When Kirklandd announces a new project, the word “C-R-E-A-T-I-V-E” automatically appears in my mind, even without seeing or hearing the details first.
The 25yo hip hop artist from Canberra has proven many times throughout his career that there is a clear vision and purpose behind everything he does. And it has been recently acknowledged, multiple times, by the music industry Down Under.
Part 12 OF “AM I EVER GONNA SEE YOUR FACE AGAIN?” A RANDOM COLLECTION OF UNKNOWINGLY OBVIOUS FACTS ABOUT THE AUSTRALIAN MUSIC SCENE
Only in the last 12 months he’s received the “Music Video of the Year” award for Rise at the Canberra Short Film Festival, played his third headline tour and numerous other shows around Australia, been one of Triple J’s feature artists of the week, performed at the Groovin The Moo (GTM) festival in Canberra, received a shout-out from his music idol, Lupe Fiasco, and released an already acclaimed single Impulse. He’s also scheduled to appear at Spilt Milk festival in Canberra and other projects in the second half of 2019, with new music being in the works as we speak.
That’s a lot of well deserved good vibes in a relatively short time. So, I sat down with Kirklandd in his hometown to ask about his journey into the world of hip hop.
RISE – THE LYRICS
Rise, with a catchy, melodic chorus and epic music video, wasn’t Kirklandd’s first release. But it was definitely the one that put him on the hip hop industry’s radar in Australia. And the road to it took many interesting turns.
Firstly, because Kirklandd doesn’t come from a musical family, strictly speaking.
When he was young, his parents listened to music at home but they didn’t play any instruments. The family members have always been creative in some ways, though. Thanks to his Mom, he knew Aretha Franklin’s name very early on. His elder cousins completed the music education by introducing him to hip hop and Kirklandd’s biggest influence to date, Lupe Fiasco.
Around the same time, in high school, he got into creative writing. His first song was “something dumb and self-acclaimed”, as he puts it with a sense of humour. What was it about? “You know… True hip hop, bringing it back to the 90s and how I’m going to be the best”, he laughs. He still has the page with the full lyrics somewhere at home.
The very first time he “performed”, quite spontaneously, was during his travels in Europe. A Norwegian guy “who changed his perspective on life a little” asked him to rap. And it just happened.
Back home Down Under he started doing mix tapes. Then, he moved on to making original music as well. He had written four albums by the time he was 16 but never recorded them. He just had the need to write the songs and rap them to himself, that’s it. Nobody’s ever heard any of those early tunes. Would he ever record them? “Fuck no. Like Ed Sheeran says, you’ve got to invest your 10,000 hours writing shit songs to write good ones. I’m better now that I’ve put them in”, he jokes. Soon enough he realized that he was spending a lot of time doing that. And he actually enjoyed the process.
There were about 30 tracks before Rise, created at home. At the end of 2014 he was ready to put out his first song over a Mac Miller instrumental, for the track Taking It Back, which is still available on SoundCloud today. After the release “people were surprised that I could do it, or that I even had a passion for music”, he says.
He has now been writing his own lyrics and composing music for over a decade, perfecting the craft with every new tune. He takes his lyrics seriously; it took almost a year to finish Rise, “one of my favourite songs I’ve written”, he admits.
His tunes are mostly inspired by conversations with people. “We’re all navigating life in our own ways”, says Kirklandd. “There are some big questions out there that need answering. My concern is that my generation doesn’t have the time to really prioritise those questions and explore the person they’re becoming; there are clear societal milestones that are rewarded and can give you a false sense of growth, at least in my experience. If you’re not achieving these, you’re not succeeding, and there can be very little self-growth in the process. That terrifies me’, he adds.
FADED – THE ACTIVISM
Aside from writing songs, recording music and performing, the young musician uses his music in other ways.
When I first heard of the name “Kirklandd” in 2017, he contacted Oxfam, where I was working at the time, with the hopes of branding his Faded tour under the OXJAM campaign. “I really wanted to give back to the world and shed light on the things that they were doing at the time”, he explains.
In November and December 2017, he played three successful shows in Canberra, Melbourne and Sydney, raising money for the OXJAM cause at the same time.
