Kiesza Discusses 'Immense Tragedy' Preceding Second Album: 'I Had to Let Myself Heal'

Norman Wong
Kiesza

The "Hideaway" star discusses new single "Dearly Beloved," working with Stuart Price & how her second album will be an evolution

In August 2015, Alicia Lemke, better known as Alice and the Glass Lake and the best friend of pop singer-songwriter Kiesza, died following a battle with leukemia. At that point, Kiesza was still supporting her 2014 debut Sound of a Woman and its breakout single, “Hideaway”; any thoughts of forming a follow-up had to be set aside for the time being.

"Basically, she passed away as I was beginning to write my next album,” Kiesza, who met Lemke in college, tells Billboard, "and it was really a challenge to get back into writing again, through this immense tragedy and the weight of the grief I was feeling. That’s why it took me a little bit longer to get back, to get my music out. I didn’t want all my music to be sad. I had to let myself heal for a bit.”

Earlier this month, Kiesza returned with a new single that is by no means depressing but very much has Lemke’s spirit in mind. “Dearly Beloved,” a sun-streaked, clattering anthem, was recorded while Lemke’s father was visiting her in the studio and was recorded with Lemke’s white electric guitar that was gifted to her upon Alice’s death. Adam Agati, a professional guitarist and Lemke’s boyfriend, taught Kiesza how to play electric for her sophomore LP, due out later this year.

"She just never got to play it properly, in concert, the way she wanted to,” Kiesza says. “Adam asked if I could take it, and I said, ‘I’m going to play the hell out of it.’ … I wanted the music video to be simple, and I wanted the white guitar to be in it. I wanted to be rocking out.”

Thanks in part to “Hideaway,” which peaked at No. 51 on the Billboard Hot 100 following its 2014 release, Kiesza got to open for Demi Lovato’s 2015 tour and collaborate with artists like Duran Duran and Skrillex. For “Dearly Beloved,” the singer-songwriter worked with another huge pop personality: producer Stuart Price, best known for his work with Madonna, Kylie Minogue and The Killers.

"I met Stuart while I was in L.A., still touring for ‘Hideaway,’” she recalls. “I was explaining to David Massey, the president of my record label, some ideas I had for where I wanted my music to go, and he wanted to introduce me to a few people, and he had just had lunch with Stuart. Stuart really liked ‘Hideaway’ and wanted to meet me too. I stopped by his studio to meet him, and we just clicked.

"We got each other musically -- we both really like to fuse sounds and branch out,” she continues. "I felt like he was the right person to take all of the abstract ideas that I had in my head and put them together in the way that I saw them, that was still accessible commercially. We’ve written a few songs together, actually. This is just the beginning."

For Kiesza, the most reassuring aspect of the “Dearly Beloved” release has been the warm response from fans -- especially considering that the single does not abide by the '90s house playbook of “Hideaway” and her 2014 debut.

"I want to have more live musicians involved and playing more instruments myself, to make everything a little more flexible,” Kiesza says. "‘Hideaway’ itself was a lesson. I had been working to be a writer for a while, struggling to get people to take chances on my songs. I was having a tough time getting myself out there, and having a tough time surviving. ‘Hideaway’ was something I just made for myself, as a passion project, for my own sanity. At the time I was so into '90s house music, and the first song that I wrote that was from the heart, that was sincere and not trying to be successful whatsoever, was my first song that was successful!"

Although she’s forever grateful for that success, don’t expect the follow-up to Sound of a Woman to replicate its specific throwback feel. "I believe that trying to find a unique sound is really important, and I’m approaching my second album the same way,” she says. "It’s a different sound -- I’m an evolving artist, and I’m not just going to stick to '90s music for life. It’s a lot more eclectic now. I’m sticking to that original feeling of music from the heart, that’s risk-taking."

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