Kiesza Discusses New Album ‘Sound Of A Woman’ & The Runaway Success Of “Hideaway”: Idolator Interview
Kiesza’s life has become an unexpected whirlwind in 2014. Since the release of her deep house throwback “Hideaway” this past spring, the Canadian singer-songwriter has spent more time on airplanes and in different countries than she ever could have imagined.
“I’m flying to Italy on Friday, and then back to L.A. That’s going to be a fun flight,” Kiesza says over lunch in New York’s Upper West Side. It’s a sunny afternoon in mid-September, just six months after we invited her into the Idolator studio for a Popping Up feature — her first on-camera interview. In that time, “Hideaway” has gone from simply being a viral YouTube sensation to becoming a rampant chart-topping smash in countries like the UK and Italy, as well as a Top 10 hit in most other territories in the world.
Half a year later, the two of us are meeting up again to talk about the bigger picture: Kiesza’s debut album, Sound Of A Woman (out today, October 21 – pick it up here). The LP is a blend of house, classic hip hop beats and torch-song balladry that showcases both her and producer Rami Samir Afuni‘s deep appreciation for the 1990s.
Head below to find out about Kiesza’s labor of love that was several years in the making.
It’s nice to see you again. There are a few collaborations on Sound Of A Woman, including the song “Bad Thing,” which features Joey Bada$$. How did you two come together? KIESZA: I really like Joey Bada$$, and so does Rami, so we were like, “We should try to do a collaboration with him.” We reached out to him months before we ended up working together and he missed the email. So we were like, “Maybe he’s not into it.” Then literally the week we were supposed to turn the album in, he tweets me, “Oh my gosh — I’m such a big fan. I’d love to collaborate.” I sent him a direct message, “Joey, I emailed you three months ago!” He went and checked and was like, “Dammit, I missed the email.” He came by two days later and we did up “Bad Thing.”
And then there’s “Losin’ My Mind, which features Mick Jenkins. K: Rami found Mick Jenkins online. Something about his voice, the tone of his voice, was the first thing that stuck out to me. There’s something really unique about it. And something about his lyrics felt very poetic. I really liked the way he wrote. He was in New York and Rami met up with him in the studio, and then I ended up coming by. We really got along, and he ended up featuring on “Losin’ My Mind.” We wrote [another] song together that I think he might put on his record. The same with Joey; we did “Bad Thing” and then wrote a song that’s for his project.
“Losin’ My Mind” in particular has such a great old-school hip hop beat. K: Rami, his first love is hip hop. He started out, first and foremost, as a hip hop producer. You really hear that influence across the whole album.
Did you two work on more songs than what ended up on the album? K: No, actually. It’s all very different but it all fits together. There were supposed to be ten songs but at the last minute we wrote “Bad Thing” and “The Love.” I didn’t want to take anything off the album, so I just thought, let’s add more. The album ended being 12 songs, then I was like, “You know what – let’s just put ‘What Is Love’ on the album, too.” [Laughs] So now it’s 13.
“The Love” is my favorite. K: Oh, really? Thank you.
Musically, it almost sounds to me like something off the Bodyguard soundtrack. Maybe it’s a bit of Whitney’s rendition of “I’m Every Woman” I’m hearing in there. K: That’s amazing. It’s interesting — to me it will be interesting once the album is out to see what people gravitate to.
Let’s talk about “The Love.” How did that song come about? K: I was working with Rami and the album was wrapped up. We were like, “You know what – let’s just give it a shot one more time; you never know what will happen.” We were in the studio writing, playing around. We were actually working on a different track. For some reason it wasn’t working, and I said, “Let’s not push this anymore. If it’s not working, it’s not working.” It was kind of like with “Hideaway” — he started fooling around with some brand new chords and I started freestyling. We actually made the melody together, on “The Love.” It was totally casual; it wasn’t even planned.
