Hayley Kiyoko was a founding member of teen pop group The Stunners, and she’s appeared in movies such as Scooby-Doo!, Jem and the Holograms and Lemonade Mouth. She’s been acting and performing for what seems like forever, and yet this weekend she makes her Coachella debut, while her debut album, Expectations, just dropped. She’s 27 now, and a bona fide artist, so we chatted with her about her past, present, Coachella and future.
L.A. Weekly: When did you start singing, and when did you realize that it could be a career?
Hayley Kiyoko: I’m a very serious person, so I’ve been taking it seriously since I was about 6. It takes a long time to develop your music, and get it to sound exactly how you hear it in your mind. It’s been a very long journey of figuring out how to get my music out there, and then I couldn’t get the directors I wanted so I ended up directing my own music videos. Finding the right producers. So it’s been 26 years of doing it, and now my album came out this week and I’m in disbelief, because it’s something I’ve been dreaming of my whole life.
How long have you been working on it?
Over two years. Just going in and out of the studio, doing it in between other things. We did a couple of trips to Ojai and then we finished it in Los Angeles. I produced it with Jono Dorr and Cecil Bernardy. We did the whole thing, and then I had some guest producers on a couple of tracks. But we basically oversaw the whole project to make sure the album was cohesive.
You must have learned a lot, taking on so much.
I’ve learned that there’s a lot of stuff to getting an album out there. The music was essentially the easy part, and then everything else was like the artwork — how to pick an image that says a thousand words, making your art translate through all of these extra pieces that you need to put together, is quite interesting.
Are you happy with the finished results?
Honestly, I wouldn’t take anything back. I’m proud of this album and body of work, and it’s something that really represents me as an artist and every aspect of myself as a person. I’m just so proud of it.
How would you describe your style now?
I’m a pop artist, but I’d say it’s pop but slightly left of center. I feel like with every track it was important for me to sound different. I feel like with some albums, you think you’re listening to the same song over and over again. So that was a big focus of mine — to break those genres a little bit as you listen to the album. It is a pop album, but you’ll hear different influences from other genres.
In the lyrics, your subject matter covers the concussion that you suffered, and relationships — is that sort of artistic therapy important for you?
Yeah, I feel like everyone can relate to music in one way or another, and obviously writing my own music is going to be very personal. I try to be as honest as possible and share those stories and experiences because we’re all going through the same thing where we want to feel validated with our emotions, and feel comfort whether it’s sadness or happiness or sexiness. So I try to share that with other people. I’m also encouraging people to listen to the album from the beginning to the end, in order, because I feel like that’s the best way to experience it.
Here in L.A., do you feel like a part of a bigger local music scene?
To be honest, no. I’m from Los Angeles, born and raised. Westlake Village. I definitely feel like I’m a California girl but I don’t feel like I’m a part of something bigger. I think that, depending on where you grow up, we all have different experiences. I’m fortunate that I was able to grow up near the beach, and have the weather that we have. I never really appreciated that until probably a couple of years ago. I love where I came from and I’ll probably stay there.
Have you been to Coachella before?
The first time I went I was 13, and I remember coming home to my parents and telling them that my dream is to perform at Coachella. Thirteen years later, here we are. I’ve been like five times. I was a big Coachella person and then I stopped going because I was like, “The next time I go I’m gonna play.” I forced myself to make that happen.
Who else will you be checking out?
I love Haim. I can’t wait to see them play. And Portugal. The Man is my dad’s favorite band, so I’m looking forward to seeing them with him.
When Coachella is over and done with, what’s next for you this year?
I’m going to be on my headlining tour for a couple of months, and then I open for Panic at the Disco in July. That’ll be fun. A year of touring around and playing shows.