EW Live Songwriters Camp with Sara Kays

EW's Malcolm-Aime Musoni goes live with Sara Kays.

Video Transcript

MALCOLM-AIME MUSONI: Welcome to this very special edition of EW'S Songwriter's Camp. We are here with none other than Sara Kays. Hello, hello, hello, how are you?

SARA KAYS: I'm so good, thank you for having me. Sorry, I had to update my app.

MALCOLM-AIME MUSONI: I mean, I was like I thought I had this all sorted out, but it's all good. Where are you coming to me from, are you in Nashville?

SARA KAYS: I'm in Rushville.

MALCOLM-AIME MUSONI: And you're originally from Indiana, right?

SARA KAYS: Yeah.

MALCOLM-AIME MUSONI: I'm originally from Iowa, which is not that far from Indiana.

SARA KAYS: OK. I don't think I've been to Iowa.

MALCOLM-AIME MUSONI: There's nothing, there's nothing there. You don't need to go there. I promise.

SARA KAYS: That's like the same for Indiana, though, have you been there?

MALCOLM-AIME MUSONI: No I've never been there.

SARA KAYS: OK, yea. People just don't go either of those places for vacation or anything.

MALCOLM-AIME MUSONI: There's not, I think Iowa is like a really affordable and cheap place to live, but if you're gonna wanna vacation you shouldn't go there. There's no reason to be out there. And so when did you move from Indiana to Nashville?

SARA KAYS: Well, I moved, right after I graduated high school I moved to Atlanta for a year, and then I ended up here in Nashville like two years ago.

MALCOLM-AIME MUSONI: And so you moved to Atlanta to pursue singing songwriting. Why Atlanta and not LA or New York? What made Atlanta the place to be for you?

SARA KAYS: Well, at the time I was playing throughout high school, my job was playing cover gigs at restaurants and bars and stuff, and I was kind of also focusing on getting better at songwriting at that time. So I knew in Atlanta there were a lot of places I could play just to make a living. And then once I kind of felt like I was better at songwriting and everything I made the move out here. And I was going to school, too so that was part of the reason.

MALCOLM-AIME MUSONI: And so then from Atlanta to Nashville, you've been in Nashville for how many years, now?

SARA KAYS: For two years, about.

MALCOLM-AIME MUSONI: And has it, I guess you feel like you've grown as a singer songwriter being in Nashville? Because I know that Nashville's a very collaborative environment, everyone is involved in music and it's a beautiful place to be, but how has being in Nashville changed things for you?

SARA KAYS: I do still write mostly alone, but I think that there's so many creative people here that when I do have a session it's like there's so many people here that I could write with and everything, and it's awesome for that. And I think, I started getting more into co-writing this year, which has been all over Zoom so for that it hasn't been great. But I think this is such a great place for songwriters to be.

MALCOLM-AIME MUSONI: And how-- when you're on Zoom writing with other people-- what is that like? Is it just y'all in a Zoom room and y'all playing beats back and forth? How does that work?

SARA KAYS: I mean, I've only done probably six or seven so far and usually I'm with my producer, Steven, he produces everything and we've done the rights together so far, so it'll be like-- we usually go in with a concept, first, and then just kind of hone in on the lyrics. I don't know, it has flowed pretty well so far, like somebody will sing a melody and then we'll just kind of go off that. It's nice to have Steven right there, though, because he's usually playing something on guitar. Yeah.

MALCOLM-AIME MUSONI: I want to mention that you dropped a song on February 11th, Future Kids. What is that [INAUDIBLE] have a song out, another song out? How do you, how does it feel to have that out, to see all the reaction from your fans? I see them in the comments all the time, like I was lurking earlier, and they're all excited and happy that you dropped this new song. What has it been like?

SARA KAYS: It's great. I actually, that's one that I started writing probably almost two years ago. I wrote that chorus, yeah, I wrote that chorus and then I remember I was struggling to write the verses, and I just kind of left it. And then I came back to it like a year later and I finished it. And it was going to be on the EP, Camera Shy, but then Chosen Last and Smaller Than This both came out of nowhere because of TikTok and then they replaced it, and then, then it just ended up being after the EP. But I'm so happy it's out, though, because it's one of my favorites.

