They’ve been together for just over a year, but already kyü have been slapped with more labels than they care for. African, Indian, alien, experimental, eccentric and downright weird, Freya Berkhout and Alyx Dennison have heard them all.
“It’s a pet hate but everyone gets that. The Lion King reference really irks us like nothing else,” says Berkhout, 20. “People only say that because they don’t know how to classify us. We’re not into African music at all. I think that whole tribal thing comes from yelling and primal vocals but that’s just something we did.”
Admittedly, the Sydney duo haven’t made it easy. Fashioned out of everything they could get their hands on – keyboards, samplers, glockenspiel, drums and home-made percussion – their self-titled debut album resists all pigeonholes. Throw in a penchant for costumes and facepaint and there’s something otherworldly about this pair who met at Sydney Uni in 2008 and bonded over mutual music tastes and brownies.
“They were normal brownies!” swears Dennison, 21. “People always ask us if there was something in them, but we’re not as experimental as people think. We’re just writing pop songs but using different mediums and techniques to do it.”
It’s a far cry from the more conventional singer-songwriter pop both girls were playing before they met. Berkhout was a classically trained pianist since the age of five and sang in choir until she was 16. In contrast, Dennison taught herself violin and piano. Her idol was Ben Folds.
With so much in common, the girls decided to collaborate for the first time early last year, but only because Dennison, who’d deferred uni, needed someone with a valid student card to enter the uni band comp.
They started rehearsing with Berkhout singing backing vocals, but the results were “crap”. Instead they began toying with new sounds and instruments in Dennison’s parents’ sound design studio and kyü (the hindi word for Why?, pronounced ‘Q’) was born.
“We had a real naïve confidence,” says Berkhout with a laugh. “I think a big reason we do what we do is that we have this ultimate confidence in ourselves. We thought we could pick up anything and be brilliant with it.”
After scrambling to write songs for the band comp, they made it to the finals despite a few freak-outs.
“We didn’t worry about people thinking we were too out there,” recalls Dennison. “We were just worried people would think we were shit. We had no concept of the reception.”
They ended up winning it, scoring a standing ovation and $2500 in prize money. “We got to go to the regional final in Newcastle but they hated us there,” says Dennison. “We came last and two funk bands won. I hate funk.”
Turning their attention to their debut album, they recorded half at Dennison’s family studio with friend/producer Daniel Johnston and the other at 301 Studios after they won session time in a Homebake festival comp. Along the way, they signed to Sydney’s arty Popfrenzy label because “they just felt like the best fit.”
Now with their debut out in the open, the girls are already keen to start pushing kyü in new directions with album number two. “I think it’ll be more uplifting and brighter,” says Berkhout. “The first album is quite emotional and intense. There’s more to rejoice these days and we want to write happier songs and that are more enjoyable to play live.”