An In-Depth Interview With KIESZA All About Connecting With Fans, Her New Sound, Recovering From Her Car Accident and More!
Posted On 07 Aug 2019
The Toronto-based musician Kiesza first made her breakthrough in 2014 with major-label debut Sound Of A Woman and the multi-million selling single “Hideaway.”
Since going independent, the electo-pop darling has kept a relatively low profile, releasing the occasional single and making scant appearances after a car accident left her with serious injuries and the possibility of never performing again. Now making a complete recovery, Kiesza has made a grand return to the scene entirely on her own terms, releasing new single “Sweet Love” on her own imprint Zebra Spirit Tribe. She has headlined tours around the world, collaborated with the likes of Skrillex, Diplo and Duran Duran, and appeared in promotional campaigns for Fendi and Maison Birks. Earlier this summer, she went on an intimiate acoustic tour where she performed stripped down reinterpretations of her hits as well as covers from Nirvana to Tom Petty.
Connect With Kiesza Here: Website
Learn more about Kiesza in the following All Access interview:
Thanks for your time! I was actually at your show here in LA a few weeks ago at Hotel Cafe and it was so amazing. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that space so packed before. How did you feel about this mini acoustic tour? Did it feel more like you?
It felt a lot more connected than the other shows, because I was able to really interact with my crowd on a personal level. My dance shows, I was able to talk with my crowd, but the energy of the room was very different. My dance shows, people were there to party. People were there to dance. I might insert a song or two that was a little more intimate, but then the show moved on.
This was my chance to really show that side of me that I had just shown sprinkles of before and it was definitely a more vulnerable side of who I am. It wasn’t not me before, but this is just more of me now than I ever gave before.
So where does this interview find you? What is on tap for the rest of the day?
I am in Topanga on top of a hill. I’ve had a busy day, lots of work, and I’m just winding down for the day. What’s on tap for the rest of … It’s 12:42 AM the rest of the day.
I guess, technically, it is tomorrow, so I have a lot on tap. I’m going to be recording a feature and I have a dinner later on. And then in the morning, I have to do a lot of errands and organizing and I have to prepare for the recording session, so it’s going to be a very busy day today.
Now that we’re more then halfway through the year, how has 2019 been treating you? What are some of the goals you have for yourself this year and how close are you to reaching them?
The year just went by so fast. My main goal now is to put out all the music that I created, but also really put out this new side of myself and it’s figuring out the best way to unravel this new chapter that I’m presenting to my audience because I’ve been gone for a while and coming back differently is always a puzzle.
And so I’m putting together these puzzle pieces in a way that really makes a clear picture of myself as an artist and where I’m going. That’s a bit of a mystery to myself right now, but I do know for certain that I really want to be vulnerable and share all the sides of me that I have to give.
I’m going to be releasing a lot of music this year and then well into the New Year as well. It’s just going to be song after song after song from now on, which I’m excited about.
Growing up, how important was music in your life? Can you recall a moment when you decided that you wanted to be a musician? Was it an easy or difficult choice?
Yeah, I grew up with music my whole life. I was in Broadways, musical theater, I was in opera lessons as a kid and in classical ballet dancing. So I was dancing and singing from childhood, but I never really started songwriting till I was about 16 while I was a sailor. I really got into it on a tall ship when I picked up guitar playing and started singing lullabies for the ship, for the crew and all the trainees.
I knew that music was something I had that was special when people started asking me to record my songs and begging me to sing them to them. I realized that people actually missed my songs and wanted to hear them, so it was the first time I realized that there’s something about music that was working and I just kept going forward and writing more songs, and it kind of snowballed. My story kind of wrote itself really. What’s the end of the question?
Was it an easy or difficult choice to make?
It wasn’t a difficult choice. I didn’t especially choose it. I feel like it chose me.
Was there ever a time when you thought about doing something else? If you weren’t a musician today, what else could you see yourself doing? Would you be as fulfilled in life?
A funny thing is I already do a bunch of other things. Yes, I’ve had many, many things I wanted to be. I wanted to be a geneticist. I was in the Navy. I wanted to be a tall ship sailor for awhile, and then when I found music, I wanted to be a musician. I’ve wanted to be many kinds of musicians. I wanted to be a songwriter to start and I wanted to be a dance artist. Actually, before a dance artist, I wanted to be a folk artist, and now I’m kind of combining all of those things.
Now, I want to showcase what I can do when I bring all of that together in one place. So beyond that, I trained dogs and I’m really, really into human psychology and understanding how the brain works when it goes through … How human behavior works in the process of healing trauma. So that is a side passion of mine. I’m always researching and coming up with theories of my own. Yeah, I’m very excited about that. So who knows? It’s very possible that I’ll be doing lots of other things in the future as well. I’m hard to pin down.
