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Catching Up With Ottawa’s Country Star Kira Isabella

The last time Faces caught up with singer/songwriter Kira Isabella was back in 2019, when the world and hers looked a little different.

From the age of seven, Kira began making a name for herself in Canadian country music, performing everywhere from nursing homes to the Ottawa Ex. In 2012, her debut album “Love Me Like That” shed the spotlight on a much bigger stage. Along the way, she’s toured with one of her idols, Carrie Underwood and become the recipient of two CCMA’s. Throughout her career, Kira has maintained a poetic approach to music that is refreshingly honest and down to earth.

When the pandemic hit in 2020, she took some much-needed time to regroup and recharge. Now living in Toronto, the Ottawa-native maps out a new direction that explores an unseen side of herself and her music. Faces talks to Kira as she prepares for her live performance in Alberta on Canada Day. Whether she’s speaking about past relationships, hometown support, or a nice pair of cowboy boots, it’s always straight from the heart.

What are you up to at the moment?

I’m back in Toronto. I’m writing right now, trying to figure out what direction I want to go next. It’s still a new development. I’ll always love country music, but I want to explore something else, maybe a different genre. I’ve kept it at home, trying to set up a studio situation. I’ve been practicing and getting ready for a show on Canada Day in Leduc, Alberta, with Doc Walker. I’m super excited about that. Unfortunately, the guys I usually play with won’t be there, but I’m going to have a new band with new faces. I actually booked the show in May 2020, and it’s been postponed twice now, so I finally get to do it after this whole time.

Personally and musically speaking, what was the pandemic like for you?

I had the hardest time. I feel like I’m half introverted, half extroverted. My social battery runs out pretty quickly, so I need my alone time to recharge it. It was really tough for me, definitely challenging, and I felt pretty lost. I was also going through a breakup. I think being cooped up together like that, everyone knows, you can drive each other nuts. I was in Toronto but thought I might want to move to Nashville. So I was upset about that too, and then my ex moved there.

I wish I had used that time better to write another album or do something else, but I was just so discouraged, uninspired, and angry at the world. When it came to sitting down and writing a song, I couldn’t force it. Vocals have always been my strong point, and songwriting was something I did after. I’ve always collaborated when I wrote; I know people do Zoom writes, but I felt like nothing was coming to me. I was just sad, which is odd because usually in my life, when I’ve felt that way, that’s when I want to write the most. I’ve had the urge and the want for some time now to explore different genres and write other things. I realized that I needed to take that time to relax and think about what would come next.

When was the last time you were in Ottawa? What was memorable about it?

I haven’t lived in Ottawa for five years. My parents retired and moved to Toronto a few years ago, but I still have a ton of friends there. I’m coming back in June to go to the cottage with them. Last year, I had a Christmas show at the Algonquin Commons Theatre, and all my friends came out to support me. It was my first show in front of a live audience since the pandemic, so that was special. To actually be in front of people this time was great – It’s different when you can see people’s faces and reactions and make that connection. That’s what I love about performing live. Also, I must shout out Meatings, this incredible BBQ place in Orleans. Whenever I’m in Ottawa, I always try and eat there.

How would you describe your relationship with social media nowadays?

I think the world has kind of gone crazy, and people hiding behind their keyboards will say anything. I have a really different relationship with social media now. I don’t post as much as I used to, but it’s more positive than negative when I do. When you’re in a bad headspace, like I was at the beginning of the pandemic, it’s even harder to brush that negativity off. It was a little bit more discouraging, so I held back. I am trying to get back into it because it’s an incredible way to connect with people who enjoy what you do. It really is a community, and they’re very supportive. I want to give them content that they’ll enjoy.

What is your summer wardrobe staple?

Cowboy boots! I wear jean shorts or little dresses with them. I think an all-black catsuit with heels will always be my favourite way to perform. I still wear a ton of black, but I try mixing in bold colours here and there. I’ll go in a different direction for the upcoming show in Alberta just because it’s during the day. Other than that, I wear Vans all the time.

What’s your dream collaboration at the moment?

That’s a hard question. Avril Lavigne has always been an idol of mine. She and Shania Twain were massive for me growing up. I’ve always loved both genres, the early pop-punk 2000s and country. If I met Avril, I would freak out and cry like I did when I met Shania. It would be cool to do an Avril-style song with her or sit down and write a punk country song.

You have fond memories of performing at the Ottawa Ex as a kid. Can you tell me more about that experience?

Alex Lacasse and I booked a show on the Giant Tiger stage for an hour every day, eleven days in a row. There were costume changes, dancers, and rehearsals. It was very fun, but I was exhausted. I also met my singing teacher, Trina Langthorne, there when I was younger and worked with her until I was 17. She never stifled my creativity, told me what to think or said no. I would just bring in a CD, and she helped me sing it. She taught me everything I needed to know while letting me explore different genres, and she was the first one to get me out there performing.

You’ve played Bluesfest twice now. What was that like for you? Is there anyone performing this year that you’d like to see?

In 2015, I got to open for Jason Aldean, which was one of the coolest things. I cried seeing my friends in the crowd with signs saying, “We Heart Kira.” Anything like that in Ottawa is always extra emotional because of the nostalgia and support. I performed there again in 2020, but it was drive-in. Everybody had to be in their car, honking instead of applauding. It felt a little bit disconnected, but I’m happy I got to do it. This year, it would be incredible to see
Alanis Morisette and Luke Bryan would be a great show too.

How does your new direction tie into 2019’s EP “Sides”?

I have almost ten years’ worth of music catalogued people haven’t heard. I’ve written a ton of stuff that the label didn’t like, or my manager didn’t think it was the right direction. So, I dismissed it in my head, but when I went back, I could hear that it didn’t suck. It was just that person in the room didn’t like it that day, so I wrote it off. There are pros and cons to having a label; there are a lot of cooks in the kitchen, and [being independent] means fewer opinions and easier decisions. I’m not opposed to releasing [my catalogued music] as singles on Spotify or Youtube in the meantime while I try to figure things out. One side of me will always be in love with country music and grateful for what the Canadian country music world has done for me, but there’s another side that wants to see what life would be like doing something else. For ten years, country music has consumed my life, so I want to see what else is out there.

Are there any new projects or events you’d like to share?

I’ve just been figuring it out. I haven’t played a show like the one coming up in Alberta in a while, and since my original band can’t play with me, my whole life right now is focusing on finding a drummer, then rehearsing them for the show because they have to learn all my music. I’m performing eleven or twelve originals of mine; then we always try to do a medley of what’s popular on the radio, like a mash-up of six or seven songs. So I’m working on that with my music director, and I’m trying to mix in the covers that people want to hear.

What would you tell yourself if you could go back in time ten years ago?

I would give myself a hug. That was the height of what I had going on at the time; it was the busiest in my career. I wouldn’t take everything so seriously. Be professional, and take it seriously in that you’re prepared and doing your job, but stop worrying about everything and try to be present. I wish I could redo my CCMA performance with McKenzie Porter; I feel like I blacked out. I don’t even remember being on stage. I was so nervous. I would tell myself, “You got this. Everything is going to be ok.” Some of the relationships I got into were not where I needed to be putting my energy at the time. I would tell my younger self to focus on you for a bit longer. I love love and would never take back any of my relationships, but if I could rewind, I would tell little Kira, you’ll have a way better relationship if you take the time now to get to know yourself and be who you are.

 

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