Music as her ‘Safe Space’ – A chat with Kiana V during quarantine

We talked to rising Manila-based neo-soul and R&B artist Kiana V on her experiences performing overseas and on livestreams, her thoughts on being featured in 88rising’s Filipino focused label PARADISE RISING, and her future plans moving forward.

Kiana Valenciano has described her time in quarantine as an “up-and-down journey”, having enjoyed some downtime away from her busy schedule. In contrast, the Manila-based R&B songstress’ musical journey has been going upwards ever since making her smashing debut three years ago with her 2007 single ‘Does She Know’ with fellow Filipino rapper Curtismith.

The daughter of renowned Filipino singer Gary Valenciano, Kiana V has come into her own as an artist where she is currently gaining an ever-growing fanbase, millions of streams on music platforms, as well as winning ‘Best New Female Recording Artist’ at the Awit Awards in 2015.

The aforementioned single has topped charts in the Philippines, along with the following track ‘Misfits’, and lead her to being signed to Tarsier Records where she would continue to release her debut EP Grey in the following year which earned her a nomination for ‘Best Performance by a Female Artist’ with hit single ‘Caught U’ at the Awit Awards in 2019.

2019 saw the release of her debut album See Me, ten self-written songs that featured live instruments and collaborations with some current and prolific Filipino artists including Curtismith, KINGwAw, Moophs and Sofia. The album gave birth to some her most well-known tracks including the titular track ‘See Me’, ‘5:30’, ‘Soldier’ and ’33Firefly’.

Of course, there is nowhere to go but up for the soulful singer as 2020 is her biggest year yet which has given her rise in international fame. In January, she collaborated with Australian producer and hip-hop artist Billy Davis for ‘No Rush’, becoming featured in multiple playlists in Spotify and Apple Music, allowing her to gain a bigger audience on a global scale.

April saw the release of ‘Corners’, followed by ‘Ambrosia’ an absolute banger in which she teamed up with Cambodian-American singer SATICA and producer AOBeats.

In July, she was signed and featured on 88rising’s new label PARADISE RISING, which aims to focus on Filipino artists worth paying attention to. Her latest track, ‘Safe Space’, is featured on the label’s debut compilation EP semilucent.

Check out our interview below with Kiana to see what shes’s been up to.

AL365: Hello Kiana, how has lockdown been treating you?

Kiana V: Quarantine has been an up-and-down journey. Some days are really good, some days I just wanna stay in bed which I’m sure everyone’s been going through. But it’s also been a really good time to just sit back and reflect. I don’t think I’ve had this much free time in my life. It’s just been a good time realign myself, what exactly what I wanna do and how I wanna do it, what I wanna achieve, etc.

AL365: Despite the lockdown, 2020 has been no small year for you. You’ve had quite a few releases this year including ‘Ambrosia’, ‘No Rush’, ‘Corners’ as well as being featured in the debut compilation EP of 88rising’s new Filipino talent-focused label PARADISE RISING.

Does all of your lyrical content come from personal experiences? For example, in ‘Ambrosia’, which is my favorite, you described the person you desire as food for the gods. How did that come about?

Kiana: I wrote that song with SATICA, who is such an amazing artist and a great singer. The way that she approached songwriting was so different for me because I do tend to base most of my lyrics on personal experiences but what this one SATICA is more experimental. I would say the direction of this song really came from her, and I had such a great time in the studio writing with her.

It’s funny that this whole ‘food for the gods’ thing came up because the way we were thinking was more like WE are the food for the gods, not the person we desire. It was more us, we wanted to own our femininity and empower other women through the song.

AL365: So with all these new songs, is it possible we may be getting a new full-length album soon?

Kiana: I was hoping to get started on an album, but because of the current state of everything, I’m not really able to get in the studio as much as I wanted to. I kinda have a clear vision of where I wanna take this album. Right now, I’m working on a two-part EP. I don’t really have much to say about it yet because we just started working on it earlier this month but I am really excited about it. I’m working with a couple of guys that I’ve been friends with for a full year now, it hasn’t been that long, but we do have that chemistry in the studio. It’s interesting to see how it translates into a Zoom call… (laughs)

AL365: Who would you say are your main influences?

Kiana: I listen to a lot of R&B, soul, and pop. Growing up I listened to a lot Christina Aguilera, Aaliyah, Brandy as well as artists like Al Jarreau because of my dad. I guess that’s how I learned to sing as I would listen to these artists and try to copy their singing style. From the Philippines, I’ve always looked up to Regine Velasquez because her voice, OH MY GOD! That voice! I used to cry because I felt bad that I didn’t have that voice! My parents would have to tell me ‘You’re still growing, you don’t know what you’re gonna sound like when you’re older!” The Philippines loves their bands, so I would also listen to Rivermaya, Urbandub.

AL365: As previously mentioned, you’ve been signed to 88rising’s new label PARADISE RISING. How does it feel to be a part of them and what do you hope they can bring to the table for the music industry in the Philippines?

Kiana: I think when people think about the Philippines, they think about a lot of singers who can do a lot of covers of songs really well. They forget that a lot of those singers write songs and there are a lot of artists that haven’t been heard that are just waiting for their chance. With PARADISE RISING, they’re finally gonna be given that chance. That’s what we’ve all been hoping and waiting for, and I’m glad it’s finally happening.

