On NBC's Songland, up-and-coming songwriters present their tunes to industry forces like Ester Dean, Shane McAnally, and Ryan Tedder and a guest artist, in hopes of having said artist choose their song for recording. For Los Angeles artist Kole, her chance to get on the show and present her post-breakup anthem 'Hurt Me' to one of her idols, Meghan Trainor was like a dream came true. We spoke to KOLE about getting on the show, being chosen by Trainor, and what drives her artistic process.

First of all, congratulations on winning your spot with Meghan Trainor.

Thank you!

How has it felt in the time in between when you filmed the episode and now, just knowing that you've had to keep this secret?

It was tough to keep it secret because I was so beyond excited about it, but luckily, Meghan ended up bringing me in to finish up the song with her and Mike Sabath and Ryan Tedder. I felt like I had a group to share the secret with. We worked on the song after the show together to wrap it up, work on a second verse. I ended up bringing in a friend of mine to play trumpet on it. We could share the secret back and forth. Meghan was sending me mixes and updates as it was going along. Luckily I wasn't on my own. I had some people to share it with.

And how has the response been from people since the episode aired?

The response has been overwhelming. All of my family and friends have reached out, like every one I've ever met. And her fans are incredible. They've been reaching out to me and have been so supportive and of course, fans of the show have been hitting me up and it's really incredible. I haven't had any sort of experience like this or exposure like this ever. I was definitely really overwhelmed but so far so good. And most importantly, the song is getting a really good reception and I think she sounds amazing on it.

How did you feel going into the audition? Is there an audition before you meet with the judges?

With the mentors, yeah. There's not an audition process. All it is is Skype and phone calls. I had a Skype interview with one of the producers on the show and a couple of phone calls as well but I didn't actually meet Ryan or Esther or Shane until I walked into the room that day. You don't meet them. It's all just in the moment. What you see on TV is actually what happened in real life.

I was pretty nervous. I'm pretty good about keeping my cool most of the time, just because I've been in the industry for a while so I can fake it, but I was pretty nervous. I think I called Meghan "dude" five times in the first five minutes of meeting her, which wasn't great. And they cut all of that out which is good. I was like why do I keep calling her dude? What am I doing?

I was really nervous and I mean Ryan, I've been such a huge fan of his for so long, so to walk in and be like, I have to sing my song for Ryan Tedder, right now, that's happening and Shane McAnally who wrote my favorite country songs of all time and Ester Dean who wrote 'Super Bass' and 'Firework' and all of these songs I love, highly intimidating.

But I love the song. Going in I was confident but very nervous.

And how'd you feel afterwards?

Afterwards, I was relieved. Watching the show, I'd forgotten so much of what happened. I had the worst cold ever. I was taking cold medicine and I swear I just don't remember half of what happened. But afterwards I was like, "that went well. Okay, I think that went well." Watching the show, Meghan screamed after my song. She was all hyped up. I left like, "Okay, I think that was good, I think that was good." And watching it back I'm like, "Why was I not super excited?" She really loved it from the beginning. I was cautiously optimistic.

Did you spend much time around your competitors, Brandin and Josh?

Yes. We spent the entire week in the hotel together. We got along so well. Josh and I actually threw a watch party for the episode on Tuesday together. We invited both of our groups of friends. Brandi lives in Atlanta, so he couldn't be there. But those two are super-talented, so nice. I had the nicest week of people. Zach Kale, who was also on the episode, is absolutely sweet as well. Yeah, I got so lucky. We had the best people. We're super close and we're all still in touch. Like texting each other, "Oh my God, did you see? Look at your reaction on this."

Oh that's so cool.

I got friends out of the show. Yeah. Songwriters are great because it's competitive, like we were competing for the same thing, but at the end of the day, this show really is a win for everyone involved because they make it such a platform for you.

Before the songwriting, are you responsible for writing all the lyrics and also all the melody and chord progression as well?

I co-wrote and co-produced this song with Jack Nathan who is also on the show, but this song was about a breakup that I had gone through three weeks prior. It was one of those where I kind of sat down and got out most of it, just sort of word-vomited into my Notes app on my laptop. And yeah, I mean all of the lyrics are so specifically true to my life. That's why it's crazy to have Meghan singing it because I'm like, "that's the story." That's what happened.

And melodically, most of it, I mean it happened in an hour and I know the chorus Jack and I were throwing melodies and rhythms back and forth and then together we landed on the [sings melody]. But yeah, the rest of it was kind of a word vomit.

So that was worked out before you went onto the show?

