How did you improve your songwriting skills?
Growing up, I experienced a lot of moving around. I was forced to grow up meeting new people all the time. When I first started writing songs at eleven years old, I was inspired by musicians I heard online and on the radio and wrote about what they were experiencing. I was creating for years before anything serious came about. And I created anything and everything – both good and bad.
But during COVID, when I was thirteen, I started writing about my own experiences and things that had impacted me. They were things that I needed to write about, to channel my emotion into words. I was really happy with these songs, and my mum could see something in them too. More than just supporting me because I was her child, she saw something worth nurturing. She signed me up to the Songwriting Course and I had mentorship around my writing. I was proud of these songs and they shaped my first album called “Hindsight”.
Your debut album coincided with your diagnosis of Autism and ADHD. With the benefit of hindsight, what did you learn through releasing your first album?
I started releasing singles at 15 years old, and my debut album “Hindsight” was released when I was 16. The album is about looking back at the past with new perspectives. Looking at the past based on the person I am now. That reflection has helped me to accept myself and what I’ve been through. To help me understand I did the best I could at the time with the things that I had. It’s been healing for me.
I realised things about myself through the creation of this album that has allowed me to be okay with my mental health and my neurodiversity. It has made me more aware of myself and who I am and helps me with relationships in the future.
I used to struggle with who I was. I was diagnosed with Autism and ADHD at 15 and I learnt that I was different but that there wasn’t anything wrong with me, instead fundamentally different. And that’s okay. And that’s not something to be ashamed of, but to be proud of. It also gave me an avenue to help myself and understand myself – which led to self-acceptance. And find ways to be the best version of myself that I can be.
Your artistic vision is expansive. Tell us more about this and how do you bring to life these visions with the resources you have at your disposal?
When I’m writing songs, I categorize them into album concepts. I love stories. I write albums like authors write a novel – there is a story from start to end, there is a middle, visuals surround it, there are complex story lines and subplots. If you look at the lyrics, you can see the symbols throughout and stories.
I have a Pinterest board for each project that I do. I might only have 2 songs, but the visual and story is there. It’s almost tangible just how concise I make it. I want to give it to my audience and say: here is my story, now it’s yours to get lost in and make your own.
Then with the clarity of vision, I go and make it a reality with the help of my team and community.
Tell us about how you built your strong creative team
To support my songwriting growth and then the artistic development phase and the process of building an artist brand, putting together release assets, and building a team, Kaiyah joined Level Up Club when she was 14 years old. With her mum and her mentor, this triad of support has been vital for her growth process.
“The greatest joy of this work is that I’m surrounded by so many creative people as part of my team. Between the 3 of us, we are the powerhouse. We didn’t know where to start, what’s right, what’s wrong, what we need to focus on, and so coming to IHSC has been helpful in putting us in the right direction so we can execute these releases as best we can.
My creative friends make the artwork for single covers, my merch, star in my music videos, etc. I love being able to promote their work in conjunction with something I’m working on.
I have these visions and I just need these creative people around me to execute them. I’m so lucky to have these people around me who get excited to work on these projects with me, but they also add their own creativity and talent to it.
With the producer for this upcoming album, Seetali Mack, working with her is like playing tennis in the studio. We both throw ideas out there, and toss it back and forth growing the idea and lifting the energy higher. There’s no judgment and attachment to the idea in that space, it’s all for the enhancement of the idea.
There are people who I creatively gel with more than others, but I still take every opportunity to make the most of something even if it isn’t someone I would work with again. Everyone brings something unique to the table and there’s still something I can gain from it.
Your new music is in a really new direction. How did you go about establishing a new genre for this album?
I had no idea what my sound was making my first album. Looking back, I can see that it’s a mix of country and folk. But with this new album, I’m clearly stepping into indie pop. This is the music that I listen to and represents the person that I am now.
My team including myself, my mother and Francesca (my mentor), we put together some playlists. The goal of this activity was to solidify the style I wanted to go in for me and the people that I would work with. I couldn’t rely on the last album as my reference, so the playlist was crucial in helping me find the producer I wanted to work with.
It was through your new work that you came out to the world that you were queer. Tell us more about this.
I wrote “Hide with Me” about coming to terms with my sexuality and self-identity. It’s a song about self discovery but also finding love and romance and connection. It discusses the fear of self-discovery and the process of discovering that I’m queer – but also that I’m autistic.
The song was inspired by the TV show, Heartstopper. It’s about people of all ages discovering who they are. For us teens, we’re at the start of discovering this for our lives. I’m hoping that people can find a connection to the song, through the process of self-discovery.
What helped me the most was feeling a connection to other queer artists and creatives. They are unapologetically who they are and they inspired me to publicly share who I am. A positive role model, that’s who I want to become.
Kids and teenagers tend to have access to pure spirit and unfiltered creativity, and can remind us of what all humans can access if we remain open and uplifted. And Kaiyah Mercedes serves as a beautiful reminder to us as to what true creativity and collaboration looks like.
If you can relate to any of these themes, our hope is that you can benefit from the shared wisdom of this conversation. And if you want our guidance and support around releasing your music, check out Level Up Club.
Timestamps for podcast audio:
2:20 – Kaiyah takes us through her songwriting journey from the start to now.
13.09 – We talk about self-reflection through the lens of her new single “Hindsight” and the wisdom of hindsight.
16:00 – We talk about self-acceptance and being diagnosed with Autism and ADHD and navigating relationships.
24:50 – Kaiyah shares her vision for her artistic projects and some of the ways she brings ideas into tangible forms.
29:20 – We discuss the artistic development phase and the process of building an artist brand, putting together release assets, and building a team.
36:00 – Building trust in collaborative teams.
39:37 – Kaiyah talks about self-discovery and coming to terms with her sexuality and self-identity as a queer person.
43:56 – Kaiyah shares her song “‘Hide with me”.
48:00 – A practical path to establishing yourself in a new genre.
Kaiyah Mercedes is an LGBTQI+ singer/songwriter who, at just 17 years old, has already gained recognition for her deep and introspective music. Her lyrics are crafted with an intention to connect with listeners, touching on relatable themes such as young love, heartbreak, and the struggles of being a teenager in today’s world. Her music is a testament to her ability to capture the universal experiences of adolescence and beyond.
Contact Kaiyah: Website / Facebook / Instagram
Song Credit: “Hide With Me” – Written by Kaiyah Ridgway. Performed live by Kaiyah Mercedes.
Episode Show Notes:
Get your creativity, confidence, and songwriting output flowing. Join The Club and receive the support and structure to write 10 songs in 10 weeks and get feedback from a private peer community. This is THE essential writing practice that has changed the careers and lives of 1000s of songwriters worldwide.
Just getting started on your songwriting journey and need more hands-on support? Establish a firm foundation and develop your musical and lyric skills with our Beginner Songwriting Courses. They are the perfect place to begin and cover everything you need to know to write your first songs. You’ll receive lessons from Francesca directly!
Don’t struggle to write your next album – write an album a year with ease! Watch our Free Songwriting Masterclass.
Want more for your songwriting but don’t know where to go from here? Take the I Heart Songwriting Club Quiz to discover your next steps and inspire your way to writing better songs.
Get songwriting insights from I Heart Songwriting Club:
Be inspired by Francesca on socials:
Podcast theme song: “Put One Foot In Front Of The Other One” music and lyrics by Francesca de Valence
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