From Port Macquarie to LA, Kita Alexander isn’t living the most conventional life of an Aussie teen. In a matter of months she’s gone from being an unknown to a name on the lips of anybody who’s tuned their dial to triple j recently.
She’s home right now after spending most of the year holed up in studios in LA working on her debut EP or travelling around Europe. She looks most comfortable by the beach and as we meet for the first time on a very hot October day in Bondi she looks like she’s in her natural habitat - brazen by the afternoon sun with a smile plastered across the face.
Alexander is tanned with long beachy hair and a persona that typifies the natural, easy-going demeanour associated with Australian beach culture. It’s immediately obvious that she’s at ease when surrounded by rollicking waves, however, after spending some time chatting you get the feeling she wouldn’t be satisfied spending all day everyday watching the day away by the beach.
There’s a misconception when it comes to beach-loving musicians that they’ve got a “whatever” attitude but it couldn’t be further from the truth when it comes to Alexander. Sure, she’s easygoing in nature but when it comes to her career and how she wants to be perceived it’s much the opposite. “I’ve got to the stage I wanted to get to and now I’ve set my goals higher,” she says in between sipping on a peanut butter milkshake as we sit in a cafe by busy North Bondi beach.
“Would you let me go, go my own way,” she sings on her debut single Go My Own Way - a track that has immediately captured the attention of triple j listeners around the country. “I just thought, “this is a good one, this is who I am, get it out there”,” she says of choosing the track as the single that would introduce her to everybody. For such a young artist, she typifies the independance expressed in that song. Throughout our conversation she proves over and over again that that song is really who she is, even when she’s not talking about it specifically.
It’s that independence that fuels her desire to have complete creative control over the Kita Alexander project, no matter how many people become involved with it. The lo-fi, DIY film clip for My Own Way was conceived entirely by Alexander herself after she was not satisfied with the initial clip. “I didn’t want to be portrayed like that,” she says of that clip. “It was like a cleancut version of me and I’m not clean at all, I’m a little grubby.” Instead, she learnt iMovie and asked friends for home movies, piecing them together to give off a realer portrayal of who she is.
In a city like LA, it’s easy to be convinced to adopt a manicured version of yourself but she’s not having any of it. “Imagine if you had to withhold that demeanor,” she says, later joking, “Mum, slap me to the ground if I ever get too up myself.”
Maybe it’s a testament to her humble beginnings that she’s managed to remain so down to earth even while a storm of success is brewing around her. She was born in Brisbane and raised in Port Macquarie where she started gigging on an acoustic guitar playing covers in pubs. She would occasionally slip in her own originals and when one onlooker pulled out his phone to film that song she decided that she could be doing more with her own music.
“I googled Australian management and sent this guy my songs,” she says pointing to her manager Tim Manton. Manton is also the manager for Angus & Julia Stone and Wolf & Cub and has set Alexander up studio sessions with world-renowned producers in LA. She’s worked with Nick Littlemore of Empire of the Sun and PNAU, Chris Braid who’s written with Sia and Lana Del Rey and M83’s Morgan Kibbey.
Her forthcoming Like You Want To EP was produced by local LA producer Ben Romans and was previewed this week with the title-track, her first taste since My Own Way. When we spoke, the song was only hours away from being premiered on triple j but she remained cool, calm and collected. “It’s a fuller sounding song. I think it’s next level,” she says of the song. “ It’s the next step for my music slowly building up to where I want it to be. I think it’s perfect to put in the world.”
Despite an allstar list of collaborators, songwriting with others was something that was foreign to Alexander initially. “I never knew that’s what happened, that people wrote with others, I thought Beyonce wrote all her own songs,” she laughs. Nowadays she’s comfortable with the process and writing everyday with a hard-working, realistic approach. “Every 100 songs you write there should be one hit in there so if you want 10 hits you’ve gotta write 1,000 songs,” she says passing on advice that she obviously believes in. As such, she’s writing at every opportunity and, judging by the first two songs we’ve heard, collecting a few hits along the way.
Alexander is giving us more than the folk-tinged music you’d expect from a beach-born musician with both singles pairing electronic-influences with an effortless groove and pop-based melody. “I’m trying to keep it true to what I’m inspired by and keep it edgy and modern,” she tells me, acknowledging that Australia has a tendency to produce music of the same elk. While most are looking to the ‘90s as a nostalgic reference point right now, Alexander is throwing it even further back saying, “I love the ‘80s.”
She gets those ‘80s influences from Dev Hynes AKA Blood Orange, who she calls her favourite producer. “He’s my go to guy for the electronic side. That’s very ‘80s-influenced,” she says. Hynes has made magic with everyone from Jessie Ware to Sky Ferreira and you get the feeling he’d relish the opportunity to work with Alexander’s honey-soaked vocal. Perhaps that’s next on her checklist - working with Hynes.
With all the success she’s managed in just a few months, she’s not resting on her laurels always looking for the next goal she can tick off. “Everyday I’m like, “what’s the step after the next one”,” she notes with a hint of ambition. “To me, it’s not all about this one song. It’s just another step up the mountain.”
For now, the immediate next steps up the mountain are releasing her debut EP and going on tour with Jarryd James and Meg Mac in December. Those will be her first big shows in front of a home crowd but she doesn’t sound nervous - more excited. It’s impressive given how intimidating self-doubt can be at her age - a point that she acknowledges. “Sometimes I question myself and think maybe I should be more than who am I but it all gets too hard and it comes down to being myself. ”
“The best thing I’ve heard in a long time is to be yourself,” she says - a mantra that should serve her very well.
- Interview and words by the interns' Sam Murphy for Cool Accidents.