kiah victoria is the sound of the future
We hung out with the rising star, to chat about Jay Z, songwriting processes and irritating misconceptions about female artists.
Seated in the shadows, beneath paintings of psychedelic mountainscapes and topless women, NYC soul artist Kiah Victoria waits. Arriving early at east London music venue The Victoria, to watch her favourite new live act Sway perform, she is easily identifiable and instantly striking.
Just 24 years of age, mature and assertive, self assurance resonates from her rich, full bodied vocals on record. When chatting about her life experiences and opinions, the distinctive singer-songwriter reveals a mature perspective which feels unforgiving and strong. Kiah sings about deep yearning, getting burnt, and the kind of unadulterated, choking, heart-pounding, mind-bending romantic love that can drive a person insane. Conjuring the kind of emotion with her music that invites listeners into a bubble of pure passion, the performance element of Kiah's sound is mesmeric. Trained professionally as a musical theatre performer from a young age, she has starred in the Broadway hit musical Cats. Later, in Jay-Z's epic short Picasso Baby, she drew a standing applause from the man himself, following an acoustic rendition of Who's Lovin Me by the Jackson 5, performed just for him on set.
Chances are, if you met her in passing she'd strike you as being understated in disposition yet incredibly beautiful to behold. Framed by a soft focus of tight knit kiss curls, Kiah's Scottish and Harlem roots combine to create her effortless chic aesthetic and attitude. Graduating from NYU's prestigious Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music program, Kiah has been working on her second EP and debut forthcoming album full time. Producers Bastian and Rahm have been locked down in the studio honing her electric, soul infused vibes in time for summer lovin'.
Who are the production teams you work with, do you play any instruments and what is your musical background?
I've been working with a number of different writers and producers, but Bastian and Rahm have really been holding me down. They just finished producing my forthcoming EP and I see myself working with them for years to come! I can play all of four chords on the piano. I played the violin for an incredibly short stint in the 5th grade. My heart has always been in singing and performing. I took voice lessons, sang in all the choirs and did the Broadway thing.
How old were you when you first started writing music and how has your music and lyrical focus shifted from then up until now?
I didn't start seriously writing music until my senior year in high school, so about 18 years old. I wrote my first complete song when I was applying for college. That song was about my childhood and longing to be back in the magic and chaos of New York City which ended up working because I got accepted into the Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music at NYU and spent the next four years exploring my artistry and learning that I am in fact a songwriter. Over the years I feel like I've become more vulnerable with my lyrical content. I've been confronting my demons more lately.
What state of heart and mind do you find yourself the most productive in?
It really changes, but a tender heart sings more effortlessly in my experience. When I'm yearning for something or feeling hurt by someone the lyrics come out and out. But I also find myself writing about joy and just how marvellous it is to be breathing.
Is your love of experience empowering or more disempowering?
Experience is everything. I find it incredibly empowering. Even if it's a shit experience - that's material.
How do you mend a broken heart?
A cup of tea with my mama.
What is the most perfect of lyric you have penned to date?
It's a simple one but: 'You got that melancholy I like.' That tune is about someone I couldn't have imagined falling in love with.
How did you come to work with Jay Z and what was your standout memory from the experience?
We didn't work together, but I did sing for him. I wound up on set of his HBO Performance Art Film, Picasso Baby, after being put on a list for a hush hush Jay Z event. (Shout out to Ray Rock for putting me on that list!) No one knew what was going on until Jay came out and started rapping on a platform in the middle of Pace Gallery. He was so FLY and personable. At one point the sound system cut out and Jay asked if anyone could entertain in the meantime. First a ballet dancer went up and I thought I'd missed my opportunity. But when she finished a crew member asked if anyone else wanted to take the stage. I yelled 'ME!' So I went up on the platform and sang the first thing that came to mind which was Who's Lovin' You by the Jackson 5'. Duh. He stood up and clapped for me when I finished.
When you stand on stage do you feel fulfilled?
There's no place I'd rather be. But I must say, in recent history, I get the same high from making music as I do performing it. Making/giving is simply the shit.
What strong women do you look up to and why?
My mama. She's my best friend. She is bursting at the seams with generosity and love. Also, Rihanna. From what I can gather, she's not trying to be anyone but herself... AND SHE OWNS HER MASTERS!
What was your initial reaction to Beyonce's Lemonade album?
Woah. Loaded question. Upon my first viewing I was pretty floored. What a statement she made. I felt the work was brave, bold and unapologetic. She laid it raw and she laid it bare. Infidelity, woman in America, oppression, blackness, her abusive father, her pain and her dirty laundry. She covered so much ground. The spoken word was rich, reflective and immensely aware. I thought it was visually stunning, thoughtful and beautifully executed all round. LIKE OK BEY, TALK THAT REAL TALK. She brought artists of all walks together to tell a very important story. And at the end of it all her and Jay are getting paaaaid. Together. Hats off. Hot sauce.
When you are not making music, where can you be found and what are you doing?
When I'm not making music I'm rolling around in my big ass queen size bed that I just bought myself. Probably the best life decision I've made to date.
What are your three most irritating misconceptions you find music labels have about female artists and how do you think we can progress such limited attitudes in the future?
1. That females are candy to be put on display for the masses' viewing pleasure.
2. That women don't understand the mechanics of the industry and don't have an actual opinion.
3. That women in the industry aim to be pitted against other women.
We can progress by being exactly who we are; passionate, ABLE, informed individuals who know what the fuck is up. We can progress by loving and nurturing one another. If we, as women, aren't down for each other, then the future is bleak.
What would happen in your next music video if you were responsible for the treatment?
I would be dancing for my life. There may also be microscopic shots of photosynthesis.
What is the greatest lesson life has taught you?
That no one makes you feel anything; you allow them to make you feel the way that you feel. You give them the keys, or you don't give them the keys. You are 100% responsible for your emotions.
Text Milly McMahon
Photography Lydia Garnett