Dani DiCiaccio, better known by the moniker KYOSi, is a singer and producer based in New York City. Her music combines elements of electronic, pop, house, indie rock and hip hop sounds. KYOSi’s work has been featured in Earmilk, Impose Magazine, Going Solo, Berlin Community Radio, Dubspot Radio and East Village Radio, and she has performed extensively in NYC, LA and Berlin, at SXSW and Art Basel. She is also the founder of The Thesis Group, a platform for entrepreneurial artists to say something personal about their work. The hope is to inspire artists of today to realize there is a precedent for resisting hate and political oppression. The Thesis Group has amassed a following including VICE, KCRW and many emerging and well established artists. She started her music education by receiving classical vocal training at Eastman School of Music. She later received her degree in ethnomusicology at Ithaca College and traveled to Ghana to study Modern Ghanaian music at the University of Legon in Accra, a decision fueled by her desire to leave her comfort zone an embark on an adventure. She has steadily built her production skills over the years, due in part to teaching production out of college. She started producing music as KYOSi in 2008 while serving as the director of programming at Unity Studio, an Ithaca non-profit, which saw her make beats, sing and rap with middle and high school students. She also taught electronic music production at the MacCormick Secure Center, a maximum security juvenile facility in upstate New York, an experience that taught her how powerful music can be as a positive force in the lives of young people. In 2011, she moved to NYC in order to expand her musical knowledge and to grow as a solo artist. She recently released her new 3-track EP Negative Space which is a powerful defiant anthem for the underprivileged and voiceless members of society that blends ethereal pop, folk and elements of jazz. The EP explores themes that range from class politics, race and gender issues and the coercion of capitalism and serves as political commentary on the current administration and the injustices being experienced by many across the nation. She has recently completed the music video for “Boo Radley” that will be released on September 19th. Staff writer Emily May recently spoke to DiCiaccio via email about her new EP, her growth as an artist and what’s next for her. You can follow KYOSi and stay up-to-date with all upcoming music, artist and tour news via the following links. You can stream her new EP below.
You recently released your new EP ‘Negative Space’ that explores a range of political themes that turn rage into questions and questions into healing sounds. What can you tell me about the process of making the EP and working with your friend Todd Brozman? What led you to use the songs to provide a voice to the voiceless and powerless and and speak to the world on injustices that need to be faced?
Making the EP with Todd was a relaxed, easy back and forth. We did it over the course of a year, sometimes in person and sometimes just tossing sessions back and forth. It makes it easy to work with someone who doesn’t have a huge ego ya know? There’s room to work it out together vs. one party being insistent on whatever they’ve done. That kind of challenging leads to the best idea winning out which is what happened here, I believe. The songs themselves just kind of floated out so I can’t say just when they became protest songs. It’s just what was inside.
What inspired the sound of the EP, which is a blend of jazz, folk, electronic and ethereal vocals?
Todd and I bring a lot of the same sensibilities to the table. We both love and have roots in jazz and even within jazz have a ton go the same influences. Just recently I posted a IG story of an Esbjorn Svensson Trio cd I found in my mom’s basement and he was the only person that responded knowing who they are. The same thing happened recently as he was at an Avishai Cohen show in NYC. He texted me a vid and I was like “omg I used to listen to him all the time.” As time goes on I am seeing that we shared a lot of the same early jazz seeds so I think we are approaching style and form in a similar way.
What can you tell me about your background in music and when did your love for music begin? How did your love for R&B as a teen evolve into a love of electronic compositions later on?
I was always a music head. When I started driving I had a little notebook in my car so when I heard songs I liked I’d write them down, or write down the timestamp and call the station later. I’m not so sure there’s a direct tie of R&B to music production. The real catalyst of music production was that I was writing songs and couldn’t find people I felt like fleshing them out with. So I said f it, I’ll produce them myself.
What led you to study abroad in Ghana in college? What was it about the county and their culture and music that you found so inspiring?
I wanted adventure and I wanted to get out of my comfort zone. I grew up in a rather homogenous community of Italian-Americans. When I hit 4th grade we moved across town and for the first time I met Jewish folks, other white folks and some people of color. But I wanted to go somewhere different and to be a minority. People in Ghana were so welcoming to me, it breaks my heart to think that in the U.S. we don’t have that same rep.
