Natalia Kills will be the first one to admit it: she’s a goddamn problem.
That’s a frequently repeated line in “Problem,” the lead single to Kills’ sophomore album, Trouble. It’s also rather apt.
Kills first broke into the pop music scene back in 2010 with the release of single “Mirrors,” a hit on the dance charts here in the U.S. A few other singles and a debut album, Perfectionist, followed over the next couple of years. The recurring theme in Kills’ music: her desire to be a perfectionist in life, and everything associated with the successes and failures relating to perfection.
With her sophomore album, Kills is revealing more about why she wanted to create that image at the time. Trouble draws inspiration from her life, with a specific focus on the messiness and negative aspects of that life.
Before the release of Trouble, I spoke with Kills about her inspiration in making the album, how it compares to her previous work, her gay fan base and more.
For people who aren’t familiar with you or your music, why should they listen to your music?
That’s such a hard question. I don’t think about those types of things. I guess maybe it’s selfish of me, but I make my music for myself, you know? So…if I’m particularly haunted by a memory, or really enjoyed this crazy, wild night with a boy I think I’m in love with, something that just can’t leave me alone from my childhood or I really badly regret something from when I was a teenager – and I was really, really a bad teenager – I just write all the feelings down. I write the ideas down, you know, and that’s how a song happens.
It’s hard for me to say why I might be feeling anything because I kind of just write songs about the things I find appealing, and the things I can sort of remember the most – the memories I have that stand out in my mind the most, and what’s the most meaningful stuff to me, and just how to find fun and freedom and release in those kinds of things.
I’m curious: how does Trouble compare conceptually to your previous album, Perfectionist?
You know, when I was writing Perfectionist, I had just come out of London. I had ruined my life. I had been in trouble with the police. I had terrible fights with my boyfriend. I had nowhere to live. I had no money. And I moved to Hollywood, chasing this dream, kind of just making it somehow, [and] getting out of the bullshit. Perfectionist was really about me wanting to make everything perfect, when everything was not. At the time, that’s where my mind was. I was full of desire and wanting control.
Trouble is really about now standing back and realizing that, you know, I was wild. I was out of control. The reason that nothing was perfect was mostly because of me. I joined a cult. I had a terrible manager, terrible record deal. I got a job as an actress on TV, and then I quit! And then I had to work other jobs, even as a waitress, and I got fired from everything. I used to think, “I want this wonderful life. Why can’t it just happen?” Trouble is me realizing that the reason nothing was perfect, the reason everything was messed up – a lot of it had to do with whether I was trouble, or troubled, or if trouble was just chasing me and hunting me down everywhere I went.
The current single is “Saturday Night.” Can you tell me about the inspiration behind the song, as well as the music video?
I wanted to be very literal and raw and honest on this album. I know having a bit of a shifty childhood should make you want to be an advocate for it, or feel defiant, or feel like an overcomer, but I don’t really feel like any of that. I feel like some of my worst moments, some of my real moments of madness, have defined me to this day, and not necessarily in a good way. I wanted to make my whole album, but especially the song “Saturday Night,” like the soundtrack to my life. Not me trying to stand up and be healed and be safe and be better, and say “I am an overcomer” and “I am succeeding,” you know?
”Saturday Night” is more about me shrugging it off and saying, “You know what? No matter how fucked up things were, somehow things can still be fucked up now and life goes on, no matter what. No matter what, Saturday night will always roll around, whether you feel like it’s the end of the world this time or it’s just another Saturday night. Whether it’s a good one or a bad one, you just have to deal with it. That’s what I did.”
Of the songs on Trouble, which one’s your personal favorite, and why?
I definitely love “Saturday Night.” Sometimes, when I sing “Saturday Night,” I feel like everything’s okay, everything’s going to be fine even when it’s really not.
But I have a song on the album I really love. I love the song “Daddy’s Girl.” It’s a love song I wrote to my dad. It’s kind of like the love story between my parents. When I was young, my parents were really, really rich, and my dad was very generous, and I had this luxurious life. Then my dad got in trouble with the police. They took everything. He went to jail, then went to trial, then went to prison, and we lost everything. My family suffered hard for it. I was a teenager with nothing, completely broke.
