Most of us can identify a handful of momentous experiences and say, "because of these, I am where I am today." For Kiesza, it'd be easier to choose the moments that don't matter, as it seems that gestalt of her life has brought her to this point. This point being one of the hottest rising stars in music.
Her video for "Hideaway" has amassed over 135 million views and the single--which she wrote and recorded in under 90 minutes--took the top spot on two UK charts on peaked at No. 3 on the Billboard Dance Airplay chart.
The "Hideaway" video in itself is a map of her experiences. Those dance moves? She trained as a ballerina as a teenager. The hair and makeup? She competed in the Miss Universe Canada pageant in 2005. The discipline and ability to work through the pain (she got a hairline rib fracture during the video shoot)? Her stint in the Canadian Navy: She was nearly a sniper. Those pipes and that sound? Well, that's all comes back to her family.
Born Kiesa Rae Ellestad, the Canadian singer grew up in a musical family. "My parents play music as a hobby and my mom song writes and plays guitar and my dad plays piano," says the "Giant in my Heart" songstress. "And my uncle's a music producer and my cousin is in a band, she's a folk singer. And my other cousin plays the hardingfele, a tradition Norwegian instrument. So I have a very musical family; it's mostly just a hobby but we just love music and we love being together."
Though sing-a-longs were a fixture at family get-togethers, music was a near constant at home. "My dad would get up in the morning and go sit at the piano and open up his Abba book and start playing 'The Winner Takes It All' just on the piano," says the Calgary native. "That was a normal thing. And my mom loved to sing and she was always singing along with a song of some sort. On the radio or from her collection of Devo records. We just loved music in our household."
Her debut EP, Hideaway, is not just evidence of her musical prowess, but also her eclectic tastes. The album features some '90s style dance and R&B, as well a slow jam ballad and soulfully slow cover of Haddaway's "What Is Love." This interest in a wide array of genres can be traced back to her formative years.
"My older brother he had a collection of so many CDs," says the Berklee grad. "I don't know how many; hundreds maybe close to a thousand different CDs that he was really passionate about. He had this giant CD book full of everything. I would always sneak into his CD book and take a CD out that I didn't know and see what he was listening to, which was a lot of urban music."
Her brother introduced her to hip-hop greats like Dr. Dre, Aaliyah, Jay Z, and Akon as well as Tom Petty, James Blunt, John Mayer, and Nirvana. Her father intruded her to ABBA and her mother "was all about every diva and Michael Jackson." Listing to Hideaway, you can see where some of these influences come in.
For a lesser artist, this mix of inspirations could result in a mishmash of sounds and flavors working against each other rather than with. Kiesza blends and layers them carefully, knowing where and when to use what. That being said, even with such disparate influences, it's all about the early '90s for the "So Deep" singer.
"Maybe because of when I grew up. With that music playing so much in my household it's kind of what my brain formed around. In terms of the quality of performance, I feel like the performers were unbelievable," she says. "The vocalists were really legit. They were legit singers because you couldn't really fake it back then. You had these really incredible performers who were ridiculous singers and the artistry at that time, I feel like artist development at that time was just on another level. Maybe it's because people bought music back then and there was more investment back then. But the level of artistry in that era is what I strive to achieve in my own work."
It's with the '90s in mind that Kieza recorded her debut LP, Sound of a Woman. "The album pays homage to that early '90s era that I really love and connect with. It's taken that general sound and not just made dance music," she explains. "There's house, but there's also R&B, and I have three ballads. I have some hip-hop on it as well. It's kind of playing homage as a whole. The common thread is that there are soulful vocals throughout the album and my voice ties everything together. And the story, they all kind of fit into one story together."
The story within Sound of a Woman? "It's a love story. I didn't mean it to be that way, but it's a very vulnerable album. I wrote it from my own feelings and emotions and what I've been through. I think that I was also letting a lot out and really pouring myself into this. It kind of channeled a love story that I'd been through myself. I feel like it goes through the same emotions that a lot of people experience. From the beginning of falling in love to the end of it."