Once out of school, you taught production at Unity Sounds in Ithaca where you made beats for and rapped and sang with kids. What led to your interest in production and teaching? You also taught electronic music production at The MacCormick Secure Center, a maximum security juvenile detention facility in Upstate NY. How did seeing the effect of music on those teens who had committed horribles crime impact you personally and artistically?
Loaded question that tells me you dug deep and did some research! Wow, thank you. Yes, I ran Unity Studio in Ithaca which is a non-profit music studio that serves as an after-school hang for students of all ages. To be honest, I wasn’t particularly interested in teaching. I just wanted to be in a studio and I wanted to work with students outside of my demographic. I went to Ithaca College where most people are at least solidly middle class and white. I wanted to work with and learn from others. My work at Unity Studio led to a division of that program being opened at MacCormick. The impact of teaching in that space was / is unparalleled in my life today.
You have said that while in Ithaca, you underwent an intense period of self-reflection and personal development. What did you discover about yourself during that time, as well as about your goals? How did you apply those lessons to your life and music going forward?
I learned that I have anxiety in social situations and that it’s ok. I learned that there’s always going to be someone that seems “ahead” musically or career-wise. I learned to soothe my own self, vs. expect it from a relationship or something else.
You moved to NY in 2011 to expand your musical knowledge and grow as a solo artist. What do you love and find most inspiring about living in NYC? What do you feel you have learned over the years that has helped you to grow as an artist?
The train is the most inspiring thing in NYC, to me. I love it. I make my sketches and then put them in my earbuds to listen and write to while I ride the subway. So many people, of so many backgrounds and classes in one place. It’s such a great cross-section of the city. I love it. I wish we didn’t get cell service down there, to be honest. I’m told that before cell phones it was a place where people shot the shit, read books and responded to each other. It’s a bit zombie-ish now but I still love it and find inspiration all the way down there.
You formed The Thesis Group a couple of years back, a platform for entrepreneurial artists to say something personal about their work. The hope is to inspire artists of today to realize there is a precedent for resisting hate and political oppression. How did you come to form the group and do you feel that more of the artistic community have stood up to become agents of change? What’s coming up for the group?
Yes! The Thesis Group has been on hiatus for about 2 years now. It’s not dead, just on the back burner for the time being while I work on KYOSi projects as well as some personal projects. And yes, we focused on artists who had been or were willing to be agents of change because that’s what meaningful art is and needs to be about. I’m over people who are conveniently apolitical. Art needs to source peace, change and to galvanize groups of people to get to peace and change. I can’t fuck with art that exists to be beautiful alone or that doesn’t evoke a sense of purpose or meaning or action.
Last year, you produced the original score for The Sisters- an adaptation of Macbeth by The Soho Shakespeare Company. What was that experience like for you? Do you produce scores for theatre productions (or ever for film/tv) often? Do you have anything else in the works?
I produced the music for one of their trailers, and it was awesome. I love scoring for film. I’m working on a new project right now that I’m not ready to talk about but it will be ready sometime in 2020 and it’s stunning. It’s such a different and incredible skillset to produce for media. I love it and I can’t wait to show this new one!
You said a few months back that you love playing live shows and were working with Laura Escude to rework your own live show! How did you meet and come to work with her? What kinds of changes did you make?
Laura and I met years ago, when we were both doing work for Dubspot. I’ve always admired her ability to explain complicated technical processes in a way I understand. She’s a great teacher that has as much a handle on the technical as the emotional which is imperative to me. I ended up taking her course called Transmute, which I can’t recommend highly enough for anyone who wants to learn more about performance with Ableton. The changes she helped me make have resulted in the overall sound being more clear, knowing how to communicate in advance with FOH people, and in me being more relaxed and in-charge onstage.
I read that you have been working on a music video for your song “Boo Radley”. What can people expect from the video and what was the process like in making it?
The video is finished and it’s AWESOME! I am so excited to share it. The process of making it was very collage-like. We strung bits and pieces together and worked with an incredible motion graphics artist to tell the story. I don’t want to say much else before it’s released. But it’s coming out September 19 so get ready.
What’s next for you?
As I mentioned, the video for Boo Radley and the new scoring project. I’m also working on a podcast for Camel Assembly. I’m also going to take a small-breather to get married to an amazing human and then be back with shows and more music in 2020.