Kiana Lede is a fireball, and she brings that energy into the R&B game. The fiery Aries jokes that she’s “way too emotional for her own good and has to write songs about it to survive,” which translates in the authenticity of her lyrics. The Phoenix, Arizona singer/songwriter is real about everything she feels, never attempting to put on a front.
If you like emotional music (and you’re mad at yourself for being emo), then her music is for you. While music has been a huge part of her life since she was little, it was the moment she re-imagined Drake’s “Hotline Bling” that she became a viral sensation. But it was her breakout single “EX” and the accompanying music video, currently at over 29 million views and counting on YouTube, that solidified her place as a buzz recording artist. Not only does the record boast over 28.7 million streams on Spotify, but it received standout remixes from French Montana and Lil Baby,
Now in 2019, she returns with her most vulnerable project yet: Myself. The EP clocks in at six tracks with features from Migos member Offset and Jenifer Lewis. We caught up with Lede as she pulled up to Groundwork Coffee in Hollywood on a Bird scooter. Read below as we discuss her rise in the industry, past relationships, overcoming her abortion, and what to expect at The Novo show on September 13th.
L.A. WEEKLY: How would you describe your sound?
KIANA LEDE: My sound is alternative R&B. I say alternative because we’re at a place in music now where R&B can kind of be its own thing. We’ve done all the classical shit. We’ve done all the classic R&B, instrumental musicians. We still have some of that — Daniel Caesar is an example of that — but we also have so many different ways to make it our own. My own thing is bringing a little bit of rhythm and pop element into it. I listen to a lot of different influences: Alicia Keys, Sara Bareilles, John Mayer. My lyrics are very singer/songwriter-y while also being very diverse production-wise.
Being from Phoenix, how does that play into your life and career?
Phoenix plays into my life maybe with my style a little bit? Phoenix gave me the grounds to be able to spend a lot of time doing music. I was living so close to L.A., so I’d go back and forth all the time when I didn’t live here. It also gave me a lot of time to spend on the piano. My parents bought a piano at a garage sale once, and I just lived on that piano.
Do you play the piano on your own records?
Not as much as I used to, I kind of got scared of it for a little while. I’m just starting to get back into it. A lot of shit happened when I was younger that scared me away from it, because I never felt that I was good enough to play. I know that’s not true now. Everybody can play. Playing an instrument, you don’t have to be good at something to learn it. I grew up trained in piano, but I was always told I wasn’t good enough. When you’re younger at 16 or 17, that plays with your mind a lot. But now, I have the courage to get back into it.
When did you come to L.A.?
I was going back and forth when I was 15, but I officially moved here when I was 16.
How old are you now?
What is your favorite part of the West Coast?
Arizona is Southwest, it’s two different things. L.A. has way different culture, way different people. The beach — I used to drive 6 hours to go to the beach. Phoenix is more desert land, we do dirt bike riding, stargazing, that kind of shit.
What was the inspiration behind your name?
Lede is my middle name. I’ll tell you how I got my name. My mom’s sister (my aunt) and her mom’s name: Kiya and Nancy, and it was made into one. Then Lede, my dad told me it was some hot girl on a boat when he was in the Navy. He thought the name was cool and gave it to me.
At what point did you realize this music thing was for real?
I never doubted myself that I would do music for the rest of my life. It was getting me in trouble all the time so I had to be able to turn it into a superpower rather than a weakness. That meant making a career out of it. My mom was supportive enough to let me do that. The first moment where I thought “I can actually do this” was when I got signed at 15. But then I got dropped, so I was like, “Oh fuck maybe I can’t.”
How old were you?
I got dropped at 17 from RCA. Just pushed through, it was a lot to deal with at a young age for sure. Now I always say I’m so grateful it all happened because I wouldn’t be emotionally equipped and strong enough to handle all the shit going on now if I didn’t go through all that back then. I needed that.
“Ex” has over 29 million views on YouTube alone. Did you for see it blowing up like this?
Yeah, I kind of did. In a weird way I knew because the song is just so catchy, so vulnerable, so relatable. It has all those elements to make a hit.
What was it like to get all those fire remixes?
Oh my god, that was crazy. I love Lil Baby. I love French. To have people that you look up to be on your shit is… I just knew I wanted them on them. I sent it to them, they’re like “love it, let me get on it.” That easy.
What’s one thing you want fans to get from your Myself EP?
The coolest thing about Myself is I’m putting every element of myself into the EP. I went through a time of real soul-searching, being the happiest I’ve ever been and coming out of a really depressive state in my life. I realized I was suppressing a lot of things about myself and it was slowly draining me. Allowing myself to just be that flirtatious and sexual and also depressed, also happy and grateful. All those things I learned about myself were really beautiful so I wanted that variety to put into Myself. I wrote enough songs for an album, but then I had to tell a short story. I want people to remember to be true to themselves.
“Heavy” is so relatable. what were you going through?
If we’re being brutally honest, “Heavy” was written at a time I was experiencing a lot of death in my life. I also was putting off things I knew I had to deal with. There were a lot of scenarios but one of the biggest things that triggered it was my abortion. I never thought it’d affect me that much because I’m so pro-choice and I don’t really want kids. I didn’t think it’d be such a big decision, but it really did have a lot of weight on me. I literally had sessions the entire next week after the procedure and I thought, “Yeah I’m going back into my sessions, I’ll be cool” — and that was not the case.
