Newly anointed pop princess Kiesza, 25, was born and raised in Calgary, Canada. At age 15, an injury ended her dreams of pursuing a career in ballet. By 16, she was working on a 132-foot tall ship, and she joined the Royal Canadian Navy the next year. She won a Top Shot marksmanship competition, and the Army wanted to train her as a sniper—but by then, music had become a major part of her life. She wrote her first song at 18 and earned a scholarship to Berklee School of Music. Although she started out with a folk sound, earlier this year she teamed up with producer and fellow Berklee alum Rami Samir Afuni to release the deep-house-influenced hit “Hideaway,” which debuted at number one on the UK dance charts. She’s since performed throughout Europe, written for artists like Rihanna and released her debut studio album, Sound of a Woman.
Kiesza: It’s definitely been like a nuclear bomb exploding. A lot, all at once, so it was a huge adjustment. Between “Hideaway” going online in January…it’s not even a year yet. It’s crazy to think about. It’s been an unreal, incredible experience. It’s overall positive, but it’s taken a lot of work and a lot of stamina.
Has anyone mistaken you for Ke$ha? No. [Laughs.] People have accidentally pronounced my name that way, but no one thought I was her.
No, I removed the dollar sign. [Laughs.]
But you did buy yourself a consonant—your birth name was Kiesa. Why the z? I did it when I was 12. I was just kind of mad, because I thought zed was the coolest letter in the alphabet. I was kinda pissed off that I didn’t have one, so I just sort of put one in my name.
I was alive. I just wasn’t quite old enough to appreciate things. But I’m happy to be living when I am, because I still got that same influence, just later on.
So have you accepted Cece Peniston as your personal savior? [Laughs.] I wouldn’t say she’s my personal savior. Michael Jackson is. But she is way up there. I love her a lot. She’s one of the 12 seated at the table.
Well, there have been Madonna comparisons, which I didn’t expect, ever, and I certainly don’t mind. She’s amazing. But I’ve gotten quite a few, and most of them are really flattering.
People were amazed by the single long shot in the “Hideaway” video. Is it your ballet background or street dancing that informed that the most? I didn’t start street dancing, literally, until I did the video, so I guess ballet had more influence. But now, I’ve been completely diving into street dance. It’s definitely the core of what I’m doing, and I hope I’m getting better.
I didn’t expect to be labeled as a pop star, especially so quickly. But I don’t think it’s a bad label, especially because I’m a writer. Pop just stands for popular, so I guess my music’s popular, and I’m definitely not against that. I would never have free-associated myself with the term pop star, though.
Oh my gosh. At what point in time? I love “Bad Romance” Lady Gaga. But actually, I met Katy Perry the other day, and she was really cool. I think they’re both cool in their own ways.
Yeah, actually I just relocated to New York. I was officially living in London from April until the end of September, and then I moved to New York, although I haven’t actually been in New York, except once in October. I’ve been touring. I’m in Berlin right now. The thing is that I just want a place to call home, and I really love New York. I feel at home there.
Good question. I know Germany is big. And the UK. Other countries I haven’t been to, but I guess they’re aware of me. I was in Poland last week, and they were great. I think it started in Europe, so my career is further ahead in Europe, but the States is definitely catching on. TV in the US especially has been super-supportive. Tackling the US is interestingly like tackling Europe, because each state has its own culture. It’s so big, and you have to treat each state like it’s its own country.
I just picked up my guitar and started playing it, and as I was singing it, I realized how sad it is. I had sung the lyrics a million times but never actually connected with it, I guess because the music is so happy. So it shocked me to feel the raw emotions of the song. Later on, I started playing it on the piano, which I think really lends itself to the song, so it was just kind of a fluke. It came at me sideways.
So pop isn’t always simple? Exactly. A lot of songs have different sides to them, and that made me want to sing a lot more songs and interpret them differently. With that one, there’s a whole story. It’s a heartbreak song, although the Haddaway version is very upbeat. I wanted to do the lyrics and melody justice and get the real emotion to come through.
You also covered Hozier’s “Take Me to Church.” Heard anything from him? I actually met him in Germany, and he was so cool and so nice. He said he really liked my power, which was pretty amazing. That’s one of my favorite songs this year. Melodically and lyrically speaking, I think he sets the bar high. It’s a real story, and his voice is just unbelievable. I would love to collaborate with him.
Off the Wall and Thriller albums. I wish I wrote “Man in the Mirror.” And then I would have liked to write “What Is Love?”
Oh, gosh, there’s so many. I always loved “What a Wonderful World,” sung by Louis Armstrong. I wish I wrote that. I wish I wrote the entire
What was it like the first time you heard yourself playing in a club? It was really weird. Exciting, but also very strange, because people didn’t realize I was there, but they all knew the lyrics and were literally recreating the video. I was just like, “What is going on?”
Yeah, I do it live, in my show. You just have to practice. It’s not that hard.
About 15 minutes, maybe 20. I have really elaborate versions that take time, but actually, if I’m in a real rush, I can do it in five minutes. It’s a bit messy, but it can be done.
Acoustic or plugged in? Do you like the pared-down or heavily produced versions of your songs? I like both. Whenever I have a DJ and a band and everything, I miss doing acoustic stuff, but if I do all acoustic stuff, I miss doing the other. They kind of balance each other out. And one is more intimate and allows you to connect with people more one-on-one, and the other is more high energy. You’re really vulnerable when it’s just you and a guitar.
When was the last time you went sailing? This summer. Vevo chartered a big sailboat. The skipper didn’t know why I was doing everything on the boat, helping put up the sails. I even started steering. When I was getting off, he was like, “If you’re interested in working on a sailboat, I’d love to hire you.” [Laughs.] It was tough to say no.
? Probably a year ago in Canada. I went skeet-shooting with my friends in the mountains. I’m worse at skeet-shooting than with, say, a C-7 rifle, but to be fair, the rifle I was skeet-shooting with wasn’t that accurate. I still did pretty well. I’m a decent shot. The one that I got the award for in the Navy was beginner’s luck. It was too good to be true. Fifteen shots in a circle span of an inch at 200 meters. It was whoever got the tightest hole won, and you had to lie down and take five shots, then kneel…You’re adjusting your position the whole time. So the fact that I won is just insane.
Yeah! Definitely! I need to go to the chuck-wagon races. I went to the Stampede every year growing up, but I never got to go to the chuck-wagon races, so we’ll go together! I’m totally in.