Kina Grannis interview
February 23, 2010 by Bill Palmer
How would you characterize the past two years?
It definitely has been a trend of going away from these little things and finally getting into just Kina the musician and the music and the album. I’ve grown a lot and I’d say that musically I’ve kind of found myself even more. Spending so long working on this album has just kind of changed my mindset. I still do YouTube stuff all the time, but I’ve been so focused on the album and making sure that people start to see me as the artist I am, and not for all those random things, which were wonderful things, but making sure that they come to see me for what I really am also.
I was going to ask if, looking back on some of those contests and stuff, if you felt like those were a distraction to your career, or more of a benefit?
Definitely more than anything they were a benefit in that they got my name out there to a ton of people and brought some attention to me, but that’s not to say that it didn’t bring some difficulties with that, because it is hard to escape names like the “Gotta Digg Girl” and the “Doritos Girl” and the “Super Bowl Girl.” And musically, those really have nothing to do with me, you know, except that they really helped me a ton. But when a lot of people’s first introduction to me was something like “If you like the Super Bowl you’ll like Kina.” And really, what does that have to do with it, you know?
I’ve got your new album here, and the obvious first question is that most album are named after one of the tracks, and there’s no song called “Stairwells” here, so where did the name come from?
It was a tribute to where I kind of feel like I grew into an artist in college. I went into college, I knew that music was my passion and I felt the need to do it all the time, but I’m a very shy person and a very self-conscious person so I found myself retreating to the stairwells constantly to sing and write, and it was kind of my safe place. Throughout all of college I really built up this repertoire of songs until a point where I finally kind of felt comfortable with myself and I started playing shows and stuff like that. So now that I’ve finally spent all this time making this album by myself that I’m so proud of, I did kind of think back to college a lot and those times where I was sitting in a stairwell by myself with my tea for hours on end, just writing and letting the music come out of me. So a tribute to that.
The first song you’ve released off of it is called Valentine, and a great time for that, but watching the video for it, my first thought when you were setting up the little blocks was, how many takes did you have to film to get that?
As far as the close-ups went, they kind of filmed those in blocks so that they could get it really close up and clean. But for the big take where I’m walking around and they’re all falling in those long, long rows, one take. They looked at me, my director Ross Ching, who’s amazing, he was like “Kina, this is your shot, do not mess it up, don’t step on the wrong pile.” So it was a little stressful but it was so fun and just a really impressive idea on Ross Ching’s part.
Singles have traditionally been thought of as something to make some extra sales or to try to get you on the radio, but in your case I see you’re giving away the single. In iTunes, with a major label, they’d charge even more for the single than the rest of the songs, and yet you’re giving yours away for free.
I think the mindset behind giving away my single was just that for one, just a big thank you to these people that have been helping me get through the last two years and have made it all possible. But also, not being on a major label, not having hundreds of thousands of marketing dollars, there are really only so many ways for me to try to get the word out. And so my thinking was that if I give this away for free, and I encourage everyone to just give it to everyone you know, I don’t care, please just give it away, that hopefully somewhere in there, someone might become a fan of the music and might come back to hear more. So it’s really just a thank you an d a way to get it out there as far and wide as possible.
Songwriting is generally a product of your environment. You’ve been out of college for a couple of years now. How have those couple of years of being in the so-called real world impacted your songwriting?
The sad part is I’ve gotten so immersed in the business of it all, and especially in these past two years making the album, I’ve been so busy that for one I have not been able to write nearly as much as I did in college, which is sad. But I would say that I don’t know that the subject matter has changed all that much because I tend to come back around to the same things of relationships or self betterment and dealing with those things you’ve always wanted to change about yourself and stuff like that.
It’s songwriting in a different sense. I’m not escaping from schoolwork anymore, you know? So when I do start writing it’s a little… I don’t know. It’s a nice feeling though, because I don’t feel guilty. During school if I was writing like shoot, I should be doing a paper, I shouldn’t be playing music. Now I get to remind myself that hey, this is my job. I’m supposed to be doing this. So it’s nice.
It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to figure out what Valentine or even The World In Front Of Me is about, but then I get to the Goldfish Song, and I kind of thought that it wasn’t literally going to be about a goldfish, but I’ve listened to it a number of times and I’ve got absolutely no idea.
