Some young, unsigned singers might have found the prospect of doing a Canada Day gig in front of 30,000 Londoners intimidating. However, most young singers have not lived Kiesza's life. To say she's already had quite a journey is a bit of an understatement. Where do you start? With her present, where the Calgary native performed last summer in London, along with such high-profile Canuck luminaries as Sarah Harmer, Hawksley Workman and the Canadian Tenors at the Canada Day celebrations taking place in London's Trafalgar Square? Or Virgin Mobile music festival along with such acts as M.I.A and Ludacris? Or if that doesn't grab you, there's her latest quest, to break through in the hyper-competitive New York music scene from her east coast base as a scholarship student at the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston. There she has worked her school ties at a school filled with illustrious alumni (Aime Mann, John Mayer, Norah Jones, Diana Krall and Calgary's Dave Pierce) to catch the eyes (and ears) of some of the biggest names in the music industry.
Or, if all that strikes you as too American Idol for words, how about her stint, a half-decade back, as a 17-year-old girl who followed her big brother into the Canadian navy? Let's start there. "I'm very adventurous," Kiesza says from a studio in Boston, where she's taking a break from recording. "I was that kid who just wanted to try everything . . . and one day, my brother, who didn't know what he wanted to do . . . signed up for the navy. My mom encouraged him. "And I was just like, 'I want to sign up for the navy, too!" Kiesza's mom thought that boot camp would be good for her. It turned out that Kiesza also possessed certain talents that caught the eyes of the military brass. "I went to boot camp and ended up winning the top shot," she says, as matter-of-factly as a wannabe rock star might mention winning a singing competition. "I became a marksman," she adds. "Some people from the regular (armed) forces -- I think some people from the Highlanders in Calgary -- offered to link me up with the guy who trained the Canadian who shot the longest shot in history for sniper trainer. "But I was like, I don't think killing people appeals to me at all," she says. Rather than pursuing a military career as a sniper, she opted for navy code-breaking, because she had an affinity for Morse code.
Is this young woman the next G.I. Jane or the next big superstar? (And we haven't even got room to write about the time she entered the Miss Universe-Canada competition, or met the Queen. . . . ) Suffice to say, Kiesza's days as a young assassin-in-training petered out once she picked up a guitar. And that same day she picked up the instrument, she also wrote her first song. Two weeks later, it was played on the radio. A month later, she had her first demo tape. All of which sounds pretty breathtaking, but since moving east to study in Boston, Kiesza has discovered that there's a lot of grind behind every overnight success. "That's (her Calgary days) just a microcosm of the industry," she says. All of this comes at a time when she is in the middle of dramatically redefining her sound. She started out as a folk singer, but being exposed to the Berklee College music community and the New York scene has driven her toward a more uptempo sound. "I'm going a lot more commercial and upping the vibe, giving it more dance quality. So that's why we actually took the Paul McCartney track Dance Tonight and turned it into a dance track." "That was the largest audience I've played so far," she said of the London gig. "But it really excited me. "It's funny," she adds, "the bigger the crowd, the more at home I am on stage. There's something about the energy of a crowd that I just really feed off of." And besides, if the whole music thing doesn't work out, there's always work for a good sniper.