After six years on Nickelodeon playing a superhero, Kira Kosarin is recalibrating to focus on a lifelong passion: music. From going on tour and releasing singles “Vinyl,” “Love Me Like You Hate Me,” and “47 Hours,” Kosarin is ready to show the world her R&B, trap, rap, and acoustic-filled album that reflects her most authentic self. With the release of her debut album, “Off Brand,” in April, Kosarin chats with us about the events that inspired her upcoming music and how she came to embrace her inner artist.
Could you start by giving some background on how you got to be in music and the entertainment industry?
Where do I start? So I grew up in a family of performers. My mom was an actress on Broadway, and my dad was a music director, so I kind of grew up in a household where I was expected and encouraged to speak two languages; there was English and there was music. In my earliest memories, I was singing and playing instruments with my family. I kind of grew up backstage at the theater, too, and I just loved any and every aspect of performing… When I was about 12, I met this really wonderful guy who had been on Disney and had started coaching kids for TV acting, and I took some classes and just sort of fell in love with it. He helped me move my life out to L.A. to try out the business. I had a really great, encouraging response, so I decided to stick with it. I was also writing music, but not really putting anything out yet, just focusing on school and auditions. I ended up booking The Thundermans, which was amazing. While that ran for six years, I was always writing music, but I wasn’t contractually able to release any of it. So once that show ended, I took a step back and decided I wanted to shift my focus a little bit and take a little bit of time to recalibrate myself after playing the same character for six years. Music was waiting for me and ready for me to take on this whole new career. Now I’m balancing both, which keeps me very, very busy, but very creatively fulfilled. Life is a little stressful, but it’s never boring.
How was the shift from starring on The Thundermans, a children’s TV show, to embracing your inner artist and producing your new album, Off Brand?
I mean, it’s different in every way. As an actor, you have some creative control, but at the end of the day, your job is to serve the show and to be versatile and collaborative, to work with people telling you what they need from you to fulfill this role. As an artist, your job is exactly the opposite. It’s to have a strong vision for yourself, getting the confidence to take control of not only my own creative decisions but my own business decisions. There’s an entrepreneurship aspect that goes along with being an independent artist that takes up just as much time as the creative part. There was also a big transition of allowing myself to be an adult, a woman. I spent so long wanting to be gracious and represent Nickelodeon in a way that they felt was appropriate. I was so grateful to have been a part of that Nickelodeon family for a really long time, but the time did come where I kind of realized in order to be happy going forward, I have to let go of that and let myself be open and honest and vulnerable in this new way with the music.
What drove you to begin writing songs? Do you remember the first song you wrote?
I think the first song I ever wrote—I was like six years old—was called “Go With the Flow.” It’s a very deep memory in my brain. Really though, when I started to write R&B acoustic songs on my guitar, it was when I was 16 and fell in love for the first time. I had never kept a diary, but I knew music, and music very quickly became my way of understanding and articulating my thoughts as a 16-year-old. I wrote a full album of love songs and then heartbreak songs that will probably never see the light of day while I was on the first couple of seasons of TheThundermans. It kind of set the foundation for me as a songwriter.
Music feels like a language that I speak almost more fluently than English sometimes. I think being able to connect with so many other musicians who think the same way that I do has been really special, and it’s given me this community that I really feel like I belong in.
How has music enabled you to embrace your own identity?
Music feels like a language that I speak almost more fluently than English sometimes. I think being able to connect with so many other musicians who think the same way that I do has been really special, and it’s given me this community that I really feel like I belong in. That’s a feeling that everyone’s kind of searching for and that I didn’t always have throughout my whole life, in school or in various different social circles. To feel like I have a place in a world where I can express myself in a way that feels authentic and in all sorts of different ways with different styles of music and be heard and understood by my peers is really nice.
Your upcoming album, Off Brand, is set to release next month. You have already released a couple of singles, such as “Vinyl,” “Love Me Like You Hate Me,” “47 Hours,” and just today, you released “Take This Outside.” How have fan reactions been so far?
