Photography Lourdes Sukari

rising r&b queen kiya lacey is over millennial pink

She premieres her new track "Runaway" with i-D. It's a royal or baby blue song, she says.

by Maggie Lange
22 November 2017, 8:14pm

Photography Lourdes Sukari

Kiya Lacey realized that she needed to leave pink behind when she began making her newest music. She had been in her pink phase since her first big project, her 2015 EP Fell in Love. For two years, the soul-R&B singer’s dreadlocks, clothes, and music videos were all colors on the pink spectrum, from rose to baby. And pink was having its popular moment. “That was also the fan attraction to what I was doing,” she says, and she was happy to align with it.

But the sound of this new era didn’t feel pink. "Royal blue, baby blue,” she says of the synesthetic experience of her current music, “and iridescence. It’s a little more dark and smoky." Her sound conjures a deep and rich mood, a jewel-tone. The arrangements glint more, as you listen to them (see: “Runaway,” premiering here). Her voice strengthens and fills out as her songs go on, the vocals smoothing over the spooky-clicky rhythms that she has layered below. "I didn’t want to do black, but I thought I’ll go back to blue. It’s a way to go darker, without removing color from my life,” she pauses, and adds lightly, “which is like my personality.”

Kiya and I are sitting at a high-top table and both our legs are dangling in the air. In a couple of hours’ time, she will play her first concert in Chicago, at a Red Bull Sound Selects concert, with Sabrina Claudio. The last time she was in the city, it was to look at colleges. “I had a scarf wrapped all around my face, and I thought, I don’t know if I want to be this cold!” She’s not terribly bundled now, though; she’s coming from southern climates. She flits between Atlanta and Nashville, where she was raised on soul music.

In the past few years, Kiya has been pulling her sound out of the time, trying to avoid current music and listening mostly to classical and jazz for chord progression ideas. When she does listen to contemporary music, Kiya stays focused on Kiya. “If I’m going to listen to modern music, I listen to my own Spotify station or my Pandora station, just to see who they compare me to. What is the vibe they’re picking up on? And they’re always spot on.” She lovingly names Kelela, Chloe x Halle, and Esperanza Spalding as artists with whom she’s often associated.

When she writes, Kiya sets up an encouraging lighting atmosphere. “I’m really into colors and color therapy. My entire room, I have different lighting for different purposes,” she explains. She loves the mercurial glow of lava lamps, and projecting little videos of jellyfish onto the walls when she records. Kiya is the patron saint of the shifting, the shimmering.

She is also sensitive to what lighting can evoke in different people. “Blue is associated with police lights, you can see them and get really nervous,” she says. “For me, it’s really calming, the color blue. It’s symbolic of honesty and organization,” and, she adds, “it’s easier to blend with different outfits.”

“Iridescence, is actually my favorite color because it’s not just one,” she clarifies finally. “I look at it more as a texture; it’s yellow, pink, blue, green, silver, and gold." It’s the soul shade color of a chameleon-artist, who wants to play with shifts, to contain all the colors at once.

kiya lacey