When Billy Kim left the East Coast to return to his home base in California, he was leaving more than his beloved Italian deli. For some time while writing his debut EP, Imago, and touring with Tycho, his studio was a little table at his now-wife’s apartment. He would miss the waterfront view of New York City and the places where he was healing from the early death of his father.
There was no manual to grieving, just the catharsis of writing his first song for the EP, “Let Go.” The multi-instrumentalist, who adopted the stage name Karaboudjan (a nostalgic nod to The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin), began writing “Let Go” almost a decade ago; the journey of the song’s completion mirrored Kim’s own mourning.
“All I had was the verse for the melody, back years ago. I had this tiny glimpse of some sad lyrics. I didn’t know how to finish it. I needed time,” he tells Audiofemme. Finally finishing the chorus right before recording Imago brought his feelings into perspective, when he had the revelation of completing it in an uplifting way. “It does have a happy and light vibe. I wanted to contrast with the darker lyrics. End with a positive vibe, rather than just sad sad sad,” he explains. It’s the second single he’s released from Imago, following “Seems Like;” the EP will arrive later this year.
The video for “Let Go,” directed by Justin Gaar, emphasizes just how bittersweet grieving for someone who is absent can be, updated to reflect the current reality of the COVID pandemic. Two characters, played by Adam Lee and Nick Ley, twirl around a neon-lit parking garage roller skates – another nod to nostaligia – as the video flashes between memory, fantasy, and the lonely drudge of present day. The carefree magic and love in the choreographed movements is juxtaposed with the weight of loss and sadness in remembering, the instrumentals always dream-like, verses flowing together in an electronic ripple.
The video completed the project as a whole for Kim, who admittedly loves focusing on the instrumentals more than the visuals. “It’s been really fun to work with people who take their own interpretation toward it. I’ve always only written the instrumentals first. For me, it’s a blank space to figure out what mood the song will be,” he reveals. For “Let Go,” the synths and melody embody such strong emotions, that Gaar had no doubts about the vision. “His passion for his vision combined with our top-notch production crew from Half/Half really made for a smooth day of filming,” says Kim.
Last year, the US declared a travel ban on Kim’s birthday while he was overseas. After scrambling to fly back, he had finally buckled down for the long year ahead. The East Coast was where Billy Kim ate his first Grandma slice. Where he met his wife. Where he finally finished recording Imago. And where he finally finished writing “Let Go” in a place of healing and gratitude. “It just clicked. It had to be a big ‘thank you,’ to life and people that we’ve lost.”