Kevin ‘K.O.’ Olusola Interview: Celloboxer Talks EP, Pentatonix’s New Album + More [EXCLUSIVE]
Kevin "K.O." Olusola makes the kind of music that would make a grown man weep unabashedly. The Grammy Award-winning Pentatonix beatboxer first made a name for himself thanks to the incredibly successful vocal group, and now, he's releasing his first-ever solo EP, The Renegade, which showcases his very own genre of music known as "celloboxing."
Yes, K.O. seamlessly intertwines his exquisite cello-playing with the badassery of his beatboxing, the result of which is a stunningly gorgeous symphony unlike nothing we have ever heard before.
When we spoke to Kevin -- who has the most sunny disposition of anyone in the history of people with sunny dispositions -- he cheerfully discussed his EP, Pentatonix's new album, and his cello named after Beyonce. In addition to losing his mind with excitement over the Kelly Clarkson tour, of course.
Check out our full interview with Kevin below.
Can you tell me a little bit about how you first decided to combine the cello and beatboxing?
K.O.: Yeah, absolutely! Actually, funny enough I actually started thinking about it in China. I lived in China for my sophomore year of college, and in the summer of [that] year, I was in a class where ... I would always talk about beatboxing and … the cello. My Chinese teacher asked, "Have you ever thought about combining the cello and beatboxing together?" And I thought she was crazy. I was like, "I would never do that!" That would tarnish … the instrument to me. [Then] I actually said, "You know what? I don't think it's really been done before…" So I started there … and then it's progressed to what it is today.
It's such an unexpected combination, but when you do it, it really flows together so seamlessly.
K.O.: Thank you! I appreciate that. Thank you so much.
You have so many unbelievable covers on your YouTube channel. How did you select the ones for your EP?
K.O.: You know what, I really wanted to find songs that I think showcase the beauty of the cello, but there's grit that I wanted to also [share.] … That classical influence but still … of a pop variety. With "All of Me," for example, I love that song. I think it's gorgeous, and the vocal quality of his voice I really wanted to capture. But then I thought of the string quartet and cello would be appropriate and fun… With Demi Lovato I thought it was just going to be a string quartet with piano [but then I decided to] play cello as well … and I think that one turned out really well. They are just songs that really spoke to me that I thought I could combine in a way to make the instruments sing. I always say that I'm not a cellist, I'm actually a singer, but my voice is the cello. And I hope that comes across.
I actually saw a funny YouTube comment where someone said, "Doesn't Kevin's cello sound like his soul?" and someone else replied, "That's because it's literally Beyonce."
K.O.: [laughs] That's so funny. Well, I call my cello Beyonce, so I think that's partially where that came from. That's so funny. And I just got a new cello, an electric [one], and I just need one more ... Blue Ivy. [Someone asked me] "Why did you name your cellos after Beyonce and Jay Z references?"
Have you heard back from any of the artists whose songs you've covered?
K.O.: You know what, I heard back from Meghan Trainor. … I did a live cover of "Lips Are Movin'" and she re-Vined it and she retweeted it. … I really appreciate it! I haven't heard from anybody else, but hopefully with new material coming out, hopefully I'll hear back from some of the artists. I'd love to! And I'd love to work with them -- I'd love to collaborate and come up with something fresh and dope.
What is going through your head when you're performing?
K.O.: Oh my goodness, so many different things. But honestly, I just want to be very authentic. … I love music. And I love playing. If I don't express myself by just by my emotions and facial expressions, I don't think it will come across well. I can't be stoic when I play. There are just so many things that are going through my head, all these different things that I think about. Also, with beatboxing and playing the cello at the same time, I have to be very, very, focused. But, I think more to the fact -- just let yourself go. Just play. And just let yourself be and hopefully that comes across, that it's a very free, passionate performance.
You're insanely talented -- you play the cello, you beatbox, you were pre-med at Yale and you're fluent in Mandarin… Is there one talent or hobby that you haven't discovered yet but you'd like to learn?
K.O.: You know what? Singing is something that I am now starting to do a lot more of. I mean, I've been in the band, but it's not something that I've really practiced a lot. But now, it's something that I'm doing a lot of. I love it, and I didn't feel like I had a voice until I started singing a lot more with the band. I'm starting to work on the next album already, and I'm singing on a lot of it which I'm really excited for. I think it's an amazing thing, and we'll just figure it out from there and and see what happens. I'm so excited to challenge myself in that aspect.
What's your fave song to perform live, both with Pentatonix and solo?
K.O.: Oh my gosh. So, with Pentatonix, I would probably say right now "Papaoutai" -- I can play it on the cello and piano too. When we heard the song in France, we were on our tour last year, we were in awe. … The song is amazing, and we did it in French. … The production value on it is so, so ridiculous. And then for myself, I'd probably say either "Renegade" or "Julie-O." I just love them both, and I think they really mean a lot to me -- they're really personal to me. "Renegade," which I wrote, it took me two years beforel I really felt comfortable going on stage and performing it. It was the first time I'd ever written a piece for this type of sound. "Julie-O" was the first piece I'd written for this album. Those two pieces are really special to me.
You mentioned that Pentatonix are working on a new album.
K.O.: Yeah, two different things! Right now, Pentatonix, we're working on a full-length original album, so that's been a crazy process. But then I've been in the beginning stages in my next [solo] album, which I'm really excited for. I think we're going to be pushing the boundaries a lot more.
What can fans expect from each album?
K.O.: Oh, man. So Penatonix, once again, I think we're pushing our sound a little bit more. There are certain things that have an electronic, or imitate certain sounds, and now, it's like, let's be exactly who we are. We're a vocal group, so let's stick to that. We're just trying to go back to who we are -- a vocal group. That's the hope, you know? [We're working on] beautiful and haunting songs that I think people will enjoy. And then for myself, I'm going to start doing a lot of different things for this next album. I've been playing around with a lot of electronics -- a lot more of that kind of production. I've been really inspired a lot by this minimalistic vibe -- I think that allows the cello to sing a lot. Lorde, Tove Lo -- I love those darker pop vibes, Kanye West, those type of things. I'm also going to be singing a lot more, which I'm really excited for. I'm gonna try and do some collaborations. Kind of like a classically interpreted, electronic, minimalistic, darker pop vibes. Hopefully with some really cool collaborations and more of my singing. I'm really excited for it.
What do you want fans to take away from your music?
K.O.: Oh, man. I think a good amount of things -- one, just be inspired. This album, specifically, I know a lot of instrumentalists feel that they'll always kind of be background musicians, and I want to show them that … you can also have the center stage if you have respect for what you do. So many instrumentalists kind of feel defeated, who say, 'How can I have a career? How can I make a living out of this?' You can actually can do it. You just have to think a little bit differently and assert those differences. … Nothing is impossible. you can really make your dreams come to life. At the end of the day, I really want people to feel good and take away that music can be captivating and thrilling and it's a viable part of the human experience.
K.O.'s The Renegade EP drops today (March 10). You can download it on iTunes.