AL365: Adding to that, congratulations on being featured in their debut EP, semilucent. You’ve got a song in there called ‘Safe Place’ as the closing track, which seems to deal with leaving things left unsaid. What is the story behind that?

Kiana: You know when after a breakup, it’s easy to look the other way and pretend things didn’t happen when you’re out with your friends, or surrounded by other people, or basically when you’re distracted. But when things start to quiet down, you’re confronted with all those “what if’s?” like “what could I have done”, “what could YOU have done”. It’s being in that moment where you really think about how things could have been different.

AL365: You’ve also very recently released instrumentals, which is a compilation of your songs but stripped back without any vocals. Your songs are great but to focus on the compositions and beats were really nice? What was the thought process behind the release?

Kiana: Because of the pandemic, I was thinking, ‘I can’t get into the studio so it seems it’s going to be a while before I release any new music, how do we keep my listeners engaged and keep them entertained while they are at home?’ I was in the middle of one of my Instagram Live sessions, and people were requesting me to sing all these songs. So I was looking up all these instrumentals on YouTube and just singing for them. Then I thought, ‘Wait I don’t have any of MY instrumentals on YouTube for anyone that wanna do this with my songs!’  I suggested to my label, Tarsier Records, to give them a chance to enjoy some karaoke at home with my songs. They were on board because it was a fun idea.

AL365: There is also your ‘Live From Home’ livestream. How did it feel to perform to a virtual audience where nobody is there in person?

Kiana: It’s a very different experience, that goes without saying. I think it’s just a different means to connect with my followers and fans. If I were performing in front of them, face-to-face, we probably wouldn’t be having conversations and act like friends. Because a lot of the shows I’m doing are done online, I’m able to answer more questions and say hi more often instead of going through with the show. It has its challenges because usually when you are performing to a crowd, you can feed off their energy. You’re not really able to do that in front of a camera. With everything, there are ups and downs, and this is one of those things we’re all learning to adapt but it is still pretty fun.

https://www.facebook.com/tarsierrecords/videos/2419291228366207/

AL365: What has been your favorite live performance?

Kiana: I have two. One of my favorites was my very first one which I did in April. I did an Instagram live show. Before that, I was very quiet on social media, trying to absorb everything that was going on. I decided to go online and put up a show on Instagram. I wasn’t expecting people to come but they showed up and stayed! It was a great experience to connect that way.

My other favorite was my last one because we actually set up the apartment of my cousin to look colorful. We brought up all our plants, we had colored lights and everything. The whole process of getting it done was so much fun.

AL365: You were also booked for SXSW (South by Southwest) in Austin, Texas this year which sadly got cancelled due to the COVID-19 situation.

Kiana: We had already worked on the live set, so I was excited to start rehearsals. We booked the studio a couple of weekends before we had to leave. We were all getting really excited, I flew there really early because of SXSW and other recording opportunities and shows. But then, one by one, these things were getting cancelled! We were really excited for SXSW because I heard so much and read about it. My friends from there have actually experienced going there and have told me how much fun it is and how great the energy is. We were really looking forward to it and then it was cancelled a week or two before. That was pretty heartbreaking, but there must be a reason.

AL365: Everything happens for a reason. Despite the coronavirus continuing to take over our lives, what do you have in store for the future?

Kiana: I’m excited for the new music that I’m gonna be releasing soon, and other than that, all the live shows. I’m also excited to head home, to be with my family and friends if it’s safe (laughs). I’m in L.A. right now.

AL365: Is performing overseas different from performing back at home? Has it been a different experience for you?

Kiana: Definitely. When I’m performing in Manila, it is such a small city that usually everyone knows each other. I usually spot five or more people I know in the crowd every time I perform a gig there. When I perform here, I don’t know anyone and nobody knows me. It’s pretty liberating because I’m not as shy. I tend to get shy on stage, but when I’m here, knowing that nobody knows me, I have more freedom to experiment on stage.

AL365: Who would you like to collaborate and work with in the future?

Kiana: Oh my god, there’s so many! There’s a producer who goes by the name of Full Crate that I would love to work with. There’s also another producer named Sad Money. I’d also love to work with singer UMI. It’s also a big dream of mine to be in the same studio as Jhené Aiko, not even to like perform with her because I feel like I’m not worthy (laughs). I’d love to shadow her for a day, and learn from her because she is my queen. I love her so much.

AL365: Any plans to visit Asia?

Kiana V: I really wanna travel around Asia because I haven’t been able to do that. To be able to perform would be such an honor too. It is a crazy time, and things are changing by the minute so I don’t think we have any set plans yet.

AL365: So with all this free time now, what do you want to do now?

Kiana V: I’ve been doing a lot of reading. I’ve also been learning how to keep myself disciplined! Imagine that! I never really used to follow a schedule because when you’re in this industry there isn’t one to follow unless you’re involved in a recurring show or shoot schedule. With everything going on right now, I’m able to schedule my days. I read in the morning, I work out by going out for a walk. I wake up at 7 in the morning now, back then I used to crawl into bed at 4 in the morning.

AL365: Any words you’d like to say to your fans in Asia?

Kiana V: I just want to say thank you to everyone that’s been listening to my music, and everyone that has been streaming ‘Safe Place’ and semilucent. I hope you guys continue to do so, and stay safe!

AL365: Thank you so much for taking the time to answer our questions and once again congratulations on your success!

For more Kiana V, be sure to follow her on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

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