“My credentials don’t make my music more/less special so I won’t bore you with my resume,” writes Kiri T on her website. Bold and unreserved, the independent artist opens up to Lifestyle Asia about her affinity for classical music, how she looks to other cultures for inspiration and her upcoming plans and releases.
A singer-songwriter who grew up between Hong Kong, the US and the UK, Kiri T is a refreshing face in the monotonous local music industry. Having only released her first single in 2019, the self-taught artist is technically “new”, but dig deeper, and you’ll discover she’s actually a veteran with 13 years of behind-the-scenes experience.
Those songs from the ’00s you listened to throughout your childhood by Cantopop superstars like Joey Yung, Denise Ho and Kary Ng? Yup, Kiri T wrote them. More specifically, she wrote them at the age of 14. If that isn’t impressive, then I don’t know what is — I mean, what were you doing when you were 14?
But enough about her backstage work. Let’s get back to the present, where 27-year-old Kiri T is now the main character. Sassy and outspoken like her favourite artist UPSAUL, Kiri T the independent artist is someone who values her freedom and the autonomy she wields to make music her own way. Rather than writing in Chinese, like she still does for other singers to this day, she writes her own songs in English, a language she feels is more authentic to herself as an artist. She’s not afraid to carve her own path and, well, be unapologetically Kiri T. Here’s what she has to say.
Tuning In: Kiri T
Who is Kiri T?
Kiri T is a music artist who loves everything colourful, pop and R&B. I think of my music as a reflection of the mixture of cultures that I grew up in and the combination of identities that developed from that.
When and how did your interest in music begin?
When I was younger, I loved improvising on the piano and always enjoyed listening to what I created. I was never good at reading sheet music but was very obsessed with “making something up” on whatever instruments I played. I guess that was my first step into the world of songwriting.
Did you grow up around music? Does it run in your family?
None of my family members played any instruments, but they have great taste in music. Growing up, my father looped Pink Floyd and Queen concert DVDs at home all the time and my mother was obsessed with Hong Kong legends such as Leslie Cheung and Anita Mui. I was also heavily into classical ballet when I was a kid, and as a result of that, I found an affinity with classical music.
When did you realise you were musical? Can you pinpoint a formative moment when you realised you were good?
To be honest, I’m still a work in progress to this day. I think a formative moment where I realised I could make sensible musical decisions, though, was when I was 14. My family switched over from Windows to Mac, and that was the first time I was introduced to music software (GarageBand, specifically). In the beginning, I was just messing around on it, but then I slowly realised I could actualise musical ideas in my head using its functions.
How have different cultural influences in your life shaped you as a musician?
I think being exposed to different cultures growing up is very humbling. People from different cultures have different ways to express emotions through music and songwriting. This world of music is so fascinating and rich, it keeps me hungry to learn, as a musician myself.
Seeing how different types of music thrive in different cultures encourages me to try more things as well. Knowing that there isn’t a single correct answer to what makes a piece of music popular, because cultures shift all the time, makes popular music a fun game to play.
What’s the first song you each ever learned by heart?
“Minuet in G” by Johann Sebastian Bach.
What’s the first track we should listen to that best defines your sound?
What song, album or performance had a really important, lasting impact on you, both personally and as an artist?
“Just Friends (Sunny)” by Musiq Soulchild. It’s just so timeless!
Who’s your favourite musician/artist and why?
Tough question, I love so many artists. But I guess for right now, my favourite artist is UPSAHL. I love how unapologetically emo, sassy and outspoken she is with her music. I’m angry about a lot of things in life and it’s so cathartic blasting her music in my AirPods — I feel like I’ve got a buddy to be angry about things with.
What does music, or being a musician, mean to you?
I think my music is an encapsulation of who I am at the time of the making. The style shifts across time, just like how a person grows over time.
What’s your creative process?
My process is all over the place! Any conversation can be a source of inspiration for a song. I like jotting down lyrics and recording voice memos randomly: on buses, trains, taxis, planes, in the shower. I usually only sit down in front of my computer and make a demo when I have most of the song figured out in my head.
Do you have any pre- and post-show rituals?
Pre-show: I usually spend some time doing vocal exercises to warm up, then do my makeup at the studio, and meditate for three to five minutes before I head to the venue.
Post-show: Binge-eat skewers.
What’s your favourite lyric, ever?
“人是痛苦的 處處經書有字句 記載差遣與恐懼”
It’s from a song called “迷失藝術” by Ivana Wong, a Cantonese singer I admire and respect a lot. The song is about how suffering, pain and fear are inescapable and inherent parts of the human experience.
What’s the toughest challenge you’ve had to overcome in your career?
I think I’ve been pretty lucky so far, in the sense that my crew of writers and musicians have always stood by me, pushed me to grow and are very kind to me. The challenge is that sometimes I feel a little ashamed that my career isn’t commercially successful enough to support them. This is something I am working on, figuring out a better business strategy or model so I can actually sustain my crew and give back to them.
How has your music changed and evolved over the years since you started?
I went through many phases. In my earlier works, I wrote about general topics and focused on the production or the overall musical vibes. But these days, I’m very into storytelling and drawing more inspiration from personal experiences.
What’s next? What are you working on?
I have a few singles slated to be released in the next few months, leading up to an EP next year. The first new single is gonna be released in the summer and it’s of a genre I’ve never done before, so I am very pumped to finally share that with my audience!
(Lead and featured photos courtesy of Kiri T)