The former Pussycat Doll shares about her solo career and new album. She states: “As an artist you’re born into loving it. You’re born to do it. You just want to express yourself in some way.”
[By Monica Harris]
In an exclusive phone interview, we chat with pop singer Kaya Jones about how she has evolved through the years as an artist. We are impressed with Kaya’s bold and genuine down to earth attitude, eagerness to help other artists, and positive outlook. Her new album Release the Energy is available now.
Q. You’ve been performing since you were very young, you took dance and acting classes as a child. What do you think inspired you to love it at such a young age?
KAYA: Well, my mom is an artist. She’s a graphic designer for 30 years, and she’s been a painter all of her life, so that was always in my home… [And] I just loved dancing. I really wanted to go to dance class and I was always dancing in my house, so my mother at least was aware to say “maybe I should put her into dancing.” And then from there…I wanted to do it more, and learn more, and be more involved in all the different aspects of the arts. So I don’t know. I think as an artist you’re born into loving it. You’re born to do it. You just want to express yourself in some way.
Q. Okay so I know you have a new single called Boyfriend. Is it true it was kind of dedicated to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal ruling in favor of same sex marriage?
KAYA: It really was. I mean, I did it before all of that, but when it was coming out it just happened to be around that time and I thought, you know what? Why don’t I go ahead and dedicate it because it’s something that is an issue that we’ve been dealing with so much in America, and…I completely stand behind equality for everyone in every aspect…women’s rights too, that we should all be equal, no matter what the situation is. I felt like it was a good way to kind of not just say “here’s a new single,” but really explain that there’s some meaning for me behind it.
Q. That’s cool. Was the song based on a true story?
KAYA: Well the writers that wrote the song — there are songs that I’ve written on this album and there are some that I haven’t — this song was presented to me while I was recording with Travis Huff. And Travis Huff and Mike Daley wrote the song about 5 years ago…and it had been passed around to all the major singers who loved the song, but [other singers] were, I think, a little bit nervous about it because, I don’t know, maybe it was risky and all of that. I heard it and I wanted it immediately. I was like, “I really want this song.” He played it for me because he knew how much I was involved with gay advocacy, so he said, you know, “This might be for you, I don’t know.” And he played it and I fell in love with it.
It’s funny because he didn’t know this, but in high school, my freshman year, my first semester, I happened to have a best friend who was gay and we would joke and say we were boyfriend and girlfriend, because he was picked on so much. And he had a boyfriend. So it was the three of us that would hang out. So I guess in a way, it was true, and it’s funny that it made its way full circle. And it wasn’t a song that I wrote, but I think that it’s something that we should talk about. That’s the thing about music – it’s supposed to make you feel something. Whether good, bad, or indifferent. And we should be talking about all types of things, not just love in one aspect, and not just about dancing, and not just about being sexual. We should talk about all the things that go on. And I think Katy Perry did a wonderful job with “I Kissed a girl” and that kind of opened up…doors of talking about things that some people just don’t want to talk about, but its reality, and that’s what art is supposed to be. It’s supposed to be about reality.
Q. How do you feel you’ve grown as an artist since your single Hollywood Doll back in 2009. Do you feel you’ve evolved?
KAYA: Yeah. You know, when I left the Pussycat Dolls, there was kind of a period of time that I had to wait as an artist, just to honor my contract, so that’s why… I didn’t really have anything to put out at the time, and I was also developing myself. And Hollywood Doll, for me, was a way of kind of releasing whatever frustration or anything that I may have felt. And even though it’s fluffy and all of that, for me it was cathartic. Looking at it now, I feel like I’m so over that part of it, but I had to sing about it, I had to talk about it. I actually rewrote some of the song because when it was presented to me it was about a girl in the club fighting another girl over her boyfriend. And I would never do that. I think if a guy will make you fight over him, he’s not worth it. Period. So when I got the song I said, you know what? I don’t understand it from that perspective, but how about rewording it and writing some of my own words in the aspect of a girl just being difficult to work with, or a girl that’s a hater. And I think more women can understand that in any aspect. It can be with a guy, it can be at your job, it can be in any situation. So for me I picked a setting that was true for me. So that’s how I felt about that moment and I feel like it was important and cathartic.
And I’m a different person, I think, now. I’ve evolved as an artist and spent time recording and try to figure out what I wanted to say on this record, but I didn’t want it to be too depressing or any of that. I wanted it to be happy…I feel like it was a good segway into starting the question of “who am I as an artist?” Because up until that point, all this stuff that I had done as an artist had not been as “who are you”. You know, it was more like, oh you’re in a girl group, this is who you guys are. None of us actually knew who we were. And that’s frustrating as an artist. You still don’t know who you are and you’re 21 years old, and you don’t know who you are as an artist, and being signed to R. Kelly before that was the same thing. I hadn’t found myself. And so I feel now that being on my own, I’ve been able to find myself.
