Ottawa’s Kira Isabella Keeps Pushing the Envelope in Country Music
Ottawa born and award-winning performer Kira Isabella has come a long way since she broke into the music scene at just 16 years old.
So where is that little girl now? Almost a decade later, Kira continues to push the envelope and take chances, doing so with grace and confidence at every turn. We sat down with her ahead of her Valentine’s Day show at Algonquin Commons Theatre with Aaron Pritchett to talk about her bold new direction. She shared with us some of the major milestones she’s seen in 2018, along with details about her new two-part EP “Sides”.
At 25, Kira Isabella has established herself as a female country musician, releasing a fresh and mature collection of songs that highlight her powerhouse vocals and fearless attitude.
What are some of your favourite memories of growing up in Ottawa?
I love Ottawa so much. No matter where I go, Ottawa will definitely always be home. I think my best memories are all of the singing that I got to do around town. I can honestly say I’ve played at every old age home, every festival: the Tulip Festival, the Ottawa Super X. That’s where I really started my love of performing, and it’s where I met my first vocal teacher. I remember being six years old standing at the Giant Tiger stage watching all of these kids doing karaoke and pulling on my Dad’s hand saying, “I have to do that”.
When did music really become more than a hobby for you?
I think it’s always kind of been more than a hobby. I was very lucky to have incredibly supportive parents who wanted me to be able to sing everywhere I could. I started singing lessons when I was six and did my first performance when I was seven. I remember I sang Mamma Mia and I fell in love with the song. From then on, every weekend I was either in a competition, or singing at an old age home… just going anywhere to get people to listen.
You were on tour with Aaron Pritchett and David James across Canada until the end of February. What was your favourite part of this tour?
Getting to know Aaron’s camp has been incredible. I keep saying I’ve been learning so much. This is my first tour on a bus, and the longest tour I’ve ever done. I know Aaron is made for this, I can tell he thrives in this kind of environment, and I really feel like I’m made for it too. I feel really blessed to be able to do this forever. Being able to connect with all the packed audiences, and share my new music with them is really cool.
Your EP marks the first time since 2014 that you’ve released a new collection of songs. Side A released in 2018 and now the other half, Side B, was released early January. Tell us about the inspiration behind your new album.
It’s been a minute since I’ve put out a body of work. I really wanted to take my time with this, and I was working with a whole new team. The new producer I worked with was really able to take me somewhere vocally I’ve never been able to go; the vocals are more mature, and so is the subject matter. I only wrote one song on it, I Don’t Wanna Know, and I walked out of the room really feeling like a songwriter. The rest of the songs are truly songs I fell in love with, and really loved listening to. They are songs I wanted to sing and stories I wanted to tell.
How do you think you’ve grown as an artist and your music has changed since your last album? What do you want fans to hear with this new music?
I think in the past couple of years I’ve been through so much; I’ve moved, been through a breakup, and lost people in my family. I’ve been doing this for a while, but now what’s really important to me is to share with people by being open and vulnerable. All the music on this album really reflects what I’ve been through and my story, and that’s what I want to share with people. It’s who I really am.
You had the opportunity to open the 2018 CCMA Award show with the Shania Twain tribute, alongside Jess Moskaluke and Madeline Merlo. What was this experience like for you?
It was totally surreal. It was really special to get to do the performance with Madeline and Jess because we actually are friends. I really do love those girls and I think we have to keep each other close because we go through a lot of the same experiences. We said it will connect us forever. It was very cool to be able to stand on the stage with Shania, having memories growing up singing the album Up! into my hairbrush in my house in Ottawa. I’ll never forget it.
Little Girl, one of your 2018 singles, is such an empowering song and did extremely well on the Canadian charts. What was the inspiration and story behind this song?
It’s interesting. I had been back and forth to Nashville and Toronto working on music and in and out of the studio. I had Danger Danger and Handcuffs finished, and my team was figuring out a plan for the first single. Then my manager let me listen to “Little Girl” and we just knew this song was going to be the first single. As a vocalist and a storyteller in country music, songs like “Quarterback” and “Little Girl” only come around once in a while. I feel like it landed in my lap for a reason and I’m so grateful that I get to be a part of people’s lives that relate to that subject matter.
You come across as very confident yet genuine online. How has social media allowed you to develop a relationship with your fans and grow your personal brand?
I’ve had a lot of time to reflect on the opportunity I have with my platform, with social media, and with a microphone on stage. I want to be careful with the messages I send out. This is my opportunity to really be honest with people and show them who I am. It’s really cool that we have this platform to say whatever we want or need to say. I still have my insecurities, but I always say the good outweighs the bad on social media.
You’ve played lots of cool venues and outdoors festivals, including 2018 Boots & Hearts and 2015 RBC Bluesfest. What is your favourite show you’ve done to date?
RBC Bluesfest was such a highlight. Not only was it in Ottawa, and all my friends and family were there, but I got to open for Jason Aldean that night. He’s one of my absolute favourites. I have the poster from that festival in my apartment because it’s such a good memory for me. There’s something about live country music and country fans. They’re so passionate and loyal. Any festival is always a blast.
What are your favourite places to go in Ottawa when you’re here?
I enjoy going shopping downtown, and going out to eat. I love Pure Kitchen. And everytime I go back home I really try to make the rounds and visit all my friends.
Who would be a dream collaboration for you and why?
It’s been really fun getting to sing with Aaron Pritchett. I think we sound really good together. I just re-released “We Should Be Together”, now with Levi Hummon. Adding Levi’s talent to this bonus version has made me love this song even more. We really hope fans enjoy it as much as we do.
What’s next for you in 2019?
I’m really excited to get in there with my band and hear their ideas for all of the arrangements for the music. I’ll probably be spending lots of time doing rehearsals to get ready for the summer. And just looking forward to sharing new music with everyone.