The following year he started collaborating with Global Citizen, becoming the first Australian Music Ambassador for the organization that aims to end extreme poverty by 2030. “I don’t want to get political, I just want to be a bridge between music fans and the work these organisations are achieving on a global scale. With Global Citizen, it’s genuinely a very effective model of encouraging people to engage directly in global issues, and I love encouraging people to become a part of their movement”.
He was invited to perform at the official Louder Together movie screening in Sydney’s Powerhouse in February. He has been collaborating with Global Citizen’s Australian branch ever since, sharing their campaigns with his fans and encouraging them to take action on issues they care about.
His activism is also reflected in the messages he packs in his lyrics. He recalls that some of the hip hop artists he listened to as a young kid were promoting materialistic topics: girls, money, cars. He says, “It’s concerning that that’s what spoke to me at the time. But when you’re young, you don’t have the hindsight or perspective to know the effect this music has. It doesn’t necessarily make you aligned with the views of these artists, but it can certainly have an effect on your outlook”. Luckily, in his opinion, that trend is slowly changing in hip hop. Up-and-coming artists are starting to explore new topics, like mental health and anxiety, to encourage a different conversation. He reckons that this is what music is for: it should challenge and inspire you.
But that’s not all. He recently lost a friend. After having chats with more people dealing with varying levels of experience in mental health, he got more interested in the mental health topic. His next release will talk about it, too. “It’s about using the platform when you can to communicate the kind of issues that are not spoken about enough. There’s heaps to talk about. And mental health strikes a chord with me. I simply want to be a part of encouraging this conversation.”
Asked if he’s not afraid to pour his emotions into music, he states, “As long as it’s done tastefully and accurately about who I am, and not in an imposing way – no.” He doesn’t think it’s about the need to get some feelings out or merely making people hear them. It’s more about, “Do people need to hear this? Is this going to help people? Are they going to resonate with it?”
IMPULSE – THE CREATIVE PROCESS
Impulse might be his most innovative project so far.
He was inspired to write the tune by the African sounds created by bongos in Black Panther. That’s how the song ideas usually come to him – literally from anywhere: a melody recorded somewhere, a reaction to a particular sound.
Impulse is a song about love. It depicts that feeling with the female perspective as well (with Zellow’s chorus). It was important to try to capture that song from both sides accurately because “balance is important”. Impulse is about “really wanting this thing that you shouldn’t have. Like acting on an impulse and going back to an old relationship… how it feels momentarily… it’s like a pained attraction.”
His creativity comes naturally but sometimes is slightly enhanced. He exercises a lot, meditates, and takes good care of himself. “As an artist, you have to go through a lot of self-nurturing, so that people can relate to what comes out of you – it has to be deeply authentic. It’s motivating to try and achieve that.”
From time to time he goes on spiritual journeys to “step outside of the process and get some clarity”. The last big trip he did was to India where the idea of pulsating lights used in the Impulse video was born, in the middle of a ceremony on the Ganges river. That’s why the clip wasn’t as hard to shoot as he’d assumed – he just had a clear vision of what he wanted to achieve from the start. There were 12 takes of the song first and the 13th is the actual video.
Unsurprisingly, he has a background playing instruments, that started with the cello. (“It helps with songwriting”.) He generally thinks incorporating other instruments, rarely used in hip-hop (like the sax, piano or strings), is pretty cool. He recently tracked a live gospel choir for some of his album material. Bringing all those elements to his music is meant to enrich it and make it more accessible for people outside of hip hop. “I don’t just listen to rap at all at home. That’s the idea, to marry the genres”, he says. What does he listen to then? Contemporary pop, electronic or classical music.
He loves the energy in hip hop music, though. “When shit gets hard, I constantly want to go back to that beautiful energy of the 90s and dive into that era”, he adds.
Kirklandd particularly values collaborations with other artists, crossing with other genres. He believes that rock and pop are no longer at the forefront of innovation in music. “It’s hip hop that’s pushing the boundaries sonically, musically, and in other ways because it is diverse, innovative. It’s fun to push those boundaries in a way that people don’t think you’re a sellout, or going fully pop”, he points out.