Q. Do you feel it’s more freeing to be a solo artist, rather than in a group?
KAYA: Yes and no. I think there’s a lot of groups that I adore and I think when you’re all on the same page, you know, like Destiny’s Child is a good example, they started when they were really young, and the foundation is Kelly and Beyoncé, and they created the group. That was very different than what the Pussycat Dolls were. The [Pussycat Dolls] was already created, it was already buzzed about in Hollywood. It had a lot of different celebrity guests. And they basically then cast Nicole [Sherzinger], myself, and Melody [Thornton] as singers. So we didn’t know each other before that. We were basically cast, and then it was like, “okay you guys are now going to be in a group and see if you can do this all together.” And I think when you do that, when it’s not an organic formula –. I don’t think in every situation it’s the same. I definitely think that when any kind of group setting is organic, or you guys are found together and you create the sound together, and you create a family, a marriage between each other, at that point its undeniable that you’re going to do well. But when its forced and its disingenuous, then at that point I think it’s not gonna work.
Q. I can understand that because if you [don’t] know each other first, you don’t even know if you’re going to get along together.
KAYA: Exactly. And then you have girls that were already in the group because they were part of the dance portion of the group. That’s the thing. By no means was it unpleasant, because all of the girls are talented, but I’m sure for all of us speaking, I’m sure that all of us can say it was a bit strange, you know, become best friends over night and try to work together, and you each have your own thing, your own ego, and your own idea of what you think the group should be. So I think for me in that situation, I didn’t think it was the right situation for me…And it’s not going to look right. It’s going to feel odd. And ultimately, that’s what a lot of fans tell me, like “I didn’t know you could sing.” A lot of people didn’t know that half of us could sing, because we weren’t each individually known. It wasn’t designed that way. I definitely think that it’s better for me now as an artist to be able to kind of showcase what I want to say, and if people love it then they do, and if they don’t, well maybe next time. [Laughs].
Q. Okay so tell me about your record label. You started your own record label?
KAYA: Yeah, I think again, that probably stems from the whole Pussycat Doll experience, I mean … it also was very eye opening for me as an artist that I wanted to know everything that I didn’t understand, and signing to a development group with R. Kelly when I was very young, and then being homeless, and then signing a development deal to Capital, and that not being the right sound for me, because I took the deal for the wrong reasons, I was homeless and they were offering me a record deal and I wasn’t what they wanted, and I didn’t want to do what they wanted, it was punk rock music, so by the time I went to the [Pussycat] Dolls, again, I still didn’t know who I was. So it was important to find myself, and in the journey of finding myself musically, I also realized that there’s a lot of things in the business that I think a lot of artists…negate, we don’t want to know, or there’s so many people around us that take on roles, and we hand over our trust to. And it felt for me, when I wanted to develop myself as an artist, find out who I am, and create relationships with companies and businesses through my touring, and structure myself as an entity that could create other artists, because I had been developed and went through all of those things, and I know that process really well…It was clear that I wanted to be more involved. I’ve always been more like, “How did that artist come to that realization,” and “How did it happen?” My idols are Maya Angelou and Oprah, and Tyler Perry, and I just felt like I wanted to create something that was bigger than just about me being an artist. It was about the future artists of this world. So I kind of used my project as a blue print to structure the company and to prove not only to businesses or investors, this formula can work, that an independent artist with little or no money could actually gain some traction of getting your videos made on lesser budgets and really focusing on the meat of the work and not the hype. And that’s the thing is, a lot of artists, because they have huge companies behind them, they fuel with so much hype, but they’re not connected to their work and then finally in their third album they reveal “this is more me.” I felt like, that’s kind of wrong. I would love for artists to feel like this is them right out the gate, so that they are connected to who they are…So that’s kind of how the label started, I really want to focus on developing artists, which is something that doesn’t happen. The music industry has changed dramatically. So it is a good time for artists right now, and not really a good time for labels. That’s why the focus needs to be more about the artist, them growing, and creating their repertoire of work and also them as a company, not just “she’s a singer/songwriter, or he’s a great singer,” but them as a brand. And helping them…That’s the difference of my label. Is that they will eventually own themselves because being an artist and always struggling financially and not knowing what was going on with my money, it really led me to this place of “I want to know how artists can make money and how I can help them make money.” That’s kind of how it all started. And that’s where I am now.
