Meet Kai Welch: Howler Ambassador

Posted on September 12, 2019

Howler Ambassador Kai Welch’s life is a dream. He’s a world class musician who currently travels the world as the keyboard player, guitarist and vocalist for Kacey Musgraves. When he is not the road, you can find him surfing, championing environmental causes and producing and recording music in Nashville. We met Kai when he played on studio sessions with Howler founders Andy Stepanian and Mason Brent while they were recording their first Leon III album. We became fast friends and kindred spirits. We recently caught up with Kai during a brief moment of down time from his touring life. We thought you might want to see what he had to say.

So, you’ve covered a lot of ground over the last year or so.  Any spot on the globe that stands out above the rest? 

Yeah we've clocked many many miles on this tour.  I wonder how many - a million, could we have traveled a million miles? Who freakin knows. But one place that does stand out is South Africa. We were there for something called the Global Citizens Festival.  Held in this giant soccer stadium outside of Johannesburg with the goal of raising money to combat extreme poverty and the AIDS epidemic.  The theme was honoring Nelson Mandela's life and work. 76,000 South Africans filled that place with the most vibrant vibe and colors I've ever seen in an audience.  The atmosphere was incredible. Tickets were free but you had to do some quantifiable number of "good deeds" to earn them. People were just so stoked to be there, and every time they flashed a video or audio recording of Nelson Mandela speaking to hope and humankind's better nature, it was electric. It was a true honor to be a part of that. I believe over a billion dollars were raised. And also, ironically, the festival was marred with violence after mass muggings and thefts occurred as people left the stadium. A reminder of how far we have to go, lest we get carried away congratulating ourselves.      

You were raised in Eastern Oregon by what you call “semi-nomadic, back to the land hippy homesteaders”. Where did you come to learn to surf?

I caught my first wave at a spot called Shipwrecks Bay on the North Island of NZ waaay back in 2003. I had basically hitch-hiked my way onto a sailboat that was traversing the NZ coastline, and a couple of the guys onboard were great surfers.  They gave me a couple surf lessons and I sandbagged them on some sketchy sea-cliff climbing expeditions. I got super lucky and my first wave was this long glassy peeler on a splitter day - I remember Rob Machado was there shooting a video. Of course it was all I could do to just stand there and stay on the wave, but I was so hooked. It was the first time I'd seen perfect lines of swell marching in from the horizon. Since then it's my go-to excuse to get away. Surfing, climbing, and floating rivers help me survive a career in the music business.

You ever get to grab some waves on your days off?  

Yeah!  I'm pretty fortunate that way. Over the past year I've gotten to surf in Hawaii, New Zealand, Mexico, buncha classic Cali spots, and one shitty day in Florida watching bull sharks churn the brackish garbage waters.  

You’re the founder of Music for Wild Places. What’s that all about?  

Music For Wild Places is my way of bringing together the things I believe in most passionately.  Music and wilderness. Essentially it's an attempt to break live music out of the confines of venues and festivals, and bring it out into the magical out-of-doors that I think are critically important for people to experience. For the past six years, we've been putting together guided multi-day river trips in Oregon and Idaho, featuring world-class live music. I often collaborate with the river company I used to guide for, Winding Waters out of Joseph, OR. In 2017 I got to team up with some other badass folks on a trip to Tibet to float the headwaters of the Mekong river in collaboration with Tibetan and American musicians. That story is on Patagonia's blog - read it here

You recently recorded the soundtrack for our Bienvenidos A Miami collection launch video? How does that rank among your musical moments of the last year? Gotta be up there right?

Haha yeah SNL and Madison Square Garden were kind of anti-climactic, but sequencing those gated 80s drum sounds for the Howler Bros Miami campaign can only be described as divine inspiration. I felt what Michelangelo must have felt when he was polishing the marble buttocks of the statue of David for the final time. Mama mia. Butt seriously tho - I love making different kinds of music every chance I get, and that was definitely different.

You joined the Howler crew for our fall 2019 photoshoot in Nantucket. Did you leave there a better man or damaged goods?  

That trip was very damaging and I'd rather not talk about it. 

Check out the Bienvenidos A Miami launch video Kai scored below.