About The Record
On her latest project, an EP simply titled 6, Kiya Lacey submerges many of the familiar markers of pop and R&B beneath artfully warped pitches, tones and textures.
She knows how to make music for the club; she’s done it before. But that wasn’t at all the headspace that the 25-year-old Nashville expat was in even before the pandemic, when she wrote and recorded these songs. What she’s done instead is convey intense awareness of of what it is to be unprotected, threatened, trapped.
The production, some of it courtesy of fellow Nashville-born music-makers Super Duper and Ron Gilmore, is built around trap beats or industrial music’s machine-like rhythms, but some tracks have sludgy synth and bass lines that make them feel ominously molten, and others bristle with twichy, glitchy effects.
Lacey completes her bracing, immersive vision with melodies, harmonies and vocal phrasing that veer away from predictable patterns, into deeply contemplative chaos.
On The Record: A Q&A With Kiya Lacey
Nashville native Kiya Lacey called WNXP to talk about her artistic evolution, entrepreneurial agility, self-sufficient survival and immersive, avant-garde EP 6, all while making a delivery for her hand cut fruit cup side business.
Jewly Hight: Am I right in guessing that you are in Atlanta right now?
Kiya Lacey: Yes, I’m in Atlanta.
JH: How are you going about bridging cities and scenes these days, especially during the pandemic?
KL: I’ve really tapped into utilizing all sorts of social media. I developed my own app. The Fruta Mami app is available globally for my fruit cup business, and I’m kind of using it as a merchandising crossover with my music. I’m utilizing every platform to market my music, market my business and market my events. So I just had to really figure out how to make my content expand.
JH: How do each of those business feed or financially support each other? And how much overlap there is between the teams that you’ve gathered around you to help take on all of these different projects?
KL: Basically, there is no team. It’s me by myself. I do have a couple of people that are supportive friends that I will bring in and hire for content, as far as directors, videographers, photographers, friends that will come in for certain events. I’ll pay them for that day to help me out, but it is very, very difficult.
Basically, I treat everything like it’s a business. So I’ve trademarked and gotten a Kiya Lacey LLC. I separate myself so I can wear different hats, as if I was a manager of these clients. Kiya Lacey is the artist; that’s one business. And Kiya hosts Not My First Rodeo, which is now a creative agency. It started as an event, but I’ve branched into doing creative directing, casting, makeup, styling. Then I have Fruta Mami, a vegan ice cream, natural cosmetics and hand-cut fruit business. Fruta Mami is the most successful as of right now, and it literally just started in October of last year. The marketing texts that work for Fruta Mami I’ve kind of started using for Kiya Lacey.
I speak in third-person sometimes, because I’m like looking at myself from the outside perspective, from the consumer’s perspective, like, “How did they receive me? What do they want? What do they respond to?” I’ve kind of just tapped into every element, sonically, your taste buds, your experiences.
JH: How did you launch Fruta Mami during the pandemic?
KL: I was just getting a little bored. I’m like, “How can I interact with my fans in a way that is CDC guideline-approved?” Honestly, I just set up shop one day. I trademarked it. I shot a commercial randomly. The ideas were coming so fast that I couldn’t even explain it to anybody. I got all the content, made sure we got it edited. And then I literally started that Friday and I set up at the Fourth Ward Skate Park here in Atlanta right by the skaters, because I knew that they’re probably hungry. So I literally made crazy sales. Now every Friday, I do food. I’ve done a couple of different cities. I’ve done Nashville. I’ve done the Moxy Hotel in Chattanooga. I did Santa Monica in California. And we’re working on New Orleans, Vegas. This all about just figuring out how to fund everything, because it’s just me.
JH: Your original Not My First Rodeo events seemed like an interesting concept, an extension of your music. With the aesthetic you chose, you were pretty early to the party of what people have come to think of as the Yeehaw Agenda. In interviews, you described trying to make space in club settings for self-expression and consent. How did you bring those elements together?
KL: I was working so hard to promote something that I knew had the ability to take off. I really appreciate the support of Red Bull that I have, but it was it was very difficult to just make sure everybody was paid. I got security. I got assistants. I got photographers, videographers. I was really passionate about creating that space, even for myself. When I did go to out to clubs, I didn’t like how men would touch me. It just seemed like there was no space for me to have a good time or just be myself.
I’m a little country. I like all kinds of music. I was ahead of the curve for the Yeehaw Agenda, but it was not about credit for me.
I wanted to create a space where I can enjoy everything and I can control the vibe of it. I’m the host of Not My First Rodeo, the director, the marketing and everything. I know the audience that I’m trying to get is also the type of people that like my music. So I’m also able to experiment with releasing new music and then performing at my parties and kind of testing the waters with the tracks.
