Wonderland chats to Gina Kushka, the South African born Londoner singer songwriter with a twist.
Here at Wonderland we love a good pop song. Dancey and full of energy, Gina Kushka is the pinnacle of this what it means to be a good old fashioned lover of pop music, but in the purest sense of the word. She’s the singer song writer from London proving that there’s nothing wrong with belting out a few chords now and then. The girl’s got pipes, and teamed with her impressive song writing skills that allow for her create an anthemic quality to her music, she’s unstoppable.
Her latest track “Bring It Down“ is a track with an underground edge, but the singer still manages to keep her pop like roots. Gina’s ambition is to be brutally honest in her music, writing about difficult periods in her life with clarity and a newfound awareness that often comes from writing creatively about something like that. Wonderland sat down with the rising star to talk about her imminent rise to stardom, and just how she got there.
Gina, you started so young! How did you manage to buy yourself a guitar and teach yourself how to play before you were even out of primary school?
That would be pretty impressive! It wasn’t quite like that though; my mum’s been a major support from day one. She must have seen something in me when I was still super young, putting me in my first singing lesson when I was four. Probably to shut me up, because apparently before that, I used to run around the house singing and dancing to all the music she played me. If I ever saw an opportunity to perform in front of people, I was the first one up there. Basically, music was always around me; either my mum was blasting it all day in the house, or my nanny back in South Africa was teaching me how to sing songs from her village or play their instruments. When we moved to England when I was ten, I was already fully involved in the singing side of things. I knew that music was what I wanted to do one day, so I started playing piano and violin, being very impatient with it. Stuff at home started to get quite complicated soon after we moved, so I started writing poetry to figure it all out. My mum then decided to buy me a guitar aged eleven, which was probably the best thing ever because it honestly took me out of quite a dark place. I watched a few YouTube videos, taught myself how to play, and slowly learnt how to translate my poems into songs. That’s kind of how it all started I guess.
Do you remember the first piece of music you made that you were proud of?
I sure do. I don’t think I’ll ever forget that song. When I was thirteen, after a load of bullshit “songs”, I finally wrote something that I genuinely still play to myself today. It’s called “Mr Romantica.” It actually got some love on YouTube at the time though haha (though I’ve taken all my home videos down now.) I wrote it about someone close to me that I felt had abandoned me, and it was pretty much a cry for his approval and love. That song was the first time I learnt how to be brutally honest in a way that is personal to me, but still telling a story that could be relatable to everyone.
Who introduced you to Kate Bush and Cindy Lauper, the (amazing) women who inspired you? What was it about them that connected with your younger self?
Once again, my mum’s just a legend. She introduced me to a lot of the music that has shaped who I am as an artist. When I was a lot younger, it was the 80s stuff that she was playing to me; Kate Bush, Cindy Lauper, Pat Benatar, The Cranberries etc., but I grew up with a proper mix of music. She taught me about the iconic soul and blues artists that she grew up worshipping like Etta James, Janis Joplin, BB King, mixed with artists like Freddie Mercury, Prince, Eric Clapton, The Flames, Pink Floyd, The Beatles, Carlos Santana, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Leonard Cohen, even Maria Callas. There are way too many names to mention. The artists that impacted me when I was younger were definitely the ones that made me feel something. I don’t think I can explain what that “something” is, but its personal and you just know when you feel it. That’s what I care about with my music too. It has to be real, because if I don’t feel or believe it, the listener definitely won’t either and then it becomes pointless. I then discovered heavy metal by myself. It added so much substance to my writing style that I’d already developed, melodically and lyrically, and it became a new obsession. So much so, that I became the 14-year-old kid that wanted to turn up to lessons with bruises to prove she’d been in the middle of the mosh pit.
Your voice is completely chart ready and polished but the production on your latest track “Bring It Down” still has an underground edge to it, how involved do you get on that side of things?
Thank you!!! I thank my singing teacher – she’s amazing! But yeah I definitely get involved in the production side now. It took me a little while to build the confidence to voice to producers if I didn’t like a specific sound, chord progression, drum pattern or whatever, but I’m completely open now. I kind of just tell it like it is. I try and drive my sound myself as much as possible, so if I hear something I don’t like, I have zero qualms in telling the producer what I want to hear and where I want the production to go. I don’t step on their toes with it though; I do trust the people I work with. Teamwork’s the dream work baby.
How do you write, what inspires you?
Simply, just real life. Along with everything that’s out of my control, I’m subconsciously quite self-destructive I think. But it’s great because I always have something to write about. I just need whatever I write to be brutally honest and then I’ll be happy with it. I have a ton of notepads, with drawings, phrases and words scribbled all over every page. I carry a pen and paper everywhere with me because I know by now that I always see things that make me want to draw or write and I can’t afford to forget those moments. Sometimes I’ll go into sessions with a raw concept/experience already painted in my mind, or I’ll go through my notepads and find a phrase from a past experience that connects with me in that moment.
Your releases so far have been quite different, are there any more surprises from Gina Kushka we’re yet to see?
I’m so excited to give more! There’s one more song that I’m putting out before the end of the year, which shows another side to me, still completely true to my sound of course. I do kind of love keeping people on their toes. Next year is definitely going to be full of crazy surprises and I can’t friggin wait to share them!!!
You’re a trained painter too, how much do you think about aesthetic and the whole idea of what you’re presenting? Has it influenced your work much as a musician?
Yeah, painting’s a huge part of my life. In a sense though, it’s a totally different release to music. I like to be totally alone when I paint. I guess in a way, it is selfish; with my music, I know that what I’m writing will eventually be given to the public to appreciate and relate to, so when I write, I try to be more conscious about how I tell the story, but with my paintings, I treat them as if they’re just for me. It’s like my own little bubble that I can escape to. They’re pretty dark though and would probably freak some people out, but I think in terms of my painting influencing my music, they both come from the same place, trying to express something that is felt. I guess painting is like a practice for me in how to be as honest in my music.
Far and wide, everyone’s been branding you as a pop star about to break, is that what you’re aiming for?
Haha that’s a pretty bold statement. Thank you, though the journey is still fresh and I have SO much more to give, its crazy. I’m absolutely in love with the support. It honestly means everything to me that my music’s connecting already. Essentially, that’s the crux of it, that’s what I’m aiming for. As long as my music can connect as far and wide as possible, getting my message across, that is what I care for. It all starts with the music for me, and I feel like everything else will come together after that. Being branded as a potential “pop star” is friggen sweet, still though, writing songs and the music is where it all started for me as it was and is something I need. So that’ll always be the most important thing.
Finally, what’s next? When can we come to a Gina Kushka show? When can we hear more tracks?
So I’ll be doing a few shows next year, which I can’t wait for. Performing is possibly my favorite thing in the world (next to writing and painting.) Then I have one more track coming before the end of this year which is also really exciting. As for next year, like I said, its going to be full of surprises, so keep eyes and ears out. I can’t wait to share it all with you.