Interview: KYE finds her ‘biggest version’ and dances through the hard times to St Kilda Festival

Interview: KYE finds her ‘biggest version’ and dances through the hard times to St Kilda Festival

Words by Kate Streader

From backing vocalist for Sampa The Great, Genesis Owusu, Ruel and Jessica Mauboy, to the front of the stage at St Kilda Festival.

Born in Zimbabwe, now Melbourne-based singer-songwriter KYE spent her childhood in London before her family relocated to Australia when she was 11.

Her formative years were soundtracked by her parents’ records – “My parents used to play a lot of records and we’d watch a lot of Michael Jackson concerts on TV” – and she always dreamed of making her own music one day.

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Cutting her teeth as a backing vocalist for the likes of Sampa The Great, Genesis Owusu, Ruel and Jessica Mauboy, KYE learned the ins and outs of the music industry before making her way to the front of the stage.

“Those experiences are some of the most invaluable for me because I got to experience performing on such big stages and travelling and touring and seeing the logistics of everything without having to be the front person,” she says.

“It kind of just gives you a whole different perspective on how things actually are and I think it put a lot of my dreams into perspective for me. I started to see them as more achievable and reachable without having to really put myself into the spotlight right away. It was a really nice way to ease myself into the industry.”

In 2019, Sampa pushed KYE to go it alone. With that, she released her debut single ‘Good Company’ and launched her solo career.

By the end of the year, she had penned an EP and was ready to release it into the world in early 2020. But along came COVID and after spending some time with herself in lockdown, she decided to scrap the songs she had and start again.

“When lockdowns happened and we were forced to stay home, I wasn’t touring anymore and I actually had a bit of downtime at home, I started rewriting and started writing a lot of new songs,” she says.

“There was just this really organic feel for two-three weeks where the songs were kind of writing themselves. I realised it was the first time in a couple of years that I’d really slowed down and I kinda got to sit with my feelings a bit more. There wasn’t so much of a process when it came to writing them, more of a feeling and I think just more just me ruminating over the things that had happened in my life over the last couple of years.”

Although the resulting EP, Good Company, was written during a universally tough period and documents the breakdown of a relationship, the collection of songs share a through line of hope.

“I think everyone felt a bit out of control with COVID and I think people really struggled to find their feet really, to find how they’re going to feel and how they’re going to process things,” says KYE.

“My number one takeaway was that I wanted to dance through it and I wanted to still feel joyful even though things looked a little bit bleak… I think the underlying theme [of the EP] is joy and being able to find your joy in whatever circumstances you’re presented with.”

It’s been a succession of firsts for KYE over the past two years. She released her debut single and EP and, most recently, played her first festival slots as a solo artist.

“My first experiences of festivals were all backing vocal gigs, so to kind of come out the pandemic – and I had a bunch of shows cancelled so I didn’t even really do any small shows either – so coming out of the pandemic and straight into festivals has been amazing and overwhelming and mostly surreal,” she says.

With a few summer festivals now under her belt, KYE will hit the stage for St Kilda Festival on Saturday February 5, the opening day of a nine-day free music extravaganza. She’s on alongside Babyccino, Barkaa, Good Morning, Monnie, Queen-P, The Lazy Eyes and WILSN that day, while the broader festival features heavy-hitters like Archie Roach, Mo’Ju, Baker Boy, Daryl Braithwaite, and Emma Donovan & The Putbacks, just to name a few.

Having gotten a taste for festivals, she can’t wait.

“There’s a completely different energy [performing at festivals]. I definitely feel like I have the freedom to be the biggest version of myself and the loudest version of myself.”

St Kilda Festival is happening from February 5 – 13. See the full program and find out more here.