What has been the biggest surprise so far about making music your career? What has been an unexpected or welcome challenge to it all?
My biggest surprise was actually how challenging the music industry itself would be because music itself comes so effortless to me. It just sort of flows through me in the music industry itself. It has very little flow to it. It’s just obstacle after obstacle and it’s really like playing chess. You have to try to navigate and plan and strategize around all these things that are coming at you and try to convince people that your music is worth getting behind them. That part of the industry surprised me and that’s why I chose to go independent because I wasn’t finding flow with the major label system.
Some of the unexpected … I always thought I would enjoy performing, but I really didn’t expect how much I would love performing my own music and how deeply I would connect with my audience. Through all the challenges and the hard times I had, the stage always welcomed me. It was something I always looked forward to, even if I was sick or going through a rough time. When I was on stage, it always brought me to an incredible happy place and I was able to connect with people on a level that I just can’t connect with people anywhere else.
And also going through a car accident, I was not prepared for that, but I also wasn’t prepared for all the silver linings that would come out of it and made me realize that I had so much more to give. I’m really excited for this new chapter of music because I have so much more to share than I did before. Yeah.
After your car accident and all your serious injuries, what kept you going? What pushed you to continue working through them and recover to perform again?
The fact that I want to do it so badly. The fact that I can’t live without music. Once you find that connection with an audience and with your fans, it’s really hard to ever walk away from that because it’s so special and so surreal and it’s something that you crave, something that you really miss.
For me, knowing that, that place still existed and was still a possibility, even though it was far away from me at the time of the injury, it was something I used as my goal to get back to. It helped me through the injury. It helped me take baby steps in the right direction. I lost my train of thought.
What pushed you to continue working through the injuries and recover to perform again?
Yeah. My love of my fans and my love performing and my love to write music and how passionate I feel through all of those sides of my career.
Let’s talk about your newest material. What would you say is the biggest change that your music has gone through since your major label debut in Sound of a Woman?
The biggest change- it’s become free without limitations or boundaries or fear wrapped around it. Being Independent, I’m free to share exactly what I want to share. My only limitation is how am I going to get this to the world, and I’m okay with that. I’m okay with the challenge.
But having the freedom to express myself and to connect with my fans the way that I intend to connect with them and to share the message that I intended to share is really the most important thing that changed it.
What was the inspiration for your newest single, Sweet Love? How does it compare into the rest of your new music and when do you plan on releasing more new music, a full collection or a new song?
Sweet Love was written before the car crash and it’s a song that I really loved and really wanted to put out. It was written right after I wrote Phantom Of The Dance Floor, which featured an opera singer and I actually wrote it with the opera singer, which is really cool.
I had a lot of trouble releasing any new songs through my record label and I felt like that was a beautiful song that nobody wanted. When I realized that I was at a place where I was strong enough to start putting out new music, I didn’t want to let that one just get lost, so I made a point to finish it and get it out first.
There’s going to be a lot of different sounds and different songs. It’s quite eclectic what’s coming out because it’s not really coming out in chronological order at all. Sweet love I wrote before the accident. The next song coming out, You’re The Best, I wrote a few months ago.
I’m going to be sprinkling all sorts of songs that were written at various times throughout the past few years before and after the accident. It’s going to show different sides of me and it’s going to really show changes in who I am and some talk about what I’ve been through. I really do think they will flow together in a really seamless way, especially because it is my voice carrying them all.
How has going independent impacted you? What things are you able to do with your music that you couldn’t do before?
Going independent, like I said, is very freeing and it’s exciting. There’s a lot more hustle involved. There’s a lot more work, but the thing is, is that I know that the work is getting done and I know that my whole team is passionate and everybody is working together and it’s not easy. I knew it was going to be a challenge, but it’s been even more of a challenge than I thought.
But again, it’s given me something to fight for. It’s given me a purpose to rise up to, and it’s given me a really powerful team, which I’m most thankful for. I really think that we’re all growing as people because we have no choice but to work together and we have no choice but to achieve this goal with each other. So we were all learning and growing as people through this process, which is amazing.
What was it like starting your own label, Zebra Spirit Tribe?
Well, it’s brand new and honestly when it comes to running a record label, I’m very new at this, but I know as an artist what I wanted from a label and I want to give that to other artists down the road. I want to give them the space to be creative. I want to give them a chance to find their own sound and also I want to give them the tools and the guidance to help them find that if that’s what they’re looking for.
I want to have a culture that isn’t based around the fear of failure. It’s about finding your success. It’s just about being creative. It’s about creating something new and taking risks. I really, really believe in taking risks and I’m willing to take risks, so I think I’ll be a great label owner. But it’s going to be an organic process. I’m not rushing it. It’s just going to build organically through time. I’m going to let the right artist find me.