MALCOLM-AIME MUSONI: And because a lot of your songs are really relatable, talks about relationships, and just life and stress. Has anyone that your songs are about ever hit you up and been like, yo, I know this one's about me, or is it just that people kind of left you alone and not, you know, hit you up and been like, yo, what's up?

SARA KAYS: Yeah, so remember That Night is like the first song I really wrote about a relationship or like a breakup. And he did, he did, he definitely knows it's about him. But we're on pretty good terms, you know, so he did hit me up and he's just kind of like, this will definitely be a talking point now whenever I'm talking to a new person, like there's a song about me, which is might be weird, but I don't know.

And other than that, whenever I release a song about something that's really personal to me, I did kind of at first worry about my family hearing it and then reaching out to me. But it ended up being fine, especially when I get the reaction from people saying, Oh, I relate to this song, I'm glad it exists now. That makes it fine because I don't want to make any of my family members or anybody feel bad or anything.

MALCOLM-AIME MUSONI: I guess, how has your family responded to your rise to the top? Because you're blowing up on TikTok all the time, Instagram, you're popping. How have they responded to this reaction, to see you kind of go from being in Indiana to now, like you're in Nashville doing cool things. How have they responded to that?

SARA KAYS: They're all, they're all just like, the same. Like they're all just, I, it's the same. I go home and we just watch, binge watch shows on Netflix and do all the same stuff that we've been doing, and they're all so supportive, pretty much. Yeah, my mom has always been super supportive, my dad is, you know, as much as a dad can be supportive. He's just like, love that. And then my, I have a little cousin that's like, she knows all my songs and she'll sing them for me, it's so sweet. Yeah.

MALCOLM-AIME MUSONI: Can we talk about TikTok a little bit? Do think that TikTok has kind of changed the way that we listen to music and pay attention to music? You are blowing up on TikTok, it's crazy. How did that happen? I think everybody wants to blow up on TikTok, everybody wants to be famous on there and have a real strong fanbase. But your fans go crazy on TikTok when you drop a snippet, how did that happen?

SARA KAYS: At first-- I think it's probably been about a year since I really started posting on there-- and at first I remember downloading the app. Everybody was trashing it at my school and saying it was for middle schoolers, but I downloaded it, anyway. And then I saw on my For You page just a couple of videos of people posting their original songs and putting the lyrics above their head. I was like, that's so cool and they're blowing up.

I was like, it's so cool that people care about lyrics that much. So it just kind of inspired me to post my original songs. I was so used to posting covers, that's where I kind of like, I got a little bit of a following on Instagram at first from just posting cover songs, and I was kind of tired of doing that so I posted my original songs with the lyrics and just kind of went from there. And then I started posting videos that were kind of going behind the lyrics of my songs, which it just surprised me at first that people cared that much about the meanings of the songs, but it's really cool.

MALCOLM-AIME MUSONI: Do you feel any pressure to continue having success on TikTok? Because up until now, you've had a lot of success there, but do you feel any pressure to just continue that momentum, and that-- and that kind of viralness now?

SARA KAYS: A little bit. I mean, there's always a little bit of pressure with it, but I try to just, I like that I can just use it for posting brand new ideas. Like I have my songs that I'm, like I'll write a song and be super confident in it and just be like, I'm recording this song, it's going on the album. And then aside from that I can post little snippets of something I wrote literally that night on TikTok, and just see how people like it and then, yeah, I like to use it for things like that and I don't think, I try not to let it get to be too much pressure on myself.

MALCOLM-AIME MUSONI: Look at some of these questions and see what your friends are saying. Someone said do you miss the zombie's cast? That's a question from royalrelex.

SARA KAYS: The zombie's cast?

MALCOLM-AIME MUSONI: Yeah.

SARA KAYS: What does that mean?