JH: I’ve seen you undergo a years-long process of artistic self-definition since I first interviewed you. How great do you feel like the contrast is between the early phases of you performing and recording in Nashville, during high school and into college, and what you are doing now?
KL: I feel like Kiya with the pink hair, balloon Kiya is so proud of me now. I’m so much more confident. I’m so much more willing to experiment with all of my talents and skills. I don’t put myself in a box. I feel like I’m able to be more sexy and grown. I’m 25, so now I feel like I’m old enough and I’m grown enough to be more open and free and just share more about my experiences.
I speak a lot about mental health and suicide awareness as something that I’ve personally dealt with. I dealt with a lot alone, with my own mental health as an artist, as an independent artist, not feeling like I was doing enough and constantly trying to keep up. And now you have a pandemic, and now it’s like, “How am I even going to shoot content or do shows or do anything?” You kind of lose yourself in that thinking that if you don’t have music, you don’t have anything.
That’s another reason why I’ve created other avenues for me to be artistic and to express myself. I don’t think of my success anymore as just a number. I think of it about my experiences. And I think right now I’m in really enjoying the journey. I’m living my dream currently. I was always chasing what I’m doing now, and it’s a beautiful place to be. I know I have so much room to grow, but I do think the girl that you interviewed years ago when I first got to Atlanta is very much different place, mentally, spiritually and artistically. I’m excited about it.
JH: The music that you were making even just a few years ago leaned toward alternative R&B. But especially with this latest EP, you’ve pushed further and further into avant-garde territory, sometimes even getting into what feels like industrial music or trip-hop. How did you find that sound?
KL: Honestly, Tumblr literally made me. Tumblr and MySpace, I was sneaking around on those platforms when I was younger, because my mom really didn’t know what those were. I was utilizing that to kind of create my own world and kind of learn about other places and other things. I was in high school and I was just trying to see what was really out there, because Nashville is not like Atlanta or Toronto or L.A. at all. It is beautiful and I’m glad to be from there, but I knew that there was more to life than what I was experiencing. On Tumblr, I found James Blake, I found the Weeknd, I found FKA Twigs, I found Björk, I found Arca. I found so many people that started opening my mind to what the possibilities were with my own music and my own sound. And I’m like, “I want to do this, but a little more southern, a little more ratchet.”
I think it’s so cool that people are now starting to accept alternative, industrial and R&B music, to understand what I’m doing. People kept telling me, “You need to make a radio hit.” And I’m like, “Well, Little Dragon’s not on the radio. Tame Impala’s not on the radio.” I understand people like Travis Scott who are in hip hop music, but pull in people like Tame Impala from different types of music and bring them into this world, because it’s very similar. I just appreciate sounds that make me feel something. I gravitate towards anything that creates an experience. That’s the type of thing I want to do. I don’t care if it’s a hit. I want to make you feel something.
JH: The way that you use your voice on this EP, you drift in and out of vocal phrases that are like incantations, or you bring a fragment of a melody into the foreground for a moment and then let it disintegrate and drift away. It seems like you’re not overly concerned with standard songwriting forms and structures. What does your writing, arranging and recording and process look like these days?
KL: One of my favorite vocal arrangers is James Blake. I really like his approach, Frank Ocean as well. I love their approach to telling stories and not really being concerned about, “Oh, is this going to fit in a hook or not?” They’re not really thinking about that structure in that way.
For me, a lot of times I just listen to the track. I used to sit down and try to figure out the perfect hook and the perfect melody, phrasing and all that stuff. And now I just gravitate towards certain tones and elements. I know what the sound is that I feel inside, and then I get in the [vocal] booth and I just literally like record whatever comes to me first. Then I go back in and sometimes I say real words and then I grow from those words and change them around and make it a full song. It depends on the record.
I do enjoy writing for songs that are done the perfect songwriting way, the standard way. I went to Belmont, you know? I dropped out after two years, but I just never understood why things have to be so perfect and things have to go a certain way, because life is not like that. Art imitates life. An artist should not be restricted to certain standards. It should be just free.
JH: The one voice on your EP that I know for sure isn’t yours belongs to Bryant Taylorr. But beyond that, it sounds like you have tapped into your own multiplicity vocally. There are harmonies that are not what our ears would expect. Some of them trascend human sound. What’s your relationship to your actual, physical voice at this point? Is singing an experimental process for you?
