story / Jessica Rounds
Sassy. Sexy. And smart. LA-based singer/songwriter Kassia Conway, or Conway, wanted to make music she could dance to. That decision led her to debuting her elctro-charged EP “Big Talk” last February, a big difference from the indie rock band she had been previously fronting. “Big Talk” features punky beats spiked with a fine mix of seductive and sarcastic lyrics. Warning: whether watching her energetic live performance or turning your stereo to full-volume, you may involuntarily start head bobbing (and hip thrusting). It happened to just about everyone at her show at The Fonda Theatre in LA.
LADYGUNN sat down with Conway to find out what the feisty artist had to say about creating music, loving fans, and the occasional industry asshole in between:
You just finished being on tour. How was that?
I don’t know if you have ever been on stage and seen close to 800 eyeballs staring at you…it’s an exciting challenge! Getting in front of new people and having new experiences is the best. The Fonda was definitely a decent LA goal I had. Overall, we got a lot of really positive responses.
Did the reception differ city to city? If so, which was your favorite?
Portland was my favorite. LA people are a little more reserved and jaded- they’ve seen a million bands and you kind of have to prove them wrong. But in Portland, they wanted to embrace the music. There was one girl who wanted me to sign her hat because we ran out of EP’s and I told her it was a nice hat and she might regret it later but she insisted (laughs). Women of all ages were coming up to me and saying how powerful it was – and how happy they were to see something different than the super sexual/take your clothes off pop artist.
After seeing your show, I can see why they would say that. Even though you are obviously a total babe, there is female strength and energy that resonates through your music. Do you feel that way?
Yeah – I am not going to get out of that because I happen to be a woman (laughs). I’m not necessarily championing some giant feminist agenda but I do feel really strongly that women deserve a voice – whichever voice they choose to take. I think most often the one that the media wants to personify and market is the one that is very convenient for men, such as sexual objectification, focusing on beauty, etc. Whereas, if I do anything, I’d like to at least have the room to be myself, which is far more complex than that.
At the same time, you don’t seem to take yourself too seriously…
My sense of humor has been my saving grace. You’ll notice that my lyrics are sarcastic and flippant – whether I’m talking about something I’m mad at or happy about. I like to have a sense of humor because as long as you have a humorous, healthy perspective, you can move and grow more easily. Also, it’s just a bad look – life is serious. I don’t need to be any more serious – there’s plenty of serious shit!
Give me a brief history of Conway and how you got your start.
I came here from Brooklyn. I was a base player of a bunch of indie rock bands there. I never had any vocal coaching or anything but just had a good ear. I learned to sing and play bass because I can tell when something is off. When I met my best friend Amy (Conway’s drummer), she was the first person who believed in me. I eventually moved out to LA and we did a couple of records with our old band, playing around all the clubs in LA. We started meeting everyone that you do, whether good or bad, A&R, labels, radio leaches, assholes, music lovers, fuckfaces, whoever… at a certain point a few years ago, I loved the music we were making but I wanted to make music that I could dance to because I listen to music that I dance to all the time. I felt my own music was too heavy at the time, and was more interested in figuring out a way to still be myself as a musician and dance and feel good.
Eventually, I found a small group of people with whom I wrote the majority of songs on my current EP. I left the base playing to someone else so I can sing and move…it’s opening a giant window to your heart and also to your bedroom dancing skills. You know everyone thinks they’re an awesome dancer at home by themselves and then passes a mirror and thinks, “fuck ya!” but now I get to do that in public! It’s awesome, super freeing – and it really works as far as connecting with people. When they start dancing and it’s uncontrollable…that’s what I love.
What is your songwriting process?
I am super collaborative with the music part, but never with the melodies or the lyrics because the words have to come from me. I am a writer – I have a million little notebooks flying around – there is shit written everywhere. When I go to write a song, a lot of times I will look back at what I’ve written, and find some words that correspond to how I’m feeling that day and I’ll put them together in the studio, weave a story, and often a stream of consciousness will come out with the added in-the-moment feeling of what I’m hearing.
Every once in a while, it just hits me – like with “Killer.” I came in with a trashy beat. Billy put a baseline on it and I thought, “oh my god” and got a microphone and in one shot recorded all the lyrics. Sometimes you get those great ones and just have to open the door to let it in.
What has inspired some of your songs – like “Take me back”?
I recorded that vocal in my friend’s basement. Beforehand, I was driving around the city aimlessly, totally in my head trying to figure out what I was doing with my life. As an artist, sometimes you feel amazing and then you question it all. It’s just a repetitive experience. It’s as if when something good happens you go, “Oh fuck. Is this all just my imagination? Because I don’t have a backup plan.” So even though this song sounds like a love song, it’s actually a plea from myself to myself to not give up.
Do you harness that same emotion each time you perform it live?
I do. I always start to shake a bit by the end. I think that’s why I left it out of the set on some of my bigger shows…
On the other end of the spectrum, there’s “Big Talk”, a sassy, higher-octane song.
“Big Talk” was kind of about LA, the music business, just in general being at a party and thinking how if I have to hear one more person tell me what they fucking do for a living and who they know, I’m going to tear my hair out. So I wrote a trashy melody and then slowed it way down so it was more of a conversation instead of me just getting mad. The chorus “we get high” is a big sarcastic comment on how most people think musicians just party all time…the truth is, I work 24/7.
What is your favorite song to perform?
“Hustler”, for sure, with a close second of a song called “I’m in love” which is not on the EP. For Hustler, I get to really fucking dump it out – all of it – it’s visceral and I’ve been dying to have a song like that for a long time. I finally figured it out. (Laughs)