> Kohla talks about her new album 'Romance', making the most of what you have, and making music for a lifetime - SNACK: Music, film, arts and culture magazine for Scotland

Kohla talks about her new album ‘Romance’, making the most of what you have, and making music for a lifetime

"Shame you let me go, I’m your sweetest love"

Kohla chats to SNACK about love, heartbreak, production, live shows, and who is in for a big surprise when they get on the subway!

It’s great to have local music scenes to immerse yourself in. There are few feelings like the sustained buzz of seeing something unfold in front of your eyes, together with so many people. The only problem is that at some point, scenes breed familiarity and then contempt, the comedown often lingering much longer than the initial high.

This is why seeing a unique artist climb their way up, in awareness, and in confidence, is something special. Anyone who has heard Kohla recognises that this is an emerging talent with few soundalike peers; the release of Romance will hopefully allow many more music lovers to realise this.

We’re on the eve of your debut album, Romance. How are you feeling?

Probably a mix of emotions. I think the biggest thing is relief. When you create emotional art, so much goes into it. So when you come to the part where you’re sharing it with the world, it feels like letting go. I feel mothers feel like this when they send their kids off to university. 

The project took so long to make – I wrote the songs back in the summer of 2021. I feel I’ve kept a lot of the emotions inside and when I’ve been doing the live gigs and stuff, I’ve been letting them go a wee bit. But to have everything out for people to listen to whenever they want is really nice and special, and in a way I can grow from it and move into the next body of work. So I’m looking forward to that and to taking everything I’ve learned from that project and building up the next one.

Do you feel as though there’s going to be a massive burst of emotions when the album is out?

I’m a hyper-emotional person anyway. I don’t know if you could tell!

I think it will be emotional. We’ll be happy and, I hope, forgiving to ourselves as well, because so much work has gone into it, and I haven’t had the chance to step back from it and look at everything from a spectator’s perspective. So having that opportunity will be really special and I’ll perhaps even take the chance to pat myself on the back a wee bit, because I literally haven’t had any time to think. I’ve just been working non-stop.

Photo Credit: Rhianonne Stone

You were a musician in your youth, performing at school and at national events. Was there a path from there to where you are today, and what sort of impact do you think those times had on you as an artist?

So, when I was in school, I picked up the clarinet and it was the first time that I’d ever felt I really excelled at something. Because in school I was a good student, but there was nothing I ever won awards for. 

Music was when I started to win things and do competitions. So that gave me that sweet bit of confidence that I could do something with it. 

But actually, by the time I went to high school, I’d gone to two different schools. The first one was a state school, so I could have my music lessons for free. And then I was bullied, so I went to private school, and with that, my family were paying a lot of money for the fees. So I wasn’t allowed to have music lessons, because they would have had to pay for them as well. And that’s how I fell into art, because the art school there was free. Then I went to university and studied art, and then obviously by the end of art school I was singing again.

I think as an artist you can’t be too strict with yourself, and there’s so many ways of being creative. It’s good to explore a lot of different avenues and use whatever facilities that you have available to you. 

The reason I feel like I’ve become a good producer over the past couple of years is that I had the time, in the pandemic, to knuckle down on my skills, and I had funding to build a studio. So it’s making the most of what you have. And I probably wouldn’t be here if I weren’t given my first free clarinet lessons when I was in primary school. Shout out to the Scottish Government!

Any sort of funding or support makes a massive difference, doesn’t it?

Particularly for independent and self-managed artists. I got Creative Scotland and Help Musicians funding, and bits from the PRS Foundation. They’re actually teaching me. I’ve got an Ableton trainer at the moment that I do weekly lessons with, and that’s through PRS Foundation. 

Having all this stuff is crucial, not only for getting artists up to the level of making music and albums, but if we’re looking at headliners in the future, we need to have lots of women having the skill set to get there, and the facilities.

Photo Credit: Rhianonne Stone

We’ll definitely return to the role of women and music later on, but you mentioned lockdown was a catalyst for diving into production. Did you not like banana bread?

That’s really funny you said that, because I’m a terrible chef. I’ve never had any interest in cooking or baking because I find it really time consuming. I think with the hours that you put into making food and then you eat it, I’d rather place that into a song and it lasts forever.

It’s finding what suits you personally, because I know a lot of people find cooking and baking relaxing and therapeutic and it’s a social thing for them. I do other bits and bobs. I do dancing and painting and poetry.

With lockdown, well, the album is about a pandemic break-up that I had. I didn’t have any other escape from it apart from sitting in my feelings and working it out. I noticed I wasn’t really healing from the break-up unless I was putting it into a creative outlet. 

I wouldn’t say that if you need therapy, make music. If you need therapy, go see a therapist. But for me, I have a therapist anyway. Making music and production was a big part of that and also for my own confidence as well, in stepping into the role of a producer. 

It was a big project, but I loved having the reins on it and crafting it and pulling pieces together.

How did you get started with the record, and was there a point when you felt things were falling into place with it?

