By Christina Rimmer
It seemed to happen overnight. One summer day, 19-year-old singer-songwriter Kirby Kaiser was uploading her songs to SoundCloud, and in a matter of R.E.M. cycles the blogosphere exploded with tweets, Facebook status updates, and blog posts raving about the native Chicagoan’s retro, pop-infused melodies.
In an era of Rebecca Black and Britney-Spears-Gone-Dubstep, it’s rare to find a sound so grounded in the roots of soul, jazz, and doo-wop, especially from a teenage girl. Kirby’s sonic stylings are uniquely vintage but also possess the dreamy reverb and synth lines of more modern buzz bands like Best Coast and the Cults. As a result, her sound appeals to everyone from hip-hop die-hards to indie rock fans, to nostalgic soul-enthusiasts alike.
Kirby Kaiser’s self-titled EP, a sweet sonic treat with five tracks, was just released on September 28th with GroopEase. Prior to that she released a music video for her hit single “There’s a Boy,” and she has two upcoming shows in Chicago, one at the end of October at Reggie’s Rock Club.
On top of that, she’s currently balancing a full course load at the University of Illinois.
UR Chicago sits down with the young songstress in her Boystown ‘hood.
Christina Rimmer: So, you grew up in Chicago and went to Lincoln Park High School for music and now you attend University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. How have these experiences shaped you as a musician?
Kirby Kaiser: I think the biggest influence growing up in Chicago has had on my music is the fact that I have been able to surround myself with super interesting and creative people who inspire me. At LP (Lincoln Park High School) I was in the singing program, so I got to learn some music theory and that has served me really well. Going to U of I, I met the guys who I recorded my music with, Ill Records, so this experience has allowed me to go beyond my original Garageband recordings.
CR: How long have you been writing songs?
KK: I have been writing songs for about two and a half years… pretty much since I had my first heartbreak. I know it sounds super cheesy, but I was super upset about a guy and I’d been listening to a ton of Fiona Apple, whose lyrics really spoke to me. One day I just realized that I should start writing music that helped me say all the things I was feeling but couldn’t say to this boy’s face, so I sat down at the piano and just started singing and writing.
CR: Why doo-wop? For being only 19 years old, your sound seems almost nostalgic of a time way before yours.
KK: It’s kind of hard to describe why I’m so into it — I guess what I love about it is how happy and catchy the music is while it still remains beautiful and soulful. I have been super obsessed with 50s and 60s era pop for about a year and a half now, and I listen to it pretty much exclusively. I’ve always really wanted to make music that I would listen to if it weren’t by me, so I just started writing songs reminiscent of all the old music I listen to.
CR: What other artists have inspired you sonically?
KK: My music is heavily influenced by Dusty Springfield, The Ronettes, The Crystals, The Shangri-Las, Lesley Gore, Sam Cooke, The Beach Boys, Amy Winehouse, and Fiona Apple. I’m really into anything that used Phil Spector’s “Wall of Sound” production.
CR: Favorite album of yesteryear?
KK: Hmmm… this is a pretty tough question. I would say it’s a tie between Dusty Springfield’s album Stay Awhile/I Only Wanna Be With You and the Ronettes’ album Presenting the Fabulous Ronettes Featuring Veronica.
CR: What do you think has made the worst impact on the music industry?
KK: I have some very strong opinions on this, hahaha. Almost no one agrees with my viewpoint, but I just feel like music on the radio has absolutely no soul, and also everything is super processed and computerized, auto-tuned and overdubbed, even people’s voices. It all sounds the same to me. There are definitely still a lot of artists making great music though… it’s just harder to find.
CR: Your hit single off your first EP is "There's a Boy." What can we expect from the rest of the songs on the EP?
KK: Definitely a lot of harmonizing and lyrics that are slightly more personal to me. My favorite song off the EP is definitely “Stay With Me.” I’m also covering a doo-wop song called “You Cheated, You Lied” that’s been done by the Shields and the Shangri-Las.
CR: Favorite Twitter account?
KK:That’s actually a tough question… probably Lady (@ThisIsLADY) because she writes these crazy, super profane songs but then she says all these wise things on her Twitter, so it really intrigues me. She has a mixtape coming out September 15th which I’m pretty excited for.
CR: Favorite spot in Chicago?
KK: Probably the Melrose Diner. It’s right down the street from me and it’s open twenty-four hours so I’m always there.
CR: Last meal on death row?
KK: Don’t judge me… but a McDonald’s Filet-O-Fish.
CR: A city girl who likes soul and fish sandwiches – we can’t argue with that.
You can catch Kirby October 22nd with Mutts and Hot Ashes at Reggie’s Rock Club.