Kaela Sinclair Songwriting Interview


Kaela Sinclair

Connections. Students pursuing MBAs often choose the school by which program will lead to the most connections for their future career.  Film students do the same with film schools.  The value of the contacts, most often, surpass the value of the education. (No offense meant, NYU/UT/USC). It’s the same in music.  Often, seemingly casual acquaintances can lead to career-changing moments later on.  So, it’s good to reach out and connect with musicians in and on the edge of your network.  It’s so much different, and maybe even easier now, from when I was growing up.  I went to see Marian McPartland play,when I was in High School in the 70s, and talked with her after the show.  I let her know I had done an arrangement of her song “Ambiance”.  She gave me her address and asked me to mail it to her.  This lead to a long-term friendship over several decades

About a month ago, I got a friend request from Kaela Sinclair.  I recognized her name.  Wasn’t sure exactly where from, but we knew a lot of the same people.  She thought we had met when she sent the request.  But we chatted and she seemed like a good person. Then I listened to her album and really liked it. I was thinking it would be fun to interview her on her writing and the album. It’s pretty different from other releases coming out in the area.  Suddenly, in the end of 2013 music reviews the local press was picking “Sun & Mirror” as one of the best releases in the area. Kaela is also friends with Jessie Frye, who I interviewed last August.  I’m glad to be able to share this interview and her songs with those of you who have not been fortunate enough to hear Kaela Sinclair yet.

Kaela Sinclair
Current City- Denton, TX
Most Recent Release- “Sun & Mirror” 11 song LP


I grew up in Sarasota, FL – a sunny, Gulf coast beach town. My parents settled down there when I was a few years old after traveling the country in the Air Force as linguists. They homeschooled me until 6th grade and instilled in me a deep appreciation for learning and creating. I was an avid reader, and loved to draw and paint. My mother says I was singing as soon as I could talk. I started piano lessons around the age of six, and never stopped playing. Songwriting was a natural progression from there.

By the time I finished middle school I was fully engrossed in music and had decided that I would be a professional musician. Luckily, there was a high school in Sarasota that had a pretty serious magnet arts program. There I discovered my passion for music theory and was exposed to jazz and classical music. This introduction to the intellectual, technical side of music was a catalyst for much deeper musical growth.

I moved to Denton, TX in 2008 as a freshman at the University of North Texas, where I majored in Jazz Voice performance, with a minor in Music Theory. It was an intense program which required hours of practice and study a day. Though I was studying jazz, my peers exposed me to other interesting sub-genres of music. I experimented in all of them – writing songs that ranged from fusion and funk, to neo-soul, to brazilian jazz, to avant-garde pop. By the time I graduated from UNT in 2012 I felt I had to make a decision regarding the direction of my musical career. In the end it was obvious that I should return to my most natural state of creativity and write alternative, indie pop music – but I’m still greatly influenced by the chords, rhythms, and melodies of jazz, soul, and classical music.

I released my debut album of original music, Sun & Mirror, in October of 2013, after almost two years of intense self-discovery. After years of listening to and learning how to play such a wide variety of genres it was a challenge being consistent in my writing style. I spent a lot of time listening to music and searching for new artists. I would listen to an artist and ask myself, “Do I want to sound like this in any way?”, and if the answer was “No,” I stopped listening. In that regard, listening to music became more of a desperate search for identity, and less of a means for pleasure and entertainment. It didn’t help that I was making a living playing Top 40 cover band gigs on the weekend and teaching Taylor Swift and One Direction songs to kids during the week.

Within the course of six months I had written about fifty new songs, but it wasn’t until August of 2012 that I finally began to find my sound. That’s when I wrote the first couple of songs from Sun & Mirror. “Without” and “Coral Castles” came first. I scrapped the dozens of songs I had written up to that point and began a more deliberate approach. Just a few weeks later I happened to meet McKenzie Smith – a remarkable drummer with impeccable taste and a great ear for production. He’s the drummer for the band Midlake and has worked with artists like Regina Spektor, St. Vincent, and Sarah Jaffe. I asked him to work with me on the album and he immediately said yes. I was floored by the passion he put into the project and felt he truly shared my vision for the album. I continued to write as we began recording at Redwood Studios in Denton, TX (owned and operated by McKenzie and Midlake guitarist, Joey McClellan) and found a great band.

The recording process was emotionally and financially strenuous, but one of the most rewarding experiences in my life up to this point. Sun & Mirror is the first successful realization of my artistic vision, but it’s still just the beginning. I have a lot more to say.

Our Scattered Words: What is your songwriting/composing process?
Kaela Sinclair: There isn’t one single way I write songs, but a typical approach starts at the piano. Most of the time I improvise until I find a chord progression or instrumental hook that I like. Once I’ve got a little bit of music I’ll start writing lyrics in tandem. Sometimes I write lyrics separately, but more often I write the chords, melody, and lyrics together and move section by section. The first verse and the chorus are the hardest part to write, but once those are finished the rest of the song is generally easy to write. Sometimes if I’m feeling stuck I’ll try writing on guitar. Two songs from the album were written on guitar – “Run” and “Better.”