I wrote that when I was playing music in Austin and I was kind of dealing with some major personal issues at the time. It’s just kind of that struggle when you have something about yourself that you want to change and you want to fix and I’d get really excited about it and jump in with everything I had and just kind of not quite be what I wanted to be again. And so it was that struggle of wanting to change and knowing how to change and then just not quite being ready. That’s where the whole imagery of sending a goldfish out into the sea, where it’s just way too much to handle, but at the same time knowing that this is my thing and I’m gonna keep going and I’m gonna get to where I want to be.
You’re so well known to your audience for your cover songs on the internet. Did you think about putting any cover songs on Stairwells?
I had thought about it, and a lot of people want that. I guess what it came down to for this one is that it was the first album I was putting everything I had into, and I really just wanted it to be songs that were very important to me at the end of the day. I think doing cover songs on an album is something I’ll probably do eventually, because I do love trying to reinterpret songs as my own, but for this one I just wanted it to be the songs that I really connected to.
Are your sisters on the album?
Yeah, they are on Heart And Mind. It was really fun to have them in the studio.
Message From Your Heart is on Stairwells, but you tweaked it a little. Of all the songs you have, that’s the one that’s been heard by the most people. Did you have to think about whether or not you wanted to tweak that?
Yeah definitely, Part of me always felt that I should keep it the same because that’s the way people have heard it and maybe want it. But on the other hand that song did get out to a lot of people, and while it didn’t get a proper release through me, it was kind of released through Interscope and then taken off of iTunes, but now I wanted to give it that second chance but I also thought let’s switch it up a little so that people have something new to listen to this time around.
Are you still an iPhone user?
Oh, of course.
What apps do you find yourself spending the most time with these days?
I’m always using things like Yelp, first of all, because I’m not very decisive and I need someone else to pick restaurants for me, which is fun. The Pandora app I use a lot in place of radio, which is awesome. What else? I obviously use the voice memos constantly because it lets me, any time I have a song idea, immediately record it instead of forgetting it which I used to do, so I love that. And then there are the random things like Scramble 2 and some form of Yahtzee, which I waste lots of time on (laughs).
You finally stopped handling your own merchandise, which you had always done yourself, and I’m sure you’re facing other similar decisions. How difficult is it to let go of those things?
It’s hard. I really like being connected in every single part of what I do, and always wrote little thank you letters for everyone who bought an order, which probably wasn’t the best use of my time but it really is important to me to make sure that people know how much it means to me, how thankful I am. But yeah, I just got to the point where I realized I’m not spending nearly enough time doing the music stuff anymore, and as hard as it is for me, it’s something that I needed to let go of. So it has freed me up a lot, which is great, especially pre-album release which has been even crazier, but it is hard to give those parts away to people.
You’re still doing the tons of shout-outs at the end of your YouTube videos. Where did that idea come from?
It started during the “Crash the Super Bowl, two weeks for Kina” thing, and some people would write a comment on my video saying “Hey, can you give me a shout-out on your next video?” It started out as a few people, “I have a birthday, can you wish me happy birthday?” and I was like okay. The first video probably had four shout-outs or something like that, just so I could recognize these people that wanted some hello or something from me. I guess from there it just kind of became a staple in my videos. So people email me all the time with their birthday wishes or their anniversary wishes or just wanting a shout-out on the video, and so I make sure to collect them every time I do one. It’s just another way to say thank you to people.
Is there an irony in that you say you’re shy, and yet in the videos you’re so extroverted and wishing everyone in the world, people you never met, a happy birthday or happy graduation?
Oh definitely. It’s a strange thing, and I will tell you it’s not a natural thing for me. The first video I ever made, announcing Crash the Super Bowl, I did about fifty takes and I wanted to die. It was awful. I’ve gotten used to it at this point, but there is a difference being in a room by myself pretending I’m talking to a lot of people, than if I were to actually have to talk to them in real life, you know? So it’s been a good medium for me to kind of get out of my shell and connect with people, and it’s gotten easier, which is good, and I’m sure it’s helped me in my real life interactions too, just being able to talk in front of the camera. But definitely still very awkward for me.
You’ve spent a long time working on this album, it’s probably all you’ve thought about for a couple of years. Now that it’s out the door, what now?
Hopefully a lot of touring. I’ve been home for so long, making the album, I finally just want to get out there and meet all these people and thank everyone and see more of the country. Nothing is planned yet, but definitely the next step is me getting an agent and then just getting out on the road.
Stairwells is streaming for free in its entirely at KinaGrannis.com this week.