KISA, a twenty-year-old upcoming artist, was born and raised in Los Angeles in a Russian-Ukrainian household, fluently speaking both Russian and English. She began dancing at the age of two and never stopped since. When she was eight, KISA discovered her love for acting and filmmaking, and starred, produced, and edited her own short films. While growing up, she became a poetry writer, which eventually led to songwriting, winning several poetry contests, and becoming a finalist in a songwriting competition with her first song “Crazy”. Along with performing as a Heels Dancer, at eighteen, KISA had found her voice as a storyteller and has been recording her songs ever since. She is also a senior at Pitzer College, majoring in Film Studies.
Thank you for taking the time for this interview.
When did you start writing music? Did you always know you wanted to do this professionally?
Until I started to get asked this question, I didn’t actually understand how far back my journey started. I began performing for my family when I was a toddler; dancing, singing, and acting. I danced Ballet for 8 years, and eventually began to explore hip-hop and contemporary. At eleven years old, I started taking acting classes and joined a band as their drummer and backup vocalist. Meanwhile, writing and performing for my family some songs I had written. A few years later, I fell in love with poetry. Started submitting myself to poetry contests. I sang for my high school graduation but didn’t discover my voice until I was a freshman in college. A friend of mine, who had family in the music industry, asked me to sing for him and was pleasantly surprised. From that day on, I had started to explore myself as both a songwriter and a singer. It has been a little over a year since I recorded my first single, and only a couple months since the first release.
You’ve recently released your first single “Hurting” that resembles the inner dialogue during difficult times, depression, and/or anxiety. What’s the story behind it? Talk us through your creative process.
A little over a year ago, I was diagnosed with Depression and decided to go live with my family in Ukraine for 6 months. I found myself without any creative outlet and ultimately, feeling very far from who I am. On top of this, I felt guilty for feeling so sad. I knew that I had a lot of things to be grateful for and “I shouldn’t be sad”. If I hadn’t gone through that, I would never have found therapy in music and dance. While abroad, I downloaded Logic and started to write music. I took piano, vocal, and dance classes. These were healing me at the time. When I returned and started to work on my first release “Hurting”, I wanted to be as vulnerable and genuine about my experience that directed me back to writing in the first place. I had felt so lost, and finally found myself again through music. I remember walking into my producer’s home studio, hearing the piano track idea for “Hurting”, and immediately being taken back to how I felt before I left. It was a unique experience because the lyrics were flowing in that session out of my thought stream. I ended up changing one or two words in the end. The verse’s are the way I was speaking to myself at the time. I was always telling myself that I shouldn’t be crying if I have no reason and it made things worse. The chorus is a way of me saying I hear you, I see the pain you are in, and I acknowledge it is okay to feel that way. “Hurting” is a message to my listener’s that I am here for those who need it. It is okay to not be okay sometimes.
What artists inspire you the most?
I am in love with the classics. Therefore, Nina Simone, Etta James, and Ray Charles are so inspiring to me. I watch videos of them and how much soul they put into each word they sing. Currently, I have been listening to a lot of James Blake, Lana Del Rey, Two Feet, Jeremih, Alina Baraz, and Rosalia. I don’t really stick to one genre. I love unique vocal tones. I try to go on drives almost every morning to discover and/or write new music, and the artists I love the most always have a very unique vocal tone and sound.
How do you stay motivated?
I take a break when I need it. That is the trick for me. I am in love with songwriting. I need it to stay that way. I have so much to learn and this makes me want to be learning 24/7, but I need to remind myself that I am not trying to burn out. I want to make this my life. Therefore, I gotta make sure I’m giving myself rest. I can switch between different creative outlets which helps too. One day I’ll be dancing and the next I will go back to writing. As long as I can express myself in a creative way, my motivation stays.
Do you have any people in your life who support your career and creativity?
I am lucky enough to have friends and family that support me. I am always looking to try new things and at this point, the people in my life know to not be surprised when I come home and say I have a new passion. I have to say that the number one supporter I have on my team is my “momager” as I like to call her. She believed in me before I even believed in myself. She has helped me start my career as my mom and manager, guiding and protecting me throughout this journey. I am forever grateful to have such an amazing and driven woman as my example and inspiration.
Were there any specific songs/sounds that influenced you while composing the song “Hurting”?
Actually no. This truly came from a very personal and genuine place. I didn’t feel the need to listen to similar pieces and compare. I wasn’t making it for anyone but myself. I wrote the lyrics in one sitting and then sang each line how I felt it. I collaborated on the melodies with my producer and we bounced ideas off of each other. I really loved how soothing it was, even though it was also very melancholy. I think my words were influenced by the music, and that’s it.
We could see a combination of music and childhood memories in your music video. For those of you that haven’t seen it – it is available on YouTube. Do you feel music in general might be a healing world for a lot of people that helps them escape reality?
A hundred percent. Music heals. It healed me and it heals many others. I made this piece to remind myself how far I’ve come and to help another understand that they are not alone. Mental health is so important. Taking care of ourselves should come first. Be kind, gentle, and understanding to yourself. The music video plays on the idea of how we would speak to ourselves as children when sad, versus now. If I were speaking to baby KISA, I would comfort her and tell her it is okay to feel whatever she is feeling. However, when I was older, the words turned judgemental. This video reflects this inner conflict.
Could you give us some insights behind the scenes of your music video? How did you create it?
The shooting of this video occured during quarantine. Therefore, it was all shot by my partner and I in my bedroom, garage, and shower. I actually liked the idea of shooting it in my own home and especially, in very intimate places because it made it even more personal. We set up the camera on the tripod and let it record as I sang “Hurting” over and over again. There were tears and lots of water getting in my eyes but we did it. We ended up projecting a pre-filmed video of myself on the wall above me, along with baby videos I had from my ballet classes. The magic happened in the editing. We had it look as though I was suspended in the clouds at some point.
What are the most challenging things about being a musician?
My own mind. Battling self doubt and fear at first has been difficult for me. It took me a year to stop comparing myself and actually realize all that I have to offer. Pushing through the doubt is so fulfilling. The confidence I feel that I have finally reached took a lot of self discovery. I have let go of any ego and begun to learn more about myself. I am so fresh and eager to grow.
What would you do if you were not an artist?
I’d be so sad! No but really, art is my therapy and my release. If I wasn’t an artist, I wouldn’t be who I am. There is no other path for me. I am certain of that.
What can we wish for you in the future?
This has been a time of creation. I have been learning more about the songwriting craft. The music I am making is evolving and I am discovering KISA more each day that passes. You can expect a lot of content coming in 2021, and maybe a few drops in the next couple months. I am definitely excited for my upcoming releases.