Dance music artist Kendra Erika has been a mainstay on the Billboard Dance charts for the last couple years, scoring five top ten hits in just under three years. One of those tracks, her cover of Laura Branigan’s 80s hit “Self Control,” hit the top spot early last year. And just last month, after premiering the music video for previous single “So Fly,” the video has racked up over 500k views, becoming her most watched project to date. Simply put, Erika is on a roll, and has managed to hit every milestone with almost completely independently.
But Kendra Erika remains ever humble, profusely hyping up her close songwriting collaborators and anyone else who has helped her along the way. With a songwriting style that prioritizes depth while maintaining a constant air of confidence and fun, Erika puts a particular emphasis on lyrics, more so than most dance artists of her ilk. That edge is what gives heartfelt tracks, like her newest single “Avalanche,” such sonic depth. After getting a peak at the song on BMI’s Jam Sessions in September, Erika has finally revealed some more details about the soulful ballad.
We had chatted with Kendra Erika to get the details on the new track, her upcoming album, and her amazing collaborations and songwriting philosophies. Check out the full exclusive interview and photoshoot by The Untitled Magazine’s Indira Cesarine.
How did you get into music and performing? Has it been a lifelong passion? Did you study music as a child?
It all started with me watching Disney princess movies as a child. I was so drawn to how they were whimsical and [how they] sang and danced. It inspired me to want to be like that in the future. However, the interesting part about this whole lifelong passion of mine is that I legit had to study to get my voice to where it is today. An unknown fact about the beginning of my journey is that I was born tone deaf. Pair that with innate confidence, and my parent’s dinner party concerts I put on were anything but pleasurable to the ears. Which is why my mom helped me out greatly by motioning me to do vocal lessons.
Fortunately enough I was introduced to a classical coach, Gisbert Heuer, a former professional opera singer from Berlin, who laid down the foundation for my voice to build to where it is presently. I currently train with him for skill brush up, and also with Beth Cohen, lead backup singer for Barry Gibb, Boston, and Phil Collins. Beth keeps my pop voice up and running.
You have a new album launching soon on your own label Oystershell Music via a new distribution deal with industry leader Symphonic distribution – when will the new album be out? Do you have a title yet?
I think about the title everyday. When I come up with one, you’ll be the first to know! The date is still up in the air, but it will definitely be in 2021 when the world opens its arms again.
How would you describe the inspiration and themes of your upcoming album?
A lot of the songs that will be on the album were written during the Corona paradise times, so there’s a lot of positively-reflective and thought-provoking lines threaded through the lyrics and even the melodies. I love to be as original and independently inspired in my music without conforming to the current mold. Fresh air flair.
“Avalanche” is the second single, following “So Fly,” from your upcoming album. What can you tell us about the new track? What inspired the songwriting process for the song?
I wish I had a dramatic and disastrous skiing story to tell you that inspired it, but all it took was the meeting between the like minds Mark Mangold and myself to whip up a lyrical and melodic ballad. Just a man and his piano and a woman and her voice and a duo with some eccentric ideas and intuit.
As a ballad, “Avalanche” is quite a departure from your other recent dance singles. Do you find songs like this harder or easier to write and perform?
This song was actually quite easy to write because it was just meant to be how I feel. Performing the song has only been virtual due to Corona paradise, but I can assure you “Avalanche” live performances will redefine A Star is Born.
You wrote “Avalanche” with producer Mark Mangold and had John Mellencamp drummer Kenny Aronoff in the studio as well. What was that collaborative process like? Do you plan to work with either of those two again in the future?
I wrote “Avalanche” with Mark Mangold, who has worked with the likes of Cher, Michael Bolton, Jordan Sparks, and many more. Originally, he presented me with the chorus idea already mapped out. We built upon the chorus when he brought me into the process. He brought out his vintage, which I appreciated especially for a song like this one, and he began playing the chord progressions that you now hear in the beginning of the song. Upon what I heard, I started singing a melody, which is the one that is now the first verse. It was quite surreal that my first vocal pass at the verse melody both Mark and I latched onto, and then we used the same melody for the second verse, with a tad stylistic change to make the song more dynamic.
Being that both Mark and I love eccentric lyrics — ones that really paint a picture and are visually felt — we then embarked down the lyrical aspect of “Avalanche.” Making sure all the way that every word crystalized the visual we wanted to paint for the listeners.
