"She texted me and said, 'Hey, I finally got around to listening to (Satellite), and it's been on for four straight days and I'm really excited about it,'" Koala tells Billboard. "At that point I'd started a lot of the instruments for io, so I said, 'Funny you would mention that -- would you be interested in doing the next one?' and she agreed. I had zero idea what would happen, but I'd witnessed her perform live and she's a very captivating singer, very emotive. She digs in deep, so I thought it could be exciting."
Whitley -- the daughter of the late Chris Whitley and a member of Daniel Lanois' Black Dub and the Concretes -- wound up providing vocals for six of the 18 songs on io. "I knew she was more in that soul/R&B tradition," Koala says, "but she did write me and say, 'I've been painting to the Satellite record,' so I guess she was open-minded. Ambient was something she could get with. After the first two songs we recorded in our first session in Montreal, I realized it was going to be alright. She was willing to try a lot of different stuff and different feels and really knocked it out of the park, I thought."
"All For You's" video, which was directed by Karina Bleau, is an impressionistic three and a half minutes that looks like footage from a satellite doing a close fly-by of the sun. "Karina uses a combination of light, chemicals and layered glass in her visual making process," Koala notes. "I am in awe of how she's able to create these marvelous interstellar scenes with her seemingly 'low tech' set-up. What impresses me most...is it's inherent emotionality and Karina's wonderful sense of timing. She knows her materials well enough that she can start and evolve these reactions to synchronize with the music. It is a very captivating thing to witness."
With io due out Jan. 25, Whitley is slated to join Koala at special Music For Drawing events on Jan. 24-25 in Montreal. He hasn't started working on a third edition of the series yet -- "We'll see who texts me after this one comes out," he says with a laugh -- but Koala does have a number of other projects planned, including "some soundtrack stuff I’m not really allowed to speak too specifically about, although he allows that it's "a bit of a sci-fi drama." He also has a "new sort of beat-oriented Kid Koala record" in mind, as well as a live show called The Story of the Mosquito, based on a graphic novel he's written, that he plans to premiere next November.
"I'm doing everything simultaneously," Koala says. "I work better when there's a lot of stuff to consider and I can move from one thing to the other. That keeps me really sharp."