Q. How important do you think image is in the music industry, as opposed to talent?
KAYA: It’s hard because I love fashion and I know that designers and artists kind of go hand in hand, because the designer can create something that will literally make an artist’s career. You can use Lady Gaga as a good example. She’s a great artist, but she’s also incredible with her choices of clothing. So the question is, if she had one and not the other, would she be as big? I believe she would. I believe that at the end and the root of it, it is about the great artist. Because that’s what’s longevity. It’s about an artist that can get up on stage and sing a song or dance and make you believe that you, as an audience member, can do anything. These artists are gonna inspire you and be your podium speakers for whatever you believe in, because a lot of people, that’s what fans are to a certain degree, they don’t feel like they have a voice in their community, so they become really hardcore fans of people that they think are speaking to them and speaking for them, and I do think it’s more about what their talent is. Unfortunately we live in a world that loves “how it looks.” We have huge talent that aren’t known because they don’t look – or they’re not designed the way that people want to see. And that’s actually kind of disgusting and it’s hurtful that if something doesn’t look the way you want it, or it’s not dressed the way you want it, that we prejudge it. It’s a shame, but it’s also part of the society and the way we’ve become as a society, that everything is fueled by how do you look, what you’re wearing, instead of “within.” What’s the beauty within? Because there’s a lot of beautiful people or well-dressed people that aren’t good people. I don’t know, I would rather…be an incredible person and a good artist, than it be about what I look like and what I’m wearing. Though I love wearing nice things, at the root of it, it’s all material. It doesn’t mean anything. And when everything’s said and done, it matters who you are as a human being, and what you leave on this earth, and if you affect people in a positive way or not. It’s a shame that we look at things and expect it to be one way, but I definitely think that the raw talent or ability or soul of a human being is way, way more important as an artist than anything you could wear. More people, more fans, really should say that they want more. And they can. They buy the album. They can say, “I want more. I want someone who’s gonna challenge me.” If we think about Bob Marley or John Lennon, it had nothing to do with what they were wearing. It had to do with what they were saying. And we’re so completely different now. Now it’s about “who you’re wearing” and how crazy can you get with what you’re wearing, instead of it being about the actual work. It’s a tough market right now, I would say.
Q. Who would you like to perform with, that you haven’t already?
KAYA: I would definitely say Kanye West or John Mayer or Ciara. I performed in New York with the [Pussycat] Dolls, this is when I was still with the group, and I happened to meet Kanye West, and at the time he had just done some stuff for Keisha Cole and …he wasn’t as huge as he is now. He’s so big now. But I was aware that he was going to be a force to be reckoned with, and of course I was like, “Oh my gosh you definitely need to do a song with the Dolls,” and he was so into it. He was like, “yeah we should do it.” And the people in the situation that I was in, within the group situation, did not agree with that idea. And so it never happened. So I would say now, now that I’m not tied with that anymore, and I do have a little bit more control, I would say that’s someone that I still respect as an artist, and he’s still fantastic. I love John Mayer’s voice. I think he has a beautiful voice. Bruno Mars has a great sound. And I love Ciara as well.
Q. What advice do you have to anyone that’s trying to break into the music business right now?
KAYA: My advice would be, I know it sounds so cliché, about not giving up on your dreams, but you can’t. It’s your dream and you have to make the dream come true. No one is going to make your dream come true. No one’s going to believe in you the way you believe in you. You’re never going to be the right exact thing that anyone wants. There’s always going to be someone who thinks you’re too fat, you’re too skinny, you’re too blond, too dark haired, your skin is too dark, your skin is too light, you could be better, you need to dance more. Nothing is ever “right.” And you just have to be aware that’s the business we’re in. Just because someone doesn’t get it, doesn’t mean that you’re not meant to do this. It just means they don’t get it. You cannot take it personal. You have to literally go “you don’t get it and that’s okay.” And you just have to keep at it.
The main thing is create a presence for yourself online. Gain your twitter friends. Tweet people that you admire. Start tweeting, start posting videos of you singing on YouTube. Start doing the things that you can do, those immediate things, and if you can sing for anyone at any point, whether it’s in a bar, it’s in a nightclub, it’s at parties for friends, it’s at weddings, wherever it is, you have to sing. You have to let people hear you, because the right person who will believe in you might be at any one of those places. So you just have to put yourself out there and realize that when you do that, you’re gonna get the bad criticism of people that don’t’ understand, but at the same time, that’s not what you’re doing it for. You’re doing it for the one person that will believe in you, or does see that you have this ability. And you kind of have to go from there. But you cannot give up. If you give up, you put yourself in the back of the line and there’s a million people in that line, and they’re waiting. Every moment that you say, “I can’t do it” and you take yourself out, you go right back, 10,000 people back. It really is about just sticking with the work. That would be my advice.
Official Site: KayaJones.com