Published Oct 29, 2014Amongst the bevy of female artists who have been topping the charts in this year, Canadian singer-songwriter Kiesza has emerged as a viral sensation who is now a true contender for the pop throne.
Over the past eight months, her music video for "Hideaway" has accumulated nearly 140 million YouTube views and landed the artist (born Kiesa Rae Ellestad) a number of high-profile performances, from the MuchMusic Video Awards to The Ellen DeGeneres Show. Its one-take concept, which choreographs Ellestad and a number of dancers through the streets of Brooklyn, is a familiar road to notoriety (see videos by OK Go or Feist's famous "1234"), but for Ellestad, dance is more than a mere tool for viral fame.
"I was a dancer before I was ever a musician," Ellestad clarifies in an Exclaim! interview. Back at the age of 15, she was forced to quit ballet due to an injury and even though the affliction to her hips and knees remain, she was eager to incorporate it into her new career in music.
"I always wanted to try street dancing, which is the total opposite of ballet," she laughs, explaining her approach to the "Hideaway" video. "And with this style, I had to loosen up, whereas with ballet, it was very controlled. This allowed me to bring my two passions into one and it kind of fulfilled that missing gap. 'Hideaway' was the first time I ever did it, so I've been picking it up as I go. I don't expect to be perfect and I think it's fun to make mistakes because it shows people that you're a normal person."
Ellestad says that the cross-section between Michael Jackson and Freddie Mercury is her goal when it comes to her performance style, which she admits is an ironic pair because "one is fully choreographed and the other is completely improvised," but Ellestad's ambitions have always been vast.
While attending Boston's Berklee College of Music, she tried her hand at film scoring, songwriting and performing while dipping her toes in every possible genre from jazz to folk and even death metal. She finally settled with songwriting, where she was introduced to electronic and EDM music.
"When you're a songwriter trying to write for a mainstream audience, you have to learn the sound," she explains. "EDM became a strong sound and I had to get to know it. It was more of a necessity."
Although she was admittedly not taken with the style at first, she eventually found her niche in a melting pot of throwback and modern takes on house, electronic and pop music when she recorded "Hideaway."
"I was so connected to that song that I literally couldn't give it away. My job was to create the best song possible so I could give it away, but I just couldn't imagine anyone else singing it," she recalls. "It was the first song where I was like, 'I have a sound.' All of a sudden, I had a clear direction of where I wanted to go."
What ensued were a string of writing sessions that would form Ellestad's debut album, the recently release Sound of a Woman. It's a complete work that stretches beyond the capacity of the pristine propulsion of "Hideaway" and encompasses a wide array of influences, from the soulful balladry of "Piano" to her Aaliyah-like turn on the Joey Bada$$ collaboration, "Bad Thing."
She credits producer Rami Samir Afuni with helping her lay down the foundations to much of this record. "We just kind of brought everything together for this album," she says. "We fused what we love into one record and they all go together. I can take you through every song and say how it all goes together. I can make a whole movie around this album."
Not one to rest, Ellestad continues to write songs. In addition to recently submitting some tracks for Rihanna's upcoming album, she has also extended her collaboration with Skrillex and Diplo, and, most notably, she has begun writing a second album.
"One of the songs on this album took two years to write so I better start early," she jokes. "I want to tell my story as it goes so I don't want there to be a huge gap. Ideally I want to have something within the next year."
Sound of a Woman is out now via Island.