The album is quite a journey of different sounds, not just house. K: If you notice, there’s a love story going on. It’s all like, happy, new love. Then it’s “now I’m falling deep into love,” and then “I love this person, but I have some questions.” Then “Sound Of A Woman” is like, “I gotta speak my mind!” Then I fall back in love again with “Piano” and “The Love.” Finally you get to “Giant In My Heart” and you realize, okay, this isn’t going anywhere. I gotta move on. I gotta let go and cut loose. I didn’t intend it that way. We just placed the songs in an order that we felt like moved nicely together, but it ended up being this love story.
“Sound Of A Woman,” the song, is quite a dramatic ballad. How did that also come to be the title of the album? K: I just felt like the title was so strong, and even though in the song it represents a very specific emotion, the whole album ended being this love story — it’s the like the emotions of what somebody would go through in a whole relationship. So “Sound Of A Woman” as a song represents something a little bit different than what the [album] title represents as a whole. But I felt like they both had a very strong meaning, and it represented the whole album — me being very vulnerable, and finding myself as an artist. The first time, when I started, I was so young and new to the game and I felt like I really matured my sound [since then]. I just knew that was the title right away.
Six months ago when we talked, “Hideaway” hadn’t even been released yet. Now it’s become a huge hit across the world. Have you had any spare moments to process it all? K: No. It’s like a blur. The other day somebody asked, “When did you arrive to New York,” and I was like, “Did I arrive yesterday or did I arrive the day before? When did I arrive?” It’s turning into Jell-O — days; what time it is; what year it is; what country I’m in! It’s hard to process because so much is happening so quickly. I can remember more vividly sitting with you [doing our interview in March] than I can some of the whole summer. But it’s [been] amazing. I’ve never played to such large audiences in my whole life, so I’m getting to experience that. We’re sort of chasing the record – it just went and we’re trying to catch up to it. But to see it spread all over the world, and to go from being completely anonymous — it’s now eight or nine months from when it first was on the radio; this is even before the video was out — it’s a very strange process. But it’s fun and I’m really grateful for it. What more can you ask for as a musician than to have people awaiting your music?
You’ve tapped into the nostalgia factor with the sound of the album, which people seem to have connected with. K: There’s like a hybrid going on. I was very young in the ‘90s. I’ve done enough to have been through experiences and real emotions and roller coasters. You feel like you’re the only person who’s been through it, but then you realize everyone’s been through it. That’s what I love about music: when you’re really honest and really genuine with your emotions and you put it out, people connect. You’re really not alone; a lot of people go through the same experiences.
“Cut Me Loose” is an emotional ballad toward the end of Sound Of A Woman. It plays like a very personal song. K: That one took two years to finish. I wrote the chorus about two years ago. It was something I was feeling at the time. I couldn’t find verses or a pre-chorus or even a bridge that I felt did justice to the chorus. And I loved the chorus so much that I didn’t want to sacrifice it. I didn’t want to finish it for the sake of finishing it. I wanted it to be perfect. I wrote the chorus on the piano, and one day I was playing the guitar and I started singing, “So this is what it is, I’m just another kiss.” I thought, this fits, and it all just came together. But I didn’t have a bridge. [Co-writer] Jordan [Orvosh] is a prolific piano player and a very good friend, and we were in the studio recording something else. We were just playing around and I showed him “Cut Me Loose.” He started playing the song with me and went into this other progression. I started singing and was like, “Oh my gosh – we have to record this right now!” It just happened out of nowhere, close to finishing the album. That song was actually the first one to be started and one of the last ones finished.
It seems like you spend equal amounts of time in the studio as you do on the stage. Which do you prefer? K: Both. It really depends on my mood. I love being on stage. I couldn’t have one without the other. I’d be happy as [just] a performer and I’d be happy as [just] a songwriter, but I’d always be missing a little element on either end. When I was a songwriter [for other artists] I was very committed to being a songwriter, but I had to have my side projects because I had to get my emotions out. I had to channel everything that was inside of me. But I just never expected it to explode like it did. [Laughs] I thought, this is just my little underground thing on the side.
