I found out about Kiki Halliday, an up-and-coming indie songstress, in an atypical fashion for our informationally overburdened generation: in person, at a party. I began speaking with her by chance, and she unassumingly mentioned that she was a musician. So the next morning I scoped out her Soundcloud without any predications to go off of and no music blog site telling me what to expect. Needless to say, Halliday’s angelic, breathy vocals and simplistic, but universally reaching instrumentals immediately reeled me in.
Her songwriting is intimate, yet shrouded in a somber beauty that invites the listener in rather than alienating him or her with overly complex arrangements or technical implementations. It’s songwriting akin to her influences such as Fiona Apple and Jenny Lewis, and it’s a breathe of fresh air in an LA music scene encumbered by DJs and electronically driven artists.
The 22-year-old singer-songwriter grew up in LA knowing that music was important to her, but it was a gradual ascension toward discovering her passion for it. I spoke with the budding musician about post-college life moving from the suburbs to the sprawling LA metropolis and pursuing her artistic aspirations, day by day.
When did you first start singing or know you were musically inclined?
I was always singing when I was little. I’d sing The Carpenters on my karaoke machine, my friends would make me sing to their parents in the car, I sang the National Anthem at the Girl Scout Olympics when I was like 10. I was never super involved in choir in high school, but my junior year, I tore my ACL playing sports, so it was like…music, I guess?
My friend does motivational speaking now, and he wrote a self-help book. He’s a year older than me, but he’s really into success and how you can get there. He actually sat me down and made me write down my goals and was like, “Do you really want to do this?” And I was like, “Yes, I do,” so he made a music email for me, a music Facebook page, and booked my first gig.
There were definitely doubts, but when I started working with people who I was doing some professional work with, like putting a song on a TV show, I was like, “Well, who says I can’t keep doing this?” So now I do work with a music company that composes original music for TV shows. I sing for them, and hopefully I’ll start writing with them. I like to do the behind the scenes stuff, too, but I love performing and working with artists.
How did you land your first official music gig?
I found an internship on Craigslist. They needed someone to work as an intern who would want to barter their time for recording time, so I ended up working about 200 hours and got to record my songs. I had a big EP release party at some house, and then I finally had music online.
I started playing with a band for the first time, playing more house parties at school, Room 5 lounge on La Brea, House of Blues, and a few places on the Sunset Strip. The tracks turned out really well. One of them, “Beautiful Soul,” was recently in a movie. It’s called I’m Not Ashamed. It was in theaters, and I went to the premiere in Nashville.
How did that come about?
I met this guy on an airplane, and he was all stoked I was sitting next to him because I was so small compared to these 6 foot guys that he said he normally gets stuck sitting next to. He said he used to produce Leanne Rhimes and that he worked in Nashville.
I sent him my stuff, and he called me a month later saying he had a song drop out of the movie. He ended up using mine, and conveniently, I was already planning a trip to Nashville, which happened to be the same week as the film premiere.
Was it weird seeing your movie playing with your song in the background?
I didn’t realize it at first, and it definitely wasn’t that huge moment (it was just in the background), but it was exciting that it was my song and that they chose to put it on the soundtrack.
There’s another song that I wrote that ended up on The Young and the Restless. I helped this guy who scores the show (he’s kind of my mentor), and he and I produced a song together. He was the first person that ever recorded me.
I met him because I was at this party and at 2AM my friend Randy was like, “This girl can sing!” Some guy heard me and told me that his dad had a studio. So we went there and the next day they invited me back to record a song, which ended up making it onto the show.
At what point were you like, I should pursue this as a career?
The summer after my freshman year of college, I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to do, but I took a songwriting class that year and really enjoyed it. People started to like my songs — the three I’d written — so that summer I decided to apply to the music school at USC. They offer a degree where you study half music, half music industry. I thought I’d pursue music industry with an emphasis on jazz.
I applied and didn’t even get an audition, so I was really crushed. It was the first thing I tried to do on my own without other peoples’ influence, and it didn’t work, so I was like, “Okay, I guess I’ll just be the underdog.” I spent 20 hours making these videos, and they didn’t even let me audition in person.
