Talking exclusively to TaleTela, singer/songwriter Natalia Kills sat down with us to chat about her rapid rise to stardom. The 25-year-old released her debut album Perfectionist in April this year after being signed by rapper Will.i.am in 2008, who came across her Wommanequin EP . Dressed immaculately in a striking black and white outfit, Kills assures us life was not always this way for her and gave us the lowdown on how her dream come true…
Everyone would assume that after Will.i.am discovered you, everything would change overnight… is that true?
Yeah, it did. Absolutely.
What was going through your mind? What was that experience like?
I had been buying clothes for a fiver, crashing parties and sleeping on my friend’s floor and I had made this demo for myself because I had been writing for films at the time and I put it on MySpace which back in 2007 was all the rage…do you remember?
Yeah, now MySpace is like a swear word….
(Laughs) I know! So the famous journalist Perez Hilton found this demo that I had put on MySpace and he blogged about it and someone called me a day later and was like, “why do you have millions of plays on your MySpace page? You’re number one on MySpace Unsigned Chart.” I thought, “wow this is crazy”and people were messaging me saying we’re from this company, we run this concert, we do this festival – would you be interested in playing here? etc, the fee is this, the fee is that…and I was taken aback because that is not exactly what I was trying to do.
OK, so what did you do with all those options?
I decided well what the hell – I sold all of my clothes on eBay and got on a plane to LA because that’s where Perez was. I was offered a lot of different situations, record deals from labels and A&R, producers looking for new talent but I then met Will.i.am and he was saying: “I would love to sign you, you have a really similar energy to Fergie when I first met her.”
I was like , “that’s cool – we’ll see how it goes.” I continued to flirt with other labels and he then came to the UK a month later and he was like ,“so are going to get in the studio or what?” and I honestly resisted.
Didn’t you trust him?
Will is a very trustworthy person, but after spending some time in Hollywood I thought getting in the studio meant something else – nothing sexual but just – I was unsure. So Will was like “look, it’s been a week and I have been asking you every day to come to the studio, it’s my last night in town…so just come to the freakin’ studio!” So I brought a few girls with me just in case a bizzaro situation went down – and again I trusted Will but the music industry is pretty tricky – I had met some people in LA who had a kind of weird way of working and so I didn’t feel too comfortable going places on my own because my motivation is not to sleep my way to the top.
OK, so what happened?
I went to the studio and he said “I’ve got this really good idea, come with me to New York and we will make a s**t load of music” and I was like “OK, let’s see how it goes” – it was so quick I didn’t get the time to recognise whether my life was changing or not.
How was Will.i.am different from all the other clowns and recording options that you had encountered before…
I had been in that situation about a month before where I was repeatedly told “we gonna sign you, you’ll make a million dollars in the first year!” I sat there and realised no one is saying the word creative, no one is saying the word music, everyone is saying the words money, number one, chart and radio. Will didn’t approach it like that and so it felt right – that’s how the evolution of me working with Will began. After a bit of time I was getting more comfortable creatively in the studio and professionally in the music that we were making. A contract then appeared which was great and then it was a case of moving to the US and making the album the for real and working with whoever I want.
That’s a dream come true really isn’t it?
You just don’t notice your life changing whilst it changes, you look back and go – Wow! A year ago I said I would do this, this and this and now I have actually done those things. It’s always in retrospect and I feel like retrospect is one of the most wonderful things…
Talk to us about the song ‘Free’…
I started writing the song years and years ago, when I had decided that I wanted to give up everything and just be a songwriter. I then ended up being a starving songwriter! I used to go to Portobello Road and buy a whole outfit for £30 and people would ask me “Oh my god, who is that? what are you wearing? Is that Karl Lagerfeld, is that Chanel Vintage? ” and I would be like “Yes, of course!” I came to realise that you can never ever make the mistake of linking money to style or money to experience and fun and just having a good time because I had the best time of life when I was broke – I am still having a good time, but it started then and it has continued since I have adopted that attitude.
That’s an interesting point of view…
I think that we hold ourselves back; we don’t allow ourselves the freedom of pleasure if we don’t have the finances to support it. There are so many ways to indulge in luxury without it being a material luxury. So I wrote that song to myself and the lyrics are pretty cocky (sings) ‘I’m free, I just spent all my money but I rock that like it don’t cost a thing.’ I wrote it in a literal sense, I didn’t have anything but I still spent every penny I had and felt great and didn’t feel guilty about it and that’s the notion of the song.
So why is the album called Perfectionist…?
My album Perfectionist is not about anything being perfect, it’s about realising that nothing is perfect and celebrating mistakes and disaster. I have made so many mistakes and been such a general catastrophe upon myself that I thought I would just celebrate all of the bad and not turn it into good.
