PHOENIX NATIVE KACY HILL CHATS WITH THE ARIZONA REPUBLIC
Phoenix native Kacy Hill: A Kanye West discovery on the fast track
Kacy Hill was 18 and fresh out of Sunnyslope High School when she moved to Los Angeles, where she quickly established herself as the face of American Apparel.
Five years later, the Phoenix native is poised to take the music world by storm with “Like a Woman,” a masterful debut executive produced by Kanye West, who signed the breakout-artist-in-the-making to his own G.O.O.D. Music imprint.
Due June 30, Hill’s debut is a haunting collection of soulful pop songs whose title track sets up the album by placing her breathtaking vocals in a sparse, piano-driven arrangement that’s probably closer in spirit to jazz as she demands to know, “What makes you make me feel like a woman?”
The video for “Like a Woman,” which lives up to the sensual energy of that delivery, premiered on YouTube in mid-May and already has 200,000 views.
A second video, for “Hard to Love,” followed in early June, further establishing Hill as a videogenic talent on the fast track.
Hill checked in by phone to talk about the road from Sunnyslope to “Like a Woman,” including her stint as a dancer on the Yeezus Tour, which is where she met West, a mentor she sees as a “passionate” man.
Question: I know you’re based in L.A. now but I was hoping you could talk a bit about your roots in Phoenix?
Answer: I was born in Phoenix. Both of my parents are Arizona natives. My mom was born in Tucson, my dad in Phoenix. I went to school at Arizona School for the Arts and Sunnyslope my senior year. I moved out to L.A. when I was 18.
Q: You played classical music as a child, right?
A: Yeah, it was the whole ASA thing. I played the oboe and the saxophone and sang in choir.
Q: What inspired you to get into the kind of music you’re doing now?
A: The biggest thing was that I moved to L.A. and I think for a bit I felt like I was floundering. I was modeling for a while but that wasn’t my ultimate goal. So I met a few people who wanted to start this music project and I started writing songs. And they just kind of caught on really quickly.
I got signed off the second song I ever wrote. I don’t know if serendipitous is the right word but everything kind of just happened at the right time.
Q: Do you find that you come up with a lyrical idea first when you’re working on songs?
A: I keep notes on my phone of words that inspire me or phrases or feelings I have. But I think the best songs I’ve written have just been me feeling some type of way when I go into the studio and making something that feels that way.
Q: Before you signed to G.O.O.D., you worked with Kanye on the Yeezus tour as a dancer.
A: I got that because I was modeling for American Apparel when I first moved to L.A. Vanessa Beecroft, who’s an amazing Italian artist, did a lot of the choreography on that tour. And they wanted to use real dancers and some people who weren’t real dancers, just because they move differently.
So I was in the group of people who were not real dancers. I got hired because of my modeling.
Q: And then Kanye reached out to you after you had left the tour?
A: I did the first leg of the tour, and by the second leg I knew I wanted to focus on music, so I left the tour. I was already talking to another label at the time, so I was like, “OK, I know this is a for-sure thing. I’m gonna do music.”
I kind of had a feeling that Kanye would end up hearing it. So it was reassuring when I got a call shortly after the tour that he wanted to meet.
Q: In the press materials that went out with the album, it says, “Through West’s advice, Kacy has made some serious changes in her sound and in her story as an artist.”
A: Last year, when the album was almost done, I put one song out called “Lion” and Kanye wanted to meet and talk about production. He was like, “I don’t like this song and I don’t think it’s what you should be doing.” And I agreed with him.
So he helped me figure out who I wanted to work with and I redid all of the production of the album. I think I made it a lot more minimal and took a lot of the pieces out that didn’t need to be there.
Q: Kanye is listed as executive producer. How involved was he in the process?
A: I mean, he didn’t make the music but he kind of helped steer the messaging. I think the best advice you can give a creative person is not to tell them what to do but to give them a direction. And I think that that’s what Kanye was able to do.
Q: How does the Kanye that you worked with compare to the public perception of Kanye?
A: He’s just a passionate person, I think. I guess I don’t know what to say about the public perception of anyone because I feel like you can catch someone on any day and they’ll be some type of way and you can catch them the next day and they’re a different type of way.
Q: You’ve said the message of this album is that you’re allowed to be a sexual being and someone that demands respect. I was hoping you could talk about what your experience has been as a woman launching your career in an industry where you’re dealing with misogyny on a fairly regular basis.
A: Well, it’s kind of a huge question. I’ve talked previously about sexual assaults and and how my experience with that made me feel OK with modeling for American Apparel.
I had a lot of images on the internet. And I felt like when I started doing music, there was a pressure to erase that part of my narrative, that I was supposed to be more modest and kind of start clean, like all the American Apparel images are separate. They’re part of this different life that’s, like, the old me.
But then I realized that I was doing myself a disservice. I think it’s important to acknowledge that I’m allowed to take control of my sexuality and my body and what I want to do as a woman and also demand respect from people regardless of what I decide to wear or not wear.
I don’t know. I think it’s less about misogyny in the industry and more about demanding respect wherever I am.
Q: G.O.O.D is primarily a hip-hop label. How does it feel to be a singer whose sound is not necessarily rooted in hip-hop, to be such a different kind of artist on that label?
A: I think it’s pretty special. I think there’s something nice about being on a label where I’m able to kind of create my own lane and I don’t feel I have to directly compare myself to anyone else on the label.
Q: Before you started recording, you hadn’t done much in the way of live performing. How does it feel to be on stage performing your own music?
A: I think it feels otherworldly. It’s my favorite part of the whole thing. Performing live is the most visceral experience. When everything else exists online, I think it’s difficult to really gauge how people feel about something. Performing live directly in front of someone is an entirely different experience. There’s nothing else like it.