KL: Nicki Minaj, she does that too, changing her tones and changing her accents and becoming these different characters. Björk does that as well, creating using your voice as a tool to build a sound. I think that it’s very important to utilize your voice as an instrument. I did choir. I sang in the church choir, in the school choir. I was in a rock band. I take influence from a lot of different types of sounds and different types of music. So it’s kind of like painting a picture to me. What I’m trying to create is bigger than just singing as an alto or singing as a soprano. It’s like, “We’re going to we’re going to [alter the] pitch [of] my voice this way.” I hear all of those harmonies in my head. I hear all those things. And that’s ultimately what I want to create.
JH: You’re not singing about lightweight subject matter. It feels like you’re bringing to the surface fears and urges and desires, scary things from way down deep, and filtering them through the sonic textures that you’re working with in a way that can make them feel even more ominous. How would you describe the landscape the psychological and emotional landscape that you’ve created on your EP?
KL: I definitely feel like I need to get this story out. I was kind of battling with, “Are people going to understand this sound?” And, “The next thing I have to put out has to be a hit. I should probably rap, or I’ve got to talk about twerking. I got to talk about something catchy.” People wanted me to write happy music and write things that were for the radio or for the parties, for the clubs. I wasn’t at parties. I wasn’t at clubs. I was serving tables and I was depressed. So I was writing about my experiences, my love life, the things that I was going through. So a lot of that music was very dark.
I feel everything, so I want to create what I’m feeling, because I know somebody else can relate to it. When I was depressed and I was in a very dark place, I turned to music and the Internet to find the answers or find a reason, find a purpose. I still feel like there’s a story that needs to be told. I feel like there’s a lot of women and just people in general that can relate to my story and relate to my struggle and relate to my passion and relate to my highs and lows.
JH: A lot of people have had their most intense mental health struggles in the past year. Your music resonates on multiple levels right now.
KL: The song “Safe,” it resonates so much more now saying, “No one is safe.” We were dealing with a lot of Black Lives Matter situations around that time and still are, and I connect to that song the most, because I remember recording it and feeling like, “Oh, my God. This is so real. This song is everything that I’m going through. This represents so many people’s personal experiences.” At the time, I was meaning it multiple ways. No one’s safe, like, “I’m coming and I’m about to drop my music and I’m about to take the throne.” But also just meaning it as in no one’s really safe, like, anything could happen to anybody.
JH: When I look at your photos, your high-concept, performance art-style music videos, I see representations of sex positivity, body positivity, relationships, domination and submission and power dynamics. What themes are you playing with visually?
KL: Everything you said is literally my goal. I’ve really tried hard to get over my own insecurities and create confidence in myself as far as my size.
I’m a big girl. I used to be very hard on myself. I lost a lot of weight for the “Down” music video. I was going through a rebrand and it was very hard. I had a manager at the time. My boyfriend at the time told me I needed to lose a certain amount of weight or look a certain way in order to fit in, or if I wanted to go the sexy route, I needed to lose at least 40 pounds. It was depressing. I had just the wrong mindset about what health was. I don’t have the same goals anymore, and when I look in the mirror, I don’t see the same thing I used to see.
I feel like although some of my stuff is a little more mature, I still am very confident that I can connect with younger girls that aspire to be singers or entrepreneurs or artists, that are Afro-Latina and don’t like their hair texture, don’t like their body type and they’re scared. I’m learning more about myself every day and I just I want to represent freedom ultimately.
JH: You’ve alluded to a lot of things that you’re working on. What are your highest priorities for 2021?
KL: My highest priority for 2021 is financial freedom. All of this costs money. It’s very expensive to be an independent artist and I want people to understand that. The pressure is on. I have goals for Kiya Lacey the artist, Kiya Lacey the event curator, the casting director. I have goals for each element of who I am, a I want to do so without panic, without concern, without, you know, wondering what’s going to happen.
Ultimately, that’s going to be determined by what happens with COVID and what happens with the government and the plans for relief and funding and support for young business owners. I wish there were more opportunities for us to receive relief. I think it’s kind of crazy at this point that we haven’t really received much. Artists took a huge hit. The bulk of my income came from events previously, so I’m having to develop new ways to continue to market myself and to continue to stay happy.
My main priority for my personal growth is just my mental health and reminding myself that I do deserve everything that I’m receiving. I’ve worked really hard for it. I’ve stayed focused since the day I got to Atlanta. My new thing right now is just saying Black women deserve to live a life of luxury. There’s many times that we’re told that we have to be strong. We have so much responsibility. We have to be the backbone. We’re too this, we’re too that. We’re too sexy. We’re too loud. We’re too rude and we’re too much. And I want Black women to be that much. I want Latinas, Afro-Latinas, to be that much. We can be loud. We can be funny. We can be sexy, we can be grown. We can be all of those things. That does not mean that we have to allow anyone to misuse those things or to use us in any way.