They’ve been so great. I kind of wanted to show the different extremes of the album in the singles. For example, they’re all getting different reactions from different parts of the fan base, which I like. I’m trying to make something for everybody. I want to make more edgy music that I like and listen to, but I also want to not abandon the younger end of the fan base. So it’s really great. The responses have been awesome. I’m really excited about “Take This Outside,” which released today. That’s kind of my pop banger, turn-up song that I really hope people will enjoy as we head into summer.
So let’s talk about “Take This Outside.” What inspired the song, and what’s the meaning behind the title?
We basically wanted to see what would happen if we tried to make a 2019 trap-inspired banger with all of the influence of the late ’90s, early 2000s, and R&B, which I consider my biggest influence and the music that I love the most. We have really stacked harmonies and rhythmic syncopated fast flows that almost turned into rap sections. I think we came up with a really fun fusion that feels very authentically me and just a fun song. It just feels good. “Takes This Outside” is basically about when you are in a crowded place and you make eye contact with that one person who you just want, and everybody else disappears, and it’s like, “Hey, let’s just go be by ourselves for a little while, like let’s take this outside.”
In your upcoming album, what topics do you explore, and what’s the main message behind the songs?
With this whole album, I want people to sing it at the top of their lungs in the car and when they finish it, feel like they can conquer anything and just be the baddest bitch in the world. It was written in a part of my life where I was actively trying to take control of my own identity and my own life. I wrote all of the music from the perspective of that part of you that is the most confident, the most sure of yourself that you might not always be in or might not ever be in, but it’s in there.
How would you characterize the style and the general vibe of your upcoming album, Off Brand?
I find it really hard to categorize my sound because it feels like it’s kind of its own genre that’s been created. I’ve had two diametrically opposed styles of music that have really heavily influenced me. I have acoustic, R&B, guitar-driven stuff that I grew up on, and then I’ve got the hip hop and trap music and the rap that I really love and have kind of grown up listening to in the past few years. So it fuses those with just a lot of attitude. There’s a lot of early 2000 R&B influence through the lens of a very modern production, with elements leftover of my little guitar.
As a songwriter, what is your source of inspiration? What inspired your upcoming album?
I don’t write about things unless they’re happening in my life. I don’t sing lyrics unless they were, at least at some point, completely honest to me. So every song that I write is either inspired by a specific situation in my life or an artistic interpretation of an experience that I’ve had or a perspective on a type of experience that I and the other writer have had. Most of Off Brand relates to either people who I’ve dated, people who have influenced my development, or just a feeling that I wanted to turn into a piece of music. Some of the album was written lyrics first. Some of the album was written melody first. But at the end of the day, it is basically my diary from 2017 into 2018 and the transition of my life out of Nickelodeon and into being a grown woman.
With the release of Off Brand, what are you most excited about?
Honestly, I’m most excited to have this thing that I’ve created that I feel really represents at least one part of me out. I’ve been saying for three years, music is coming, music is coming, music is coming. Then for the past year and a half, I’ve been working on this particular project itself. My second album is almost done too. That’s like 75% of the way done, and that’s coming out later this year as well. So I’m just excited to have the ball rolling and to actually be able to just create and release and not have this whole back order of two years worth of material that I’ve been working on.
Final question, what’s next for you? Do you have any exciting upcoming projects you can share?
So many! So much is going on. Right now, I’m in the process of filming an indie movie that’ll be coming out hopefully later this year and some TV spots here and there. I’m definitely keeping the acting thing going. I’m also very far into work on the second album, so that has been taking up a lot of my time. I have a ton of international shows plans for this year, so I’ll be performing in Germany, doing a three-week tour in the UK, and playing a music festival in Singapore this coming fall. I’ve got a lot of international performances coming up, which is really special and important to me because the international fan base is just so wonderful and supportive on the Internet, and I just love every opportunity I get to actually interact with them in person.
STORY JANICE KIM
PHOTOS JERRY MAESTAS
HAIR DARBIE WIECZOREK using DAVINES and OUAI
MAKEUP ERIN B. GUTH
STYLIST AMBIKA “B” SANJANA
ASSISTANT RICHARD LOPEZ