Kina Grannis
Kina Grannis
Danny Liao

Singer-Songwriter Kina Grannis Found Clarity While Imprisoned in Jakarta

Singer, songwriter and YouTube sensation Kina Grannis was on the Southeast Asia leg of her international tour in 2015 when the promoters messed up the visas. Grannis and her band ended up stuck in Jakarta, Indonesia, for exactly 100 days, an experience that had a profound effect on her.

Grannis and her crew were told they had broken the law, and the punishment was five years in jail for both her crew and the opening band. The rest of the tour was canceled, and Grannis' team was thrown into battle. For the singer-songwriter, that meant a lot of waiting around.

One hundred days later, Grannis was fined and deported. Today, she says she's extremely grateful for the harrowing experience — the lack of certainty for an extended period of time brought her a profound sense of focus.

"Just waking up every day wondering if we were going to go to jail or if we'd ever go home," she says. "Fear and anger turned into an amazing journey of self-reflection. It put everything in check. Coming home from that is something that has continued to set the tone for my life. I thought I might be done with music. Slowly, I came back to music."

Music has always been an integral part of Grannis' makeup. Almost from the moment she began talking she was singing, and it didn't occur to her until she reached adulthood that she was behaving in an unusual way.

"I grew up making up songs all the time and teaching them to my little sister," she says. "It wasn't until I was 15 that it occurred to me that I might be able to pick up the guitar. That's when I started really writing."

It was a Christmas choir concert she attended during her school years — the emotion of it made her cry — that convinced Grannis that performing music was in her blood. She played her first show right after high school and never looked back. With an acoustic style she describes as a "little bit folk," she started to rise to public prominence when she took to self-releasing her music on YouTube.

She continued with her schooling and played around L.A., waiting to be discovered and then, hopefully, signed. In her mind, that was the golden ticket. She graduated and moved to Austin to try that music scene for a while. It was while in Texas that she caught an unlikely break from a corn chip company.

"My boyfriend (now husband) said that Doritos was doing a contest to get a music video played during the Super Bowl, and the winner gets signed to a major label," she says.

Grannis entered, and won. However, the contract, with Interscope, wasn't the dream deal she was hoping for. The label heads wanted to control her output, with her songs to be co-written.

"For me, music has always been incredibly personal," says Grannis, 32. "It's something I do by myself in the middle of the night. The idea of sitting with a stranger and making songs that have to be approved by a label, that were radio-worthy or whatever they were looking for, sounded like it defeated the purpose of making music to me. I was able to get out of that deal and go on my own."

It's working out well for her. She's working on the follow-up to her 2014 album, Elements, and last year started her own record label. And she still loves performing live. That's where she connects with her fans.

"I had my entire life before that of feeling that I had no idea how to connect because I was so shy," she says. "Now, when I get to go play shows, I feel like I get to connect with everyone in the room in that second."

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