Our Scattered Words: Do lyrics come quickly or do you revise them over a period of time?
Kaela Sinclair: Honestly, my best songs come very quickly. In one or two sittings. I do a lot of small lyrical revisions, but I most often find that if they need heavy re-working they simply aren’t working. But I save most of my failed lyrics, and sometimes use old lyrics in new songs.

Our Scattered Words: Where do your stories come from for songs?  Are you influenced by books you read or movies?
Kaela Sinclair: Like many songwriters, I often draw from my own life experiences, relationships, and daily adventures. I have a passion for philosophy and have spent a lot of time exploring and developing my specific worldview, often with the aid of books written by great thinkers. Psychology and internal conflict play into my writing a lot. I write about the elusive qualities of happiness, and the dangers of introspection. I’ve alway been an eager consumer of adventure, fantasy, and sci-fi books, so from a young age I had a dramatic, sometimes dark sense of imagination. I think you can hear that in my music.

Our Scattered Words: You went through the Jazz program at North Texas which is intense.  But, it’s not really a true songwriting program like Berklee.  How have your music studies impact your writing?
Kaela Sinclair: It’s true, I never studied songwriting in college. I’m glad I didn’t. There is something about music school that can make musicians very formulaic. There are songwriting “formulas” that the hit songwriters use to make the songs that top the charts, but most of those songs are incredibly bland. They use the same chords, lyrics, production tricks, and lyrical hooks over and over and over again. It bores me to tears. That’s not what I’m interested in.

What music school did give me is technical abilities and musical comprehension – a skill set that is invaluable to my writing. Music theory and ear training skills, sight-reading abilities, and good vocal technique are the best things I got out my schooling.

Our Scattered Words: Your album “Sun and Mirror” is getting incredible attention and feedback. “one of the best albums to emerge from the DFW area thus far in 2013.” – DFW.com”  Has that surprised you?
Kaela SInclair: It’s been incredibly encouraging and validating. I knew when I released the album that there was no guarantee that it would get noticed, but I certainly hoped it would. It’s a huge personal accomplishment when someone says to me that they’ve had the album on repeat. I don’t need everyone to like it, but I want some people to love it.

Our Scattered Words: What will you do different or change on the next album?
Kaela SInclair: I’m already excited for the next album. I had to go through a lot of growing pains for my first album…it will be nice to start off with more self-assurance and a solid foundation to build upon. I’ve already written a couple of new songs and have started imagining the sounds I want to create. I have a lot of ideas that I want to experiment with. The next album will be even bigger, sonically.

Our Scattered Words: What is your favorite songwriting lyric?
Kaela Sinclair: Oh, I have so many! But the lyrics to “Marching Bands of Manhattan” by Death Cab for Cutie have stuck with me for a long time.

“If I could open my arms

And span the length of the isle of Manhattan,

I’d bring it to where you are

Making a lake of the East River and Hudson

If I could open my mouth

Wide enough for a marching band to march out

They would make your name sing

And bend through alleys and bounce off all the buildings.

I wish we could open our eyes

To see in all directions at the same time

Oh what a beautiful view

If you were never aware of what was around you

And it is true what you said

That I live like a hermit in my own head

But when the sun shines again

I’ll pull the curtains and blinds to let the light in.”

Our Scattered Words: What advice would you give to young songwriters/composers?
Kaela Sinclair: Learn all that you can – be good at an instrument. Listen to good music and dissect it. When you hear a song that you love, figure out why you love it and incorporate it into your music in small ways. Be genuine and strive to make music that you would listen to.

Our Scattered Words: If you could go back and be part of any album session what would it be?
Kaela Sinclair: I would have loved to be behind the scenes during the making of Kimbra’s album, Vows. She has extraordinary pop sensibilities, but she’s creative and eccentric. She also had a great team behind her. There’s a lot of fascinating production on that album and I would have loved to peek over the shoulders of her producers.

Our Scattered Words: If you could sit down and talk about songwriting with anyone, who would it be and why?
Kaela Sinclair: Three people come to mind. Jeff Buckley, Thom Yorke, and Sia. Jeff Buckley because his music was so original and wholehearted, and swept people off their feet with just one album. Thom Yorke because he is a genius and one of the most prolific indie rock musicians ever. Sia because she writes hit pop songs for people like Britney Spears but still manages to write unique, eccentric music. She seems to have found a way to balance conventional and unconventional.

Kaela Sinclair on the Web
Sun & Mirror is available for purchase on iTunes and Bandcamp. You can stream the whole thing Here
OFFICIAL SITE: www.kaelasinclair.com
LIKE: www.facebook.com/kaelasinclairmusic
FOLLOW: www.twitter.com/kaelasinclair
SUBSCRIBE: http://bit.ly/1kx3FC2

All interviews and Bonus Materials, including Kaela Sinclair, will be archived alphabetically HERE for easy access in the future.

Bonus materials for Kaela Sinclair include; 3 videos of Kaela and 3 music videos of songs she’s been enjoying lately.

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Thanks for spending some time here,
Our Scattered Words


One thought on “Kaela Sinclair Songwriting Interview

  1. An awesome interview! It’s very cool she mentioned DCFC. Marching Bands of Manhattan was the first song of theirs that I heard. They’re one of my favorite bands…possibly my favorite.

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