Photo by Danica x Alena
In 2018, the stars aligned for funk pop duo KiSMiT to release their debut EP, Cosmic Love. Now, the celestial dance goes on. Musical and romantic partners Carly Barnette and Sebastian “Baz” Reunert returned this year with a pair of singles probing new sonic atmospheres and new depths of their relationship.
They’ve flirted with slow jams in the past, but “Compass” is their first true ballad, drawing on Barnette’s singer/songwriter roots. She’s more vulnerable than ever amidst its intimate piano and stratospheric strings, where she revels in the deep comfort of a partner who will hold your hand through hardship.
With its hot and heavy bass groove, “Look No Further” floats closer to KiSMiT’s funk pop past. Sparks fly in breathy vocals and slinking guitar licks as the two delve into the physical side of their relationship. That kind of shared sentiment is their not-so-secret weapon–the heart and soul of the band–and it remains a deep well overflowing with smooth songs for starry-eyed lovers.
As KiSMiT prepares to take “Look No Further” live for the first time, Barnette spoke to The All Scene Eye about writing in the moment and finding your voice in a collaborative relationship.
You released the Cosmic Love EP in May of last year. How do you feel about that release now that it’s behind you?
I feel good. Cosmic Love was our first EP, and I love that it has a lot of different–there are upbeat songs and there’s our more singer/songwriter stuff. I always want them to be a lot longer–I look forward to a full album–but I’m still super proud of it, and I don’t look back a lot. I think it’s just about building on that and moving forward.
When you were in the process of making that EP, you said you were trying to find your sound. Now that you’ve had that experience, has it changed the way you approach things?
We’re still exploring, and I think we will be exploring until we have more of a body of work underneath us, but I definitely feel a lot more clear on–we have this upbeat, positive sound and lots of our music is rooted in mantra stuff. The stuff we want to happen. If you’re going to sing it over and over and over again, I’m not really the kind of person that’s like, “you did me wrong.” The optimism is a big part of our message.
Baz and I just had the conversation today, like, now, it’s easy to fall into a pitfall of, “okay, I want to make these kinds of songs for festivals,” like, “I want to write all dance songs.” We were saying that every day we show up to write, we want to honor what comes out rather than that it has to be this funk-pop thing. It’s like, “just see what comes out, trust that, and complete it.” Finish the thought, finish the song, and then make the next one. We’re both really excited about being as present as humanly possible when we’re creating, without the expectations of what it’s going to be.
“Compass” is a track where you step away from the funk-pop. Can you tell me about where that came from?
We didn’t really know what to do with “Compass.” It just came out of me as a more therapeutic kind of song. I think my truest songwriter is what I listened to when I was 13 and 14 and 15. I read somewhere that what you listen to as a teenager forever stays a big part of what’s in your ear, because your hormones are raging, and music just hits a certain way when you’re–at least, when I was that young. I listened to a lot of Sara Bareilles and Regina Spektor–a lot of this singer/songwriter stuff–so a lot of our music without the dance, without the upbeat emphasis, comes out like Balladtown, USA, you know?
I’ve honestly been like, “I really want to dance.” That’s where I’m at right now, so I think “Compass” is the stuff that comes out really easy, and if anything, I’m trying to get back to, like I was saying, following what’s in the moment. It’s interesting, a lot of people have told me that it resonates for them or they cry when they’re listening to it. There’s been this emotional response that really warms my heart, so I’ll keep going after that. I don’t really know what the reason is; I just will keep on making. [laughs]
When you’re not writing upbeat, dancey tunes, you incorporate dance in an entirely different way. How did the video for “Compass” come together?
It was Christmas time, and I knew we were going to be putting a lot of stuff out in 2019, but I was feeling like we hadn’t released anything in a while, so I was like, “I think we just need to get something out.” I didn’t want to overthink it, so I decided to improv. I improvised all the movement in that piece, which was fun, and it was a challenge because I hadn’t done anything like that before. The day of, you’re like, “oh god, what’s going to happen?” You can’t control it if it’s not choreographed, so honestly, that was just a big question mark. I didn’t overthink it, and I overthink everything. [laughs] I wanted to prove to myself, like, “you’ve got all the moves inside of you. This song means something to you–go from there.”
I’m fascinated with continually challenging myself as an artist. I think at the beginning, it’s like, “what are we saying? What’s our sound?” Then, as that starts to fill in, it’s like, “how am I challenging myself? How are we reflecting what’s going on in the world that we’re living in?” It keeps going deeper, which is a huge reason why I’m in love with this career path and feel so honored to even be an artist.
You worked with choreographer Chantal Cherry. What was that like?