Kenny Aranoff, who has worked with John Mellencamp, added the percussion to the song to truly elevate it and ensure the gravitas in having the listener feel the true effect of an avalanche. It was wonderful. Mangold and I made a home run, and then Kenny hit it out of the park, and because of this, I believe you already know what my plan is with them.
You’ve written most of your top ten singles with producer Damon Sharpe. How would you describe that creative relationship?
Both empathic powerhouses coming together from the start.
Were any of the new album’s tracks written during the pandemic? If so, did lockdown influence any of them?
An overflowing handful of them! The lockdown influenced the way that I was able to hear ideas more clearly. The silver lining is that when the world went silent, the noise stopped, which gave the music a clear pathway to access my creativity.
Has the COVID-19 pandemic affected the shooting of any of your music videos or productions? If so how?
Absolutely not. I filmed both the “So Fly” and “Avalanche” videos in Las Vegas in July, and I’ve been to New York for photo shoots and interviews, and Atlanta for a public live show supporting the LGBTQ+ community. The only minor difference between the in-person experiences is people were masked up. Other than that, saddles are blazing.
Your style has been compared to Lana Del Rey, and you’ve even covered her song “Love” before. How does she inspire your work? Are there any other artists you take inspiration from?
Lana is the only one today that remotely reminds me of my original inspiration Frank Sinatra. Aside from doing a super poppy collab for the Charlie’s Angels movie, she’s been pretty fluid with keeping her projects, lyric and message focused. Storytelling! Similar artists who do the same would be Michael Bublé, Jessie Ware, Ellie Goulding, and Norah Jones. Anybody within the super commercial sphere is cool for the dance floor and for bopping around. But, for actually feeling something visceral, which is the realm I like to generate from, I like to do my own research on the music I listen to. I’ve been listening to a lot of smooth jazz lately, like Euge Groove, Boney James, Brian Culbertson, as well as a lot of international deep house.
You are trained in classical music and jazz. Has any of that training made its way into your current work?
It has in that I strive to let you feel something when you hear it. Depth is my steadfast mission whenever I create.
Does your hometown of Boca Raton in southern Florida inform your music in any way?
They all know what’s up and they inform me everyday!
You have been quite a mainstay on the Billboard Dance charts over the last couple of years, with five top ten hits and a No. 1 in “Self Control.” What has that success meant to you creatively?
Although I did not pen “Self Control,” I did however style it with a Kendra Erika signature touch. It only proves to me that whatever I’m doing is working, and every building block is humbly received and I’m grateful to have independently achieved those on my own, with no heavy backing essentially. I let the work do its thing and I let the traction speak for itself as to what I’m capable of.
You performed for BMI’s Jam Sessions late last month, where you gave us a sneak peak at “Avalanche.” What was it like participating in that?
It was a very nice experience! I’ve been doing weekly live streams ever since the Rona took live performances out of the equation, so I had some practice in knowing what to do for a virtual jam session. BMI is doing a great job at keeping the music alive.
Do you have a particular philosophy you live by as a songwriter?
Music is one of the easiest ways to influence the masses, so I always say that every word counts in how you sculpt your message. Remember, being an artist of any kind is a responsibility, and never sell your soul out to push an agenda that’s not authentic.
Previously you’ve opened for Jason Derulo on tour. Any more tour plans on the horizon?
Yes, 2021! Let’s do this!
Are there any more songs or other projects we can look forward to from you?
I have a project that’s in the works right now. All I can elude to is that it’s a cover of a Freddy Mercury and David Bowie song. And, come the new year, I have a video for “Song of Hope,” which I wrote with Charlie Midnight (James Brown, Joni Mitchell, Katie Perry, Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Cher, Idina Menzel, Barbra Streisand, Hilary Duff, Seal, Joe Cocker, Billy Joel, Jamey Johnson, Andrea Bocelli, Chaka Khan, The Doobie Brothers, John Waite, Paul Young, Dan Hartman, and George Thorogood, to name a few) releasing. Other than that, keep following my golf game and hot pics on my Instagram!
Photography by Indira Cesarine for The Untitled Magazine
Styled by Indira Cesarine, Styling Assistant Sasha Leon
Hair by Luis Guillermo
Makeup by Natalia Thomas