Kina Grannis enjoys being in the spotlight
BMS talks with the rising singer-songwriter ahead of her Boston show
You may not know her by name, but you’ve probably come across Kina Grannis at some point in the last few years.
After winning an online contest, Grannis had her music video played during the Super Bowl and was given a contract with a major label. But sticking to her guns, Grannis chose to remain independent so as to keep personal and creative control over her music. She gained national attention again, however, with the music video turned viral video sensation for her song “In Your Arms”, an enormous stop-motion video featuring almost 300,000 jelly beans. Since its release last November, the acclaimed music video has garnered over six million views on YouTube.
Now, Grannis is on the road, supporting her debut album Stairwells. We caught up with the singer-songwriter as she prepared for her show at the Paradise Rock Club in Boston om Friday.
Boston Music Spotlight (BMS): You’re big debut Stairwells came out in 2010, but even before that you were creating and releasing music independently, despite earning a record deal. What makes you continue to take the independent path?
Kina Grannis (KG): Well I guess for me it was that we had different visions, the label and I. I was briefly signed to a major label from this contest I was in and of course at the beginning it was very exciting. I had hoped that it might’ve worked out and very quickly I realized that it was not the right place for me at all. They kind of had visions to develop me and have me write with different songwriters and creating an album that way. I already had an album written that I was really excited about, that I wanted to share with everyone. I think the other thing too is that music is very personal for me, it’s something I do in the middle of the night by myself and just me working out my life. So the idea of sitting with strangers and crafting songs to make an album that someone else would approve – it wouldn’t match with why I do what I do. Thanks to the Internet, I felt confident in knowing that that there were some people that would support me. So I just kind of left and just sort of went on my own.
BMS: You’ve spoken before about how important it is to you to keep in contact with your fans. What makes that connection so special, and how do you try to keep it up when you’re constantly traveling and everything else?
KG: Well I think the thing that’s so important between me and all those supporters around the world is that, unlike people who are on labels and things like that, my fans and my supporters are really the only reason I’m able to do what I do. It’s not because someone with a lot of money put me on the radio or a major label got me in every outlet possible, every step has just been people finding the music and making a decision that they want to support this and they want to come along for the ride. So they’re very much like my online family and I owe everything to them, so it’s very important for me to keep that relationship going and let them know what’s happening all the time. It’s definitely harder to keep up when I’m on the road. I always feel bad about that because all I can think about is the shows and I’m not doing many other things with my day so it’s not very interesting as far as other content that I’m going to tweet or post. But I try definitely to find little pockets of my day where I can just answer a bunch of questions and make sure I’m really talking to people. So it’s not like I just disappear for months on end.
BMS: On Stairwells, is there any particular track that you feel best describes your sound or the direction you hope to go in the future musically?
KG: I think they all have a bit of it. I think moving forward, my music’s still going to be very much Kina but it might evolve slightly. As far as a song that maybe describes me personally – not musically the most, but personally – the song “Heart And Mind” is kind of about going through life being stuck in your head and being afraid to offer yourself because you’re afraid people might not think you’re good enough or smart enough or funny enough and realizing that it’s not really any way to be living. So it’s just me trying to remind myself these lessons, that I need to just me myself and be okay with that.
BMS: How did the “In Your Arms” jelly bean video come into existence and what it was like to put together?
KG: I was actually looking for someone to do a video for “Valentine” at the time, which was my first music video. Whenever I make a music video I like to use it as an excuse to do something really, really creative and unique and kind of hand-done. I make sure I expressed that to the directors I’m reaching out. One of the directors, one of my friends who actually is in the music video that played during the Super Bowl, he reached out and he was like “Hey let’s do a music video, but I was actually thinking about for your song ‘In You Arms,’” and I was like “Ok, well, what do you have in mind?” He had this idea of stop-motion animation using jelly beans, which I thought was incredible. So we just kind of got started and we had no timeline because I wasn’t planning on making a video for that song any time soon, so it was just like “Okay, let’s see what happens.” It was an interesting process because, being an independent artist, the budget it whatever I can front out of my pocket. So it was a very small budget, so everyone donated their time and we actually approached Jelly Belly to see if they could help and they actually donated all the of the jelly beans for the video which really helped out. We just kind of got started having no idea what we were getting ourselves into, who thought we were getting ourselves into 22 months of really intense work? But I think we’re all really passionate about it and really happy with how it came out in the end.
BMS: It’s been two years since the album first came out. Have you been doing any writing or recording on the road? When can fans expect to hear new music from you?
KG: I haven’t been writing on the road; I don’t really find that there’s time when I’m on the road. But between tours in the last two years I’ve had little moments here and there where I’ve been able to make a little time to be creative again. So I do have a couple things in the works. I haven’t started officially recording anything but I’m hoping this summer when I’m done touring, I’m really going to set aside some time to get back to the creative side and start songwriting again. Hopefully in the summer or early fall I’ll actually get to start recording the new album which I’m very, very excited about.
BMS: You’ve also released a lot of covers. How do you choose which songs you’d like to lend your voice to or put your own spin on?
KG: I guess there are a couple ways. Some of them are just my favorite songs by my favorite artists, and it’s just my way of paying homage to them. It’s like, I just love the song so much I have to do it, whether or not I do it right – I just love it so much. The other ones are kind of more like fun challenge for me. They’re the really mainstream songs that everyone knows. Those ones are fun because they’re more different than my sound, so it’s more of an exercise for me to try to memorize the song, internalize it, and then make it feel like it’s my own in a way. So those ones are fun to do too, but very different things.
BMS: Speaking of covers – can fans expect to hear any at your show in Boston? What else you do you have in store for this tour?
KG: I’ll probably play a cover or two, but I’m not sure which ones yet. I’ve been playing a new song also, so that’s something that’s been fun for this tour. I guess the other thing that makes this tour very different than my past ones is that I’ll be playing with my cellist and he also does so backup vocals. So instead of just me, there’s kind of like this new element to it, which really helps fill it out and it’s been really fun to play with him.
BMS: Is there anything else you’d like our readers to know?
KG: I’m just excited to be back there. Very, very excited.
Kina Grannis will perform at Paradise Rock Club in Boston on Friday, April 27. Tickets for the show are available through Ticketmaster for $15.