How PinkPantheress and Kaytranada Turned Mutual Admiration Into Thrilling Collaboration

Kay-PinkP_MG_9425-by-Frankie-Perez - Credit: Frankie Perez for Rolling Stone
Kay-PinkP_MG_9425-by-Frankie-Perez - Credit: Frankie Perez for Rolling Stone

PinkPantheress is talking about the time she produced a beat for a friend and tried to make it “as Kaytranada-inspired as possible.” It’s a sweet story, especially since the person she’s telling it to is Kaytranada himself.

“I want to hear it, I want to see how it turned out,” he responds.

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PinkPantheress quickly shuts down the idea: “It’s fucking terrible.” Then they both break into laughter.

The two artists teamed up for the first time recently for a new track, due in November. This collaboration is fitting, given they are both known for spinning a panoply of influences into forward-thinking dance music. Kaytranada, 30, has already earned two Grammys (for Best Dance Recording and Best Dance/Electronic Album) and spent the summer opening on the Weeknd’s stadium tour, while PinkPantheress, 21, just last year released her excellent debut mixtape, To Hell With It, which piled up house and drum-and-bass samples while charting an emerging generational sensibility.

Right now, the two artists are spending a July evening sipping drinks out of tiny disco balls in a funky watering hole in Montreal. Kaytranada arrived in his hometown fresh off a Weeknd tour date in Detroit, while London-born PinkPantheress joins us ahead of a Montreal festival gig that same weekend. Their conversation reveals a mutual-admiration society — “I was a fan before finding out that you liked my music,” Kaytranada tells PinkPantheress — and offers a glimpse inside the brains of two fascinating young artists.

Kaytranada: When we were in L.A. working on that song, was it your first time over there?

PinkPantheress: That was my first time in L.A, for sure. When I’m in London, I write in my bed at 3 a.m. It’s raining outside, and it’s gray, and it’s perfect for what I write. It was a completely different environment in L.A., and I was struggling. When we did our session, that was the first song I wrote where I was like, “OK, this actually came out quite freely.”

Kaytranada: Do you think the nighttime has something to do with your creative process?

PinkPantheress: I think the absence of sun genuinely does help. I made my first few songs in the nighttime, when either my parents or my housemates in university accommodation would be asleep. I just didn’t want anyone to hear me singing. But also, sometimes when you write, you just need the visual accompaniment of darkness and dreariness.  What about you? Do you have to write during the day?

Kaytranada: A lot of my creations came from the nighttime. Well, [2016’s] 99.9% specifically was made in the nighttime, and I just felt peace in the universe and the energy … I don’t know, like nobody could bother me. Even since I was young, I was doing my best to sleep early, but it was always like [I had] the radio on at midnight, and that’s when I would hear a lot of rap and R&B. So that has linked with my taste of music, and now it became me creating …

PinkPantheress: What were your influences growing up? It’s weird, because even though you work with a lot of rappers these days, I feel like I can’t necessarily hear where rap would have played into your instrumentals as much because there’s such a clear dance aspect of it. … I can’t compare you to anyone because I can’t think of anyone who you sound like.

Kaytranada: I grew up listening to a lot of Jay-Z, and then I would look at the credits and it would be all those producers, like Just Blaze and the Neptunes. Kanye would be in there. Mainly the Neptunes were my favorite producers, and Just Blaze. Then Jay-Z made this Fade to Black documentary with pretty much the sessions of The Black Album. He had Timbaland and all those producers he was working with. So those are my main influences — just producers. And eventually it evolved to J Dilla, Madlib.

I was also a Tribe Called Quest fan. The older I got, I was listening to more old-school hip-hop and underground hip-hop. At the same time, there is Justice and Daft Punk that I was discovering, the Ed Banger people. It was literally a mixture of both. So that’s why my music sounds like that, because I really wanted to make house music, but bouncy. I’d hear Dilla do that sometimes, and I was just like, “OK, he didn’t do that enough.” I was trying to put that more in the forefront.

PinkPantheress: Who would you say was your top, top, top favorite artists of all time? Dead or alive.

Kaytranada: Oh, my God. I think it’s Madlib.

PinkPantheress: Oh, for real?

Kaytranada: Even me being friends with him is still surreal. I grew up studying his music. I wanted to get samples, chop them, loop them, and try to find the rarest, most obscure. I was obsessed with that even as a teenager, like I was crate digging, digitally. It expanded my taste in music when I would listen to New Wave and rock, progressive rock and disco. Boogie came along the way.

PinkPantheress: Do you sample as much now?

Kaytranada: It’s 50-50. There’s a bunch of my songs that don’t have samples and those are the main hits, but then I would sample a drum-and-bass loop. You know, they use the “Amen, Brother” [break] on every drum loop. Let’s say I would use one of those drum loops, and I would play keys around it. It kind of still has that original composition melody.

PinkPantheress: OK, I can hear it. I get it.

Kaytranada: What about you? I know you be sampling a lot as well.

PinkPantheress: Yes. I still can’t produce from scratch. My interest in music has never been production anyways. It’s been top-line melody writing. So when I did the Michael Jackson thing [sampling “Off the Wall” on “Just a Waste”], I just wanted to see if I can write a top line. And then I did it.

Kaytranada: And killed it.

PinkPantheress: Oh, thank you!

Kaytranada: I feel like you produce. When we made that song, you were like, “You should change that chord into that chord.” I was like, “Word?”