He feels proud of being a part of the music scene in Canberra. According to him, it all stems from Citizen Kay who taught and mentored him on everything from recording through production to songwriting. “He told me to make my own songs, original music. He’s proudly doing everything for Canberra, he hasn’t left and moved on to Sydney or Melbourne.”
Apart from Citizen Kay, he also mentions that other Canberran artists, like SAFIA and Genesis Owusu, still live in the nation’s capital. “We go to each other’s shows… We’re very transparent if anybody needs any help. It’s just not competitive in the sense that we’re stepping on each other’s toes; we’re competitive in the sense that we want to make the best music. It’s just very mutually supportive.”
Other creative projects he’s done over the years include Fashfest. He collaborated with them two years in a row. The first time it was the biggest thing they’d ever done with 1,100 people in the audience. The second time it was on the back of the Faded tour which was much more fun because he already knew the environment and the set-up.
The second time he also decided to take it to the next level. He thought to himself, “Okay, I’ve got this new song, it’s pure hype. We’re not gonna do a 20-minute set, we’re gonna just do one song for 2.5 minutes and knock everyone’s heads over.” And that’s exactly what happened. Kirklandd walked out on stage wearing black mascara, “hype as shit”, with seven of his crew wearing black masks on the catwalk, with crazy lights, and he only performed Faded. “I’m sure everyone there was like: >What the fuck was that?< And that’s what I wanted.” Because impact and perception of a song matter, according to Kirklandd.
His lyrics’ writing process has evolved significantly in time. He’s slowly perfecting the craft of communicating the message he wants to stress more efficiently. He lets people into his creative world, too – he started having conversations with peers about his ideas, song arrangements, structure and melody. That way he can get valuable feedback faster. “It’s getting more collaborative now”, he says. Recently he had a very productive session on melodic songwriting with Dylan Joel.
Creatively he doesn’t tend to think beyond one release – there is always so much to do: photos, video, tour to follow, shows, opportunities he gets, timing everything around it. “I have to be on top of that. Everything you see I do myself.” That’s why he can’t spend as much time as he’d like writing songs, but it’s definitely his ultimate goal.
Musically he thinks long-term but concentrates on one thing at a time. “Part of the longevity is not too look too far ahead, otherwise your goals can become intimidating.”
‘********’ – THE NEXT BIG THING
Apart from the already mentioned collaborations with Citizen Kay and Genesis Owusu (whom he considers the next big act to watch), he’s supported Boo Seeka, Seth Sentry, Ivan Ooze and Arno Faraji on their respective tours.
Asked about the biggest thing he’s done to date, he doesn’t even blink when he says, “The Impulse headline show.” Why? Because of the cool concept with animated projections, lighting set-up, having his drummer Josh there and doing ridiculously cool things live. “I was in the middle of the vision that I created and it was working, which was really cool”, he recalls. Since then he’s noticed that people have started responding to his music more and more, as if the energy had shifted somehow since that headline show. “I can’t figure out what it is that’s done that but I’m having the most fun I ever had performing”, he says. Someone even rapped the whole second verse of Faded in Sydney.
The plans for the near future are to release as much music as possible. New collaborations and more opportunities are also on the horizon. “The next song is a banger”, he promises. He’s already announced an “orange/yellow project” coming up soon on his socials.
“I feel like I’m on this journey, like those around me, trying to figure out who I am, my purpose and what I really want to be doing. I think these questions can really stress you out if you let them… but while I’m facing them, I’m not going to sit around stressing about it, I’m going to enjoy the hell out of what I do, love the people around me, and celebrate the fact that I haven’t figured everything out yet. That’s what this next song focuses on, and the message I hope people take away from it. Until you start to address these questions and really get to know yourself, you don’t know nobody.”
And if having your stage name tattooed by a fan is any indication of having achieved that, then Kirklandd is definitely heading in the right direction.
Check out Kirklandd on socials:
You can also catch him at
sideway (Canberra, ACT)
on Friday, 23 August 2019
where he will reveal his next “orange/yellow” project.
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