Singer-songwriter Malia Civetz describes how Hawaii and Las Vegas has influenced her music and fed into her passion, whether it was through joining the Hula dancers or singing on the Las Vegas Strip. Civetz’s love for school and dedication to her craft are what got her a full college education at the USC Thornton School of Music. Her singles “Champagne Clouds” and “Little Victories” have been played on the radio, even making it onto Taylor Swift’s “Favorite Songs” playlist. Civetz chats with us about her time in college and what it is like to be a woman in the music industry. With a powerful voice, Malia Civetz is destined to be a rising star.
Right now you’re residing in California, but you grew up in Las Vegas. Tell me about what it was like growing up there.
It’s kind of interesting because everybody asks what it’s like growing up there, but everything in Las Vegas is very adult. I grew up in a little suburb called Henderson, which is like suburbia anywhere. It was pretty normal; I loved school growing up, I was one of those kids. For high school, I went downtown, literally in Las Vegas, so I got a little bit of Las Vegas when I was there, but I had a pretty normal childhood.
Did you enjoy growing up in Henderson?
Yeah, it was a really nice town. My parents were very supportive of what I wanted to do. Whether it was singing, dancing, acting, or playing the piano, they were always there for it. I really thank them for that.
Las Vegas has a huge music scene. Do you think growing up in Las Vegas influenced your style of music
Yes. I actually lived in Hawaii with my parents at one point and was there until I was five. There was something about growing up or starting a life there that really influenced everything.
What exactly about Hawaii influenced everything?
I think because there is live music everywhere. My parents worked in the hotel business, and I was always a really active, little kid. They would sometimes take me to their client dinners, and there would always have live music playing at the restaurants we would go to. I think being around live musicians all the time [made me so fascinated by the music industry]. I would go up and dance with the Hula dancers and ask my friends to come up with me. They were all very shy, so I would just go up myself and dance with Hula dancers while the musicians would be playing. I feel like I’ve been a little performer since day one. I think because there is such a huge love of music on the island, it’s kind of instilled in everyone throughout the island. Because that love was instilled in my parents, they were able to pass that love of music to me.
Have you been back to Hawaii since you have moved?
Yeah, so my dad’s company that he is working for now has an office on Maui. The Hawaiian Islands are some of the most beautiful places in the world. Every island has their own characteristics.
So your family was in the hotel business and you lived in hotels in Hawaii? What was that like?
It was a dream. I was so young, so I only remember bits and pieces, but I remember loving it. Once we moved to Las Vegas, we moved into a house in Henderson.
When did you exactly decide that you want music to be part of your life?
I think [when I was] five, because my grandma would take me to church. I started to sing in the church choir and the director kind of noted to my parents that I was pretty good at this. My parents were surprised, they really love music, but they don’t practice. They don’t sing or play, so they were like “Oh, she is? Okay, sure!” I joined singing groups from like five to 14, and I would do performances all around the [Las Vegas] Strip with trios, before starting to do solo stuff. And then people from different venues started to book me and ask for me to come back when I was around 13 to 17.
Did you start to form a community around music? Was it a leisure hobby to you at the time or something you took very seriously?
Yeah, it was kind of like a job. Not a job, but something I took seriously. I really did want it. I tried to book anything I can and learning from a lot of performers on the [Las Vegas] Strip. So there this guy who has been singing in Las Vegas forever. His name is Clint Holmes. He and his wife, Kelly Clinton, sort of became my mentors in Las Vegas. I was able to learn so much about performing and singing and how to control an audience. I actually credit Kelly for really pushing me to go to music school because it is hard to be a female in this industry. She urged me to go to school, learn music theory, learn the piano, you have to work hard and know your stuff because it is so hard to be a female in this industry. You have to prove yourself. Learn as best as you can, otherwise people won’t take you seriously.
Being an artist, I know it’s not just the artist making things happen. There’s a huge team behind [every success], and I really learned that your team has to be your extended family. When I was building my own team, I had these bullet points and knew what I was looking for.
On that note: you have two singles out right now, “Champagne Clouds” and “Little Victories,” you are making your way up in this industry. What have you experienced so far, in terms of being a woman?
It is definitely getting better, especially because of the #MeToo movement. People are becoming more aware of what we have to deal with. It’s not something that people really talked about before. It made the female bond stronger because we all understood what that experience was like. Now that things are coming into light, women and all the good men out there are now understanding all things that were going wrong. So I think it is a very exciting time for women and every other minority in the industry.
Did the job you had in college have to do with music?
Yeah, so I also worked for an entertainment management company during my time at USC, as a marketing intern during school so it was interesting because I was so young because I got to work in several departments. I got to see a little bit of the pieces of everything coming together. Being an artist, I know it’s not just the artist making things happen. There’s a huge team behind [every success], and I really learned that your team has to be your extended family. When I was building my own team, I had these bullet points and knew what I was looking for.
That’s great to hear because there are a lot of artists that think it is very individualistic and involves a lot of teamwork. I know this is not your first time working with a team. You were part of the SoCal VoCals at USC, your college acapella group, and in 2015 you had the opportunity to sing for former President Barack Obama, his family and staff. What was that like?
It was kind of different for me because I actually sang for him before. It was in a different setting though—he came to Las Vegas for a speech. And I regularly would perform the National Anthem a lot as a kid for sports events. So, the Obamas attended a Dodgers vs. Angels game and they were looking for someone in Las Vegas who is a known Anthem singer and who has done professional events. I was 16 at this time, and they contacted me and asked, “Are you free to perform for President Barack Obama?” And I’m thinking “Am I free? Let me move my hair appointment… of course I am free!” It was kind of insane because I didn’t really understand the magnitude but I had an idea. I was so young and it didn’t hit me that I was performing for the President of the United States.
So the second time, I was wondering if he would remember me. But he meets so many people, so I didn’t think he would. BUT, his daughter’s name is Malia and my name is Malia, so maybe he’ll remember me!? I don’t know! But singing with the VoCals was different because we were at the White House and that was crazy. I remember re-introducing myself as Malia, and he said, “Oh yeah, I’ve met one of those.” I was just thinking, “You’re so cool.” Then, the First Lady, she has this glow around her, radiating kindness. It was a very special experience.
Do you have any songs that you are working on right now? Anything new you can share with your fans?
We are working on a bunch of different songs right now. I have written around 80 to 100 different songs. So now, we are just going through and picking the best of the bunch because not every song is going to be great. I am just practicing the art of songwriting and doing it the best I can. I love writing my own and collaborating, and there is just going to be a ton of good stuff coming soon. I can’t talk about it yet, but expect lots and lots coming!