I ended up studying communications, and sophomore year I started playing shows. I’m not a “technical” musician, but after that summer, I would go into CBS every other Friday and intern for the guy that gave me my first recording session. I would just watch and help with The Young and The Restless scoring.
So if you could have a career strictly as a musician, you would do it?
Yeah, but I wouldn’t do it if I wasn’t allowed to write my own music. I wouldn’t want to just be a singer. The ideal would be that I get to tour with a band, or I’m in a band that’s playing my music or that I’m singing and writing with, and then also doing stuff behind the scenes like writing for other people or projects.
So you’re heavily involved in writing — do you play instruments as well?
Yeah, I play guitar. I’m trying to learn how to play the piano, too. I like lyrics. I don’t write technical music. I don’t compose right now. Jenny Lewis has been a big inspiration.
Do you write the lyrics first or do you arrange the instrumentals?
It’s a mix of both. Sometimes I’ll have a lyric in my head, and I write it down and fumble with my guitar, and it kind of comes out. Then other times I’m just playing something on the guitar, and I start singing syllables and random things.
When I was younger, my mom would help me write an email verbally, and I’d be like, “Oh, that’s so good! What did you say again?” And she’d be like, “I don’t remember. Honestly the first thing that comes out of my mouth is my best thought.” I think about that with my songwriting — sometimes the most random shit comes out of my mouth. It doesn’t really make sense, but then I match stuff to it so it makes sense.
Sometimes I’ll go back to my old notebooks and pick out words and phrases that at that time I didn’t really do much with, but that [resonate with me] now. For the last four songs or so I’ve been pulling in stuff that’s like one or two years old. I’m working on a notebook, compiling all my song ideas, so I can just bring that to a session and pull from it.
Do you ever look at older stuff and are like, “Man, what was going on in my head?”
There are times where I was like, “Wow, I was really unhappy or really gave myself a hard time — be nicer to yourself.” You still go through those moments, but that’s where some of the best songs come from.
But you grew up in LA, which is a tough city, growing up around people trying to achieve multiple creative dreams simultaneously.
Well, I grew up in a suburb, but going to school in LA for four years forced me to grow up a lot. I’d say to myself, “Give yourself some credit.” I think I’ve grown up a lot in the last four months. I feel like I’m slowly just progressing as a person, and whether that’s as a musician or a person with more perspective, I feel like there’s progress.
I probably don’t know what I’m talking about half the time, but I know what I feel, and I know my values, so as long as I can align myself with my values amidst all this crazy shit that’s happening around me, that’s the best I can do.
That’s a great way of looking at it. What are you working on now?
Right now, I’m looking at getting some more songs recorded. I have a lot written, but I only have five of my original songs recorded, and I have at least an album that I want to get produced. I’m working on that and possibly an EP with one of my friends.
So you are exploring a few different projects at once?
Yeah, or at least exploring my options, working with different people, doing a lot more collaborating than I’ve ever done before, so still working with EDM artists and DJs. I want to tour soon, I want to go to SXSW, so I’m trying to see if maybe I can book some shows there.
Have you been actively seeking management?
My friend works at Jam in the Van and another record company, and she wants to be a manager, so she’s helping me. I’m definitely looking for someone to hear my stuff and want to push me forward, because I’m trying to network as much as I can. I used to be terrible at it, but I try to make it fun now. I’m trying to share more on Instagram and all that.
Do you ever feel exhausted by needing to have a presence on social media?
Oh yeah, I hate it. I only like it because I do get inspired by what people share sometimes. If people are trying to be authentic…I’m a positive person. It kind of sucks to have to think about what I should share, but I don’t think it’s that important at the end of the day. If you have good music and build a following by actually getting out there and playing, at the end of the day, someone is gonna find you on Instagram and follow you regardless of [what you project].
What are your immediate next moves?
Trying to get better as a musician. In the next year, I want to be able to say I play the piano. I would like to have more friends who are playing music, meet more people who are collaborating, and travel more with music. I’d love to make more online content, whether it’s videos or produced music. I don’t want to make staged music videos, but more of a backyard sessions type thing.
Does your family support you?
Yea, they do. They’ve always supported me, but after graduating and doing part-time work and still focusing on music, it was hard to convince them it was a good idea. They went with me to Nashville to the premiere. Now my dad shares everything on Facebook.
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