With her debut My Name is Kay aims to be a name you can't forget
My Name is Kay
"I really wanted something bigger, but it'll do," laughs My Name is Kay, joking about the venue she'll be playing that evening -- Toronto's Air Canada Centre -- when she opens for platinum-selling pop band Hedley.
She is sitting on a stool in the foyer of the arena doing some press for her debut EP, My Name Is Kay, which contains the singles "My Name is Kay," "Diddy Dum" and "Strangers (feat. Pusha T)," which she co-wrote with OneRepublic's Ryan Tedder. The 23-year-old Cape Breton native, who is signed to Universal Music Canada and Interscope in the U.S., will release her full-length album in the summer.
The cross-Canada tour with Hedley -- which ends for her on March 24 in Vancouver -- isn't My Name is Kay's first. The newcomer opened for LMFAO back in December, but, even with this experience under her belt, she still gets the jitters before hitting the stage. "When I don't get nervous, I typically don't have a good show," she admits.
On the Hedley tour, she is first up on the four-act bill (with Classified and Anjulie), but says she hasn't found it tough or distracting with people walking in to find their seat at 7 p.m.
"I thought people were gonna be, 'Oh, do you wanna get nachos? This is the opener,' walking by me, like 'Who's this chick?' For the most part, everywhere I've gone, everyone's been ready at 7 because Hedley's demographic is mostly younger. It's typically three-quarters full."
My Name is Kay -- whose real name is Kristin Boutilier -- creates an eclectic style of pop music, infused with electronic and rap elements. Growing up in Nova Scotia, she played piano, guitar, took voice lessons and drama classes, as well as "all the typical East Coast type of things," such as fiddle and highland dancing. Her accent is long gone, only brought out when she's got a few beers in her, she reveals.
But attempting to have a career out there and immersing herself in the region's rich Celtic music tradition wasn't an option for this go-getter.
"I moved as soon as I graduated," My Name is Kay says. "I love Nova Scotia, but I was like, 'Get me out of here,' because I wanted to see the world and I wanted to do more than just sing at weddings."
She accomplished a lot in those years, even though she doesn't see it that way: "It feels not amazing to me. It feels like I'm really behind because when I turned 17, I was really upset that I didn't have a record deal yet. So, for me, every year that passes, I'm like, 'Oh god.'"
But her hustle is impressive.
In 2007, she went to London, England, where she hired a coach to teach her to rap. She lived in Vancouver, albeit sleeping on floors and using food banks as she tried to get a drum 'n' bass duo with DJ B off the ground. But it wasn't until hooking up with Last Gang Management (owned by lawyer Chris Taylor, who represents Nelly Furtado, Drake and Sum 41) that a plan and path was put in place.
In 2010, she was shipped off to Los Angeles to work with various people, one of whom was Tedder, whose A&R guy had met her at a house party. Tedder then brought her on the road with him in order to collaborate on songs.
"I call him old Teddybear and he doesn't like it," My Name is Kay laughs. "Working with Ryan has been amazing. He's a genius. He's so smart that his ideas and his brilliance kind of rub off on you. It's in the air when you're in the studio with him. I co-wrote pretty much half the album with him. We did about six songs together. He's really good. Every other song he writes is a hit. So I feel like I'm in good hands.
"'Diddy Dum' was the first song I wrote with Ryan. We were going through some of my favourite things and just weird things that make me an individual," she explains.
Of the other two co-writes that are out now, she says "Strangers" came to her because she likes to watch reruns of the late '80s, early '90s sitcom Perfect Strangers, featuring the characters Balki and Larry. "We were looking at pictures of them and I was saying how one of them looks like my dad," My Name is Kay recalls. "Then we started writing this hook, this kind of old school [sings] 'na na hooo.' It just came [to us]: 'Lets write it about perfect strangers.'"
As for "My Name is Kay," her debut single which made the top 20 at radio in Canada -- the video racked up more than 300,000 views on YouTube -- that was supposed to be a fun little interlude on the album, not a single. "It's three minutes of 'This is who I am. This is what I like. Let me say my name 40 times,' and people still forget," she adds incredulously. "I don't even know if it's a joke. I had some guy the other day call me Kate. I'm like, 'Are you serious? Don't you know I wrote a song about this?'"
She said she was open to suggestions in terms of sound and direction, but there were some key things that were important for her to get across in her music.
"I really wanted people to see that I have a lot of energy. I'm a really happy, positive person and I come from a background where I did theatre and I'm kind of quirky so I wanted people to get that, and show young girls that you can be yourself.
"Growing up, Missy Elliott and Nelly Furtado were my favourite artists because I could relate to them and they were smart women that weren't all T&A. I think there's a place for that, but I wanted to be more along those lines of artists -- like Nelly Furtado is my idol."
She hasn't met Furtado although Chris Taylor could certainly hook that up. In fact, My Name is Kay says there will be some special guests on her upcoming album but doesn't want to mention any of them until they are official. She doesn't say no when asked if one of them could be Furtado.
"I don't want to meet her. It's gonna freak me out," she says. "We can never seem to bring it together, but now I'm at the point where I'm like, I don't know if I can meet her 'cause I'm going to turn into such a babbling idiot."
My Name is Kay is now working with Atlanta production team Organized Noize, who did TLC's "Waterfalls," Ludacris' "Saturday (Oooh Ooooh)" and lots of tracks for OutKast. "They have a very soulful [thing]," she says.
"I haven't put out anything serious and I haven't put out any ballads," she says of what's in store on the album.
"There are ballads that are pretty deep. I'm the type of person, I'm either super happy like rainbows [and] dolphins or screaming and crying into a pillow. There's no in between."
Her record label bio calls her an "emerging superstar." My Name is Kay adds: "I always call myself the regular kid, trying to make it 'cause I feel like I've been the underdog in a lot of situations."
But is that what she wants for herself -- superstardom?
"Oh of course," she says. "I definitely didn't start this to be like, 'Oh I just want to put out music and maybe some people can listen.' I want to take over. I want to do it as big as I possibly can so this is just the beginning."