” like an online MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game), and everybody called my character “Kali” for short, so it kind of stuck. The “Dreamer” part is kind of a reference to this game called “Undertale,” the royal family’s last name is “Dreamer.” I kind of liked the four-letter first name, 11-letter last name because in this webcomic called “Homestuck,” all the main characters have that same format. So basically, I’m just a huge dork – that’s the short answer.
That’s awesome. I saw that a lot of your influences come from anime, what’s your favorite show?
Kali: Oh my god, “JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure” because it is ridiculous. The guy who makes it is obsessed with music. He even says that Prince influences the way he paces his story, and there’s this band and music references all throughout it – it is an amazing story.
Tell me about how you earned the title, “The Hype Bringer.”
Kali: That title was thrust upon me after my first rap show. People were like, “Dude, that was the hypest shit I’ve ever seen in my life.” One of my friends had started yelling that when we were at work one time, so I was like, “You know what, I’m gonna start yelling that at my shows,” and then it just kind of stuck.
How long have you been performing for?
Kali: I used to do little open mics and I played little shows back when it was just me playing guitar before I started rapping, and I think the first one was maybe in 2010. It was less of a show and more of a bunch of people coming together with instruments. There was no actual music, just people kind of banging away for like a half hour. My actual first show was probably 2011, I think. I’ve been actively performing in Columbus since about 2015 or 16.
So how do you think your sound’s evolved since you first started out?
Kali: Oh, a lot. I was a huge hipster about everything – if it was too close to mainstream music, I wasn’t doing it. I was going out of my way to make my music less accessible, super stupid. Now, I heard somebody say that my sound is a lot more mature than it used to be. I keep those crazy influences intact, but I’m aware of how to refine it to where it’s easier on the casual ear as opposed to just me being like, “Hey, I like this band you’ve never heard of,” and you know, making it ridiculous and only enjoyable to me.
Tell me more about your influences.
Kali: Musically, there’s this rapper, he died a little while ago. His name is Eyedea. I used to think of him as like the Kurt Cobain of rap. He’s like the nicest dude, but he’s an assassin on the microphone. He was destroying dudes on the mic, and he was like this nerdy-looking dude, so people would always laugh at him but then he’d start rapping and the people would get decimated. It was amazing. I actually got to meet him the same year he died. It was crazy.
As far as music in general, I really love the Smashing Pumpkins, like they were crazy psychedelic even though that was an era when people were slowly unlearning how to play guitar. Despite the fact that I love Nirvana, they sort of inspired people to stop trying for a little while.
Honestly, I feel like most of my songs come from weird books that I read or movies that I watched, and I just get inspired from the imagery – a lot of my choruses come out of stuff like that.
That’s sick – I really enjoy the different styles that you incorporate into your music. Could you tell me more about what goes into your song-making process?
Kali: If something directly influences me and I know where I want to go with it, I’ll pick up a guitar or, well, a lot of my songs start out with ukulele, because I can take my ukulele anywhere I want to go and can strum out some chords and get ideas and do some songwriting. Even if I’m stuck in traffic, I could jam out a song real quick. Then, I’ll bring it back and I’ll transpose it into keys and put it on the keyboard and turn that into a beat. If I’m feeling really inspired, and I’m like, “I hate the world. I need to make a song so I can feel not like trash,” I’ll come home and just slap the keyboard until a song comes out and I’ll scream into the microphone. Those seem to be the songs people love more, so I can’t really be mad with that process.
Well, it sounds great, especially your new Triptik EPs. Could you tell me about those?
Kali: Well, I was listening to a lot of music, and I had, I don’t want to call it a theory, it was more of a thought that people don’t listen to full albums as much as they used to, so EPs are more of a thing. … So, I had an idea to do a three-piece song project because a triptych is a three-panel painting that tells a story, so there were loose concepts for every EP, and that was kind of where that idea came from. I wanted to release music, but I didn’t just want to throw out album after album. It kind of gave me room to play with concepts and the album art and tell little stories in that.
What’s the most rewarding part of being a musician?
Kali: I get messages all the time where somebody will tell me, “Yeah, I was having a tough time and I heard one of your songs and I just vibed with it and it just helped me get through the day.” As a person, especially with how many people there are, you can feel kind of lost and like you don’t matter, but I’m constantly getting reminders that I have a positive influence on people’s lives and I don’t think I would trade that for anything.
Check out Kali Dreamer’s latest EP, “Triptik III: A Fighting Chance”, here.