Millennials live for nostalgia, especially when it harks back to the bygone days of the early '90s. So about a year ago, it wasn't too surprising that the Internet lost its collective marbles when then-25-year-old Canadian singer-songwriter Kiesza released, seemingly out of nowhere, an epic music video that captured the fashion and freedom of the decade in one continuous shot. There were acid wash jeans, suspenders, and crop tops galore.
"It was just something that kind of happened," she tells InStyle. In her case, it's not false modesty. Born Kiesa Rae Ellestad, the artist tried her hand at a series of other pursuits before landing on singing and dancing. In between rocking out to Chicago house music at her home in Calgary, she joined the navy, competed in Miss Universe Canada, and had an impressive ballet career. We chatted with her just before her performance at Coachella Weekend Two. Here's an excerpt from our conversation:
InStyle: Your Coachella costume last weekend (above) was nothing short of epic.
Kiesza: It was a Wonder Woman outfit made entirely out of New York hats. You can thank my stylist, Colleen Birch!
You seem to really emulate the '90s. What appeals to you the most about that decade?
It's probably because my mom was really into '90s European house music and Chicago house. She influenced that element in me at a young age—in Canada most people listen to country and rock. Michael Jackson was the king of our household and "Show Me Love" by Robin S. was on repeat. My brother was into hip-hop so he opened up that world of Tupac, Dr. Dre, and Akon to me too.
Is it true you were in the navy for a bit?
I joined when I was 16. I feel like I just wanted to go to boot camp. My brother went before me, so I was following in his footsteps. It seemed really badass at the time. Our dad served in the army and our grandpa was a war hero.
And Miss Universe Canada?
That wasn’t something I necessarily wanted to sign up for—it was my grandma's influence. She was Miss Army, Miss Navy, Miss Airforce, and Miss Trinidad and just wanted me to compete. Her form of bonding was teaching me how to walk in heels. I was first runner-up in Miss Calgary, but something controversial happened with the winner that year, so I went on to the global competition. A lot of girls take diuretics and take all the water out of their bodies, but I tried to make the most of the experience.
How did you get into songwriting?
In the military, we'd be on ships a lot, so people would bring guitars and I picked it up then. For a few years you would not see me anywhere without a guitar. I started putting on spontaneous shows, but I had no real direction at first. Then I went to music college and became a writer. "Hideaway" came out of nowhere. I thought we’d do something ‘90s Chicago house, and I felt so connected to it that I had to hold onto it. I honestly didn’t think anyone would hear it, but I have a feeling I’ll be singing that song for the rest of my life.
You just recorded "Cannonball" for the Home soundtrack. What's next?
I have a collaboration with Duran Duran in the works. Simon [Le Bon] was running on the treadmill in the gym and saw the video for "Hideaway," and he just really liked the song so he reached out. I obviously couldn't pass it up.
I also heard you have your own clothing line.
Yes, it's called Steampop. My first collection is being released by Bad Bunch NYC next month. It's a men’s line that takes sportswear and puts artwork on it, so I designed the artwork and revamped the clothing for women. I've designed all of my album covers, too. I want to do a whole gallery show one day, but I'm just trying to find the time.
Watch the video for “Sound of a Woman” below, and purchase Sound of a Woman for $10 from the iTunes Store.