MALCOLM-AIME MUSONI: I literally have no idea what that means, either [INAUDIBLE] on to the next one. Y'all got questions, drop them and I'll get to them. I'm looking. While we wait for some questions, what is -- OK, someone said, Sara, what's your favorite song you've ever wrote? That's from sarasbabies.

SARA KAYS: Oh boy, it always changes, seriously, whenever somebody asks me that. It's always either the new song or just one of the new songs, but I think maybe No Matter the Season is definitely up there, because it's the first song I really kind of opened up in about body image. And I like that it's, I love that it's about that, but also I feel like I love the writing in it, it's not just super straightforward, I kind of, it's one of my favorites, I guess. I don't know if that was a good explanation.

MALCOLM-AIME MUSONI: No, that was perfect, you got this. Someinfinityagent said how long does it take you to-- approximately to write a song?

SARA KAYS: It's different. Like with Future Kids, like I just said, it -- it took like two years because I started writing it, and then I came back to it like a year later, because it's almost like I forgot about it a little bit and then I came back to it like, oh my gosh, I love this and then finished writing it. But if I generally, there have been times like with Remember That Night, where I wrote that one pretty much in one day, and yeah, I'm sorry it's always different. It's not usually the same.

MALCOLM-AIME MUSONI: Someone was asking-- I missed their name-- but they were asking if you had any advice on performing live? For getting over fear, getting over stage fright, what would you say to anyone who wants to make music, but they're really anxious and scared about performing live and that kind of aspect of it?

SARA KAYS: Yeah I was, I was definitely nervous at first. For me, for some reason-- the first time I played for people, I think, was busking in my hometown. I just went and set up and started playing while people were walking by, and I, for some reason I think that it, I felt better about it because I knew that I wouldn't know, probably wouldn't know anybody that walked by. And also if they didn't pay attention to me I knew it wasn't necessarily because they didn't think I sounded good or something, they're not expecting to see music. Whereas if you're playing on a stage at a show and people are not paying attention that hits so much worse than if it's like, yeah when they're just walking by. I would suggest trying out busking, though. It's a lot of fun, too, because you can play whatever you want and take as many breaks as you want. Yeah.

MALCOLM-AIME MUSONI: Good advice. Let's see, they're asking if you're gonna do shows once COVID is over?

SARA KAYS: Of course.

MALCOLM-AIME MUSONI: Julieheehee said Sara, how did you become more confident? I think that's what someone is asking.

SARA KAYS: More confident, oh man, in general? Or like in my songwriting, or?

MALCOLM-AIME MUSONI: [INAUDIBLE]

SARA KAYS: Just I'm going to go with songwriting. So I became more confident in that when, just with time. I kind of recognized in high school I wanted to really start writing, and I recognized like, I'm not good enough at this, yet. So I kind of honed in on it for like two years and over time I was like, OK this song is clearly better than the last one [INAUDIBLE]. So I think just time, and probably that goes for everything, give yourself time.

MALCOLM-AIME MUSONI: Oh, Joe, Josh M asked where you want to go on tour? Are there any places that you really want to go once you are able to-- to tour post COVID? What spots do you know you've got to hit, for sure for sure?

SARA KAYS: I mean, I would love to play a show in my hometown even though I've been there, obviously. But I think it would be so cool to just have that, that moment of circling back around there. Oh, I don't know. I would love to, I would love to go to Colorado, Denver. That would be fun, I see so many pictures, and I see so many pictures of-- of [INAUDIBLE] so beautiful.

MALCOLM-AIME MUSONI: Oh, itsnobody said, how do you cope with remembering bad experiences while writing songs? Is it difficult or do you just not think about it too much?

SARA KAYS: Can you read that, again?

MALCOLM-AIME MUSONI: itsnobody said, how do you cope with remembering bad experiences while writing songs? Is it difficult or do you not just think about it too much?

