Continuing our lead-up to The Hollywood Issue this week, we chat with “Hideaway” singer Kiesza, who’s long be an ally to the gay community. But is she more an Mariah or Whitney fan? — Chris Azzopardi
Even before making the streets of New York City her own private dance floor for “Hideaway,” Kiesza was courting the queers. The lead single off the 25-year-old’s major-label debut, Sound of a Woman, has certainly boosted her appeal within the community — who could resist the sports bra and suspenders look? — but the gays and this former sniper-in-training for the Canadian Army actually go way back.
On her way to the airport, Kiesza called to chat about pretend-marrying her gay best friend, how Barbra Streisand taught her to sing and her request for the drag queens.
Dallas Voice: Have you been feeling the gay love yet? Kiesza: I’ve been feeling it before any other love, actually. Even before “Hideaway,” when I was doing other projects, the gay community was always the community that supported me as a brand new artist. I always felt supported by the gay community before anyone else, so it’s a really special community to me.
When did you know the gay community was in love with you? I would actually meet the people who were coming to my shows and it showed me who my audience was, and I had a very strong gay following, which is amazing. They’re so enthusiastic, and they come dressed in clothes that emulate my own style. They’re always going the extra mile.
You know you’ve made it when guys are doing you in drag. Yeah, I saw some people doing “Hideaway” in drag, which is amazing. I wanna go to a drag show and see someone performing “Hideaway” live!
What was your introduction to the gay community? My best friend since I was 14 is gay, so my whole teen experience was the gay bars. I mean, when we were obviously old enough. [Laughs] We used to pretend we were married and go out. Through him, I was introduced to the gay community at a very young age.
In school I had a lot of gay friends as well; now that I think about it I really had a lot! I’ve always been immersed in the community and really supportive of it, and also, I always felt really supported by the community. Even before [I moved to] New York, when I was in Canada and was a folk musician, I had a whole gay following with my folk music. No matter where I went, it was always the gay community that discovered me first.
I feel like they gravitated toward me. I feel like the gay community is really open-minded and really supportive of new artists and new music and new ideas and just really forward-thinking. As a new artist, because of that mentality, I was just embraced much sooner. The integrity of that community is unbelievable.
Because of your mom, you grew up on big voices like Barbra Streisand, Aretha Franklin, Etta James, and then later Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston. How did listening to them affect your vocal technique? Without realizing it, I learned a lot about my voice by singing along with them. I didn’t actually learn to sing the way I sing now until I started going to music college and really finding my voice as a songwriter, but I was always singing along [to them] growing up and I definitely developed my voice that way.
“Hideaway” is obviously influenced by ’90s music; how about the rest of Sound of a Woman? Very influenced. Once I wrote “Hideaway,” I had this vision of the whole album being reminiscent of this era. I love the early ’90s, and not just the dance music. I like the R&B. I love all the ballads. I love the hip-hop. I just wanted to pay homage to an era that I love so much, but also take it and make it current. That was the idea — to have that nostalgia in the music, but also have it be very fresh and new at the same time.
Speaking of the ’90s: ’N Sync or Backstreet Boys? I was a Backstreet Boys girl.
Britney or Christina? Christina.
Whitney or Mariah? Whitney. I mean, Mariah’s an amazing singer, but I was definitely more blown away by Whitney. There’s one song on the album that a few people heard her influence on. Next time we talk I wanna see if you can pick it out.
Full House or Saved by the Bell? That’s a hard one! I feel like I was a bit more of a Full House kid. Actually, I was very much a Fresh Prince of Bel-Air kid! I was all about that show.
Destiny’s Child or TLC? Let’s go with TLC. I listened to Destiny’s Child a lot, but TLC had a lot of fashion influence on me.
Growing up, who were some of your favorite Canadian musicians? I was a big fan of David Foster growing up because I was really into songwriting. I actually was more focused on songwriting first, and I was really inspired by all his writing on all of those Toni Braxton songs. Vocally, Celine, and you know also who I really loved growing up? Sarah McLachlan.
You’ve written some songs for Kylie Minogue and also Rihanna, for whom you penned a yet-to-be-released tune that’s said to have a very particular message. What would that message be? I don’t wanna give away the song, but it reflects the way that people look at the world and the way that people mirror themselves off of other people and live through other people’s eyes.
Which songs on your album do you think have the most powerful message? I feel like every song has its own message. My album is a love story. To open up and become vulnerable on my first “for real” debut album, I tapped into my own emotions and wrote about what I’ve been through. As a writer, I’ve been writing about all of these topics, but when it came to me, it was very personal. I wanted to open up and tell my own personal stories, so I would say “Sound of a Woman” is a very strong song. I’d say they’re all very honest and vulnerable songs, but “Sound of a Woman” is a standing-up-for-myself-in-my-mind type of song. It’s a song that could really inspire confidence in people.
— Chris Azzopardi