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Introducing: Kiesza

You’d be hard pressed to find a pop star with a resumé quite as eclectic and impressive as Kiesza. The 25-year-old Canadian, whose debut single ‘Hideaway‘ has built a steady head of hype since its unveiling by Annie Mac last week, has been a naval sharpshooter, sung lullabies to cruise ship patrons and competed in Miss Universe Canada. The only linking factor in a life that’s seen her traverse the globe is a determination to follow her gut, wherever it may take her.

Fortunately, it’s been a path that’s led her to music. From a childhood that saw her starring in stage productions of Annie to life aboard the cruiser where she first wrote her own songs, the now London-based vocalist has been refining her craft for years now, constantly challenging herself to write the perfect pop song. The results of her journey are nothing if not immaculate; ‘Hideaway’ pristinely melds her love of garage, house and pop with the utmost drama, while a forthcoming cover of Haddaway‘s ‘What is Love?‘ finds the perfect hinterland between power and vulnerability.

Now settled in London, the prodigious up-and-comer talks us through life in the navy and its emotional conflicts, her subsequent departure to music school and the art of writing a great pop song.

PlanetNotion: ‘Hideaway’ has been incredibly well received since Annie Mac played it on Friday night. Tell us a little bit about the track’s origins.
Kiesza: It’s a crazy story. I was just about to head to the airport to board a plane to LA. At the time, I was in New York and I was going to head out there as my writing was picking up. I was ready to board a plane and Rami – the producer I work with – had started working on this track in the studio and it sounded really cool. It reminded me of a lot of the people that I’m into, so I asked if I could jump on the mic before I had to go. The entire song just came out. Everything you hear was finished in an hour-and-a-half.  It just poured out. I nearly missed my flight; it was like a scene from a movie.

Two days later, I get this call from Rami saying, “I think you need to come back to New York.” That’s when I knew I’d found a sound that really worked for me. I ended up going back there and working on more tracks. The rest is history.

PN: It’s the lead track from an EP of the same name. What can you tell us at this point in time about the EP?
K: There are two original songs, a remix of ‘Hideaway’ and then a new version of ‘What is Love?’ [by Haddaway]. That’s always been one of my favourite songs. I was so into it and I realised that although the song itself is so happy, the lyrics are so sad. I wanted to interpret the song in the way that the lyrics are written, and that was as more of a slow ballad.

PN: It sounds like you’ve had a really interesting life. You’ve been a ballerina, you’ve served in the navy, and you’ve competed in Miss Universe Canada. How long were you in the navy for?
K: About four years. I didn’t serve but I was part of the reserves. I wasn’t contracted for the four years. They were really pushing me to do that but I was so young and I was still in high school. I was very adventurous and a total thrill-seeker; the navy just really appealed to me. I loved the idea of going to boot camp, so I did.

PN: When did you realise that you wanted to leave that part of your life behind?
K: When the reality sunk in that it wasn’t a game. I’d thought it was fun and that it was a cool thing to do, but then I realised that these people were looking at me as a serious shooter and that my job would be to shoot real people. They put me into simulation training; it was almost like being in a video game but you’re shooting with real guns that have lasers wired into them. There’s no way I could ever pull the trigger on a real person.

It was fun and I gained a lot of discipline from the military. It’s definitely helped me as a musician. I was also really good at Morse code. I originally signed up as a naval communicator because I had no idea that I was a good shot. I actually had the top Morse code score that year as well.

PN: And after your time in the military, I hear you sailed to Hawaii.
K: Before and during my time in the navy, I was really into sailing. I went on this really big ship in Victoria – it was about 132ft – and every few years it does a world trip. This time it was going to Japan. I made it as far as Hawaii and on getting there I rang home and my mum told me I’d been accepted into music school. I hadn’t even auditioned for this school. I’d just sent a demo. I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do; music was something I’d picked up on the boat.

PN: Did you have your first exposure to being a musician while on that boat then?
K: That was my first exposure to being a songwriter and creating my own music. I’d had classical piano training before. I’d done ballet and musical theatre too – I was in the musical Annie as a kid. I’ve been singing throughout my life but never creating my own music. That was when I realised I had a natural instinct for it.

I would actually sing people to sleep on the ship with these little lullabies I’d write. I thought I might end up being the captain of a ship one day but people started asking for my demo. A friend of mine said to me, “you should send it to this music school. It’s in the middle of nowhere in Canada but it’s actually really good.” I really didn’t expect to hear anything back but they called and said I didn’t even need to audition. I just followed my gut. I got off at Hawaii and flew home.

Within my first semester at this school, I also auditioned for Berklee and I received a really big scholarship. It’s the leading contemporary music school in the world.


PN: What other styles of music have you dabbled with in the past?
K: I started out as a folk singer, which was simply because I had a guitar and was on a boat. That slowly turned into folk-pop. It’s funny; I wrote pop for a little while and the reason was that I’d heard these two students talking about pop music saying, “that’s not real music. Those songs are stupid. They’re so easy to write.” I’d thought to myself: ‘If it’s that easy to make, why doesn’t everyone do it?’ I love a good challenge and that’s the one I set myself: can I write a good pop song? I realised it’s all in the art of simplicity and that’s a real skill.

My personal writing has always been evolving. It’s kind of like my life – trying on different hats and seeing what fits. There are so many styles that I really loved writing but they just didn’t fit. For me, it was a very organic process; in the same way that I tried out sailing, I tried out the navy, I tried out Miss Universe. I was actually also a synchronised swimmer as well. When I found music, it just stuck. That was what I really excelled at the most.

PN: You’ve just moved to London. What inspired that decision?
K: I really like the music scene. Deep house is almost mainstream here and I’m really into Route94, Dusky, Disclosure, and Maya Jane Coles. I really wanted to come out here and be part of it as I really feel like I’d fit in with it all.

I’ve always done everything myself: I design my own artwork and logo, I write the songs and I really wanted to do this independently as well. There are so many people that I want to work with out here; Gorgon City and Naughty Boy to name just a couple.

- Alex Cull

‘Hideaway’ is available from March 24 on Lokal Legend.

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