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2022 SXSW Festivals Interviews

Interview: Kiana V is comforting, confident, and in control


In the hot and strobing elevated cocktail bar of Higher Ground, you could hear Kiana V bringing mellow and danceable tracks to the streets of Austin. If you had been in the crowd, you would have also seen the From the Intercom team sipping drinks and stepping to the beat.

R&B artist Kiana V has been serving up certified bop after bop for the past couple years with a confidence that could only be born from a rich musical background in the Philippines. Her most recent single “Heartbeat on Me” is an upbeat anthem designed for the dancefloor. Now based in Los Angeles, Kiana V is reinforcing her range after the compact yet tenderly focused Dazed EP in 2021.

We spoke to Kiana V after her show at SXSW 2022 in Austin and talked about karaoke, what it’s like to have a pop sensation as a father, and the future for Filipino Americans. 

This interview has been edited for clarity.

From the Intercom: Great show last night, I was totally dancing. How’s your SXSW experience so far? 

Kiana V.

Kiana V: It’s been really good. My favorite thing so far has been the different artists that I’ve met from all over the world. But yeah, it’s definitely not what I expected. I mean, I don’t know what I expected, but this definitely surpassed my expectations. It’s been a great week so far. 

FTI: Overall, I think we need more dancing, like over everywhere. Everywhere. Is it pretty important to you to make music that gets people to move? 

Kiana V: You know what–it is. And it’s always been what’s conflicted me in making my music. Usually I’m more drawn to like jazzy, slower, more mellow music. But then on the flip side, I grew up dancing with my family and listening to artists like, Kool & the Gang and Michael Jackson and Janet Jackson. My set doesn’t feel complete without that portion where I want to just let loose. As much as I try to turn away from it, it’s in my blood.

FTI:  I told my mom that I was going to interview you and she freaked out. Did you expect moms to be part of your audience? 

Kiana V: I think moms have always been part of my audience. Moms were my first audience because I grew up guesting in my dad’s shows and doing TV guest things and all that stuff. So I grew up making moms happy. So now when younger people are listening to me, I’m like, “Oh, my God, yes, finally!”

FTI: You’re based in LA now. How does it compare to the Philippines? Where are some of your favorite spots in LA?

Kiana V: I really enjoy the Silverlake area because there’s a lot of art going on in that area, which I really enjoy. I like the Arts District downtown, really good food. Venice is fun. If I’m willing to make the drive and deal with all that energy. But I love it, you know, I love the energy of LA. Manila doesn’t have the ease of driving to the beach. You know, in LA I could be in the mountains first thing in the morning, hiking, and then thirty minutes later be in Santa Monica. In Manila, I was such a beach girl but it was always like two, three, four hours to the nearest beach.

FTI: I wanted to talk about the cover of your instrumental album because it’s like karaoke, right? It’s totally a callback to, like, MagicSing. I think that’s genius and more people need to do that. Was karaoke a big influence in your musical upbringing? 

Kiana V: Yeah, but not really at home. It was more like with my friends after class. Which is so funny that I’m saying that now because I realize that not a lot of people did that. But we were a bunch of rebellious high school kids. And so after class or soccer training my friends and I would go sing karaoke, grab a couple beers before heading home. And that’s a Filipino thing to do. I’m realizing now that I’m saying this and not a lot of people are going to be able to relate to that, except for teenagers who grew up in the Philippines. But it’s a huge part of my upbringing, my culture, and my friends. 

FTI: I would say that it’s changing because there’s actually a lot of karaoke bars in malls now that are opening up. I have cousins that are like 17 and 18 that are going. They can’t drink yet, but they’re getting Starbucks.

Kiana V: We used to do that too. In arcades in Manila, instead of playing the games, my friends and I would go into  the little karaoke booths and we’d refill our arcade cards. I’m going through all the arcades here and I’m not seeing a karaoke booth. It’s such a Pinoy thing or Asian thing.

Kiana V.

FTI:  We’re going to change that. It’s only a matter of time. Five years from now, there will be karaoke machines on every block here in Austin.

Kiana V: So about the instrumental album, I remember we were trying to figure out what to do for the cover and how we were going to move forward. The reason why the instrumentals came out was because so many people were messaging me on Instagram saying, “Are you going to release a -1? Because I want to do my own version of blah blah blah.” I said let’s just do it. Let’s give them the first volume of the most requested tracks. And I mean, I mentioned I like going to the beach and I like hiking. So I just sent them photos that I took while on hikes. 

