Los Angeles-based singer/songwriter/actor Hayley Kiyoko caught a lot of ears last year thanks to the insanely catchy “Girls Like Girls” single from her This Side Of Paradise EP [Spotify | iTunes]. The video (which Kiyoko co-directed) has racked up an impressive 49 million plays, and the buzz helped her get signed to Atlantic for her new Citrine EP [Spotify | iTunes].
Kiyoko is once again directing and writing her own videos, and has just released a tear-jerking clip for “One Bad Night” featuring trans activist and vlogger Erin Armstrong. The new single follows the previously released video for “Cliff’s Edge,” and a summer tour opening up for Miike Snow.
We caught up with Kiyoko on a break at home before she heads back out on the road for a string of headlining shows across the USA. Read the Q&A and check out her upcoming tour dates after the jump.
It feels like your sound has progressed a lot on this EP from your earlier work. What do you think provoked that stylistic shift?
I think on Citrine I found my sound, and I found my soul. I feel like this EP sounds like myself.
I think that [previous EP] This Side Of Paradise really was a great foundation of where I wanted to go with my music. On this new EP, with the help of my producers 4e and Bram Inscore, I feel like I’ve finally found myself sonically. All the songs on this EP have really amazing drums and rhythms, and for me as a drummer, that’s what really gets me going.
You mentioned being a drummer, and I know you play a few other instruments as well. Which one do you consider your primary instrument?
I would consider drumming to be my primary instrument. I think as a songwriter, you end up picking up every instrument – like guitar, piano, and bass – just so you can write. That’s kind of how I am: I can play a little bit of everything, but I’m not a master of one. I love rhythm, so when I do my live show, I sing and play drums. That’s my favourite thing to do.
Has signing to Atlantic changed much for you, in terms of how you work?
No, nothing has really changed. I was worried about being signed, but they’ve just allowed me to do what I want to do. I’ve continued to be in control of everything. I’ve picked the songs I want, and create the visuals that I want. They just support that. I’m really excited to be signed to Atlantic and to be able to continue to create.
I’ve been doing everything myself since day one, so I can’t imagine just letting someone else take the reins. I’d just be uncomfortable with that.
Is acting taking a bit of a back seat to music these days?
I just had a movie come out last month on Netflix called XOXO, but yeah, I’ve been focusing on music. I love acting, and I continue to do things in between my shows, but I’m excited for my music to take off and grow.
The “One Bad Night” video was more intense than I was expecting. Did the song come from a similar emotional space as the video concept?
They’re both from two very different spaces. I wrote the song imagining this kind of sexy hookup, which I’ve never had, this steamy one-bad-night kind of vibe. When it came to the video, I didn’t really want to do one based on the lyrics because I’d already done that with my previous video that I did for “Cliff’s Edge.” I didn’t want them to be alike, so I just challenged myself to come up with something that was important to me that I haven’t related to my fans, and to create a narrative based on that, and to also have it somehow work with the song.
Human compassion is a big thing for me. I’m a very sensitive person, and working the way that I work, I tend to get so caught up in what I’m doing that sometimes if I’m having a really stressful day and someone pats my back or smiles at me, it takes me out of my element for a moment and gives me that glimpse of hope that my day is going to be okay. That really gets me through life, those little moments of kindness.
I loved the idea of creating a narrative about that, and having these characters going through lots of challenges, and maybe the worst night ever, and then finding hope in the end. Finding hope through even just a friendship, and getting to know each other over donuts and coffee.
“One Bad Night” music video
When you were writing the treatment for the video, did you have Erin Armstrong in mind for the role?
No, I just had the two characters. I told my publicity team about the story, and they recommended a list of possible names. I looked up Erin Armstrong, and I loved how connected she was with her fans, and how open she was about her life with people who could relate to her.
So we Skyped and got to know each other, and I told her about the story, and she loved it. It’s crazy — she’s never acted before, but she’s got this fire within her. This drive and charisma, that you know she could do other things if she put her mind to it. So we put her in some acting classes and shot it the week after, and she killed it.
Your mother is Canadian, have you been thinking about whether you can immigrate north if Trump wins?
Oh my god, I’m trying to not even let that be a thought. We’ll cross that bridge if we come to it!
Was there ever a point when you were launching your career were worried about being put in the “gay musician” box?
I hate stereotypes; they really annoy me. I want to lead with my art, and that’s why I wasn’t in the “Girls Like Girls” video. I want people to listen to the lyrics and fall in love with the art, not look at it as “this is Hayley entirely.” I want people to watch the narrative and escape into the storyline. I like to tell people about myself through the art, and focus on that.
“Girls Like Girls” music video
When you were growing up, did you feel there were artists that were representing your experiences as a teenager properly?
No, I didn’t feel like that, and I think that’s part of what has inspired me to be brave and to open my life up to my fans, and not be afraid to let them in. I never really had that growing up. There were stars that I idolized in different ways, but there was never a person that I connected to entirely or that inspired me to be myself. I think there was a lack of that representation in the pop world when I was growing up.
People have called me a spokesperson, and that’s never something I imagined myself to be. I just wanted to be myself and tell people my perspective. My perspective has put me into a spokesperson role though, which is an honour, but it’s never something that I was seeking. I didn’t look at myself like that, I just had stories I wanted to tell.
It’s something that organically happened, and now I’m kind of owning up to it, and being like, “You know what? I’m going to be that person that I never had growing up, and that’s okay. I can take on that responsibility. I can be fulfilled by that.”
Words are so strong and labels are so strong, it’s so easy to be immediately put in a box. People are constantly wanting to take inventory and categorize people. For me, I just want to release art and have people to take the art for what it is. Watch “One Bad Night” and get whatever you want to get out of it.
— Q&A by Benjamin Boles
Citrine is out now via Atlantic. Hayley Kiyoko upcoming tour dates:
November 2 – New York, NY @The Studio at Webster Hall
November 3 – Philadelphia, PA @The Foundry at The Fillmore
November 4 – Cambridge, MA @The Sinclair
November 17 – Los Angeles, CA @The Roxy
November 18 – San Francisco, CA @Rickshaw Stop