Photo courtesy of Emery Becker
Before LA-based artist Jenna Kalista began her foray into the sparkling, catchy, creative world of pop music, her main work was in classical vocal performance. After graduating from the University of Southern California, Jenna decided her passion for music would be better suited in the pop genre, though her classical training afforded her a great deal of skill, particularly in regards to her breathing and vocal power. On her debut single “Phoenix,” just released today, Jenna Kalista emerges reborn and ready to make a name for herself in the pop community.
“Phoenix” opens with the quiet crackling of a bonfire, low and creeping before giving way to a bubbly pop beat chiming underneath Jenna’s strong, versatile voice. She starts soft with a smooth delivery before the instrumentation builds into a booming percussion-based arrangement mimicked by her empowered vocals singing the track’s addictive hook. Throughout “Phoenix,” Jenna moves between breathy singer-songwriter tones with clicking, warbling rhythms to explosions of full-on sing-along pop. Towards the end of the track, Jenna chants a mesmerizing, echoing affirmation: “I’m alive.” The electric chorus hits once again, rounding out the track with an impressive consistency, soulful harmony, and layered indie-pop rhythms, coming full-circle and concluding with a sudden fizzling fade-out.
On her debut single, young pop songstress Jenna Kalista has certainly made her mark. “Phoenix” is a high-powered anthem for endurance, fierce and fiery courtesy of Jenna’s supreme vocals and insistent pop rhythms. Listen to “Phoenix” here and read on for an exclusive Buzz Artist interview with Jenna regarding her creative process, some of her favorite USC acts, and her classical background.
Buzz Artist: First, can you tell Buzz Artist a little about yourself and your music?
Jenna Kalista: Sure! My name is Jenna Kalista and I am a vocal-pop artist based in LA. I have been singing forever, but actually studied vocal performance at USC.
BA: Los Angeles is a huge hub for music, especially pop. What are the advantages and disadvantages of being a young independent artist in the LA music industry today?
JK: There are so many of both advantages and disadvantages. I would say the main disadvantage is that there really are so many up-and-coming pop artists, so it’s hard to make yourself stand out and show that you have something unique to offer. But on the other hand, because it is such a hub, there are so many people to work with! I love collaborating with other musicians, producers, artists, etc, and it’s all so accessible in LA.
BA: Can you tell us about the production process behind your debut single, “Phoenix”?
JK: So I teamed up with Allerdyce (the producer moniker of audio engineer Andi Inadomi) to produce the track. Basically I took a voice memo of the song to him, along with a playlist I had created, with songs that I felt would point him in the right direction in terms of the vibe I was looking for. He worked on it for a little and then we got together to listen to a rough version. The first time I heard it, I knew I chose the right team. He really nailed it. Then from there we worked with a few different versions of it, got in the studio to record, and everything after that happened pretty quickly.
BA: What do you hope to accomplish with your upcoming music?
JK: I would love to get my name out there as an artist. I studied classical music, so breaking into this scene is new for me, but it’s been a really exciting process! I’ve already learned so much just from releasing this one song and I’ve loved every part of it. My hope is that I can stay in this industry and make a name for myself.
BA: What is the songwriting process usually like for you?
JK: It’s different every time. If I’m writing alone, a lot of times the melody and lyrics come to me at the same time and they are usually about a situation that I have experienced. Then I go add chords and figure out the rest from there. “Phoenix” was very different because I co-wrote it with a friend. I went to her and said “I just want to write. I don’t want it to be about anything specific, I just want to write a song.” So we wrote “Phoenix.” One of the reasons I love co-writing so much is that everyone has a different way that they write. I love learning from other people and taking bits and pieces of what I learn and trying to write like that myself. We wrote “Phoenix”‘s chords first, ad libbed a couple melodies and then really went in on the lyrics. “Phoenix” is about rising above tough circumstances, but there wasn’t a specific circumstance I thought about while writing it, which was pretty new for me. It’s funny though, as I was going through the production process and getting ready to release the song, a lot of other things were going on in my life and even though it wasn’t about anything specific originally, it has come to mean something very specific to me and has really helped me get through some stuff I didn’t see coming. Funny how things work like that.
BA: In addition to your work as a pop vocalist, you’re also classically trained. Can you talk a little about that part of your musical trajectory?
JK: Classical music was basically my whole life until I graduated from USC. I joined my first choir when I was 6 years old. My mom actually had to lie to them and tell them I was 7, because that was the minimum age, and I wanted to join so badly. I started taking classical voice lessons when I was 12. I was in like 5 choirs during high school — some of them were an hour away from home and I had to drive to San Francisco every weekend for rehearsals. I was always involved in musical theater and would dabble with writing my own stuff. When I went to college, I decided to major in Classical Voice because I knew that even if I didn’t go down that road, it would provide a solid foundation for me. I was in the operas, chamber operas, musicals and recitals all through college. But that’s also when I discovered the Popular Music Program at USC and I realized that would have been a better fit for me. So although it was too late to transfer in, I integrated myself as much as possible and ended up singing backup for a bunch of the bands and even did my own show at the campus venue, Tommy’s Place. I still listen to classical music in my car (and my friends make fun of me for it), but it will always hold a special place in my heart and I am very grateful for the training I got, which allowed me to be able to sing in any genre.
BA: You’ve posted a few beautiful covers on your Soundcloud. What do you like about both performing covers and developing your own original tracks?
JK: I love all types of music, so covers are really fun because you can cover any genre or band and put your own twist on it. As far as writing my own stuff, it’s a lot more personal. Like I said, it’s usually based on a real life experience or, at the very least, an experience of someone I know. So to put that out there is a whole different experience. It’s raw and it’s usually a way more emotional process for me.
BA: If you could collaborate with 5 musicians, living or dead, who would they be and why?
JK: Well I grew up listening to The Rat Pack, so definitely Frank Sinatra. I would have loved to duet with him, he has such a smooth tone and I feel like the harmonies would have been on point. Mumford and Sons, because they are my favorite band. I’ve seen them live like 5 times and they blow me away every time. Billy Joel would be incredible! My family loves Billy Joel and I grew up with my parents blasting that around the house, so to sing with him would be awesome. I would also love to do something with Julia Michaels. She has been writing huge hits behind-the-scene for years and is just now coming out as her own artist. There is something about collaborating with female musicians, especially those that are so close to my age, that is so inspiring and I feel like she would be amazing to work with. Last, but not least, Stevie Nicks. I feel like she doesn’t even need an explanation as to why!
BA: Who are some musicians you’re listening to lately who deserve major recognition?
JK: There are so many amazing artists out there but I have to give a shout-out to some of my fellow Trojans [USC students’ nickname]. MUNA is probably one of my favorite bands right now. They are so passionate and evoke so much emotion from anyone who listens to them. They are really taking off right now and it’s so cool to see that happen for them. RKCB is also killing it. Every track they release is amazing. And lastly, Lauren Ruth Ward, who is an incredible artist but also an incredible person. My college roommate, Liv Slingerland (who also has her own amazing band!), is her bass player and our good friend, India Pascucci, is her drummer. I love supporting my friends and watching them succeed!
Buzz Artist: Finally, what’s next for Jenna Kalista?
Jenna Kalista: Well recently I’ve been writing a bunch and have a few songs lined up to start production on! This whole process has been so fun for me, so if I can keep this momentum going, I would love to keep releasing music and maybe start playing live shows! I’ll be sure to keep you posted!