Kira Puru loves reality TV. Trash reality, she specifies—“that’s my genre of choice.” We spend a good deal of time discussing various dating shows, and the newly-revealed season four cast of RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars (“Look, the lineup could be shit and I would still watch it,” she laughs).
I imagine selecting the TV series you’ll spend your downtime watching is a decision of some gravity when you have so little of it. Downtime, that is. Kira is a pop musician, of course, but she also works a full-time job at a technology startup headquartered in Brunswick. We meet for this interview in the early evening after leaving our respective offices, four days before Kira will perform for a rapturous crowd at Canberra’s Spilt Milk festival, the first stop on a national tour in support of her self-titled EP. If it weren’t clear by now: she’s a very busy person.
Kira’s been making music for almost 10 years: Kira Puru & The Bruise, the soulful rock outfit she once fronted, released their debut EP in 2010. The Kira Puru EP is the poppiest music she’s ever made (I’d also say it’s the best) and this is probably the most famous she’s ever been. So far in 2018, Kira has inked a deal with Sony inprint New Tribe Music (a label created for the express purpose of publishing her music), picked up a shitload of Triple J rotation, racked up more than a few million Spotify streams, and made her debut on the ARIAs red carpet. Longtime fans are probably thinking something like, “It’s about damn time.”
Acclaim: I was listening to your EP again before coming here. The songs: they’re all hits.
Kira Puru: That was the plan. I’m really glad you think that. [Laughs]
I think you really could have released any of them as singles, in any order, and it would have made sense for a rollout.
I think that’s fucking awesome. I mean like, we probably waited longer than we needed to to put it out—we had a lot more material than what was on there in the end. We went for the top five.
Who’s the we for you?
I always say ‘we’ because, there’s me, my producer, and the team that I have. My approach to the project is to include people in all the decisions, because I just like to hear people’s opinions. But also as more of a business bitch move: people are more invested in something when they feel like their opinions matter. At any point where I can open a discussion up to other people on the team—management, producers, people on my label—I’ll definitely ask them.
How much time did you spend recording this project?
It guess it wasn’t, like, recorded in the traditional sense. The writing sessions started initially two years ago, but none of the songs that ended up on the EP were written during that time. They were written later. That first half was trying to discover what the sound was. I had the luxury of playing them live too, the songs we accumulated, which was a really good way to decide what we wanted to put on the EP. There were some that stood out more than others in the live context, and I wanted to make fun music. I wanted to make music that was engaging and called action.
When you wrote the lyric “Take a seat, row 69” on Fly, were you like: “Is this too on the nose?”
100%. Do you think it’s too much?
It’s so good.
[Laughs] I’m still undecided about it. Part of me is like, there’s not 69 rows in a plane. There are never 69 rows in a plane. Secondly, it’s so hardcore on the nose. But I think the whole song is meant to be tongue in cheek. That was the second song we’d written that day and I was just us tossing around stupid lyrics. It didn’t seem that funny or that outrageous. We sorta thought we’d get away with it. We were playing a show that same night, so we put it in the set to see how it went, you know, as a joke. Everyone loved it so we just kept going with it. The joke that never stops. Now sometimes I don’t sing it because I find it to be so… it depends on how I’m feeling. But there’s nothing like a dumb joke. Like, my first ever email address was [email protected] [laughs]. I didn’t make it for myself.
Who made it for you?
A friend of mine! I didn’t have the Internet. I went to my friend’s house and she made it for me.
Do you get fan mail to your email address? Or do you just get DMs?
Never to my email address. It’s just Instagram DMs.
Have you ever gotten a message from a fan that made you cry?
No, but I love Star Trek and I was given a mug that doubled as a bust of one of my favourite characters. Someone who was following me on Twitter knew that I loved that particular character. They came to a show that I had on Easter weekend and filled the mug up with Easter eggs. The best fan gift I’ve ever been given, and I still have the cup!
Do you enjoying having such a direct your relationship with your audience? You run your own social media, and you do a good job, you’re very active. I wonder how you manage with a day job too.
Look, I’m trying. I think it’s the consistency of social media that I don’t enjoy. There’s times that you just have a bad day, or a bad week, or sometimes nothing fucking exciting happens. But you have a show that you have to promote or, like, you’ve got some festival that’s up your ass about selling tickets. I think having to force it in times when you don’t feel it is dumb. To have to constantly be revealing and engaging with people—It can become unhealthy. I’m about authenticity, but at the same time, people need to earn that transparency from you. As much as I love my fans, the people that engage with me, and that buy my music, I can’t be that open with that many people. There’s stuff that I want to keep private with the people that I love, that are close to me. I love the format, I’m on Instagram all the fucking time. But it can feel super toxic as well. Having to be so connected as part of your work, it’s hard to switch off as a human being.
Especially on a day where you’re thinking “I know this profile is going live today,” or “I know this single is going to come out today.”
Yeah, and especially when I’m working. I have to squeeze time where there isn’t time because I’ve got two jobs. And then it can be hard at home. I go home to my partner, who wants genuine connection time because I haven’t seen him for two weeks, and there’s part of me that still has work todo. You know what I mean? It’s so strange. I don’t know if you can be really great at marketing and social media and running a business and self-promotion as well as being completely engaged and good at participating in IRL life.
