With an array of engaging melodies, captivating beats and introspective vocals, Kristin Robinson, known by fans as Michael K., is a rising figure in the LA music scene.
Michael K. demonstrates an admirable drive carving out her own career as a musician while managing the workload of a Music Industry major at the University of Southern California and multiple work commitments. She currently has two singles on Spotify: Dorian Gray and Whenever I Need To totaling over 185,000 listens).
While she is studying abroad in England, Michael K. and I were able to find some time to discuss her development as an artist and how she navigates the pursuit of a career in music while studying full-time.
What first got you into music? Any formal training?
I got into music when I was probably about six years old. I remember I was always super interested in the piano my Grandma had, so I started lessons when I was in kindergarten and kept going with it until now. I’ve always loved to sing. I remember choir class when I was little: I was always, like, way too into it. My teacher used to have to tell me to stop singing so she could hear the rest of the class. I think I was super loud. Eventually I got into musical theater and worked professionally around my area [Dallas/Fort Worth], so I got a lot of vocal training through that.Around that time I started learning guitar as well.
Could you explain your pseudonym, “Michael K.”?
So my full name is Kristin Michael Robinson. A lot of people are surprised to hear that Michael is actually my grandmother’s name, and I was named after her. She has been wildly important in my life.
About six months before the release of my first song, my grandfather died, and she had a very hard time recovering from the loss. I’ve never seen grief like that up close. We were all very worried about her because it seemed like she was just never going to be able to move on and live again. So when I was trying to figure out what I wanted to go by as an artist, I immediately wanted to use my middle name to honor her and maybe give her something to be excited about. I was choosing between Kristin Michael and Michael K. (K being from my first initial) and ultimately thought “Michael K.” was the catchiest.
Fun fact: the young boy in his bathing suit on the cover of “Dorian Gray” is a picture of my grandfather. And the yearbook photo that’s in the cover of “Whenever I Need To” is a picture of my other grandfather. I like keeping my family involved in every way I can with my music. They are the reason I’m here and have heavily influenced who I am.
Could you discuss your writing process and how are compose all the different layers to your music?
I like to write alone. There’s just something nice about creating something in your own time and having the freedom to do whatever you want to. I write just with a piano — or more recently my synth — and my voice. I think if a song sounds good when it’s that raw and bare, you have something super special. Then I work with a producer to work out the larger arrangement. I really enjoy that part of the process because it opens up my initial idea of the song to collaboration. For both songs that I have out on Spotify, I worked with my very talented friend, Eli Koskoff.
On the recordings of my two released songs, I play the keys, Eli plays the guitar and bass, and the drums are programmed.
Can you discuss some of the inspiration for your work?
In my experience writing, I have to give the song time to morph and grow. I don’t write in 30 minutes. I spend hours and hours on them. It starts with just a lot of experimentation with chord progressions, and then I try out different melodies with mock lyrics on top of the chords. When that’s done I start really working on the lyrics. I think the themes of the lyrics I write about just come from the heart. “Dorian Gray,” for example, was a reflection on a relationship that I had with someone who appeared to be a great guy but in reality was really terrible.
To make the song more unique, I wanted to allude to Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray which contained similar themes of appearance vs. reality as the main character. Dorian seemed beautiful and pure on the outside
What influences do you attribute your style/sound to? There is a sense of Radiohead, James Blake, and Mitski with your work. What are you listening to these days?
Yeah, I’ve gotten those comparisons before, and I’m extremely flattered by them, so thank you! All of them are masterful artists and that’s how I’d like to be seen myself.
Right now, I’ve been listening to “Doomed” by Moses Sumney, “Street Lights” by Kanye West (very underrated Kanye song), “We Go Home Together” by Mount Kimbie, and “Funeral” by Phoebe Bridgers. I like sad music if you can’t tell.
Could you dive into your experience so far at USC as both a student and a musician?
I am studying Music Industry at USC, and I feel like I’ve just grown up so much since I got here — both musically and personally.
I came in freshman year wanting to be a folk singer and now that’s just not at all my sound. Also, growing up in Fort Worth, Texas really presented an alternate reality to living in Los Angeles, so going to school in LA was initially a culture shock. While it’s been tough at times, I feel like I’ve had such a unique perspective and I’m grateful.
Along with being a musician, I write articles (much like this one) for Ones to Watch and run a music criticism blog, Soundinterrupted.com. I run an Instagram account called “@Amplify.USC” which serves to centralize the USC music community into one convenient place. I found it was hard to know who was releasing stuff, when their shows were, etc. unless I knew them personally. So I figured it’d be useful for everyone to have a place to come to support each other. I also teach piano classes in LA to a school that cannot afford a music program, and I am a DJ for KXSC.
Could you provide any details on the inspiration for your album art and your aesthetic design generally? Is there some specific aura/persona that Michael K. tries to exhibit?
The first cover was done by Allegra Samsen, and the second was designed by me! She’s amazing. I love getting to work with other female creatives at USC. The inspiration for the cover design was this old collage I found of the Beatles somewhere. I just thought the idea of overlaying photos was really cool, so I decided to try it.
There isn’t a specific aura I’m trying to exhibit. I feel like people can see through inauthenticity, so I want to just be myself. My music is very open and honest and I want my aesthetics to match that.
What does the future hold for Michael K.?
Right now, I have taken time off to study abroad in England. It was a hard decision to make because I hated walking away from the music scene in LA and all the fun shows I play, but I feel like these months away are really me investing in myself. I cannot be a good writer if I don’t push myself to go beyond my comfort zone and work on myself. I’ve been writing a lot here, so when I come back, I’m going to get them fully produced and mastered. Then I plan to release five individual singles over the course of late summer/fall 2019.
As far as releasing an EP, as someone who studies the music industry a lot, I think that an EP or a collection of work for a new artist isn’t a good idea. People have no attention spans, unfortunately. I’d rather release a new song every month than to hit people with five to six songs and then go away for a long time. When I have amassed a bigger fan base, I’d absolutely love to. But for now, I’m just going to hit you guys with a lot of individual songs haha!