Kiesza reflects on the meaning of ‘Sweet Love’ [Interview]
Kiesza became in instant star in 2014 when her impassioned vocal tune “Hideaway” caught America’s ear and became a smash radio hit. Marquee talents rushed to work with her, and soon we saw the rising Canadian talent’s name appearing alongside projects like Skrillex and Diplo’s Jack Ü, Duran Duran, Djemba Djemba, and Bakermat. It’s clear that she’s poised to be an enduring force within the pop and electronic arenas.
Life hasn’t been free of struggle for this singer, however. Before becoming a full-time musician, she knew a life of heavy discipline and grit via training in her home country’s military. Hardship also struck right as she hit her prime, when a terrible car crash left her with a near-career-ending brain injury and no choice to but to take a couple years off to focus on returning to full health and stability. If we know anything, however, it’s that Kiesza is an enduring character—and her unrelenting passion for her craft ultimately translated to an inevitable return to the arts.
“Sweet Love” thus serves as powerful comeback single, and a public expression of Kiesza’s shift in paradigm. Her recent struggles have given way to a different outlook on life and what’s important, and as a result, we see her taking a more stripped-down, raw, and emotive approach to her music making. “Sweet Love” is simultaneously haunting and wistful, allowing her crisp voice to take center stage while subconsciously communicating a hopeful message. It’s interpretive accompanying video is a visual manifestation of this new direction.
We caught up with Kiesza upon her new tune’s release, digging into her new inspirations and direction, her artistic journey, and beyond.
“Sweet Love” is a bit of a change of pace for you sonically. What led you down this direction, and how was the process in choosing a producer/collaborator that could help you realize your vision?
On this next musical chapter, I’m taking my audience on a more expansive musical journey. I came up as a songwriter on the New York music scene, so pushing boundaries with writing and dipping my toe into uncharted genres has always been second nature to me. That’s why I felt it was necessary to go independent for this next leg. I see this as a chance to evolve and expand in so many directions. But don’t worry, there is lots of dance music on the horizon! “Sweet Love” is a special song. I wrote it with the same baritone opera singer that sang with me on the first of my Halloween series, “Phantom of the Dance Floor.” His name is Philippe Sly and I asked him if he would ever be interested in writing a song together. He hesitated at first, but what I love about Phil is that he is so open-minded, and ultimately he just dove right into it with me! My friend Kid Harpoon joined us in the writing room. It was an amazing songwriting session and I have always loved this song. I struggled to put it out while in the major label system, so releasing this is so exciting. It needs to come out of hiding!
When it came to producing “Sweet Love,” it just so happened that while I was in Denmark, I showed the demo to the production duo NamahFalcon, and they immediately had ideas that were aligned with my own vision for the song. I always go where the enthusiasm is strong and where the creativity starts to flow. Once we got going, it was effortless, and I love how it turned out.
The lyrical content and the dancing in the music video give off a very nostalgic, “young love” type of tone [in our subjective opinion]. Was this inspired by an early love in your life, or a profound experience where you really felt “love” for the first time?
It’s definitely painted with those emotions, both “young love” and even “forbidden love.” The feeling of already being so deep in, that you know there’s no turning back, while all-the-while trying to reconcile with the sense of underlying risk that comes with it.
Do you feel your sound evolving toward this softer, more sentimental direction or do you think you still might be involved in the dance music sphere as a vocalist in the future?
It’s about to become quite a musical rollercoaster ride, as I’ve been on a rollercoaster myself, both in life and in the industry I’m in. I think by now I’ve felt almost everything there is to feel on some degree. Extreme love, unimaginable loss, the fulfillment of dreams and the rush that comes with it, self confidence, self doubt, winning and then losing, an open road that ran straight into a brick wall, and then the sense of being derailed completely and without warning, followed by the struggle of fighting my way back. I have a lot say now. A lot to express. To vent. But also a lot to be thankful for.
Dancing has always been my medicine, and for this reason I will always continue to write dance music. But now you’re going to have a bigger window into who I am, as the songs unveil themselves. I’m sort of moving in all directions at once I guess…expanding.
You’ve definitely been stepping into your own power artistically as of late. What advice can you offer other young musicians who might be struggling to find themselves or assert themselves in this crazy industry?
True, as difficult as it is to cut through all the noise, it’s ultimately an amazing time to be an independent artist. There are so many avenues and unique pathways for new musicians to share their art with the world. The secret is to just keep at it and be willing to work harder than you ever could imagine. When you feel like giving up, you just keep going. And it’s important to be critical of your own music. That may sound harsh, but no one writes a hit song every day. I write bad ideas all the time. You just have to have the guts to throw your work away when you know it isn’t strong enough. And simplify as much as possible. There’s no getting around hard work. And be willing to adapt as the winds change. Expect the unexpected, and give it right back.
As a songwriter, do you have any particular routines or techniques that help you get the lyrics flowing when working on a project? What do you do when faced with writer’s block?
Movement in general helps stimulate ideas. Going for a walk, or riding a bike. Even taking public transportation helps me come up with ideas, believe it or not. Anything that puts you into a flow state.
Let’s poke a bit more into your past here, as we’re a dance site and we first learned about you through your numerous high profile collaborations. How did you first end up getting involved in this side of the music world, and what methods did you use to get your self out there and get noticed by the likes of Jack Ü, Bakermat, Djemba Djemba, etc?
“Hideaway” was my bridge from the realm of the unknown into the limelight. It was that song that paved the way for all the collaborations that followed. When it comes to collaborations, I just go with what feels right. I usually collaborate with people that resonate.
What is your favorite aspect of the dance music scene in general, and the crossover/pop world you’ve found yourself in more recently?
Dance music brings people together, and it makes people happy. Even if it’s just for a moment, when you’re dancing, you always feel good. You don’t have to think about the things that are weighing you down. In that moment, it’s just complete suspension. The new music I’m releasing knows no boundaries. You’ll never know what’s coming next. Sweet Love is a song that allows me to tell a story. It harkens to that familiar lure of lust becoming love. Sometimes the purpose of a song is to be heard. And some of my music in this upcoming chapter will be those songs. Songs with stories, or messages, where the lyrics matter. I try not to make my dance songs too complicated lyrically, for the simple reason that I myself prefer dance songs to be simple and light hearted, when I’m dancing to them. But I have a lot to say, and the time has come to go deeper. I want to share more of who I am with the world.
Finally, the number one question: what’s coming next down the Kiesza pipeline?
For starters, I have more songs written then I know what to do with. But once I get started, there’s no more stopping. I’m really looking forward to lots of collaborations, and expressing so many different sides of my personality through the upcoming music and performances.
Photo credit: Rasmus Luckmann