On another online note, a brighter one: your songs have so many Spotify streams.
They do. I was obsessed for a while with checking them and thankfully I’ve stopped. Because it’s so hard to say what the numbers really equate to. Like, if someone is listening to one of your songs a thousand times on Spotify, are they ever going to come to a show? Are they ever going to buy a t-shirt? Are they ever going to listen to your other songs? There’s so many people that I’ve met that have stumbled into a gig accidentally and realised that they already knew one of my songs, but didn’t know I sang it. It’s unquantifiable, what that Sportify success means.
Do you get behind the scenes analytics?
Yep. Down to the single percent of people who listen to them and how they find them and where they are in the world.
Does it surprise you at all?
My label told me I’m over indexing in Taiwan which surprised me.
They were like “Do you have any connections in Taiwan?” The dashboard is a nice thing to look at and go “Cool, I’m going ok. There’s this many people listening to my song that must mean it’s not shit.” But you can’t get too obsessed with anything. Like with Instagram followers, or YouTube views. It took me a long time to stay away from the comments. Triple J Like A Version taught me to not look at the comments anymore!
Look, I think that you’re just going to keep getting more famous. Which does, unfortunately, mean more hate. More fans though, too.
Do you think so?
Yeah, I do.
I want to be rich. I want to be so disgustingly rich that everyone around me worries that I’ll lose touch. [Laughs]
It’s not far fetched, the idea of a car company buying one of the songs.
I’ve actually spent a lot of time thinking about what I won’t do. Which companies I won’t let the song go out to. It’s hard because I’d love to be fucking rich. If it could change your life, why wouldn’t you say yes? But it’s hard because I’m so publicly outspoken sometimes, and I’d hate to lose that platform, to not have the a chance to articulate my feelings. I do think about it a lot. I grew up poor, so I feel like I have an obsession with money. It’s the freedom it brings that’s most [attractive.]
You just signed a record deal, and I imagine it’s a good one. I only make the distinction because emerging artists who sign to majors don’t always get a fair deal. You’ve spoken about being very happy with yours, though.
It’s like getting a freaking magic wish from a genie. Getting a deal can be really amazing, but it always comes with a sting in the tail. And that’s not a shot at record labels in general. Deals can be too good to be true a lot of the time. I just went for something that was smart and modest, that was going to accommodate me but not lock me down for too long.
I guess that’s sort the thing: a really huge deal in your early career often only works if you become an instant success. When you flop the label’s like, “Well, we signed you on for five albums, but we’re going to have to ignore you for the next ten years.”
That’s exactly why I’m glad I’m not a teenager going through all this stuff. I’m super anxious, and I read over every contract like ten times. Being a little bit older and a little bit paranoid has actually put me in really good stead. I’ve made sure that I won’t get stiffed with a bad deal. I happened to meet an awesome manager, and my producer is her husband. They ended up starting [New Tribe Music]l for me because we didn’t find anything that was perfect for the project. And I’m kind of unlike a lot of artists that are at a similar level, in that I like to be across all creative [aspects of my releases.] There wasn’t much on the table that allowed me to have that allowed that 360 creative control. I’m really lucky that we managed to negotiate that. But that’s like, once in a lifetime sort of shit.
Do you ever write for other people?
I would love to. It’s not something that I really have the time for right now. I do have a bunch of songs that are unreleased that I could give away. Right now, I just really want to make this [solo project] fucking work. I really want to build on something that is sustainable and, you know, a good foundation for the rest of my career. That said, my friend is working for a Hillsong artist at the moment, and I just feel like that would be the most fun thing.
That’s where the big money would be.
You just write love songs for Jesus instead of whoever else.
100%. Yes. Yes. It’s the best thing to see your fans face-to-face—that exchange saves it—but all the other parts… The flying. The baggage. The waiting around at the airport. The waiting around at soundcheck. The shows, which are the best part of touring, make up 2% of the actual practice of touring.
I imagine it’s there’s a bigger weight to performing when you’re cognisant of, not necessarily what you owe the audience, but what they’re expecting.
It’s hard to deliver the special, authentic, unique, fulfilling, valuable thing every single night of the week. And audiences do care a lot. I mean, Ariana Grande has fans that refuse to buy her records anymore because she didn’t come out and talk to them after one show three years ago. You know? But sometimes it really does come down to practicality: you have a red-eye flight in a matter of hours and you can’t stay up. Or you’ve lost your voice. There are those aspects to touring that aren’t front facing, that people don’t know about. Especially mental health issues, or family issues. That’s a very complex portion of the job. But, I want this to be clear, touring can be really awesome. Sometimes you’re just drinking a martini at two in the afternoon in this massive hotel and you think, “I love this.”
Find Kira Puru here, steam the Kira Puru EP here. Catch her live this week:
Thursday 6 December @ the Northcote Social Club, Melbourne VIC
Friday 7 December @ The Sewing Room, Perth WA
Photography Shannon May Powell
Styling Marley Sheridan
Hair and Makeup Georgia Gaillard