With a voice like butter and a striking visual presence that combines the power of music, fashion and art, Melbourne-based neo-soul artist AKOSIA is taking the Australian music industry by storm.
This winter, AKOSIA returns with her latest single and video, “ISO”. A smooth fusion of R&B, trap and soul, “ISO” explores sensuality, passion, and a boldness that comes with the intoxication of love through Akosia’s flirtatious songwriting. Written during Melbourne’s 2020 lockdown, “ISO” is the embodiment of AKOSIA’s feelings of love, lust and longing during her time in isolation.
We sat down with AKOSIA to discuss her career so far, her experience writing ISO and where she is going next.
How did you get started into a career in music?
I’ve been performing since I was a child, my first solo performance was at the age of 4, where I sang “This Little Light of Mine” at a school concert. It’s always been part of my blood, something that I’m compelled to do, something that I can’t deny. In grade 3, I won a scholarship to attend the National Children’s Choir of Australia and began my formal training. In high school, I joined my first band, joined the YABC theatre group and fell even more in love with music.
Things became more serious for me when I joined an electronic band called Zzz and realized that this was something I really wanted to do, and could do, as a career. After being the lead singer in a jazz band, a soul band and professional groups that performed at the Logies, Carols By Candlelight and other high profile events, I realized that I needed to step out on my own. I have a very strong voice inside me that needed more space to grow and in 2019 I released my first single Don’t Say with a bang of colours and emotions.
Who or what inspires you to do what you do?
My inspirations vary but are heavily dependent on my perception of the living spirit. By that I mean moments where honesty is captured and rings out true, where the human experience is laid bare and pulsing. I am inspired by so many artists across genres, decades and disciplines, especially Sade, Miles Davies, Pina Bausch, Billie Holiday, Chinua Achebe and H.E.R to name a few. I love the power that these artists command as people, and through their work. There is an audacity that comes with knowing themselves without any shame, this power cuts like a knife and leaves me vulnerable and willing to listen and learn. I am always in awe.
To date, what is your favourite song that you’ve written and performed?
My songs are like sons, or maybe more accurately like my moods, and to choose a favourite feels a bit false. They all hold their own weight, mean a particular thing and symbolize something special. “Help Me” is a very raw song, when I perform it I feel like it’s just for me. I remember everything I’ve been through these last 2 years and share that pain with my audience.
When writing ISO, how did you come up with the lyrics and melody?
We were in the middle of lockdown so the subject was close at hand, in fact, it was a bit too close haha. It’s difficult for me to explain how I write, but essentially I do a lot of listening to the ideas in my head then I gently tease them out like a fragile thread. Through a process of repetition and singing my ideas out loud, they build up to become a song. ISO is very bold and flirtatious, when I wrote it I didn’t write it with any strong intentions of it being a single nor did I stop to think about how anyone else thought about it. I just wanted to be playful and not restrict myself.
I’ve heard some artists dream new songs, have you ever dreamt a song and gone on to write it?
Yeah, it happens often, it’s so hilarious because in the middle of a vivid dreamscape I’ll hear a song and think that it’s the BEST SONG humanity has ever known. The issue is pulling myself out of the dream to fumble for my phone and record a coherent enough idea that I can build upon in the morning. Sometimes it’s a weird tuneless muffle but every now and then it’s a solid tune! Light in the gloom is a dream song, it hasn’t been produced yet but it’s really magical.
What is a favourite memory you have of creating Light in the Gloom?
In the morning after I dreamt the tune, I found the chords and built a very nostalgic song. It was a poignant moment because it voiced sorrow that I had been suppressing and I started to acknowledge the power of channelling and transferring my emotions into music.
Have you set yourself any particular career aspirations within the music industry?
Oh yeah! I want to work with some of my favourite songwriters and win an Aria award one day. I’m excited for the day that I’ll go to the cinema and hear my song at the climax of a dramatic moment. I’m looking forward to travelling overseas to do shows, and I want to continue to work hard to understand everything I can about songwriting and translating my emotions and ideas fluidly into music.
When creating the music clip for ISO, was it hard to determine wardrobe and the overall look & feel of the clip?
I spent a lot of time working with my director and creative team discussing motives, metaphors and concepts to realize what the music video could be. I also allow space for my collaborators to elevate my ideas and create something that they are excited about, have always wanted to try or haven’t seen in their field of work. Visual ideas require a lot of creativity, time, patience and luck. I was truly lucky to work with Simon Hartman London and Jason Grech for my wardrobe. When it comes to decisions, after I have the foundation of a solid creative process, I make my choices based on my intuition and a “special” feeling kicks in when I’m on the right track.
What has been your favourite live gig to date and why?
Ooooh I can’t choose just one. Performing alongside Julia Stone was such an honour and an incredible moment singing by the ocean as the sun went down, I’ll never forget it. Another favourite was singing at the forum for Square up, it was such a rush and the crowd was wild! Later this year I’m performing at the NGV and also VIVID Sydney, those shows are going to be unforgettable. I have something special planned for both of them.
What keeps you motivated in such a competitive and challenging industry?
I’m actually not competing with anyone else. We’re all in this thing together and as an artist it is my job to be myself, sing with my own voice and share the ideas that move me. That’s my superpower, that’s my magic. Otherwise, it just gets too hard and mentally impossible to deal with. I also set small goals and release myself from any pressure aside from working to create the best art that I can.
When you’re not writing & performing music, what do you love to do?
I love my family and friends. I love eating food, watching films, reading and when I can explore nature. I’m a very sensory person, so I’m often chasing the next good moment.
Do you have suggestions for aspiring artists on how to pursue a music career?
Keep your focus on the music. That is your home and will keep things in check, but also be realistic about what you’ve got and continue to work on your craft. Surround yourself with a team of people you can trust, that really support you and keep up with your dreams. Be patient. I’m totally speaking to myself now, it feels like everything needs to happen yesterday but this time is important to listen and develop your craft. Lastly, as long as you prioritize inspiration when it calls you’ll never lack and it will continue to flow, you won’t actually know what to do with it all.
Other than your own music, which artists do you love to listen to and why?
I’m not always seeking out new music because I want my strongest musical influence to be internal. But any artist that speaks their truth has my full attention. I really love Jhene Aiko, Lauryn Hill, J Dilla, Nina Simone, SZA, Frank Ocean and so many others.
AKOSIA’s new single “ISO”, produced by Grammy-nominated producer Will Stah, is available to be streamed on Spotify and Apple Music. The music video for the piece, directed by Dale Crawford, is available on Youtube.