Kiesza Stages a Comeback (and Shops with Her Grandmother)

Published October 31, 2019

All photos courtesy of Rasmus Luckmann.

Kiesza doesn’t know what she wants to be for Halloween yet–she’s been busy. Between recording and releasing new music (including her latest track, the bubbly, pulsing “You’re The Best”), opening sold-out shows alongside Mika, and performing on her own acoustic tour all summer, it’s hard to find time to think up a costume. This year, she’s finally able to celebrate the holiday properly, two years after a car accident that resulted in a serious brain injury, effectively suspending her career. If the Canadian singer’s name (pronounced KY-zuh) rings familiar, it’s probably because she released 2014’s most infectious house anthem, “Hideaway” (and its impressive, one-take music video), and raved alongside Skrillex and Diplo in their Jack Ü single, “Take Ü There.” In retrospect, she calls the accident “kind of the best and the worst thing that ever happened,” admitting that it forced her to embrace the present, one yoga class at a time. “I couldn’t do that two months ago. It would literally make my head swell up,” she says, reflecting on a recent yoga class. “I’m sure everyone is like, ‘What’s the big deal about yoga class?’ But to me, it was the best day ever.” Interview spoke with Kiesza to talk about her return to music, conveniently while her grandmother teaches her a lesson in shopping.

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MARK BURGER: What are you up to today?

KIESZA: Shopping with my 91-year-old grandma.

BURGER: Where are you shopping?

KIESZA: We’re at a strip mall in Calgary, my hometown. I’m here for a wedding. She’s just trying to give me a shopping lesson.

BURGER: What are you listening to these days?

KIESZA: Yves Tumor–I got really into his music for just, like, chilling out. I’ve been needing to relax a lot, so I’ve found myself gravitating towards a lot of vibe-y music. I’m really into Sufjan Stevens again. My latest playlist is very, very eclectic, actually. I need to divide my playlist into actual moods, instead of having one massive playlist. It’s going to take a minute because there’s so many songs. I grew up on a lot of folk music, like Neil Young and Cat Stevens. I’ve always been a big fan of Death Cab For Cutie. I want to find a nice balance between dance music and really powerful, folky, storytelling lyrics, so that’s what I’m experimenting with right now. I’m a big fan of Post Malone. I love his melodies.

BURGER: In the video for “Hideaway,” you’re doing this incredible dance routine, all in one take. Do you have a signature dance move?

KIESZA: My signature dance move is definitely that pose that everybody picked up from the video. That very much describes me as a person. I’ve been making some merch with that pose on it. So, it’s not really a move so much as an actual pose. 

BURGER: What’s your favorite part of your new song, “You’re The Best”?

KIESZA: The line “It’s still fucked up when you live it perfectly,” that really resonates with me. I always had pressure from my family not to be perfect, but to never mess up. That creates its own problems. There’s no such thing as perfection, and the moment you get too rigid with yourself and the moment you’re unwilling to try things, you actually block yourself from a lot of opportunities.

BURGER: I always think, when it comes to dance and pop records, the songs can be very upbeat, but the lyrics are often times folky in the sense that they’re actually quite sad.

KIESZA: I did a cover of “What is Love?” by Haddaway on my first album, because I remember loving that song, and when I played it on the piano, it almost made me cry. I was like “This is a freaking ballad!”

BURGER: You did a tour where you played covers and performed songs acoustically, right?

KIESZA: Yes. I played my ukulele, I played about five new songs, five song that everybody knew, and then I played new covers. I don’t believe all songs have to be this big surprise that nobody knows about until the day they’re dropped. I think people can hear them and look forward to the day they come out. It helps me understand which songs they like as well, before I record them. There’s one song they just went berserk over, called, “My Head’s Fucked Up.” I was like, this one is definitely not going to make it to the radio, but it’s really positive, and I think a lot of people related to it. And in my case, I really did get a head injury.

BURGER: What was that like?

