When Kiesa Rae Ellestad was 18 and charting a course for a career at sea, an acceptance letter from Selkirk College’s Contemporary Music & Technology Program caused her to veer towards her true passion.
Today the 25-year-old Selkirk College alumnae is known as Kiesza and her music career has taken off with the meteoric rise of her single “Hideaway.” Over the last few weeks the Canadian singer-songwriter has watched her catchy pop/dance song claim number-one on the UK charts and the official video of “Hideaway” has more than 12 million You Tube views and is growing by ¼ million views a day.
Kiesza has shot to the top of the music charts in Europe, but remains humble during a time of great success.
"It was the pivotal point where I decided that I was going to give music a real shot,” Kiesza says. "I was more into sailing and learning to navigate; I was directing my life towards working on tall ships and was making my way to Japan. When we arrived in Hawaii I spoke to my mom on the phone and she told me that I’d been accepted to Selkirk College. I left the ship and took a risk, I decided to back to school."
Growing up in Calgary, Kiesza split her time between her love of music and dance with sailing. She was part of the acclaimed Young Canadians to fuel her passion for performance and the Royal Canadian Navy reserves to tap into her interest in water.
Before she left for her sailing adventure on the Pacific, Kiesza submitted an audition tape to Selkirk College after hearing about the highly respected two-year music program from a friend. Instead of heading go Japan on a tall ship, she packed her bags to Nelson with her guitar.
“Selkirk is one of the best places where you can go to really discover who you are as a musician,” she says. “To go there with an open mind provided me with a great opportunity because I was able to explore so many options. When I entered Selkirk I thought I was a folk singer, but I explored all these different styles and it’s turned out that I’m this electronic, diva, house musician.”
A Relatively Rapid Rise
After graduating from Selkirk College, Kiesza continued onto Berklee College of Music in Boston which allowed her to make inroads into the New York music scene. Over the last five years Kiesza has been working her way through the industry as a songwriter—she has written songs for Rihanna, Kylie Minogue and Icona Pop—while continuing her work as solo artist.
The "Hideaway"video was shot on the streets of Brooklyn by Kiesza's brother. The impressive video was done without a single edit. Kiesza says she rehearsed with the dancers for three days prior to the day of shooting and then spent three hours practicing it with the all the elements. They nailed the video on the second attempt.
Last month Kiesza’s career took a sharp turn upwards when “Hideaway” rocketed to number-one in the UK and started to spread across Europe where it continues to rise in popularity. With an impressive video shot on the streets of Brooklyn that features zero edits and includes her talents in dancing/choreography, the song is showing no sign of slowing down.
"It's very reminiscent of the 1990s and in the UK right now that sort of deep house ‘90s sound is very zeitgeist,” she explains. “A lot of people who lived through the ‘80s and ‘90s get nostalgic from the sound. I've noticed there is quite a broad reach, it hits younger kids who feel it's a brand new, fresh sound. But people that are in their 40s who lived through that time, it brings them back to when they were growing it up."
Currently in London, Kiesza released her second official video “What Is Love” earlier this month and continues to write more songs for an album which is slated for an October release. She will be touring Europe this summer and plans to return to Canada for a tour when her album is released.
Selkirk Roots Play an Important Role
The bustling streets of London are a world away from mountain life in the Kootenays, but Kiesza credits Selkirk College with the turning point in her young career.
"I loved how the school was small and in an intimate setting,” she says of the program which is based out of Nelson’s Tenth Street Campus. “You knew all your instructors very well and they care about each student a little bit more because there is that closer relationship.”
The instructor who stands out the most for Kiesza is Gilles Parenteau. She says the keyboard instructor was a “musical guru” during her time at Selkirk and provided an important mentor at a key point in her life.
Kiesza recently released the "What Is Love" video which is a cover of Haddaway's original song.
"Gilles was a huge influence on me, he really pushed me,” she says. “Music is a tough world and that’s the first thing they tell you… the odds are against you. And it’s true. But Gilles really believed that I could do this and he pushed me above and beyond what you expect an instructor to do.”
Parenteau remembers Kiesza as one of the most memorable students he’s taught in his 23 years at Selkirk College.
“She is probably the most determined person I’ve ever met… nothing can stop that girl,” he says. “She’s the kind of person you don’t forget.”
The veteran instructor says Kiesza could have focussed on a number of avenues of the music business while she was at Selkirk College, but she chose keyboards in order to get a better grip on songwriting. It’s a choice that has obviously served her well.
“She’s smart because she knows you need to be well-rounded in this industry,” says Parenteau. “It’s not about being able to dance, sing and look good… you need more than that. To be able to write songs like she can, that helps your career in such an important way.”
Kiesza’s fondness for Selkirk College goes beyond the classroom and extends to the community where she spent two important years of her life.
"I loved Nelson... it's a magical place,” she says. “It has these four perfect seasons with all this great outdoor stuff to do, you can go skiing in the winter and waterskiing in the summer. It's a visually stunning place to live."
An Inevitable Return
Between creating more great music and getting used to British paparazzi jumping out from behind bushes in front her London home, Kiesza’s life is going full speed. Humble and genuine, she says the last few weeks have been a fun ride.
“It hasn’t really sunk in yet because it’s happening so quickly,” she says.
Kiesza talks about the success and making of "Hideaway" in this interview.
She continues to keep in touch with Selkirk College by visiting old classmates when the opportunity presents itself both in person and via social media. Later this month she is meeting up with fellow music program grad Erica Dee who is also enjoying some pretty sound success in Europe.
Though not exactly sure when, Kiesza says she would like to stop by Nelson and visit her old digs where she would welcome the opportunity to speak with current students.
“There’s a lot that I have learned going through the industry at this point,” says Kiesza. “I understand what it takes to get yourself out there and I think a lot of people don’t really know how to get from one point to another. There is a mindset you need to sink into and I have a lot of advice I could give to students.
“It would be nice to rep it [Selkirk College]. I would love to come back and visit and be involved in any way I can.”