PinkPantheress: I feel like I can arrange, for sure. There are some songs I’ve finished in the studio, and then I’ve been like, “Can I take this home and play around with it?” Then that’s the version that we ended up putting up. So I guess to an extent, maybe I am producing. I mean, I play piano. Maybe that’s why I can pick up on certain sounds.

Kaytranada: Producing is not necessarily making a beat; it’s also more on a Quincy Jones level, visualizing how a song can turn out. You slowing down the Michael Jackson instrumental — that’s producing.

PinkPantheress: You’re in a great position, as a musician, because you have so many features at your disposal. Has there been one feature that you’ve always wanted? That you haven’t got yet?

Kaytranada: Oh, I don’t know. I work with whoever, like who’s new and poppin’. There’s not many legends I want to work with because there’s something about me working with my favorite artists and my mentors . . . it’s a confidence thing when I work with the people I look up to. It’s kind of like, it doesn’t turn out to be the best work.

I’ve got a very small circle of musicians I actually love, Pinkpantheress tells Kaytranada, “and you are very much one of them.

PinkPantheress: I’m sure that’s your inner self.

Kaytranada: It’s me being very hard on myself.

PinkPantheress: I’m the same, so I get it.

Kaytranada: Who do you want to work with?

PinkPantheress: I listen to a lot of genres, but if you look at my playlists, there’s probably about 10 artists I have on consistently. I’ve got a very small circle of musicians I actually love, check their discography, and you are very much one of them. But I’ve always wanted to do something really random. Someone like Lil Wayne would be just so random, or someone from a rock background, like Linkin Park.

Kaytranada: Yeah, you sample Linkin Park.

PinkPantheress: I do. I love them.

Kaytranada: I grew up with Linkin Park, too.

PinkPantheress: It’s such a hard sound to replicate. There’s also Imogen Heap. She’s one of my favorite British singers. And Lily Allen . . . you and Lily Allen would make, weirdly, a lot of sense.

Kaytranada: Yo, I love Lily Allen. There were a lot of things that were supposed to happen between me and her.

PinkPantheress: Oh, for real?

Kaytranada: It’s funny. I end up collaborating with a lot of U.K. artists

PinkPantheress: Would you ever live in the U.K.?

Kaytranada: Of course. I would definitely love to spend time there.

PinkPantheress: You give me London vibes.

Kaytranada: Hey, you know! I was really thinking about doing sessions with U.K. artists.

PinkPantheress: Oh, 100%.

Kaytranada: There’s just a lot of writers and the R&B scene is wild over there, too. I’m interested, you know? To see where it goes. I love the UK. I just love how much y’all care about music, you know?

PinkPantheress: Oh yeah, we care.

Kaytranada: I just put on [BBC Radio] 1Xtra and It’s kind of cool. I’ve never seen a radio station like that.

PinkPantheress: I just got a car, and what I discovered by having a car recently is that our radio station is really cool in comparison to some of the radio stations that I’ve heard abroad. Not saying the quality of the music is this that or the other…

Kaytranada: Oh, no, no, 100%.

PinkPantheress: Okay, fine. If we’re gonna say that then yeah, the quality of the music is better [laughs].

Kaytranada: Say it!

PinkPantheress: So you’re on tour with the Weeknd, which is insane, but also makes a lot of sense. Both of you are from Canada, and I feel like sonically, it weirdly adds up. Like a lot. How have you found touring?

Kaytranada: There are a lot of things that just happen and get thrown at my face. I have to deal with a stadium — it’s not crazy, but it’s definitely weird. It’s a lot of people to please. And a lot of people are just sitting. Usually, when I would play the first chords of “Be Your Girl,” I would hear, like, “Oh, my God!”

PinkPantheress: The roar!

Kaytranada: Then, like, I just hear nothing, but it’s like, I’m opening. And then, you know, I just say, “Are you ready for the Weeknd?!” “Ahhhh!” It’s funny. I really love opening stadiums. It’s interesting.

PinkPantheress: I still have bad performance anxiety.

Kaytranada: Yeah, how do you deal with that?

PinkPantheress: I actually don’t know. There are so many times I’m onstage and feel like I’m gonna get dizzy and have to walk off or something, but I don’t know what it is. Luckily my set is only half an hour. You dance! The way you dance!

Kaytranada: I feel like the dance expresses just shaking my nerves away.

PinkPantheress: I’ve never seen someone move like that in my life [laughs]. I love it so much.

Kaytranada: For you, for instance, your set being 30 minutes, how do you feel about that? You think you want more songs being done?

PinkPantheress: No, God no. If I could make it shorter, I would make it shorter, but I know people are paying money and you have to provide. Obviously, I’m not gonna do this, but I’ve always said that when I have a bigger catalog, I’m just gonna cut out a few songs and keep it 30 minutes because I just . . . People that do one-hour, two-hour sets . . . I’m genuinely like, “Yeah, no.” What about you? What’s your favorite song by yourself?

Kaytranada: My favorite song ever? Oh, my God. I don’t know. I think it has to be on the Bubba album.

PinkPantheress: Mine is “Dysfunctional.”

Kaytranada: I love “Dysfunctional.” It was one of those beats I made in maybe 15 minutes.

PinkPantheress: Crazy.

Kaytranada: It just hit crazy because it only has this bass line and this drum loop and a couple hits of synths. What’s your favorite song by yourself?

PinkPantheress: Myself? “I Must Apologize.”

Kaytranada: I love that one.

PinkPantheress: [Bashfully] Thank you.

Kaytranada: Yo, you be killing it.

PinkPantheress: Thank you so much. I’m really excited for people to hear what we have.

Kaytranada: This is gonna be insane. They’re not ready for that [laughs].

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