Right at the beginning with my EP (Flux, 2020) I had GarageBand and a cracked copy of Logic and I was just using the sounds within the software there. By the time of the pandemic, I got Ableton and was looking into third party plug-ins and exploring sounds. But I was making pop music that didn’t really mean much to me, because I don’t write for fun; I write for when I’ve got something to say. 

By the time that the break-up happened, I was listening to a lot of 60s soul, jazz and heartbreak music. I thought, this makes sense that I would move into this. I don’t know if you know software and Ableton, but there’s BBC Orchestra on Spitfire. It’s an orchestral plug-in. I found it really relaxing, playing with an orchestra, because I used to when I was a kid playing clarinet. I was bringing that back in, seeing how all the instruments speak to each other, and making really lush compositions to express my heartbreak. 

I think it’s tapping into how you feel and using specific sounds as an outlet. I think there’s a reason why I went down that route of orchestral soul and jazz as opposed to indie rock music, because at the time, that’s what I was feeling and that’s how I needed to express myself, with all these sad-sounding violins.

Kohla – One and Only (Live with Popgirlz Scotland)

So lockdown and a break-up forged the album?

When the break-up happened, I didn’t write for about six months.  I was upping my skills as a producer at that point and I hadn’t moved into orchestral programming. By six months in, I thought, I really need to sit down with my feelings and express this. The whole idea of it was really about my own heartbreak. 

But also, I say it’s a heartbreak album, but it’s really about the romance of self-love and finding myself, and how I healed. And the way I did that was through connecting with nature and spirituality. It’s really an album about inner healing and standing on my own two feet and witnessing myself as a 20-something female and how when we were younger, as girls in school, we were taught that when you had a relationship, you’d be saved. But we never really learned that the saving had to happen by ourselves.

I think it’s an interesting age, your mid to late 20s, because it’s so glamourised, if you think about films and TV and books. The point I stepped into my own was at like 25, 26, 27, and I realised who I was and what I wanted to do. 

Photo Credit: Rhianonne Stone

Did you have a lot of fully realised things that you knew you wanted to bring together, or is that just how the songs came out?

For the most part, it was fully realised. I had the title early on and I had this big sense of how I was feeling and how that would look, visually and sonically. I had the whole idea of having everything shot on film: vintage clothes, hair, the setting and the time. What I really wanted to do was to create a world and then invite the listener to sit with me in it and to experience all the songs and the visuals as one. So it felt quite cinematic. And again, I knew that I wanted to have it quite short as well. 

I have a wee thing with the number seven. I’m born on the 7th and it’s always been my lucky number, so I wanted it to be seven tracks from the start. I felt with the collection of songs, I was very precise with what I said and it had a strong narrative and storyline from start to finish. 

And even with the singles we put out, there was a reason why the order was like that too. ‘Sweetest Love’ opened up the story and gave quite a lot of lyrical narrative. And then by the time ‘Bedroom’ came in, it was showing the production side. While a part of this album is about heartbreak, the other half is really about inner healing and stepping into yourself. So yeah, it has been in my head from start to finish!

Of course, with writing there was stuff that changed a wee bit along the way. I did a bit of rewriting in February 2022 because I felt the album was feeling too sad. I wrote ‘Golden’ and ‘Bedroom’ at the end because I wanted to give a bit more optimism. I’m really glad I went back to that and figured out what was missing, because I didn’t want people to hear it and to feel as destroyed as I felt. I wanted people to understand that life is the process and the best is still to come.

Kohla – Lovebites (Live with Popgirlz Scotland)

There are certainly songs that celebrate love on the album.

I think there’s a lot of different ways to look at it. There’s a lot of depth with it, because I think particularly with ‘Sweetest Love’, the first single, the first time you hear it, you think it’s really beautiful and it’s about lost love and how gorgeous that is. But diving into the lyrics, it’s about being delusional and a lot about the romance we’re taught as young girls. I think it’s a way of not allowing us to figure out what we actually want and how to build a life for ourselves. So part of it is celebrating how beautiful romance and love is, because it is beautiful, and it should be celebrated. The other half is thinking about how beautiful it is to be independent and to find happiness within yourself. Yeah, it’s a marrying of themes.

You enjoy slipping in the odd swear word when you can?

Yeah, with life, nothing is super sweet all the time and I think when people meet me, I come across as a quiet and sweet person. But at the same time, I am very opinionated and I do have really strong values and beliefs and if I’m going to say something about how I’m feeling, I’m going to say it. And also, some of my favourite artists like Lana Del Rey and Frank Ocean, they swear a lot!

Sometimes swear words can be really powerful. I think it depends on the context of the other words and the art around it. I don’t swear in every one of my songs, but when it’s suited to the music and the sound and lyrics, then it can add quite a lot.

You’ve had London and Glasgow shows recently, with an Edinburgh album launch gig. How have the shows been for you?

Yeah, it’s funny because I’m a songwriter and producer; that’s what my love is. So I’ve been really surprised with how well the live shows have gone. I was quite nervous of performing the music because it’s so emotional and it can be a bit teary for me. What’s interesting is I’ve noticed a shift in my audience too, where it’s become a bit of an older age range.