She’s one of my best friends and one of Baz’s best friends from South Africa, actually–her and her wife. They’ve all been friends since they were, like, five years old, so they’re in our L.A. tribe of kooky, creative people. We were having lunch, and I was like–Christmas time is always really reflective. You think a lot about the year, you think a lot about what you want to do next year, and I was particularly foggy. I told her about the idea to improv, and she was like, “for sure, let’s do this. That sounds amazing.”
We had maybe four rehearsals, and she just got her masters from UCLA in choreography, so she was still in this academic brain space. She gave me a lot of structure, which, being like, “okay, I want to improvise to the song”–cool, but you can’t really do the same thing for three minutes and still be interested–and still have an audience interested–so we kind of broke apart what I was searching for in the song. I knew I wanted to have a breakdown. My background is in theater, so I really wanted to bring my acting and some of that vulnerability to the song.
Every day was different, but it was a lot of free movement stuff. We came up with scores–that’s what she called them, but like, three different ranges of movement. One was called “edge,” and I would go as all the way to full throttle movement as I could, whether I was running across the room or jumping off of something–as hectic as I could get. The other one we called “repetition.” It was all about repeating things, because “Compass,” the verse is all about, “ugh, why am I here again?” Repetitive movement helped express that. The last one we called “butterflies,” and it was this feeling of butterflies coming out of every cell of mine. It was very light and joyous, and all of the “happy happy happy” after all of the other colors. I had no idea in doing this song we were going to come up with this whole language for improvising, but we did, and it was awesome.
How much dancing did you end up recording?
We were in the space for five hours, so we had a lot of footage. We took notes immediately afterward on all the moments that stuck out, and I think my DP sent me, like, a 20-minute thing of all the favorite parts. That was then trimmed down to three and a half minutes, or however long it ended up being.
[laughs] Yeah, it was fun. Rather than kicking my face and doing these leaps and things that look, quote-unquote, impressive, I was a lot more fascinated with really tiny movement that was just bizarre and weird. Our editor, Alex Tafreshi, he captured all of it and I had never sat with him–with anybody–and edited it. I think we had two six-hour editing sessions. He was so patient with me where I was like, “no, switch it! Hey, how about another one?” It was awesome. He was the DP and editor too. It was a really cool trifecta of him and Chantel and I; we all brought something different to the table, which was a cool balance.
Your most recent single, “Look No Further,” came out in February. When did you start work on that song?
I looked back, actually, at my journal. We wrote it on 4/20 last year. [laughs]
It was like, “oh, there’s an open journal page,” but all I had written was “Look No Further” and then the date, and I was like, “oh, we must have been motivated,” [laughs] like, “inspired creatively.”
You know, Baz and I have been together six years, and we talk a lot about love and this partnership, but we don’t really–he’s a total gentleman, so he never wants to lead with the sexy stuff, but I was like, “you know, we haven’t really gone there,” like, “the fact that there’s this magic.” We were, again, just trying something new and we decided to talk about some stuff that we were like, “ooh, this song is going to feel funny when I play it for my grandma.” [laughs] She loved it. She loved it.
Sonically, it was different. Since Cosmic Love, we’ve been doing everything in our studio or with our other friends. Baz went to Berkeley, so we have a beautiful network of friends who are ridiculously talented and have crazy accolades, so when we get to that point of, “god, what does this need? I don’t know what this bridge needs,” we’ll go over to someone’s house and play it, and one of our friends will–this one specifically was our friend Drew Ofthe Drew. He put some synth on the bridge that wasn’t there, and we were like, “aw, that’s amazing.” I think that’s been the biggest shift since the EP in May. We’re a lot more interested in doing stuff with our friends and trusting ourselves rather than outsourcing, which is really cool because then it’s super close to home.
You mentioned playing that song for your grandma, and I love that story.
[laughs] She’s one of my best friends too, so she doesn’t miss a beat.
But I was also curious: you play as a duo, but also with a live backing band a lot of times. What is it like taking these songs that are so personal to the two of you and working them out with other people?
So fun. There’s nothing like that fresh rehearsal. We have a show at the end of the month on the 30th, and we haven’t played “Look No Further” with the band yet. That initial transition is always really fun because you hear things that we haven’t been able to hear live, you know?
As far as the vulnerability of the context of stuff, I got over that a while ago. Everyone that plays with us are really good friends, and they know that we put everything out on the line. My background is in theater and I’ve always been very lyrics-based, and the storytelling–the rest of the band, you know, we’re there to go over chord progressions, feels, and changes, and I think the words are secondary once the music is in our bones. We have rehearsal next week, and it’ll be really fun to hear the live drums and bass, and all the goodness.
Speaking of lyrics, I found the perspective in “Look No Further” to be really interesting. “The longer we do this, the more holy it gets / I see God is a woman each time you undress.” Can you tell me a little about the voice that’s singing that lyric?
