Calgary-born singer-songwriter Kiesza enters brave new worlds with multiple projects


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The first thing the Calgary-born artist Kiesza says after calling Postmedia earlier this week is that she’s digging for a dinosaur.

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Yes, a real dinosaur dig. She can’t be too specific on her location, but is somewhere in the Wyoming wilderness, where she’s helping dig up Diplodocus and Stegosaurus bones. A friend of Kiesza’s runs a museum and store of fossils and rare artifacts in Toronto called SkullStore and Prehistoria, which led her to become involved in the project.

“It’s very exclusive because they don’t want to reveal the location of the bones,” she reports. “But they invited us to accompany them. We’re doing pretty well, so they invited us back to the dino-dig team.

For those who have tried to follow Kiesza’s recent activities, it’s perhaps unsurprising that she added an amateur paleontologist to the list. In late March, she visited Ellen DeGeneres’ talk show and discussed their mutual love for gorillas and the work of Dian Fossey. Clips were shown of Kiesza visiting silverbacks in Rwanda. She was due to return to Rwanda later this year to visit the Ellen DeGeneres campus of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund, but has a scheduling conflict.

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Scheduling conflicts aren’t surprising either. Over the past year, Kiesza has released a new EP, taught performance classes in Norway, increased his own performance schedule, and created an ambitious if somewhat secretive project called MilkyWay Pirates, which will involve NFTs (non-fungible tokens). and music. It’s based on a sci-fi story that Kiesza wrote alongside 3D art by Luke Didlo. Her appearance on Ellen also marked the first time an NFT group — in this case, a group comprised of avatars of fuzzy creatures from The MilkyWay Pirates story — who “performed” on a talk show when they supported the singer as projections.

The fact that she did all of this while recovering from a traumatic brain injury suggests that Kiesza is making up for the time she lost in the dark days following a devastating car crash in 2017.

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“I’m an artist who never stops developing and who always tries to push boundaries and take people to new territories,” she says. “As people follow my journey, I want to share so much of what I’ve gained through my struggles.”

The main purpose of this interview is to promote another project, one that adds a high-tech philanthropist to Kiesza’s achievements. It also involves this brave new world of NFT and crypto-art. The whole NFT concept might be a bit difficult to understand for the uninitiated. It’s a type of digital asset, or contract, that uses blockchain technology to determine and track ownership of a virtual item. This includes music, visual arts and other types of artistic pursuits and has been embraced by enterprising artists to make money by selling to collectors, who are assured of an original digital artwork or artwork. a performance that cannot be replicated.

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Together with Didlo, Kiesza created the MetaMoves NFT collection. It involves androids performing snippets of Kiesza’s dance moves from her performance of Ellen which were created using motion capture data. NFTs give the owner full rights to that motion data, which means they can use it for their own avatars in a metaverse or in animation or video game projects. The first was successfully auctioned by Portion, an NFT auction house. Proceeds were donated to Mexican company MediPrint for the production of 3D printed prosthetic limbs.

“Prostheses are not cheap, they are very expensive,” says Kiesza. “In many countries, people cannot afford them. If you lose a leg, you are in a wheelchair or on crutches for the rest of your life. So if we can get people prosthetic limbs – they don’t pay for them, we pay them with the income we earn – we give them back the freedom to move around and walk again.

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It’s all part of Kiesza’s new outlook on life, which she says changed dramatically after her accident. In the summer of 2017, she was riding in the back of an Uber in her adopted hometown of Toronto when she was boned by a cab running a red light. Unbeknownst to her at the time, she suffered a traumatic brain injury that cost her years of recovery. Her career was put on hold, but she released the album Crave in 2020 and began a cautious return to the stage. She still suffers from symptoms: performing can lead to blind spots in her vision and debilitating cluster headaches. But she tried to maintain a modest touring schedule remembering her limitations.

“Which is really difficult for me,” she says. “I’ve been this invincible athlete all my life. Working with a brain injury, I have to take much better care of myself. Sometimes when I go on stage I can forget about it and I’ll just go all out like before and regret it later.

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Born Kiesa Rae Ellestad, the former young Canadian singer, ballerina and Canadian Navy Reservist first rose to prominence in 2014 with the song Hideaway. The song’s unique DIY video, filmed by her brother in Brooklyn, turned her into a YouTube sensation and made her a star in Europe, Australia and across North America. She signed with Island Records and toured the world. In 2015, she earned four Juno nominations for her debut album, Sound of a Woman. She was preparing to record a follow-up when the accident happened. In 2019 she cautiously returned to performing and she released Crave in 2020 on her own label Zebra Spirit Tribe.

His new EP, Tommy, was released in March and has a tragic backstory. It consists of four songs she recorded with Swedish producer/composer Tommy Tysper. The intention was to write a full album but he died suddenly in 2019.

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“Tommy was a very good friend of mine,” she says. “He was one of the most talented producers and songwriters I’ve ever met. We became really good friends and we were working on an album together. I didn’t know – honestly, nobody knew – that he was dealing with so many things, that he had mental health issues.We lost him, sadly, unexpectedly.

“I had this music for a while and it was just too hard to get out,” she adds. “I decided that I just wanted to pay homage to him and not leave him in a file. It was a last minute decision. I decided in 2021 just before the new year to release him. There was not a lot of prep time and we didn’t put it together with a label or a marketing plan. I just wanted to get the music out to the world.

As for his health, Kiesza says the recovery is long and far from over. She continues to live with the pain and symptoms and seeks alternative therapies.

“I had to decide one day,” she says. “I deal with pain every day: I can sit on my butt or I can stand up and try to do something with my life despite the pain. That’s where I am. I’m much better than a few years ago, but I’m still getting by.

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About Eileen W. Sudduth

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