FTI: Oh, that’s so funny. 

Kiana V: They’re all from my iPhone. I was like just make it blurry and put the karaoke font up and we’re done and that’s it. So perfect.

FTI: “Heartbeat On Me” is on rotation for me right now. I noticed you and Jesse Barrera continue the collaboration from your Daze EP. Can you talk about how that creative partnership started and if we can expect more?

Kiana V: Yeah. So I started making music here two years ago. Well, actually, just like experimenting and meeting different producers and the first one that I worked with, was Nick Pacoli. He produced “Corners” and “Hide My Love“. He introduced me to Jesse because Jesse helped vocal arrange the whole thing–those two tracks and from there. And that’s when I was like, “Oh wait, this guy is helping me make my voice pop in a different way that I guess I didn’t know that I could do before.” I think it was just a different range and from there I was in LA again, and I recorded No Rush with Jesse. Jesse didn’t produce No Rush, but he was the guy. I trusted to help me get it where I wanted to bring it. 

We became really good friends. I call him and his wife my LA parents because they’re always just checking up on me. And I had so much fun. When I’m with them, they always take good care of me and it feels natural. Our creative process must mesh well together. I think it also was that sense of home that I get from being with him and his wife in their home studio. I guess that’s why. 

When you’re comfortable, you’re confident. I’ve also been able to do exactly what I want to do in the studio thanks to them. I feel when you’re comfortable, you’re confident.  I mean, the comfort can also be a bad thing, but they got my back. They’re not gonna let me do anything stupid.

FTI: Not many artists have pop sensations as parents. What was it like working with your father on his 2014 album and would you ever feature him on your music?

Kiana V: Yes. First of all, the answer to the second question is 100% yes. He was supposed to be in “Heartbeat On Me” but not like vocally he was going to play percussion. Which is just like a nice little cameo, like–by the way Gary V is on my track playing percussion. The first question–being on his album–I didn’t know I was going to be on his album. 

This is a classic dad move. He woke me at like 2 AM like “Can you go to the studio and record for that song I’m making?” I’m like “Right now really? On a school night?” But I didn’t really care. So we recorded the track. I thought I was recording a demo, and then it came up on the album. So I was like, my God, I could have actually sung, you know, I wasn’t prepared. I didn’t stretch my voice.

FTI: What a great story!

Kiana V: I know! Imagine this Filipino parent mentality translating into waking me up in the middle of the night to record a song on his album. Usually they just ask me to do laundry. 

FTI: Well, I’m excited to hear more percussion from Gary V. 

Kiana V: I know! It will happen.

FTI: Filipinos have been on the rise practically everywhere in media. How have you felt seeing Filipinos stepping into the spotlight any Filipinos on the come up that you want to plug?

Kiana V: Oh, well, I’m extremely proud and I’m so excited because I feel like this is our time. Three years ago, I was with a friend of mine who’s a photographer in New York and she was telling me, she said “You don’t understand, we’re next. I’m hearing it everywhere and our time is coming.” And I think we’re here. You know, we have Saweetie and H.E.R. who are paving the way for Filipina women. We have Bruno Mars doing it for the guys. One of the young artists I would like to really talk about is Ylona Garcia. She’s going to kill everyone. She just doesn’t care. I’ll be like the security guard in front of her, bopping people out of her way. She’s so good. I’m so proud of her. I was there when she first started performing on stage and she was just like this quiet girl. And it’s so nice to see her coming into her own and just she’s so sassy, so talented, so positive.

My cousin–I don’t know if you’ve listened to her music–her name is Kakie Pangilinan. She’s known for being this political and incredibly intelligent woman. Her writing is just superior. And I’m so amazed by her work. They just constantly speak to me and are on repeat. And I’ve heard some of her songs that aren’t even out yet. Like, you’re going to get in so much trouble, but I’m excited for you!

FTI: Who are you excited to see at SXSW for the rest of the time you’re here? 

Kiana V: It was Poppy from the UK. She performed the first night on Tuesday. I literally walked myself six blocks. I was like I don’t care. I’m going to go see her by myself at the bar. So I ticked her off my checklist.

This interview was conducted by Justin Ricafort, in-person at SXSW 2022 in Austin, Texas on March 17th, 2022.

Heartbeat on Me is out now on major streaming platforms. Press photos by Andrei Suleik.

Artist pages: Instagram | Facebook | Spotify | YouTube

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