I had to cancel everything. I wasn’t coming out of my house for at least two weeks. Not only the physical part but the mental part, that pushed me. When you have to make big decisions like that, that pushed me to have to make other decisions I knew I couldn’t stay away from anymore. Leaving my relationship, being exactly who I wanted to be, stop not suppressing those parts of me for such a long time. Not relying on other people to make me happy and feel good.
Did you have a support system through all that?
I definitely did. Unfortunately, my ex-boyfriend (the one I was with when I wrote “Heavy”) — ‘cause I say a line “when you lay up, damn, I feel needy / I just can’t take it if it ain’t you who loves me when I naked.” Because I wasn’t loving myself. I was relying on him to love me to make me feel better. He was such a big support to me, but I knew that was my crutch. In order to get better and feel better, I needed to rely on my friends and not just look to him for that support. The people I work with are all my closest friends, they’re basically my family.
What was his reaction to the record?
[Laughs] We were still together when I wrote the song, and he felt it. Because he also was going through his own mental health shit. The thing about that relationship was he was so amazing. He really was my best friend, so incredible, but we both brought each other down without realizing it. We were both so mentally unstable. It was never a malicious thing, it was always “I can’t handle myself so I can’t handle you right now, no matter how hard I want to be there for you.” It was tough, but he definitely understood me. He got it, there’s no hard feelings at all. We still have love for each other.
How has music been a form of therapy for you?
I’m so grateful for music, and the honesty I’m able to have in music. I literally wouldn’t be able to survive without it. All the shit I write about would be stuck in my head, I wouldn’t be able to handle it. Music has always been a coping mechanism for me. It’s always made me feel better. Even if it doesn’t solve my problems, in my head, it helps.
Who are you bumping in your emo moments?
Baby Rose is incredible. Also Miley surprised me at the VMAs. Seeing her performance live took it to a whole new level. She has this new song called “Slide Away,” I literally was like whoa. Wow. From what we see in the tabloids, Miley’s going through her own shit too and it just felt like a vulnerable moment from her. It’s very relatable but also really poetic. It was surprising to me but I loved it, so I’ve been listening to that on repeat too.
What are some goals yourself as an artist at this point of your career?
Right now, I’m focused on being very present. As a person, as an artist, as a businesswoman. it’s really easy to just get caught up in the future. “What’s next? What’s next?” Because my job is so personal to me, things like performing and interviews where I have to be present in the moment to get the best shit out of myself, is what I’m focusing on the most. It’s really difficult to do but when you do it, it feels really rewarding.
What’s a normal day in the life? Walk us through.
Honestly, my shit’s never the same. Today I woke up, I went for a run. Do some self-care: eat well and run, be good to myself. When I’m at home, I like to run in my gym because there’s not that many distractions. My treadmill opens up to a huge window, which is basically an entire wall. It’s open so you get the breeze, you get to see stuff but there’s nobody in my way. I like to workout in the morning because with my anxiety, it helps clear my brain. Then it takes me about two hours to get ready. I like to have my get ready time where I’m performing to myself in the mirror, singing to A$AP Ferg. Then I’ll go do an interview or to rehearsal, it depends on if I’m touring.
How’s tour life?
Tour life is amazing, I can’t wait to get back on.
What can we expect at your show at The Novo on September 13th?
I haven’t even thought about the fact that I go to The Novo all the time for shows, and I’m performing at the Novo. That’s actually so crazy to me. It’s going to be awesome, we have the whole band. Yes, there will be special guests, but we have some great merch and some cute stage lights I’m programming today. It’s going to be amazing. It’s like all my other shows, but elevated. I just want it to feel really authentic and more organic versions of my songs, but also like a party.
Favorite song to perform in a set?
Probably “Wicked Games” because everyone gets so emotional with me. [laughs] Everybody gets so emotional. I’m crying, they’re crying, we’re all screaming. It’s a great time.
What’s the best encounter you had with a fan?
When I was in DC, I have a super fan named Desha, who’s fucking awesome. She was at all my shit on the East Coast. When you look at the love language test, I’m not a gift person at all. But when you give me gifts, it’s the thought that counts. Even if it’s a card, the fact that somebody’s thinking about me, that’s what I care about. She gave me these earrings that say Kiana with a heart. She got them made on Etsy because she knows I love hoops and nameplate shit. She also got me a Dunkin’ Donuts gift card because I’m obsessed with Dunkin’ Donuts.
How often do you go?
Literally every day I’m home. I went this morning and I’m already on a second coffee. It had Tina from Bob’s Burgers all over the gift card because I love Bob’s Burgers. Then it had my tweet that said “my mom told me I’m spending too much money on Dunkin’, I told her I would stop spending money there — I lied.” She custom-made the card. Just knowing it was something special for me from her and there was so much thought put into it, it made me cry. It was so sweet.
What would you be doing if you weren’t doing music?
I’d be doing something with people, like psychology or makeup. I love doing my makeup. I love the conversations you have with makeup artists or stylists, someone who gets into you as a person. I might do it still one day. I’m just so interested in the human brain, why we act the way we do. If I could do something to help people or make them feel good, just be able to tell their stories. People are my passion at the end of the day.
That works because your music helps people.