I first heard Kina Grannis in 2005 while browsing through YouTube's list of suggested videos. Back then what intrigued me most, apart from her nascent talent, was the warmth and authenticity with which she addressed her viewers and her music. She would personally respond to fan mail in her videos and animate some of her songs with stick figure drawings and sticky notes.
With nearly 900,000 subscribers and 150 million views, a guest appearance on TheEllen DeGeneres Show, several albums, and her own record label under her belt, it's refreshing to witness Kina become more of who she is as an artist and less of what the music industry giants want her to be—a rare feat in an increasingly competitive industry.
I had a chance to interview Kina on what it means to be an artist of the Internet age, how her music has evolved, and why she turned down a major record label offer. Her newest album, Elements, coming out May 6 is currently available for pre-order. While tickets to her national tour are sold out, fans in Virginia might be lucky enough to catch a show.
How did you come upon choosing Elements as the title of your newest album?
I was looking over the songs titles one day . . . "The Fire," "Dear River," "Write It In The Sky," and so on, and the word "elements" came to mind. The more I thought about it, the more the word resonated with me. Nature and literal elements aside (which I'm already very tied to and inspired by), the idea of the basic elements of life really struck me. To me that's what this album is all about. Family, love, loss, beginnings and endings, past and future.
Pardon the pun, but what are some elements of this album that set it apart from your past work? Where do you feel you've matured as an artist?
A lot of life has happened since the last album, and I've grown and learned a lot about myself and what's important to me. I think because of that my songwriting has matured a bit. I forced myself to confront topics I would have shied away from in the past. Musically, I've learned so much since the last album as well and wanted to make a point to do a lot more experimenting sonically this time around.
You are a multi-instrumentalist. How did you get involved in playing instruments?
I've been drawn to music since I was a little kid. My first instrument was piano, which I started playing at a young age, mostly composing short little songs. From fourth through tenth grade I played violin, but that came to an end when I started teaching myself guitar in high school. Since then I've dabbled on the ukulele. My favorite instrument to play is guitar because I'm the most comfortable on it, but I really wish I played piano better!
You turned down the opportunity to sign with a major record label. What influenced your decision?
It came down to wanting to maintain creative control. I had already written an album that was super meaningful to me, and if I had signed, they wanted me to co-write a new album. Music has always been really personal to me, something that I do alone and for myself, and I didn't want to give that up or have to sacrifice being able to make the exact kind of music I want to.
Artists of the Internet age face a unique set of career successes, foibles, and failures. Kim Boekbinder described it thus on medium.com:
You can have a million YouTube views and still be broke. You can have a million streams on internet radio and still be filing bankruptcy. Or you could have no views and no streams and still have the ability to pay rent and make more art. We get lost these days in talking about likes and clicks and views, which are all very gratifying, but have little to no impact on how we live or create more art."
How do you relate to this statement?
It's a very true sentiment. For artists like me that kind of live in this digital world, it is very easy to get caught up in likes, clicks, and views, and to feel as though that is what determines your worth. I think at the end of the day we have to step back and remember why we're doing this—to make great art, and not be too swayed by the numbers.
What are some of your plans as you continue to grow and succeed in the music industry?
I'm fortunate to have a really solid team of people around me who look out for me and have my best interest at heart, so I think we'll just take each new step as it comes.
Keen on more Kina? Preview one of her latest creations, "The Fire," here.