Name/Stage name: Rachel Sarah Thomas AKA KSRA
Hometown: Glenview, Illinois
What does KSRA mean? KSRA stands for Que Sera, which means "whatever will be" - a shortened version of the phrase "whatever will be, will be." I created [the name] KSRA because I was craving freedom to explore and do whatever I wanted in music, with no restrictions and no guidelines. So I chose that name because it represented letting go and just letting life lead you into the future. It's kind of a mantra for me because I am a very meticulous woman. It's nice to have the name as a reminder to let go!
You previously said that you’ve created a new genre of music. Can you tell us more about that? Well, it's mostly because I was really frustrated about not being able to classify myself anywhere, which is actually something I dislike [doing]. It's just sounds I make. That's what my genre really is. Information from the universe filtered through me, my voice, my abilities and experiences. But, I [do] have to honor the vibe I was trying to go for and the influences I have. I'm really influenced by producers like Timbaland and more left-of-center producers like El-P and Diplo and also badass female vocalists. So [there's] that. And then also this spiritual drone vibe I really enjoy. So I called it SZM - Sweaty Zion Music. Just a random thing I came up with while trying to explain the vibe I was going for when I was working with producers in Atlanta.
How was your performance at the House of Blues? Was it everything you imagined it would be (it rocked by the way)? Hey! Thanks. It was not everything I imagined it to be. There are a lot of politics on stage and they kept my sound low the whole show so I wouldn't upstage the headliner. A practice that is done at festivals and large venues alike. I like to hear my music bang out of the speakers so I was a bit disappointed on stage. However, it's one of those shows where you're working hard the whole time, but you make it look effortless. That's what I practice for. In the end, it makes me a better performer. Everyone there was really great. And I had a lot of wonderful responses from the audience, which is so sweet and I appreciate every word.
Any upcoming performances? Actually at the House of Blues again. It's private, otherwise I'd let you know about it! But, I'm doing a bunch of private shows in the next few months because they pay pretty well and I need to save up for [a] tour starting in the Fall. I do play random showcases and I think I'm doing one soon where I'm playing as Bjork, so keep up with me on social media, ksramusic all across the board. I'm doing a performance at the Logan Avenue Arts fest on June 28th. I love performing at summer tests, so definitely come out to that! And I'm actually performing my new song Cuneiform Graffiti [at] a few Assyrian events coming up, including Mesopotamian Night in Los Angeles on May 30th and Mesopotamian Night in San Jose on August 1st. If you're around, definitely come out! All proceeds go to help Assyrians in Syria and Iraq.
Which artist(s) would you like to work with? MIA, Santigold, Sia, Switch, Diplo/Major Lazer, Dirty Projectors, El-P, Timbaland, Max Martin, Charli XCX, SBTRKT, the list goes on...
It’s rainy and cloudy out, what are you listening to? Feist, Frédéric Chopin, Sharon Von Etten
It’s sunny and blazing out, what’s playing? St. Vincent, The Meters
When can we expect new music? All summer. I'm releasing three tunes and three videos. I'm really excited.
"Revival" is one of my favorite songs you're recorded. Can you tell us about it? "Revival" is one of my proudest moments. It is the first song I ever completed. I wrote it in my parent's basement. I produced it myself. I had no means to create beats, so I recorded garbage cans and coins and spoons to make the beat for the demo. I was so excited about it I drove around my neighborhood blasting the song just so people could hear it. I ended up taking it to a studio called Hotel Earth, now based in Los Angeles and recording everything analog. Meaning, instead of recording straight to digital, we recorded everything to tape and then built tape loops where you actually physically cut the tape and then that plays over and over again. It was such a fun process of recording. We had something like 64 different track mix-downs of all these tiny manipulated sounds: me rattling a piece of sheet metal and then running that through an amp, or ripping a piece of paper to create the sound of a reverse snare. It was just fun in the studio. The actual song is about being able to let go of your old self, everything you think that defines you, in order to move on and become a new person. It's scary. Like, "who am I without my pain?" So I was talking about the mortality of the ego, but also the physical person.
How do feel about what’s happening to Assyrians in Iraq and Syria? Too many things to number. I feel distant and often in numb despair. I feel guilty. I feel strange. I feel confused as to why it's happening. I feel conflicted about fate/karma/universal law that has lead to our situation versus a random turn of events. I feel hopeful and light when I think about being an advocate for all people suffering persecution. When we open up and make it not just about Assyrians we are stronger, through having love for other people and through becoming part of the human race and the human struggle as opposed to just the Assyrian struggle. At the same time, I believe what's happening specifically to Assyrians in Iraq and Syria is tragic, unfortunate, cruel, terrible, disgusting and ignored. I believe we need to really listen within our community right now. What are the people saying and feeling? Is there a general anger to fight and defend what we consider our ancient homeland? Then that's what we should focus on.
What’s your favorite Assyrian dish and why? It changes relative to the season and my moods, but I think [my] all time fave is Dekhweh. It's so unique [for] Assyrians to have yogurt-based soups and stews. It's very representative of mountain culture. Also in the use of lamb. And it's just dang delicious.
Any final thoughts? Just be yourself. Whatever that means. Can you create yourself, or do you come to this earth as a spirit with a mission? I'll leave you with the question!
Portions of this interview have been edited.