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Nashville's R&B-Country singer-songwriter is making love songs cool again. Maxim chats to Tiera about her unique sound, plans for new music and her obsession with the UK.
Hey Tiera, thanks so much for taking the time out today! You recently dropped the studio version of ‘Found It In You’, which followed the hugely popular demo version as part of your self-titled 2021 EP. What inspired you to roll out the single in this way, involving listeners in your creative process of moving from demo to studio release - and which version is your favourite?
I released the demo version a couple of years ago, during the pandemic, and when I put it out originally I was independent and had a really small team. I didn't really know what would happen with it, I just wanted to put some music out there. We put it out and it just took off. I started getting calls from labels, and I ended up signing with Valory Music Co at Big Machine, and ‘Found It In You’ made sense as the first single. It was the first song I wrote that was 100% me and embodied my sound, which I like to call R&B-Country. We went back in with a label budget and re-recorded it. The new version feels bigger, more vibe-y and something I would hear on the radio, so I’m excited that we went back and redid it!
It’s a really uplifting, happy song. Country sometimes leans towards the more mournful, tear-your-heart-out kind of songs, so it’s always refreshing to hear a genuinely joyful track such as ‘Found It In You’. It tells the real-life story of you and your partner, so I think happily coupled-up listeners will be able to see themselves in the story, while other listeners will be able to use it as a form of escapism. Do you personally prefer to use music more as a reflection of reality, or do you find it more therapeutic as a form of escapism?
A lot of the songs I write are things I have gone through or am currently going through. For me, writing songs truly is therapy, especially when writing with your friends that know what you’re going through. Most of us are around the same age and we’ve had similar experiences, so it’s always really refreshing going into the studio and just talking for the first hour, before even thinking about writing a song. I definitely gear towards writing about my reality, and using songs to get through that.
Your sound fuses a smooth, R&B feel with Country influences. Genre-fluidity is becoming more prominent in Country. What inspired you to move your music in this direction, and have you faced resistance to this from traditionalists?
Honestly, it wasn’t a conscious decision. On ‘Found It In You’, my co-writer is also my producer, and we grew up listening to both R&B and Country. When we started writing together, it happened organically. You can hear that sound throughout my music, and it seems to be resonating with people. I’ve had fans coming up to me saying, ‘I don’t really listen to Country, but I love your music!’. I also hear from people that are more into that traditional sound, but they still enjoy my music. I listen to a lot of Dolly and Lee Ann Womack, and when I sing I have that classic Country sound. I feel like it’s a mixture of all the best aspects of Country and the best aspects of R&B.
I’m a big fan of your Apple Music show, which has been a huge success. What has this experience been like, and did you know that radio-hosting would be such a strength of yours before taking the role?
Apple Music came to me and asked me about it during the pandemic, and I’d never really thought about it before. But it really has been a lot of fun, and it’s made me a better artist. I used to be really bad at talking - at shows I’d just want to sing, I wouldn’t want to tell stories in-between songs. So I think it’s made my performances stronger, and it’s fun because I get to not only play my music on the show, but I get to play my friends’ music who may not yet have record deals. I was in that spot for a long time, and to be able to give my friends and other artists a platform has been a really cool experience.
I love your cover of Halsey’s ‘Be Kind’, which paints with a different palette to the love-story of ‘Found It In You’. It laments the attitude of a partner towards the main character in the song, and the hook is irresistible. Do you have a debut album in the works, and if so, will these earlier tracks make it onto this project?
That song was really fun, I did that during the pandemic too. It felt like a really appropriate time to cover this song because of what was going on in the world, and I really enjoyed putting my spin on it. I’ll be putting out an EP with five songs on it soon, but we are gearing up towards a…’project’! It will have a lot of new music on it, including ‘Found It In You’, and a couple of songs I’ve been playing out to fans. They’ve been very vocal about wanting those being released!
A 'project' - sounds mysterious! I spoke to Breland for the previous Mindful Melody issue, and he’s featured on your song, ‘Miles’, which again embodies the laid-back, peaceful atmosphere that you bring into your music. The feel of the whole song seems to be perfectly summed up in the opening lyrics, ‘You’re like a slow lane Sunday’. ‘Laid-Back’ is similarly serene. Is it a conscious decision to make your music relaxing and soothing to the listener, or does this flow naturally out of your creative process?
I think that’s the R&B part coming out. When I listen to music, I want to feel uplifted. If I’m having a bad day, I want it to lift me up out of the rut, or if I’m having a great day, I want it to pump me up even more. So, when I get in the room with my friends, the first thing I say is, “We're not writing sad songs today! We’re writing something fun.” I think that’s what people are craving, and it’s great getting to play them and watch people dance along. ‘Miles’ in particular is an easy song to catch onto, so I’ll see people that have never heard it before singing along by the end of the last chorus. I want to make sure my music has a good vibe all around.
On the new project, will there be any sad songs that still feel good, and that maybe have a sense of peaceful melancholy? Yeah, that’s definitely my vibe! If I am going to write something slower, I still want it to feel good. I have an unreleased song called ‘I’d Look Good In That Truck’, and it’s one of the only slow songs I have on the upcoming EP. I think it’s great to have a variety, so you’re definitely going to go on a journey with my projects. I’ve been writing a lot, so I’m excited to put out as much new music as I can.
You’ve been named as one of CMT’s Next Women of Country. This must be incredibly exciting, but as you prepare to release new music, does the fact that the industry’s and fans’ eyes are expectantly on you add a sense of pressure? Or does it just add fuel to the creative fire?
It definitely just motivates me. When you’re doing this, it can feel like you’re doing it all in the shadows, because you’re just working on music behind the scenes and when you haven't released it yet it’s hard to gauge how it’ll be received. We all have our ups and downs in our careers, so when you do have a successful song, it’s so motivating because it lets you know that somebody’s watching, somebody’s rooting for me. It doesn’t add pressure, it just makes me excited for what’s to come.
Speaking of you being one of the exciting new female voices in Country, a genre that has a track record of giving male voices more prominence, we are thankfully seeing progress in terms of the elevation of under-represented voices in Country. As someone within the industry at the moment, have you seen noticeable change, or does it still feel as though there is a long way to go?
I’m out on a radio tour right now, and I’ve been out for five or six weeks, and I definitely think that things are turning around. The reaction has been really positive and everybody’s being really supportive. Just looking at the charts and seeing plenty of women in Country music, it makes me so happy. We always say that when one of us wins, the rest of us win too. I definitely think we’re making progress.
Earlier this year you performed over in the UK for the first time, as part of the awesome C2C Festival. What was that experience like, and do you have plans to come back to the UK to perform anytime soon?
Oh my gosh, as soon as I left I was already trying to get back! I loved being over in the UK, it was so much fun. Those shows were unlike anything I’d ever played. For some of the shows I play over in the US, there will be a few people talking and not really listening, but I didn’t really experience that over in the UK. As a songwriter and as an artist, I’ve noticed how fans in the UK take the time to really lock into the stories we’re telling and the songs we’re singing. It means a lot. I also have a bit of an obsession with London. I hope this is not insulting, but I have this habit of talking in a British accent! When I was over there, I did it a lot, and my UK reps say it’s pretty good…so I’m excited to get back over so that I can utilize it!
Tiera Kennedy's latest single, 'Found It In You' is out now - and keep an eye out for her upcoming EP!
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