What has it been like keeping up with your social media accounts and all of the different platforms? Is it hard to stay up to date on it all?
For me, it’s extremely hard because I have a lot of trouble reading and reading really hurts my head. Every time I do my social media, I have to go through a certain amount of pain and headache and crash. But it’s important and I know I have to do it and I always have fun doing it despite everything. That’s the biggest challenge, but I think I’m doing a pretty good job at it so far actually. When things get busy, it definitely gets hard.
What would you say is your favorite way to connect with your fans now?
That’s a good question. I honestly really liked connecting them in all different kinds of ways because everybody is very different. I have a lot of fans of all different demographics, different ages, different countries, and they’re all very unique. Some like to write me messages. Some like to write me comments, but I definitely connect with my fans the most over social media.
My favorite thing is hearing how my music has impacted them. I love hearing their memories of times that they remember as a result of one of my songs. They’ll tell me, “Oh, when I was listening to Hideaway on the beach with somebody, we had this amazing dance session and I’ll never forget it.” I love that my song can become a part of people’s history, so I love people sharing things like that. I also love rallying my fans together to help me out, especially going independent. I’m going to definitely need their support as much as possible.
What has social media done for your career so far?
Well, YouTube has been very helpful with Hideaway, of course. Social media, I struggled with it at first because despite being appearing very outgoing, I’m actually quite shy below the surface and just constantly sharing on social media wasn’t a natural thing for me at first, so it took me time to really get the reigns of it. I think I’m still getting the reins of it honestly.
It’s been amazing because through this really challenging experience of getting derailed from my own career, it created a place for my fans to stay connected to me so that when I came back they were still there and I could still reach them. So I think for that reason, I think social media is just fantastic and I’m very grateful for it.
Who are some of your favorite artists or rather what musicians have continued to inspire you and your music?
I struggle with this question and it’s because I have so many people on my playlist. I was always a massive fan of Michael Jackson as a performer. He was a person who made me want to be a dance artist, but I also love folk artists like Cat Stevens and Joni Mitchell growing up. I love rock bands like Nirvana. And then I loved a lot of dance music. I was really into house songs, and I’ve shared a lot of those in the past like Robin S. I liked the Fugees growing up.
Whenever I get asked this question, I always forget like 90% of the names, but I liked a lot of divas growing up. I grew up on Celine Dion, Aretha Franklin, Etta James. I love Louis Armstrong to death. He’s like one of my favorite artists ever. So I love a lot of classics.
Who would you absolutely love to work with in the future?
I really always wanted to work with Death Cab for Cutie growing up. I have been in touch with Chris Walla who did two of their albums, which were my favorite ones, so I’m excited about that. If we could ever make it happen because we’re always in the wrong countries, at the wrong cities at the wrong time.
Honestly, when it comes to collaborations, the one thing I’ve learned is that you just never know who you’re going to get a spark with. A lot of the people that I thought I maybe spark with, I didn’t necessarily. Some people who I would’ve never expected to work with have been the best collaborations ever.
Honestly, I try not to think too hard about who I want to collaborate with and I just sort of see who resonates with me and who comes into my sphere or who I attract.
If you had an unlimited budget and your schedule was free, what would your dream music video look like?
Oh man, it would be the most epic sci-fi movie you’ve ever seen and it would be like seven hours long. It would be the longest song ever recorded. It would be the most iconic and legendary music video ever created. I guarantee that.
What has been the coolest place, TV show, commercial that you have heard a song of yours?
There’s some really big ones. You know what? The funny thing is I always find it coolest when I hear my song playing in the most unexpected small places. I heard that my song is playing in a wooden shed in the middle of Vietnam. I was just like, “Wow. How did it get that far?” It was in a town where there was hardly any radio stations or maybe there weren’t any at all.
That’s what excites me the most is when my song gets played in the most unexpected and the most unlikely places. I thought it was really cool when I was at a festival and Calvin Harris was on stage and he played my song in his set. That was pretty exciting. I had to Tweet at him and say thank you.
Where would you still love to hear a future song of yours?
Let me think about that. I would love to hear my songs played in the International Space Station with astronauts present, floating around in zero gravity, live-streaming back to Earth. That would be amazing.
At the end of the day, what do you hope people take away from your music?
I hope it makes them feel good in some way or feel really … I hope it brings them into their bodies and makes them feel just connected. I think we all feel very disconnected and alone at times and misunderstood definitely. And I hope, because of all the experiences that I’ve been through which had been a lot, I hope that the songs that I put out can connect with people who feel like they don’t have a voice or feel like nobody listens or feel like nobody understands them. Let them know that they aren’t alone. Whether the song be happy or sad, that there is somebody out there that has felt these things and that they are connected. We’re all very connected and I want them to feel that union.