Kito & Reija Lee are a London (by way of Perth, Australia) duo that are in an interesting situation. We’ve been hearing their name as a duo over the last five or six years, first via Skream then Diplo and the Mad Decent camp. Yet when it comes to viable female talent in the electronic music scene, you don’t hear too many people bigging them up. Recently, Big Boi’s #MashUpMondays series featured a track called “King Shit” that found the OutKast member rhyming with T.I. and Ludacris over one of their Mad Decent releases, “Run For Cover” (this after being sampled on Trinidad James’ “Females Welcomed”). This wasn’t by design, but it’s a dope way to get their names out there before the Payday/Ultra Music release of their next single, “Starting Line.” We got to chatting with the pair about how their story: from musical influences to how they linked up as a group, as well as what it’s like to be sampled.
You two have known each other since you were 13. How long have you partnered musically, and given that you’ve known each other so long, how have you successfully worked with each other on a daily basis?
Kito: We started making music together in 2008. I had a track [that I had made], and I was releasing music on Skream’s [label] Disfigured Dubz. I had never done a vocal collaboration before, so I asked Reija. We hung out one afternoon, and I went to my brother’s house and recorded it in his studio there. [From that point], I was writing a beat and getting Reija to do vocals over top of it. Now we work like a real duo. We sit in the studio together and come up with ideas together, so now it’s much more involved than it used to be.
Reija, you had mentioned your brother’s studio, so I was wondering if both of you come from musical backgrounds with your family?
Reija Lee: I do, my family is all musical. I think it would have been weird if me and my brother didn’t end up doing something musical. My dad’s a sound engineer, and [both of] my parents played in bands since I can remember. It’s been a natural progression. Also, my brother is a producer.
Kito: I grew up in a small town and my parents listened to music, but I’m not from a crazy musical family. I didn’t have an insane musical knowledge from my childhood, but I had older sisters and an older brother who were my earliest influences with music. None of them ended up being as massively into music as me, but they influenced me a lot.
What were the tracks and moments that influenced your desire to get into music as a DJ, producer or artist?
Kito: I was listening to a lot of drum & bass when I was a teenager, rap as well. The earliest stuff that made me become obsessed with music was because of my mum. She listened to a lot of Kate Bush, and that made me pretty obsessed with music [as a kid]. Later on, I got into drum & bass [which was quite different than Kate Bush]. Writing with Reija, I’ve come back to a lot of that pop music [I was into earlier on] that was so inspiring to me. As far as tracks? That’s hard. Ed Rush & Optical‘s Wormhole definitely influenced me.
Reija Lee: I just do vocals, so I was in a lot of bands. I didn’t see myself ending up in electronic music at all. I had to switch from rock music to electronic music. [Once I switched], I decided that this was the right path for me.
I wanted to talk about the Big Boi (featuring T.I. and Ludacris) track “King Shit,” that has just been released. Kito, I know that you were a fan of rap, so a) how does it feel to have rappers involved in dance music, and b) rapping on your track “Run for Cover?”
Kito: It’s so surreal. Growing up in a small town, I listened to a lot of rap growing up. A lot of Dr. Dre [and others]. [However], I felt removed from it. I always had that feeling of [you know], “small town white girl,” so I never felt legit to [listen to it]. However, when I moved to London, I got more into it, [because I was able to feel like] yeah, this is music for everyone. It’s still amazing though, because never did I think that music we make would be sampled by rappers, especially Big Boi! It’s so bizarre.
You were also sampled for “Females Welcomed” by Trinidad James. How did that come about?
Kito: That was funny though, because we didn’t know who he was when he was posting that track on Twitter. He wasn’t signed to Def Jam then, so we were like, “who is this guy?” Lots of people will take your tracks and do mixtapes on SoundCloud or whatever, but then I heard “All Gold Everything,” and I was like, “this guy is pretty cool!”
Reija Lee: I’m gonna be 100% honest. It was very strange for me to begin with, because, coming from mainly rock bands, it’s such a completely different world, the sampling and stuff. [In rock], people write their own music and sing their own songs, and that’s it. There’s none of this collaboration between people and sampling small bits [of tracks]. So at first I was like, “that was my song!” Over time I realized that’s what the rap world was like, and that there’s a kind of beauty in that. There’s a connection when people might not know each other, and there’s still a musical connection that comes from using each other’s music because you’re inspired by it.
“Starting Line” is out on Payday Records, your thoughts behind the process of pulling together that single?
Kito: First, we’re excited to be releasing on Payday. It’s being distributed by Ultra, but it spotlights artists that are not so much making the hard dance music Ultra is known for. We’ve heard that us, TOKiMONSTA and Flosstradamus will be releasing with them so far, and that’s cool. ["Starting Line"] is a track that we’ve been sitting on a long time. It’s one of those tracks where I had an instrumental, Reija wrote a vocal over it, I ended up re-writing the track underneath it, Reija re-worked the vocal, and then I did another version of the track. It’s totally evolved. It was good to have an experience where we had an idea of what we wanted to do, then we struggled through, and something special [came from that]. It was kind of a good process to figure out where we’re going now, working together in a different way as opposed to just setting a beat and having Reija write over it. I think it’s kind of a special track for us.
We’re in strange place where you could say that “the Earth is flat,” and that artists from different genres and between underground and mainstream spaces can work together. Your thoughts about the current musical environment?
Kito: It’s a dangerous place to be honest. It’s really easy to get starry eyes, and get carried away from your vision. [It's easy to get carried away from] the things that inspired you to make music in the first place. When artists do, they get lost. The world of major labels is often to quick to forget about artists that you have to hold your ground.
What are the songs that best describe both your friendship and the time you’ve spent making music? That’s quite the span of time, so I presume there are more than a few.
Kito: That’s so hard!
Reija Lee: Fuck! Well, there’s Kate Bush…
Kito: I’d like to say a Kate Bush song for sure. I think the obvious one would be “Running Up That Hill,” but I think “Army Dreamers.”
Reija Lee: I’m thinking of songs that we party to. Racks!
Like, “Racks on racks on racks,” by YC and Future?
Reija Lee: Yeah! We come up for jokes for each song. We make every song about food. Somehow, “Racks” became “Snacks,” so it was “snacks on snacks on snacks!” You know, like food piled on top of each other (laughs). It makes no sense, but it became our favorite song in the studio. We also vibe out to Drake.
Kito: Yeah, anything by Drake, especially “From Time.” There’s probably like a million other ones.