NewTracks New Artist: Kyla Greening

NewTracks New Artist: Kyla Greening

It might well be that, like her music, Kyla Greening is in no hurry – however that certainly doesn’t equate to sitting back and waiting for life to come to her. Witness the fact that the Kirikiriroa-born singer/multi-instrumentalist did part of her university studies in Hawaii and worked as a musician at the Polynesian Cultural Centre while there. Starry Nights is her cruisy new single, a soulful duet with Sam Verlinden (Sam V) that NZ On Air Music featured on their NewTracks compilation this March.

What’s your name, where are you from and what instruments do you each play?

My full name is Kyla Te Rautauhinu Greening. My iwi are Ngāti Kahungunu, Ngāti Rakaipaaka, Tainui and Rangitane. My pākeha side is German and English. I was born and raised in Hamilton singing in church and with my family, doing kapahaka and learning instruments from my Dad. I would say I play guitar, bass, drums and some percussion instruments. I wouldn’t say I play these instruments, but I did take a year of trumpet and two years of saxophone in high school, played steel pan drums at uni and taught marimba and ukulele at one point!

All that is to say that if I’m lucky enough to get my hands on an instrument I’ll definitely try and give it a crack.

Was any high school or other music training especially important to you?

All of it was valuable to me, I’d put more importance on the teachers though. The experience of learning music involves so much more than a weekly lesson, or memorising scales and lyrics, it involves conversation, excitement, nervousness, encouragement, discouragement, expression of self and someone to guide you through it all. I’m lucky to have been brought up in a musical family and community so I was always learning from the best, the pros. If any of my music teachers/mentors/directors are reading this – thank you for everything. x

Any other projects that we might know you from?

Not too sure! I feel like I’m always involved in various local projects, singing or something. But as a solo artist, I feel like I’m new to the game. My first single Rich Girl came out in November 2021, so perhaps people might wanna get to know me from there.

What’s the background story of how this track came to be? 

I often write my songs from concept to demo myself and then take it to a producer for a ‘polish and shine’ as it were. For Starry Nights I began with a burning desire to write a slow jam and trip to see the magical fairy lights in CBD, Auckland with my friend Sarai. We fangirled over them for some time and in a seemingly ordinary city we imagined a fantastical scenario flecked with sparks of romance – which became the story concept of Starry Nights.

In the studio I started by beatboxing to a metronome, adding some placeholder drums on Logic and recording a ‘breath’ track to meld together an initial groove. Then I laid out all the chords and Sarai and I mumbled a few melodies and lyrics over top and left a gap for a second verse feature.

I had only met Sam V once, but I texted him the song and asked if he wanted to jump on it. Later that week we had a packed studio full of mates tracking piano, outbursts of singing and excited getting-to-know-you conversations. It took Sam two minutes to write his verse, which was pretty impressive. I only had cheap $2 shop earphones to record him and I managed to make the recording quality so bad I had to lace a rain track over top to make it seem like it was the vibe!

After vibing to that work by myself for two years I finally sent this demo to the talented producer Edyonthebeat who so effortlessly and graciously made it into the saucy and groovy song it is now. The end. (Or is it?)

How has your music evolved from your beginnings in songwriting to now?

The evolution from Kyla the songwriter in high school to now has involved sharpening up skills through formal music studies at universities, lots of adventures and different life experiences to feed into the writing, and a massive amount of singing – in the car, in the shower, in the kitchen, on a stage, in a studio, with my friends, at church, in other countries, in different languages.
And the evolution continues as long as I’m amongst the music and am in places I can be playful with it. I think a big difference between the beginnings and now is that I’m more confident in who I am – helps me make genuine and honest music.

How did you decide to stick with your own name as your artist brand?

Brainstorming a stage name is apparently too stressful for me and everything I came up with sounded cringe and inauthentic… so I ended up with the OG name my parents came up with – Kyla Greening.

Aside from this release, what’s been the big highlight to date?

I have to say a huge highlight for me was my job in university. I worked as a musician playing bass and singing at the Polynesian Cultural Centre in Laie, Hawaii. My days were filled with island music, long brushed hair, bright-coloured mumus, dancers on canoes gliding over lagoons, sunshine and plate lunches. Playing alongside and being mentored by very talented, generous and big-hearted musicians was a huge blessing.

What makes Starry Nights stand out for you as a single?

The chorus melody is pretty and sing-a-long-able and it gets me in my feels.

What’s your favourite moment, musical or lyrical, of the single?

I like the modulation into the bridge section and the soft shift into delicate tones and lyrics. I like the climax adlib, “Don’t know what it is…” I sing out of the bridge into the final chorus. I like the drone note in the bass in the outro, meant to highlight and suspend the daydream scenario. Just like you would stay a little longer on a date with someone you really like, I wanted the music and listener to be as connected and as close as possible from start to finish.

What would you like listeners to take away from Starry Nights?

I hope the song makes people smile! I hope listeners take the time to dream, wish and/or reminisce about the magic and excitement of new love. I hope it’s a little mood booster.

How do you generally work out what would make a good single?

  1. It’s gotta be sing-a-long-able/ the main melodies have to move you or be catchy.
  2. I’ve gotta be able to body roll to it, groove out with a stank face or sway to it.
  3. It’s gotta have an honest lyric.

Who else is in your team?

In the words of Beyonce, “it’s just me, myself and I” (because I’m an independent artist). However, one is never truly alone in this process so I’ll shout out all my family and friends that give support, and I’ll shout out a few local artists namely Lisa Grace, Aidan Fine, Sam V, Chris Bates, Edyonthebeat and Ruby Frost who are always so generous with their time and talent.

Are there any other musical endeavours you’re working on that we should keep an eye out for?

One of the huge musical endeavours I continue to embark on is the journey to a full-length album, so I’m gonna give myself a bit of time to create that, put blood, sweat and tears into it and then leave it for the world to partake in.

But in the meantime, I sneak-previewed a song called Redirect My Letters on Base FM with Lisa Grace – I quite like that tune, so definitely keep your eye out for a release of that later this year.

Can you please name three other local tunes that would fit well on a playlist alongside Starry Nights.

Ahh, I love this question! I’m gonna go with Knowing You by Citris Ink, I’ve had that on repeat since it came out last year – really groovy and chill. It seems like the RnB male/female duets are coming to mind so I’m going to say Getting Stronger by Adeaze and Aaradhna, an absolute gem of a song and a staple growing up. Final song is a beautiful track called No Flowers by Dallas Tamaira – I enjoyed the music video for that song too. That’s a nice mellow and feel-sy concoction of songs I reckon!

Have any previous NZOA applications not gained funding or been included on NewTracks? Got any advice for others out there?

In the words of a neat fish, Dory, “Just keep swimming”.

Are there any musical blogs, Youtube channels or podcasts you’re super into?

NZ Musician 😉 And also I’ll always be down for an NPR Tiny Desk concert, I’m watching something on that channel at least twice a week – Tank and The Bangas, Tom Misch, Natalia Lafourcade and Anthony Hamilton have been my go-to concerts.

Any last words?

“Don’t be a hard rock when you really are a gem.” – Lauryn Hill