Yeah, I was wrestling with that. I thought Baz should take it because I’m the woman that he’s talking about, but also–it’s interesting. We talk about perspective because a lot of what we’ve been writing from Cosmic Love is like, “we wax and we wane.” It’s this “we, we, we,” and we both agree that our audience will have a lot more of a way in if it’s from the “I” perspective–from that “me” place. We’ll continue to be making stuff together, but we’re actively trying to make a shift from the single person.
It’s also been fun to keep things open-ended. Just because I’m in this relationship with Basti, I like leaving space for whatever anyone wants to think about my sexuality or anything else. That’s such a fun part of art; you can put stuff out there and let other people fill stuff in. The last thing I want is for our stuff to be very heterosexual, or just because we’re a guy and girl–you know, I want for this to resonate with anyone listening.
I think we started writing it even before last April, because Ariana Grande’s “God Is a Woman” hadn’t come out. I remember when it came out, I was like, “goddamnit!” [laughs] Then I was like, “okay, I don’t really think this matters.” I loved that video, so it was fine.
It just goes to show that’s out there in the collective unconscious and multiple people were poised to grab it.
Right? I love that. Elizabeth Gilbert talks all about that; ideas just want to be born, so whoever is listening and makes them, then they are made, you know? It’s an awesome thing to tap into.
You mentioned Elizabeth Gilbert. Who are some of the non-musical inspirations you draw from?
Yeah, Elizabeth Gilbert, Brené Brown, those are two powerhouse women who speak a lot about vulnerability. Elizabeth Gilbert talks a lot about the creative process, your ego, and not taking ownership over the stuff. You’re a channel, and it moves through you, and if you catch it, you catch it. She’s been a nice angel through this process.
I’m reading Michelle Obama’s book right now, Becoming, and I will say it’s super powerful. Because I’m in this partnership and she’s in, like, the most epic powerhouse partnership, it’s been really cool to read about how she felt about Barack being so ambitious. It made her feel like she was lost, and she’s such a strong woman who isn’t just in the shadow of her spouse. They’re both sitting at the table.
Who else? Oh, Caroline Myss. She wrote Sacred Contracts. She’s very new age, but it’s a lot about your spirit and archetypes. I do a lot of yoga and meditation, and that helps me show up on stage, so I definitely stay grounded in, like–I’m not a religious person, but a lot of spiritual new age hippie L.A. stuff. [laughs]
What have you learned from being in that kind of creative partnership? Do you have tips for other people in artistic relationships?
The biggest thing is I had to know my voice and what I stand for before getting into collaborative stuff. My sole collaborator is Baz in this partnership, and I think we’ve done so much growing up together, so, recently, I feel like I’ve really come into my power and into my womanhood. There’s a lot of compromise, and also being a romantic partnership, there are times where it’s hard to hold space for everything, you know?
All the collaborating, all the choreography, videographers, or photographers–it feels like a treat every time I get to do a photo shoot or a music video. It’s so why I wake up, why I send any email or do any of the stuff you have to do to stay afloat, to do the creative stuff. I would say make sure you’re picking people who you want to spend a lot of time with, who are your friends. All of our projects have been rooted in a lot of love, so there’s no fighting. Sometimes somebody won’t budge, but I think because it’s all been rooted in friendships, everybody is super stoked that we’re making stuff together and we’re rising together.
I guess the only other piece of advice would be to trust your gut. I’ve learned so many ways to listen to that intuition, and I think it’s easy for me to, like, “no no no, you go, no no no, you go,” and a part of this identity as an artist is, like, “no, this is my authority. This is what I’m standing for. I have the final say because it’s what we’re putting out there.” Trust your intuition. It’s always very loud even when it feels kind of foggy.
What’s a song that always makes you want to dance?
I mean, so cliche, but “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” by Whitney Houston is possibly the best dance song ever. Oh–[singing] “that’s just the way you make me feel”–that one is so good. Janelle Monae, “Make Me Feel.” That’s my latest, probably. [laughs]
She was robbed at the Grammys–just saying.
Oh, yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah. She’s the ultimate inspiration for me to cross over into movies and to just have such a sense of style. Oh god, yeah, she’s the queen.
Are “Compass” and “Look No Further” standalone singles or part of a larger project?
TBD. We have another single coming out at the end of this month, “No Turning Back,” and I want to say they’re all leading to a bigger body of work. I don’t know when that will be. I would love for it to be by the end of the year, but I also know it’s really safe to add six months onto anything for music. We’re trying to churn stuff out as often as possible until we have a big demand for an album, so I think that’ll go through the summer with these single releases and then reevaluate, but I definitely can’t wait. I know our album is coming, where that’s more of a concept and each thing weaves into the next. We’ll see when that can be born, but yeah, I would definitely say part of a larger thing.