Kiara Lanier may be preparing for to release her debut album, but the upcoming Tongues & Teaspoons is far from the Chicago native’s first mark on the local Renaissance.
After breaking through with a talented run on American Idol in 2011, she featured on the lead track to Chance The Rapper’s now-iconic Acid Rap project, “Good Ass Intro”. The upcoming collection, teased earlier this month with the single, “Start Over Again” is an amalgamation of things tried, hearts broken and the lessons learned through the regeneration of healing. In short, she’s channeled the last six years into a singular introduction to the world.
Sitting across a table on a recent sunny Friday afternoon, Lanier described the process the led to the songs on the project.
“Its very symbolic I started these songs a lot of them with an ex-boyfriend who is a muse for a lot of these songs. For someone I was with off and on for six or seven years and we’d broken up,” she explained over a pair of cocktails and a plate of calamari. “He ended up moving to New York and I was still left with all these unfinished songs and its really, the completion of this project is the completion of that relationship and also the beginning of me fully as a musician having my own work out. So it’s really honestly like a closing of something and an opening of something else that I had to complete it to do.”
For Lanier, art outweighs profit or fame. Her journey over the course of the last five years has been a deep-rooted and eclectic one, experimental and expressive in nature. During that time she performed as back up for acts like The O’My’s and Chance while also producing vocalizing evenings with producers like Peter CottonTale, jazz acts, eventually falling in with indie rock outfit Wild Belle who she spent time on tour with, in 2016.
While on the outside she appeared to be playing the background role, it served as a necessary learning period that manifests itself in her upcoming body of work. To be sure, her time spent behind the scenes mirrors the incubated rise of fellow acts Eryn Allen Kane and Lili K, who she’s shared stages and studios alongside various productions and performances.
“People called us in because they recognized our talent to fulfill their mission or their vision within the scope of their project. I think it came to a point where I was no longer just satisfied with supporting people but also needed to support myself,” Lanier said. “Outside of the hip-hop community I was also supporting other bands and stuff like that and it really got to the point where I just wasn’t happy anymore singing background to make someone else’s voice sound stronger in a live show and I’m performing by myself and it’s like ‘damn your voice is actually strong, your voice is actually butter, you’re actually the coldest.'”
For Lanier, talent has never been a question.
A naturally reserved, almost shy individual, she is a passionate soul willing to dive fully into interests and ideas to bring them to life in a variety of manners. While a natural onstage, it took seeing it from multiple angles to decide how she fit into the larger musical landscape. These days, her disposition is more loose, a confident swagger underlines her conversations. It’s clear she’s turned a corner and that Tongues & Teaspoons‘ completion is a breath of fresh air.
“I had to address who am I when I get onstage and people always gravitated to me: what I look like, what I talk like and I’m just at a point where I’m not shy about sharing myself anymore where I don’t have anything to be shy about,” said Lanier. “This project is about self-healing and coming back into a higher level of self identity and self-love and changing my lens from how I see myself in a relationship as a partner and then like growing into myself, becoming this black freak, becoming this contemporary black avant-garde artist and also I just want to be more fun.”
She’s certainly been letting her hair down as of late. Avant-garde only begins to touch on the full range of interests and creative outlets that Lanier has encountered and engaged since stepping out in an understood artistic stance. Just about every part of her being from the tea party events bringing together fellow creatives, to her careful word choice when speaking, all the way down to her carefully-manicured hairstyles that have become an iconic part of her image. If nothing else, Lanier is wholly unique, and seeks to embody as much on this latest collection.
While she has toured with rock bands, performed soul and R&B, paired with poets and actors, hosted and served as a guest, Lanier has seen the scene from just about every angle imaginable. A purveyor of ultra-conscious health techniques and assorted healing strategies, she has also found herself an advocate for alternative medicines, focusing one’s self and loving one another as a way to move forward. In many ways, it’s those qualities and well-explored interested that drive forward the ideas channeled into Tongues & Teaspoons.
The project itself is not only a patchwork of experiences and ideas culled from a relationship stalled, but also a cacophony of varying styles and strategies picked up from the vast landscape of musicality that she has inhabited throughout her twenties. Experimental is a word that she uses often in explaining the basis, and one that accurately sets the stage for listeners.
“I was like everyone else coming out of Young Chicago Authors and I was a musician and I was one of the only singers at YCA. So in a sense my writing has always been about poetry, or been poetic in a sense,” she explained. “So now that I’ve graduated from the poetry world where we’re wiritng like monologue personal narratives I’m starting to look at ‘how you do include people in your song writing, how do you write choruses that everyone can sing with you that are simple, succinct but still powerful. I’m learning to be more honest and the more honest that I am the easier it is.”
With the project’s release creeping ever closer in October, the time is quickly approaching for Lanier to finally step out from the background and assert her art alongside the country’s brightest stars. With a newfound confidence and an understanding to keep it all smooth, she seems prepared to make the most of it.
“With this project, I really wanted to establish myself as a true writer and soul singer but also as an experimental artist that’s not afraid to shy away from anything and fully own both worlds,” she said. “The more honest I am becoming with myself the more fluid everything is flowing from me from my creativity to my vocal skill and ability. I’m ready and excited to share.”