“Daddy’s Girl” is about me finding out about what true love is for the very first time. It’s not someone buying you a million presents at Christmas. It’s not someone throwing luxury and jewelry and cash and a gorgeous house and holidays and vacations. It’s really that moment of knowing that, no matter what they’ve done wrong or what they’re accused of, you know they’re a good person because they have a good heart, and they’re being treated unfairly, considering what their intentions were for it. There are some lyrics in that song that are just like, [sings] “You know I’ll ride with you / Right through this fire of hell.” I really feel like, if you really love somebody, you ride with them through the fire of hell. No matter what they do, you’ll be there whenever they call. I don’t want to let anyone down. When I really love them, I don’t care how the world sees them. I know that they’re good to me, and I think they’re a good person, and that’s all that matters, and I’m going to stay true to that.
Can you tell me about the cover art for Trouble? I know you incorporated a lot of different elements into the artwork for it.
Yeah, I did. Well, this whole album is very personal for me. Almost all of my life stories are in this album. A lot of my madness and wildness, memories and such. I wanted for the cover art to really include the bits that define me. I wanted to make a collage of the memories, the way the lyrics from my album [are] a collage of my memories, who I am, everything I think and feel, and my opinions and my damage and my madness, happiness. I wanted, for the cover, all these objects. We went and found the exact champagne my dad used to drink. There are handcuffs from when I was in trouble as a teenager with the police. The lipstick is from when I was watching my mom be glamorous and be luxurious, thinking that I was going to grow up with that kind of life. There’s pearls and roses and all of the gestures that all of the boys have given to me, trying to fix me, trying to faze me as a young woman now that I’ve thrown away, ripped apart, and ruined. I wanted all these elements.
We took all these pictures and printed them into photos, and like a little girl with some kind of inspiration board, cutting out her favorite outfits from magazines, dreaming about being able to afford those clothes – I kind of did that, and stuck all these images together, and took a picture of that. And that’s how I made the album artwork – I literally just wanted to go back to being 14 again, cutting out all the things that I see and that mean something to me, like photos in a magazine, and just making something that looks beautiful and emotional and fun and silly.
On the album artwork, I wanted it to be like this massive trip, kind of melting feelings to it. There’s nail polish dripping down the sides at the top. It’s kinda like when I was 16 and I left home. I lived alone and felt like a grown-up. “I’m gonna put my lipstick on and my high heels on. I’m gonna paint my nails.” But every time I tried to paint my nails, it would end up completely fucked. I basically ended up painting my whole finger, and the table too, and it was dripping everywhere. And that kind of sensation is madness, that melting, dripping feeling of thinking you’re in control, and you can do this and live life better than everyone else around you that’s fucked up. And you make a mess of it. I really wanted to find a way to capture that feeling, and that’s why I put the dripping pink nail polish down the sides. It’s how I feel.
You’ve toured with Robyn, Katy Perry, Bruno Mars and the Black Eyed Peas over the past few years. What have you learned by working alongside these big names?
[Pause] Always check that your fly is zipped up before you go on stage. You don’t want to be flashing your underwear, especially if it doesn’t match. I mean, generally I do want to be flashing my underwear. I would go onstage wearing fishnets, a thong and a mink coat, like in the “Problem” video.
In the U.S., gay audiences seem to have latched on to your music. What do you think attracts gay audiences specifically to your music?
I think it’s that they’re fucking fabulous and don’t take shit, and they’re also very emotional. And I think when you’ve got all those things figured out, like the gay community – when you’ve really been through it, and you have something to be proud of, and really, really defiant about, and that’s something we have in common. Overcoming.
I’ve overcome and not overcome my best and worst moments in my own life, and because I choose to be open and raw, and really sing about it, and not really apologize or make excuses for it, not try and solve. There’s no cure or remedy for who I am. I feel that’s the sensation that I maybe can connect with my incredible gay fans. That feeling of not wanting to be “cured” or “fixed” or whatever society considers “good” or “moral,” or what parents consider “decent.” I reject a lot of those notions, and I feel like being able to be happy in yourself, no matter whether anyone thinks is good or bad, is the thing that connects us so much.
Plus, you know, they’ve got the fashion thing down. They definitely like to dress a little bit over-the-top sometimes, and that’s another thing that we can all get down with.
Trouble, the new album from Natalia Kills, is now available on iTunes, and releases in all other formats on Sept. 10. For your chance to win a copy of Trouble, follow David Atlanta on Facebook and keep an eye out for contests.