SARA KAYS: Sometimes when I read about things it's like, yeah, if it's something that I just went through and I'm writing about it, I can get really sad about it while I'm writing. But a lot of times its almost like I'm writing about something I went through a while ago, and I've kind of been through it already, so it's not that hard. I think the hardest part is usually releasing it. Just kind of being like, everybody's going to know about this, now, and I've never even talked about it to anybody in person before.

MALCOLM-AIME MUSONI: So I have a question. When you're writing songs-- like if you're by yourself-- are you writing them pen to paper, are you writing the, are you singing a melody into your iPhone voice memo? What is your preferred method of getting this idea out?

SARA KAYS: Yeah, usually I will do a note on my phone. I don't, I try to be that notebook, cool pen to paper person, but it doesn't work, it never works. But I usually start with a concept, or like a lyric, or an idea, a title, what I want to write about. And a lot of times I write down some of the lyrics, first, before I put a melody or put chords to it.

MALCOLM-AIME MUSONI: Hey, y'all keep asking about a tour. She said that once COVID is over she will be touring. Stop asking that, y'all, we've literally been over this like three times. Who are some of your biggest influences in music?

SARA KAYS: Early on, Ed Sheeran was because he was-- I remember I mostly just heard what was on the radio, and he was one of the first artists I heard that was kind of different from everything else I was hearing on the radio. And I was like, I fell in love with that singer songwriter type of sound.

And then, and then as I got a little older I got into a lot of pop punk, like Mayday Parade, and All Time Low, and that kind of stuff. And then I got obsessed with this artist in high school called Jake Bugg, and I love Alec Benjamin, Kacey Musgraves, Capetown. I could keep going a lot of influences.

MALCOLM-AIME MUSONI: I think people were asking me if you're going to do a collab with Alec Benjamin?

SARA KAYS: I would love to, I don't know.

MALCOLM-AIME MUSONI: OK, pancoostarsar, sorry, I just butchered your name, I'm so sorry. They said-- the song "is There Anything Else?"-- was it true that you thought you had to change yourself to look pretty?

SARA KAYS: Yeah, I mean, I think when -- that song is, that song is pretty old, by the way-- but I think when somebody, you're with somebody and you kind of can notice them, at least for me, you notice them kind of not being interested in you, anymore, I immediately go to, Oh is it because I'm not, I don't look good anymore? I don't know. So that's kind of where that feeling comes out of.

MALCOLM-AIME MUSONI: Let's see what other questions there are. Someone said, how do you make your songs not sound the same?

SARA KAYS: Well, I try to sing different melodies, that's for sure. But I actually, I have run into that problem a little bit, before. Especially writing by yourself, mostly, it's like, I have run into that. But that's co-writing has helped a little bit, I started doing that more this year and getting influence from another person in the room, melodically, can help kind of add a little bit of spice into your songs.

MALCOLM-AIME MUSONI: Mm-hmm. Morganleep19 said, do you have a special time of day that you write?

SARA KAYS: I don't technically have a time that I'm like, I'm going to right at this time, but it usually ends up being at night. I don't know why, but sometimes I feel like I write more at 12am than anything, midnight.

MALCOLM-AIME MUSONI: reagangolden said, what's your biggest advice for small singer songwriters and the people who want to be doing what you're doing, what advice do you have for them?

SARA KAYS: Biggest advice, I would just recommend writing every day. Just like, I think that, just be patient with yourself, too. I get so discouraged, even still, but then it's like if you go into your voice memos, that's where I record my ideas, and if I scroll down even like a few months ago, or a year, I'm like wow that's so much better, since then. So just give yourself time and try to write every day.

MALCOLM-AIME MUSONI: It's good advice. Oh, how did you get into playing the ukulele? What kind of started you playing the ukulele?

SARA KAYS: Yeah, I learned guitar first and at the time, I think it was like a couple of years after I started learning guitar, I noticed like, I was a big fan 21 Pilots, and I know Tyler Joseph played ukulele on a lot of his songs. So I think that's what initially made me want to get a ukulele. Also the song Riptide, everybody was learning that song at the time. So I got a ukulele and it was actually, it was so easy to learn, already knowing guitar. So if you know guitar, might as well just get a ukulele and know two instruments.