Speaking of songwriting, you co-wrote the Gorgon City song “Go All Night,” which features Jennifer Hudson on vocals. K: I heard somebody else singing that song. Those lyrics, something about them — I didn’t hear myself singing it. But Jennifer Hudson sang it, and it was just so perfect for her. I love writing for other people, and I love other people interpreting the songs that I write. Sometimes somebody else will connect with a song that you write even more than you did. When I wrote [“Go All Night”], I wasn’t in the studio writing for myself. It was before “Hideaway” even came out when I wrote that song. I didn’t connect with it in a way that I wanted for my album. My gut was like, “I want to hear somebody else singing that song.” Jennifer killed it.
Have you written for anyone else lately? K: I haven’t had time to go into the studio, but I’ve been writing. I have a lot of ideas on my computer. I went through this phase where everything blew up, and I had to adapt to the lifestyle of traveling all the time, and jumping time zones. For a while, I was very physically exhausted, and even mentally sometimes. You have to keep going and going and going, so I felt like I lost my creativity for a little bit. Then suddenly, I adjusted to it and I had this new burst of ideas — but my album’s finished! I was like, “I need somebody to write for!” I’ve been humming melodies into my phone and my computer. I still don’t have time, but as soon as I do, I’ll get a session in somewhere, or I’ll send ideas off to producers.
You’re currently living in New York, correct? K: I was living in London all summer, actually. And now I’m moving back.
There was also a point where you were considering moving to Los Angeles, too, just before you cut “Hideaway.” K: Yeah, I was looking into it because I was focused as a writer. That’s where the whole writing industry really is situated. You have way more people to write with [in L.A.], so it’s every day, a different person. But I love New York. I find I really like the changing seasons because they inspire me differently.
What was your experience like while living in London? K: You know, I kind of regret to say, I never got to be a Londoner — which I always wanted to try being. I’ve always looked to the UK for inspiration, because so much great music comes out of the UK. When I went there to release “Hideaway,” the idea was to really get into the underground scene with people and vibe, to get with DJs — do the whole circuit. I arrived on the 21st of January, the song got played on the 24th and that week following it just started going viral. I didn’t even get to go to a club other than to [perform]…which is cool. But I didn’t get to live there. I would have loved to have the chance to get out in the neighborhood and meet people. But regardless of that, it was really great.
You’ve tried out so many different paths – dancing, sailing, the military, songwriting, being a pop star — and I think a lot of people can relate to that notion of never really knowing where you’ll wind up in life, despite what we’re planning. K: Some people feel like, “Oh, man, this isn’t working — this is it. Everything is over.” I’ve totally been there. I’ve hit a wall where I’m like, “I have no idea where to go from here.” You don’t even have to figure out how to get around that wall; you just have to say, “I want to be here. This is where I want to be.” And you just focus on where you want to end up, and somehow it starts unraveling. I always say to give yourself a date for when you want to be there, and even if you don’t end up exactly where you want to be, it’s just as good somehow.
Why don’t we end on how you’re feeling now that Sound Of A Woman is finally done and ready to be released. K: Oh, it’s amazing! Not that it was a wait; it was amazing to write. But with everything else going on, there was a point where I was like, “How are we going to finish this thing up?” It was hard to be in the same place as Rami. We had to schedule our creativity. We never had to do that before, and we were so much more flexible before [“Hideaway”] blew up. I was worried, but it worked out. When it was finished, it was more like a relief to me, because finally I can give this music to the world. I’m so anxious that when I write a song in the studio, I want everyone to hear it right away.
How does Rami feel about the album? K: We’re both so happy. We’ve been working for four years together trying to find a sound between us. Even though it’s my name, the music is really Rami and me. We’ve been working for so long. Finally we found our sound, finished an album and put our stamp on it. Now it’s like, alright — let’s start the next album!
Kiesza’s debut album Sound Of A Woman is out now. Pick it up on iTunes.