KIESZA: It was kind of the best and the worst thing that ever happened to me. It literally derailed me from my career for two years, and it whirl-winded me into this downward spiral of denying what happened. It made me realize that I didn’t like to show my own weaknesses, and I was forced into a position where I had to embrace them. I believe that I grew in ways that I never would have before. Even though I’m still recovering, I think I will come back just as strong. I think it’s going to take time, physically, but mentally, I feel like I’ve come out of one dimension and just stepped into a whole other one. In my case, my head trauma was so unpredictable at the time that we were uncertain of what I was going to get back.

I had to sit there and accept within my soul that I might not ever be able to get back on stage and dance again, because I didn’t have balance on my left side of my body. I was falling down stairs. What would that mean for my life? I still want to have just as meaningful of a life, but that might mean I have to do other things. I surrendered to the present. I was like, okay, I’m just going to take care of myself now, I’m going to do whatever I need to do for myself in this moment. I just tweeted about how I did a yoga class the other day–I couldn’t do that two months ago. It would literally make my head swell up. I’m probably sure everyone is like, “What’s the big deal about yoga class?” But to me, it was the best day ever. If I can get through a yoga class, that means I can probably get through events, at least within the next year. My acoustic show was a baby step towards me getting back to my dance routine.

BURGER: Do you have any idea when the new album is going to come out?

KIESZA: We haven’t set a date. I have a lot of songs, and I could definitely fill up a whole album–probably two or three albums, if I really felt like it. I’m also in a really, really awesome place for writing right now. I love the idea of pulling in some songs from before the car crash and pulling in some songs that I wrote going through that process, and also putting some songs on there that reflect exactly where I’m at right now. I also love writing songs for special occasions, like with “Phantom of the Dance Floor,” which I put out just for Halloween.

BURGER: I love Halloween!

KIESZA: I feel like people pay a lot of attention to Christmas, but they don’t really write songs for Halloween.

BURGER: Do you know what you’re going to dress up as this year?

KIESZA: No. I usually pick it, like, two weeks in advance. I couldn’t celebrate the last two years, because my head was really bad. This year, I feel like I’m strong enough to celebrate, so I really want to go all out. I had this group idea, and I’m just blanking right now. What are you going as?

BURGER: Well, my brother and I have been thinking about this for a while. Have you ever seen Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?

KIESZA: No, I’m going to watch it tonight. I’ll put that on my list to watch.

BURGER: My brother is going to be Bette Davis, and I’m going to be Joan Crawford. They’re very elaborate costumes, there’s a lot of pieces to it. We’ll see. We have to stop talking about it and actually do it.

KIESZA: You’ve inspired me. You have to really plan for it. I’m going to start thinking about this.

BURGER: Well now you’re holding me to it, and I really have to do it. Are you still shopping with your grandmother?

KIESZA: Yes. I should get a quote from my grandmother. She’s 91 and she looks like she’s 70—I’m really praying that I got her genetics. She loves this store called Dots, where you can get really cheap clothing. She said she was going to teach me how to shop at Dots. She’s now looking at rugs, fine Persian rugs. Okay, I’m putting you on speaker phone.

BURGER: Hello everyone.

GRANDMA: Who is Mark interviewing me for?

KIESZA: For Interview. He just wants to say hi to you, and ask you a question about me.

GRANDMA: Hi, Mark.

BURGER: Hello, how are you doing today?

GRANDMA: Oh, I’m doing fine. I’ve gotten out shopping, and that’s my greatest thing, is to shop. You wanted to talk to me about my granddaughter?

BURGER: Do you listen to her music?

GRANDMA: Oh, yes.

BURGER: What’s your favorite song?

GRANDMA: That’s a very difficult question, because I have short-term memory loss, so things leave me very quickly. “Hideaway.” “Hideaway” was her first song. I remember that a lot. It was very good. I think she’s a wonderful, wonderful young lady, and I think you’ll be very happy with her.

BURGER: She is, yes. Thank you.

GRANDMA: You’re very welcome.

KIESZA: I told him that you’re teaching me how to shop at Dots.

GRANDMA: I love Dots.

KIESZA: That is true. She is so funny.

BURGER: I love her. Good luck shopping.

KIESZA: Thank you. I’m looking forward to seeing your Halloween costume. I will be watching out.