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Interview: Felicity does not have a fear of heights

The gravelly-voiced newcomer mixes Joss Stone and Tracy Chapman, while carving out her own unique sound.

Very few 19 year olds can command the heft of a lyric quite like Felicity, the mighty-voiced newcomer who tips her hat to such obvious influences as Joss Stone, Tracy Chapman and in a round-about-way, the modern rock queen Melissa Etheridge. When shifting through the storyline of her new single "Pilot with a Fear of Flights," which contains the pointed lyric "This is so unnatural / That we're on this level / 'Cause my heart's surrendering / For this new beginning," Felicity glides effortlessly upward into the stratosphere. From the specific melodic choices to her apt phrasing, she only belts when it is absolutely essential. She's primed for classic torch singing, but she drenches those decisions with thought and subtlety. But she's not afraid to hit you in the chest if she so desires. "I am obsessed with making a connection. That's my main goal when I make music, whether I'm writing it or performing it," she tells Popdust over a chat in our Manhattan office.

"When I'm performing, I want to make the connection with the audience, and I want to make the connection with my voice and my body. I want to make sure it all makes sense, so that people can relate to it," she says. "And then when people listen to it, they can also be like 'I felt that way, I feel that way when I listen to this song.'" "Pilot with a Fear of Heightens" contains an underlining Sia boldness, between the blistering melody on the chorus to the undeniable grip it has on a listener's heart--the song samples her forthcoming debut EP, tentatively expected this summer.

Another new cut, called "Tug of War," allows Felicity to inhabit the kind of husky, soul-seeking work of such prolific trailblazers as Aretha Franklin, Sam Cooke and Whitney Houston. "When I wrote that, I was just messing around. I was like *sings high note* and then [my co-writer] Brian [Kierulf] and I were like 'can I even sing that? Will that even happen? We're gonna try our best.' So, I wanted the song to tear me apart the way the message is tearing me apart," she explains. "'Tug of War' is about how I love music so much, and it's just such a passion of mine. But sometimes I'm so passionate about it that I want everything to be perfect. Sometimes, I get torn apart because I don't know what I wanna do and I'll hit a wall. That [high] note is just screaming for desperation to try and resolve that inner conflict."

When tasked with cementing her own sound, Felicity utilizes her influences as simply the framework from which to build her own skyscraper. "It's not about just hitting the note--it's about the tone and the emotion behind it. Tracy Chapman doesn't show off a huge range in her music, but her tone makes you just feel everything. She has a song called 'Bang Bang Bang,' and it's a song about something really heavy. You can feel it in her voice. That's really important. I grew up with her. My mom and dad raised me on her, so hers is the tone and all she has to say. Then, John Denver [is a huge influence]. He has a song called 'Annie's Song.'"

Felicity's musical roots actually began with violin, way before she began to sing. "That's how I knew I loved music. ['Annie's Song'] has this bridge with these beautiful ascending violins. I think it just makes the song gorgeous. It's what brings it together. That's why I try and incorporate strings into my music now because of how he did it--and also the lyrics in that song, especially. It's like 'You fill up my senses like a night in the forest, like the mountains in springtime, like a walk in the rain.' I think it's incredible how he can relate a human back to something so natural--like a walk in the rain: you're so beautiful you remind me of that. I like to incorporate that into my writing, something that's not human, it's personifying something that's really amazing."

Check out our exclusive Q&A session below.

Why did "Pilot with a Fear of Heights" make sense as the next chapter of your story?

Well, I put "Poison" out first. It was really slow and sad. It was how I felt; it was my mood at the time, and it made sense for me to release it. Then, "Burnt Sugar" was me moving out of this sad phase, from this person that made me sad and then just being like "I just it wasn't meant to be, but now I'm more upbeat." Then "Pilot with a Fear of Heights" is kind of a mixture of both, honestly. It's more conclusive. While it's conclusive, I think it opens up a whole new genre for me.

You've talked about how an actual plane flight inspired the song. What was the process of sitting down to write it?

When I was living in Denver and coming [to NYC] every six weeks to write, I'd have tons of ideas and be in such a zone to write that everything was such an inspiration to me. My phone died, and I had to entertain myself. I looked out the window and came up with the concept 'Pilot With A Fear of Heights.' Then, literally, that next day, I got into the studio, and I brought it in with about sixty different ideas. Sixty different concepts, lines we could use, and I know I toyed around with a couple of ideas that just totally bubbled to the surface immediately. I wrote that slow start and just moved with this crazy fast thing and knew that this is something that I want to grow. It's more of case of seeing what works and seeing what bubbled to the top, and this did.

When did you know that you have such a big range?

