Words by Jared Monmouth
Without doubt, artists from the U.K. have been impacting the music industry in a major way for the better part of the last half-century. I could sit here and list a slew of names from across the pond that have profoundly affected various genres, from The Beatles and Led Zeppelin, to Elton John and Sade, but hopefully you get the gist. The greater point is that the U.K. is currently going through an expansive modern renaissance of dance culture and pop music. This movement has made its way throughout Europe, North America and the rest of the world in the process.
You hear its effect on American culture everyday, even if you don’t consciously realize it. Every time there’s a drunken chant of “I’m so fancyyy” or a request of “Can you play that one song, ‘Latch’,” England resoundingly makes it presence felt. It’s not really a matter of if the British are coming as much that the British are already here. With the rise of now famous acts such as Disclosure, Sam Smith, and Charli XCX, the line between dance and pop has never been more blurred. Yet for every established act, like the ones mentioned above, there’s an immensely gifted newcomer to the scene just waiting to breakout from that seemingly endless talent pool that is London.
Enter 19-year-old singer-songwriter K Stewart, who boasts a voice just as strong and alluring as your favorite diva, while possessing a knack for capturing an infectious and enchanting pop flair. Over the course of a candid phone conversation, Stewart graciously opened up to me about what her experience has been like since officially entering the industry back in April. Among other topics, we discussed London versus Los Angeles, her evolving sound, the changing landscape of music, and what she hopes to accomplish over the course of what should be a very bright career…
How’s everything going?
Really good, actually just making a tune at the moment. I’m in L.A., I’ve been here for about two or three days and then I’m here for another week, so yeah.
Oh nice, well can you talk for a bit?
Yeah yeah, of course, it’s all good!
Cool! So, from a relatively unknowledgeable American’s point of view, you’re coming out of London. That area seems to be going through a sort of renaissance right now, musically speaking. Can you tell us what it was like growing up there? Specifically, do you feel like London’s emerging dance culture has had an impact on your music and where you want to take it?
Yeah, I think because of all the people that I work with, except for obviously when I come out to the States and work with Americans, it’s completely different working with people in England. They have a completely different way of making music. All the people that I work with are very, very English, if that makes sense.
Yeah, it does for sure!
It’s all very influenced by the dance music and stuff, but I’m kind of veering away from all of that. I’ve got one tune coming out in January, which is probably my most dancey tune so far, but then after that I’m veering away from dance. But all of the producers that I’ve worked with, their influenced by it because that’s what they’re used to making. But because I’m working with them, I’m going away from it. I’ve got influences of dance in it, like the grooves and stuff, but it’s not really what I’m making anymore. But yeah, it’s definitely got English influences in it.
So overall, you’re going in a different direction from dance?
Yeah, got one more tune coming out, but after that there’s not really much more dance. It’s more like disco.
Oh, I see I see.
More disco-y, not really British dance. The feature that I’ve just come out with, the Oliver Heldens feature, that was more dance than I’ve ever done so-
Yeah I actually wanted to get to that song a little later, I really like that song.
So when I first heard your debut track “Tell Me Bout That“, that was back in April, I thought it was really good and your voice almost immediately reminded me of Christina Aguilera’s. I’m sure you’ve heard that comparison before-
Ahhh thank you, (laughs) she’s my favorite.
Can you speak on who and what your influences were growing up, and what made you decide you wanted to become a singer, like professionally?
Well all my influences probably came from all the big singers, like the divas, Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston, Christina, Beyoncé, all of them. I used to listen to Christina Aguilera the whole time. Same with Beyoncé, same with all of them really, I didn’t really listen to anything other than all of their music. So I’ve grown up kind of wanting to do music like that as well.
Right, that’s understandable.
And then basically just, yeah, listened to all of them and just wanted to show off my voice in all of my music. But I don’t think I’ve done that yet, most of my tunes have been quite chilled. So all of the tunes I’m making now are very much more in that 90’s kind of area. I’m going to be showing off my voice a lot more in the stuff I’m making for my album so..
So what age do you feel like you discovered your voice?
When I was younger I went to stage school, so like a performing arts school, and I started there when I was 11. But before that I was just kind of singing all the time as a hobby on my own. My mum’s a singer, my dad’s a singer and my brother’s a singer, so we’re all kind of a very musical family. So really I’ve always been singing, (laughs) as cliché as that sounds I actually have been singing since I learned how to talk. But then when I was 11, I started to actually study it properly, I did musical theater for about six years. I did a lot of drama and dancing, and after that I just went to music college and did a lot of songwriting and contemporary music there.
Okay, I see.
It was kind of more like show music rather than pop, ’cause I always wanted to be an actor, and then the pop thing and really wanting to be a singer kind of started when I was like 16.
That’s actually pretty cool. So while you don’t have a whole lot of material out right now, you’ve already proven to be a versatile artist. You can go from slinky and smooth like on “Close Enough” to uptempo and, frankly, soaring like on Oliver Helden’s “Last All Night”. Going into the studio, do you take the same approach with every song or do you have to listen first and really feel your way from there?
Um I didn’t (pauses), well when I first started making music I kind of wanted to make really chilled- have you heard my song “Speechless“?
Yeah, of course!
Yeah I really wanted to make music like that, really chilled kind of Erykah Badu vibes. And then I went to L.A. and I just realized that I just wanted to make actual pop music, really commercial. So now, whenever I go into sessions it’s always that kind of vibe. I always have a song or an artist that I’ll reference in my sessions. But yeah, all of my music is starting to sound in a very similar vein, like a project rather than just loads of work.