So you don’t aim for perfection – at all?
(Sighs) Well I am, I am that’s the thing…
Because most musicians are on some level…
Well in my opinion most people are because everyone is looking for their own version of perfection. Like if you want a girlfriend/boyfriend or a job you don’t look for the crappiest person or pay – you actually look for something that is a notion of your own ideology. We are all looking for what we dream of so my album Perfectionist is about confronting that. When you embark on true perfectionism, when you’re really ambitious and go for broke all the time – you realise that nothing is perfect. And then you decide whether that is going to frustrate you or be the power that drives you…and so you then look for perfection in everything and that is what I have decided to do for the rest of my life. So I acknowledge disaster, celebrate it and look for the perfection within that.
I know the record company told you to choose a stage name, so how did you come up with Natalia Kills….?
Yeah they said that my real name was indescribable…I don’t think it is – I don’t see why it is so difficult to say. They asked me to be totally descriptive of myself and my mum has given me nicknames before so…the first time that I gave myself a nickname, a word that really described me was the word Kills because I feel it was the appropriate, apt and most beautiful way to describe myself.
How does the word Kills describe you?
Because I am definitely an intense person and when you’re intense you give 100% of your passion your energy to everything, whether it’s hating someone or loving something. That’s what it means when we say “You Killed It!” it doesn’t mean you’re the greatest it means you gave 100% and that’s that. It’s non-negotiable and undebatable, and I thought with Kills that’s the point. Both unfortunately and fantastically, I am quite an extreme and intense person – it gets a bit tiring at times! I can tolerate myself, I can handle it.
You have put a lot of effort in getting to where you are now, was it always your intention to be creative and famous?
That’s an interesting question, I decided at the rational age of about 6 that I wanted a career. Then I decided at the more rational age of 16 that I didn’t and wanted a lifestyle. You can either be a painter or you can be Banksy – if you want your entire life to revolve around this fortunately and unfortunately, you have to be well known. It’s just the way it is nowadays, we don’t trade off of teacups and charm any more – it’s either your career or it’s a hobby and I don’t like to do things half-heartedly. So I would say even though I have never wanted to be famous that’s never been a goal of mine, the decision to live a creative life has put me in a position to make choices that do pursue the career side of it rather than just the hobby side of it, the pleasure side.
How do obstacles and setbacks affect you? – like rejection, being told no or your music not being received the way that you want it to?
Well if it’s something like an ex-boyfriend you can just tell them to f**k off, but if it is a career thing then yeah it is awful but you have got to live your life entirely for you. I write my songs about myself and about my personal experiences, about all my mistakes and my misfortunes and the celebration of those as well as the sadness and it’s just my way of expressing it – so if someone doesn’t like it, it doesn’t matter because there are bits of my life that I didn’t like but I am putting it out there anyway. I have no expectation or desire for anyone to like everything about me, I am not here to be admired I am here to contribute what I have been given to the world we live in.
Who inspires you to be creative?
I am really inspired by soundtrack music. Because our lives play out like movie, you have the key bits, the side characters, the protagonist and the people that are still there at the end – and that’s usually not many. That’s the way I like to approach my music, a lot of the artists that I listened to growing up were very dramatic and weren’t afraid to express their inner psycho. The first album I bought was Alanis Morrisette – I listened to Depeche Mode and Kate Bush, Prince, Queen and even though it was pop they had a lot of opinion and confrontation and the lyric. Songs like ‘You Oughta Know’ or ‘Sweet Dreams’ by the Eurhythmics are moody and pensive – it’s a very f**k you kinda pop music, and it provokes a deeper thought process than tracks that talk about the club or whatever. There is nothing wrong with that music but it is not what I am drawn to.
Is there a song, or piece of film or lyric that you have put out there that you are most proud of?
Wow that’s hard, it’s hard to single one out in particular but I have this song on my album called ‘Love Is A Suicide.’ My first relationship lasted 5 years and I told myself he was the love of my life because I had never had it before and that kind of love is like candy floss at a theme park…at the time you think it is brilliant. I wrote the song about my ex-boyfriend and how the deterioration of that relationship after 5 years and how painful it was – and how calculating he was. The relationship really drove me to my limits as a teenager and I’m really all or nothing, I was either gonna jump into his arms or jump of a bridge literally. I actually physically felt like he was killing me, and I had an epiphany that he is not killing me, I am staying with him. I’m staying with a guy who makes me feel like that…so really I am letting him kill me…I’m basically putting the gun in someone else’s hand and I realised that love is a suicide. That love certainly was my suicide, it was my choice to stay and let myself be destroyed and so I decided to put that situation out there on the album and maybe help some other seventeen year old girl from jumping into the wrong persons arms – so for me that song has the most power on the album for me because of that reason.