I've always sung--that's always been my thing since I was a very, very little girl. A huge influence of mine is Celine [Dion]. I think she's just incredible, and I remember singing her songs when I was little and being like "oh my gosh, wish I could hit that note." I'm obviously still working at it because her range is ridiculous. There's notes she hits that I'm like "I can only dream."

Do you prefer writing alone or with other songwriters?

I've basically only written with Brian! [laughs] All the songs that you hear now is just me and him. It's really important to find somebody that clicks with you and doesn't muffle your sound. You want everything to be 100 percent authentically you. For me, I want to sound exactly like I think Felicity should sound. So, it's about finding somebody that brings out your artistry as opposed to changing it.

Being so young, how did you develop your story and aesthetic?

I am opinionated, so I kind of know what I want. When it comes to writing, I'm very like "no, I want this message." I think it's to be sure of what you want, because you can't have a loud clear voice if the voice isn't saying anything important. It's just knowing exactly where you stand on some things and what you wanna talk about.

You've lived all over the world. What's been your journey leading up to this moment?

I was born in Australia but my family was moving to Indonesia, so I lived there for the first couple of years of my life. Then, we moved back to Australia because my mom had family there. Then, we were in between Australia and America--because my dad's American--for a couple years. Then, my parents split up, and my mom moved back to Australia with my sister, and my dad and I stayed in Denver. My mom then met my stepdad, and he's African, so we moved to South Africa and it was so weird. I moved there when I was 12 or 13, and I just felt so at home.

You just totally submerge yourself in this culture and they speak like three different languages there, which I don't speak...but it's cool to listen to! It was just so different to anything else I'd ever experienced. So, after living in Cape Town for lots and lots of years and just feeling very at home there, I moved to America because I had a music opportunity which I knew I was going to do. I moved there for my senior year of high school in July 2015. Then, I commuted to New York every six weeks until I graduated and worked as a waitress full-time there for a couple months and moved out here when I quit.

How do you like living in New York City so far?

I love it. I've always known that I wanted to be a musician and an artist, but being here surrounded by the best of the best and the most authentic allows me to cultivate my artistry further. it's kind of been like an epiphany almost. Just everything I can pull from, I can become my definition of an artist, and I can become the purest version of Felicity that I wanna be.

How has all the moving around influenced you, musically?

I think living in Cape Town was probably the biggest eye opener for me, because you see people that genuinely have nothing. And that's not to say – Cape Town is actually a fairly developed place, just because it's a big tourist capital and things like that – but it's a place that has opposite ends of the spectrum. It has people that have a lot of means and people that have come from nothing and live in a small shack-like house. So, when you get exposed to those people that have nothing, it makes you appreciate everything, and I think that's affected me and my music. Now, I make everything count. I've been given this amazing opportunity that a very small percentage of people have been given, and I've gotta make this good! I've gotta make this really good! So, I try my best, and that's probably from Cape Town, being able to see how people appreciate when they have so little.

What other song(s) are you most excited to share next?

Well, "Tug of War" is not out yet. That one I'm very excited about. I wrote it when I first moved here in October, just because it is a very personal song. And then there's this one song I wrote called "Settle Down." I wrote this when I was first adjusting to America. I moved in my senior year so it was all about finding friends. People here are super nice so it was no problem! But it was stressful, moving to a new high school for my senior year. I was coming here every six weeks, and I had to handle school and my career. I was having a great time but also when you're so busy, you have to remind yourself to take a breath and settle down. I listen to it when I need to take a breath.

Whose career do you aspire to have?

I really appreciate timelessness, songs that don't age. So, I think I would probably wanted a career like Celine Dion's, just because she just has this voice that will impress people forever. I think that's something to admire. Celine and I are totally different artists. She sings completely different music, and her messages are different from mine. I wouldn't compare us, but I'd say career-wise and her timelessness is something to really admire and is definitely something I'd aspire to have.

How did you come to work with Brian Kierulf?

My dad visited me when I was still living in Cape Town, and I backed up my phone onto his computer. He listened to all my voice notes. He was like "oh okay, she really wants to do this, she's writing songs by herself." They were not good songs, but the intention was there. I think he saw that, so thank you, dad! He reached out to this guy who gave me singing lessons from [New] Jersey over Skype while I was in Africa. He was like "okay, I think I should introduce you to my friend." So, I came out to New York when I was visiting my dad in Denver. We road tripped from Denver to New York. That's when I met Brian, and "Poison" was the second song I ever wrote with him. We wrote the whole song and recorded it in the same day. Brian was like "Do you really wanna do this?," and I said "I do." So, I then moved to Denver and commuted here every six weeks.

Take a listen to Felicity's new acoustic version of "Pilot with a Fear of Heights" below:


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