I thought when I was writing the music, it was going to be just young girls resonating with it, but I’ve been pretty wrong. I’ve had a lot of emotionally mature men digging it, so, it’s been a lovely surprise and I think with that audience, there’s so much respect for my type of music. They allow me to be quiet, gentle and emotional, so I’m not having to fight with anyone to hear me. Everyone’s there to hear the songs.

I think that gig in Glasgow was amazing. I can’t stop smiling about it. The lineup (with Carla J Easton and Ruby Gaines); the audience and the venue; the sound; everything was perfect that night.

I’m looking forward to the Edinburgh show, having the harpist and doing things a wee bit differently. I don’t really hear too much orchestral, soul or jazz stuff happening in Scotland, so it’s probably been a bit of a surprise for the audience as well. And I noticed when I performed ‘Heavenly’ at the Glasgow gig, it felt like no one was expecting an orchestral piece in a pop show. 

Photo Credit: Rhianonne Stone

About the Glasgow show: it seemed as though every song was introduced as your favourite. Have you narrowed it down yet? 

No [laughs]. You know what, that’s really hard! Because they all mean so much. But I think my storytelling in ‘Love Bites’, I was really proud of that. And if we’re looking for a centrepiece for the album, I would direct people to that song because it adds everything. Heartbreak, spirituality, inner healing, standing on your own two feet. And it’s orchestral, but with modern jazz melodies. 

That’s the song I would direct people to, but I love all of them.

Do you worry about putting so much of yourself out there for public consumption?

I think to be the best artist that you can be, that goes with the territory. It depends what music you want to make, because there’s a lot of commercial pop music being made and broadcast with light, fluffy lyrics, and that’s fine if you want to do it that way. But for me, it’s always been a lot more personal and there’s no point in doing it unless I’m really going to do it. 

I think for my own personal growth as well, I had to dig into it. I am a wee bit nervous. I haven’t spoken to my ex, who I wrote everything about. Also, I’m getting a big billboard put up in the Glasgow subway, so that’ll be a nice surprise for him.

Will he instantly know it’s about him when he hears it? 

I feel like I’ve given quite a lot away lyrically. In ‘Sweetest Love’, I was saying my boyfriend is in a band and we’re in Glasgow and Broadcast. Also, I’m probably never going to speak to him, so we’ll never know. But as part of the art, it’s good to leave it up to the spectators for their own opinion and illusion.

As a female singer/songwriter/producer/artist, how do you feel about the industry at this time?

I was a lot more optimistic before I started my release campaign because I feel it’s been really up and down. From an outward perspective, it looks like it’s all going really well, but I’ve honestly had times where I’ve been crying and things haven’t been working. And I just think there isn’t that much room for emotional music being broadcast on radio or being given opportunities. Which is funny, because I know from my experience now that there’ve been so many emotionally intelligent men really digging into this. But at the top, I still feel there’s men gatekeeping it and it’s still really hard for women to break through. 

At the same time, what we saw with that Glasgow gig shows how easily it can be done and the response shows how much people are wanting it. So I think it’s really dependent on everyone coming together and making wee changes and supporting each other. After last week’s gig, I felt so much better about everything. And Carla and Ruby’s music is also really emotional as well, and we all had an evening to celebrate it. 

There’s room for improvement, but there’s always so much fantastic art happening at a grassroots level that will break through, even if it takes a while. 

I think perhaps I’m not going to have the biggest response this year for the album, but maybe in a couple of years when it still feels timeless. And I feel like I’m competing at the moment with a lot of music that’s made very specific for right now, that’s very modern, but it’s going to be forgotten about next year. With the way that I create art, I create it for a lifetime.

What’s next for Kohla?

Well, I’m excited to get back in the studio because the past six months has been so focused on the campaign and getting everything pushed out. I’ve really missed being in a studio and producing. That’s where I’m happiest, and I’m a quiet person as well. I’m looking forward to taking a step back and focusing on making art and piecing together a project. I don’t know how long it’s going to take me to put together. Might be years, but I’m relaxed with that. 

I think this whole album has given me more of a sense of who I am as an artist, and I am an album artist, and I’d rather take time away and create something really special. And then you don’t hear from me for a while, but I’ll be back with something else that I’m really proud of. So, yeah, looking forward to that again and just becoming a hermit crab. I mean, obviously I’m still going to be doing shows. I’m going to push it more into England as well. I’m speaking to Newcastle and Leeds, so I’m just going to try and do shows outside of Scotland, keep on building things up and getting the music heard, because that’s half the battle in making good music, getting people to hear.

And what do you hope people get from Romance

Oh, I just want them to feel something. I think the reason why I love Lana Del Rey’s or Frank Ocean’s music is because it makes me feel something, and I think about my memories. I organise things in my head about what I was thinking of and then I let things go. I’d love for people to get a bit more in touch with their emotions, relax and be a bit easier on themselves.

Romance is out 8th September. Listen here.

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