MALCOLM-AIME MUSONI:

SARA KAYS: Have I ever mixed or mastered my own music? No, my producer Steven does all of that. Shout out, Steven.

MALCOLM-AIME MUSONI: Want to learn?

SARA KAYS: Not really. I don't really have a desire to do that because I know how long it takes to become really good at that to where I'm like, even if I learned how to be pretty good at it I would still end up being like, somebody else could do this better. I'd rather just stick to the writing part and not put so much time into that part, and then not even get good enough at it.

MALCOLM-AIME MUSONI: Yeah, that makes sense. Let's see. OK, someone with the at name Sara, sarakaysiloveyousomuch said, please can you say hi? My name is Reggie. So I guess they want you to say hi to them, I guess.

SARA KAYS: Hi, Reggie. Thank you for coming into this live.

MALCOLM-AIME MUSONI: What would you tell your past self? That's a question from morganleep19

SARA KAYS: What would I tell my past self? That, I would tell my past self exactly when TikTok would exist, so I could be the first one to get on there and post the songs.

MALCOLM-AIME MUSONI: It's good advice. There are also asking, like, they want even more music. So when can they expect more music?

SARA KAYS: Yeah, I have a song coming out like every month, pretty much, up until-- we've just been recording a lot of songs and until it becomes a full project. Next one's in March, I think March 19. Yeah, so every month. Let's go.

MALCOLM-AIME MUSONI: Y'all heard that. For those of you who just tuned in, we're going to be posting this video on our Instagram so if you missed stuff or you missed questions it will be, you'll be able to watch it afterwards on our Instagram on EW's. Someone also asking about merch, someone asked about merch earlier and I missed that. Is there gonna be merch?

SARA KAYS: Yeah, we're, we're working on that for sure. Just got to get it right, you know?

MALCOLM-AIME MUSONI: What kind of merch do you want to have? Like what are some things that you know that you want to have for your fans to be able to purchase and support?

SARA KAYS: I'm big on hoodies and crewnecks. I personally don't love merch t-shirts, but I know a lot of people do. So I'm probably gonna one of those. Beanie, beanie. And then I'm thinking about socks, I think to be fun.

MALCOLM-AIME MUSONI: That would be dope. I'll for sure buy some socks if you sell some. See, what else? If you could change anything about the industry, what would it be?

SARA KAYS: About the industry? I don't know, maybe more playlists that, I don't know, playlists that are controlled by, I don't know, like random people, rather than all by the DSPs, that would be cool.

MALCOLM-AIME MUSONI: It would be different, a different way to make sure that you know the music is more diverse and not just [INAUDIBLE] kind of thing. One second. All right we're going to see if we can get one last question, and then I'll let you go. OK, last question from annadavis. How do you know when a song is done and doesn't need any more tweaks?

SARA KAYS: Probably just when I feel good about it. Because I don't think there, there's not always, there's sometimes I finish a song and then think, oh, I should have said that, and it, after it's even already released, like sometimes. Like with You Remember That Night? and Chosen Last and one or two others. I had to finish writing them really quickly because we decided to record them immediately after I posted them, like the original one verse or chorus on TikTok. So sometimes you just have to be, just be like that's good that's good enough. But I do prefer when I have time like with Future Kids, how I just came back to it a year later and was like, really just honed in on it.

MALCOLM-AIME MUSONI: Think that is all we got for today. Thank you so much for taking the time out of your day to come and talk to me. Y'all, thank you all for watching. Send your questions, this will be able to be viewed on our Instagram later. Congrats on all of your success thus far, Sara. You're an amazing talent. It was super, super [INAUDIBLE] talking to you.

SARA KAYS: Thank you.

MALCOLM-AIME MUSONI: [INAUDIBLE] coming up. You're going to go far and do amazing. Thank you once again, also.

SARA KAYS: Thank you so much. This is awesome.

MALCOLM-AIME MUSONI: No problem. All right, stay safe. Peace out, y'all. Bye.

SARA KAYS: Bye.