Music Q&A: Kyshona

The Nashville singer, touring the UK with her new album The Ride, reveals what it's like to work in one of the world's major musical hubs

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What informs your music and songwriting?
I’m always focusing on what is happening in the world around me as well as what my friends and family are experiencing in their everyday lives politically, emotionally or spiritually. My music is a reflection of the joy, frustration or anger that I’m witnessing because, truthfully, these feelings are universal. I’d like to think that the music I write is a reminder to those in the audience of how much we have in common with our neighbours.

How have you evolved as an artist over the years?
I spent my early years as a certified music therapist. I was working in prisons, psychiatric hospitals, nursing homes and youth detention centres. I learnt how to write lyrics with my patients and clients. The songs were always based on their feelings or conflict resolution techniques. Back then, I was always focused on a mantra – something that the group could sing on their own as a self-calming mechanism when they found themselves in distress. I was never concerned with a hook per se. Now, since I’ve started writing for myself, I find the idea of a mantra still slides its way into the tunes that I write, but in a more “hooky” way. I enjoy getting my audiences to sing those parts of the songs with me in the hope that one day, when they find themselves in a particular situation, that mantra or hook will pop into their heads at the perfect moment.

What are you up to at the moment artistically?
Being a Nashville-based artist, you learn fairly quickly that it’s important to keep your hands in multiple musical outlets or pots. At the moment, I’ve been focusing on writing for television and film and collaborating with producers in both Atlanta and Nashville. Writing music for television and film is very different from writing for your artist self. I find that the more that I keep my personal feelings or even vocal nuances out of the music, the better chance it has for placement. This is great practice for me because I’ve always leaned so heavily on bringing raw emotion into my music, where in the TV world that can exclude me from a great mass of opportunity for the perfect scene set-up. I find that I’m thinking of the music in broader landscapes than I would for my artist brand. I may have a song with bells and handclaps where I would never think to do that on my own projects. I feel like writing in this space of TV and film is definitely making me a stronger writer – and giving my feelings a break as well!

What’s it like to operate in the music industry today?

I may be spoiled, being based in one of the major music industry hubs, Nashville. I see the industry in two very different ways: on one hand, it is welcoming and inclusive; on the other hand it is ever changing and still trying to figure itself out. In Nashville, I have found that the artists are quick to advocate for their peers. Instead of focusing solely on signing on with a booking agency, artists are teaming up with one another to create their own tours. We are doing our own cross-promotion. In this sense, everything is in the artists’ hands. We can involve our fan base more and make them feel as if they are truly contributing and helping us with our overall success. In some cases the music industry is playing catch-up with the artists. Now that music is digital, artists are having to be more creative in how they release their content. Just looking from the outside in, it seems as if the industry is still trying to find solid footing in how to manoeuvre in this new musical landscape. Overall, I think is quite empowering to be in the music industry today. The artists can have more control over what they put out to the world.

What’s on your rider?
I was raised in the South so it has been ingrained in me to never ask for too much. To be humble. So my rider is pretty simple:

1. A turkey club sandwich with avocado upon arrival
2. A bottle of the finest red wine for the green room
3. A case of bottled Evian water
4. A vegan meal prepared for my vegan drummer
5. A Nescafé coffee machine for back stage
6. And a Beyoncé fan so that I never break a sweat on stage.

I’m only kidding. In truth, I’d settle for one bottle of water and some beef jerky.

Tell us your most embarrassing or surreal experience.
I was once hired to play a concert at a nudist campsite – an ALL-MALE nudist campsite. This was my first camping experience since childhood, when I learned to camp with my Girl Scout troop. The panic that comes over you when you’re walking down a trail and you hear a male voice call your name – my goodness! Before you turn you’re praying: “Please be wearing a Speedo, please be wearing a Speedo, please be wearing a Speedo”. Or socks! I was happy if I saw a man at least wearing socks. Gave me somewhere to look and something to compliment.

What song do you wish you’d written?
A Change Gone Come by Sam Cooke. There are so many emotions in that song that are relatable to my upbringing in South Carolina. I once heard a recording of my great aunt singing the lyrics to this song and thought it was an old spiritual passed down from generation to generation. I was amazed when I heard Sam Cooke’s version and have been in love with the song ever since.

What’s your worst lyric?
I have no bad lyrics. Yet. Haha! If I do, I’ve pulled all of those songs off of iTunes so no one will ever hear them.

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