What’s your songwriting process like? Where do you draw inspiration from?
I just listen to loads of stuff, I don’t really know, I just kind of go in and vibe with what the beat is doing. I write different melodies, and then when I’ve got a melody that I’m happy with, I’ll write to that, just whatever comes to my head really. I’ll start writing and a concept will come to me after, I’ve found that easier than just coming up with a story.
I feel you on that, so [the project] is going to be your album right? Or is it an EP?
We’re not really sure at the moment, I mean I’ve got so many songs. So we’re going to probably keep like- (pauses) The ones that I’m doing in L.A. are the best things that I’m doing. I’m writing with my brother (David), and he’s the most amazing songwriter, he knows exactly how my voice works, so the songs I’m doing at the moment we’ll probably save. And then I’ve got loads more so we’ll probably put out a little mixtape type thing.
Compared to London, how is L.A.? You sound like you really like it.
It’s not overly different, but I think the work ethic here is a lot better. They work all night to get the song right, whereas in London it gets to be seven o’clock and everyone’s tired, you know? But I much prefer working here, I think it’s more chilled and I come up with a lot better things here for some reason, I don’t know why.
Yeah I understand, I’ve been out there, it’s really nice. So you and Karma Kid have made an excellent team so far-
Can you enlighten us on who else you’re bringing into the mix for the project?
Yeah, so I was with Karma Kid all last week, and I’ve got about three or four more tunes from him. I’m working a lot with Jakwob, he’s a good friend of mine, we work really well together… I’m working with The Movement out here in L.A., they’re wicked! Who else did I work with? I can’t even think. Just loads of people and sessions, a guy called Grades, he’s really talented, just signed to Warner [Bros.] Autumn Rowe, she’s an amazing writer… But yeah I’ve just worked with a lot of my friends like Shift K3Y, and Ryan Ashley. They’re my best friends and we just try to get in whenever we can and write whenever.
Nice! So not to get too serious here, but you hear all these stories of young talents getting chewed up and burned out soon after they enter the industry. You’ve already done a lot of things, like toured with Bondax, and performed at festivals like Reading & Leeds and Listen Out. Do you ever get overwhelmed by the whole experience?
Not really because for me, touring with Bondax was not (pauses). It’s weird, whenever I did a show with them I didn’t get nervous, ever. Even if it was in front of like 13,000 people, I didn’t get nervous at all, because it wasn’t my own stuff.
Ahhh I see.
But I did a show at the Edition Hotel in London, and it was my own stuff and I was so nervous. I was petrified. So I think, for me, I don’t really get overwhelmed yet, because I haven’t come out as myself, I’ve come out as Bondax’s singer. Even now, when I put out songs on the net that the blogs are picking up and stuff, for me I haven’t started yet at all. It doesn’t start until, I don’t know, I start doing shows on my own and stuff. So I don’t really get overwhelmed yet, but when my own material starts picking up then I probably will be.
Okay so, I’m not sure if you knew, but not a single album went platinum in the U.S. until Taylor Swift’s recently released 1989. I know you’re not necessarily concerned with U.S. stats in general, but the decline in overall record sales kind of speaks to the current status of the music industry as a whole. People have shifted towards illegally downloading and streaming, with artists even coming out and saying that they don’t make any real money off of [their music]. With all of that said, does any of that stuff concern you at all or are you just taking it one step at a time?
Not really, yeah it’s just as you said, I’m just taking everything one step at a time. Obviously it’s a massive concern that people have been illegally downloading for a while. But I’m more worried about people, first of all before anything else, just hearing my music and if they like it. Because the material that I have put out is the stuff that was kind of my vibe last year, and I’m really happy with those tunes, I love them. But I’m more concerned with the stuff that’s going to come out next year, because that’s my actual music, the stuff that I’ve worked really, really hard on. I personally love it. So I’m most of all just worried about if people like it, and then I’ll worry about if they’re illegally downloading it or not (laughs).
Definitely feel you on that.
But yeah, it is a worry.
This is kind of a broad question, but where do you see yourself five years from now?
Mmmm, well hopefully (pauses), five years is quite a long time so hopefully just doing my thing, like properly doing my thing. I don’t have any limits or boundaries, so in five years time, I’ll say I hope I’m winning Grammys (laughs).
(Laughs) Yeah, that’s a great goal.
You know what I mean? That’s my aim, not gonna’ lie. I just want to be where anyone at the moment who’s killing it is, in five years. (Laughs) By that time I’ll be almost 25, so hopefully I’ll be killing it by then.
You’ve got plenty of time, no rush. Is there anyone in particular that you’re listening to right now?
I got sent, basically I’m working with these guys when I get home, and they sent me a list of all their tunes. There’s this one girl that they’ve done a song with named Bibi Bourelly, and she’s got the most ridiculous voice! I looked her up on Soundcloud and she’s only ever put up one song, and that song’s good. But this song that I got sent, it’s just crazy, she sounds like Sia and she’s just amazing.
Well you can sing your ass off, so if you’re saying she’s good then that’s high praise.
(Laughs) I tweeted her saying, “Girl, you can sing!” She asked, “Where on earth did you hear me from?” Because she hasn’t got many followers on [Soundcloud], but I just said, “Trust me, I found you, I know you’re sick.”
So, last question, in one word what would sum up what the past year has been like for you?
One word? Hmmm. Exhilarating!
That’s a great word, I like that word. (Laughs)
That’s a good one right? (Laughs)