The show came up and I submitted the song for it and I was like, "This would be pretty perfect for Meghan Trainor if you want her to be involved" and then when we get to the show they're like, "You're with Meghan Trainor." I was like "This is insane because I have this song that's perfect for her." and this is what I'm singing. Honestly because when we were making the song I kept referencing her.

I came up with that melody: "You're acting like a child now" and I was like, "That's so Meghan Trainor. That's so Meghan Trainor. But there's no way in the world I could ever get a song to Meghan Trainor because she writes all of her stuff and I don't know anyone that's in that camp."

Then this happened.

The train of thought ended there. And this happened.

And since it's a personal song, is it at all strange to have it interpreted by another person?

It is strange to watch. It's mind-blowing to see her singing lyrics that I wrote. Yeah. But at the same time, we were talking about it in the studio after the show and she was like, "I had an ex who did the same exact thing. After we broke up he went around talking about me to the waiter at the restaurant, just anyone he could possibly talk about me to." And I'm like, "All right, we've both been through a very similar thing" and I think that's part of why she related to the song. I mean it's a relatable song. I feel like everyone has had that happen at one point or another. But once she told me that, I was like, all right, this was really meant to be, big shared experience here. It's not as weird. Not as weird.

What did you think of the suggestions you got from the mentors right after you performed for them?

Well, the suggestions, it felt like some of them we took, Ryan and I, some of them we took in, some of them we didn't. And that's just a matter of that's songwriting. You throw a million things, a million ideas into the room and then you come out with a couple of them. It's just part of the creative process. It was so cool to hear Shane and Ester talking about the song and I didn't know who I was going to be paired up with. I was like taking mental notes of everything. Like "All right, if I'm working with Ester, we're gonna make sure we take Ester's notes. Like working with Ryan, we're going to take Ryan's notes." And they didn't show it on the show, but Meghan FaceTimed me during my session with Ryan and she had a couple of lyric changes that she specifically wanted. Ryan and I made sure to take those into consideration and make those changes. I mean they're all brilliant and in songwriting there's no one right answer. There's a bunch of pretty good answers and then you have to find the one that works the best for the song.

You talked about on the show doing songs about quirky topics. How do you come across these novel concepts for songs?

I usually will have a word pop into my head as I'm singing melodies. I sing melodies all day long. I have to turn it off or else it gets in the way and then usually words will pop up and from there comes a concept. So 'Shiitake' [below] I was driving past the Hollywood Bowl and I was like, "I'ma pack a bowl in Hollywood" because I would love to play the Hollywood Bowl one day and then from there I was like, "Okay, what does that mean? What does that relate to?"

And that led to the idea that people are going to say whatever they want to say. They're going to shit-talk but you're not going to listen to them. And I think I wanted to say shit-talking and I was like, "I don't want to say 'shit-talking' in a song. I'm just going to say 'shiitake' and then hopefully people get." The producer that I was working with, because I was the only writer on that song, and the producer I was working with, he's from Mexico. And he was like, "I don't think people are going to get this." And I was like, "I don't care. I think it's funny and let's leave it and see what happens." And that song got a really good reception and for 'Hurt Me,' I had been saying over and over again to all my friends just because I broke up with this guy, doesn't mean that he gets to go around and, again, I guess shit-talking's a big theme, and shit-talk me. I know that I hurt him and he's trying to do what he can to hurt me back but just because he's hurting doesn't mean he gets to hurt me. That concept came from that situation really.

And how did you get involved in music?

I started playing classical piano when I was four, piano lessons and I was doing that and singing and singing lessons, doing theater shows and choir all through elementary and middle schools. And then when I was in middle school I had no friends. I was super bullied, which they include on the show which was sick. Everyone knows I had no friends in middle school. And then I just started writing because I was like, I don't have anyone to hang out with. I had nothing to do except I was on the tennis team and played piano.

I was like, all right, maybe I'll start writing. I wrote the darkest songs I've ever written when I was 11 to 12. Crazy dark. But the first song I ever wrote, my mom took a video of it and submitted it to Oprah's Most Talented Kids Website which is this contest and then it ended up getting on the front page of the website. It was on the home page for awhile and I was like, "Wow, this is it." My big break at 11 and it was called 'Life is a Mystery.'

That song started like, I was like, people seem to like it, I guess I should keep doing this. I just kept writing and I've been writing ever since. I started in sessions and pop music when I was 16. A professor of mine at UCLA introduced me to a manager who introduced me to a publisher and then I started getting in rooms with real writers. I started working with these guys...and they had, like, Sara Bareilles cuts, and I adore Sara Bareilles. That was when I was 16 and really learned a lot from them.

What did you study?

I studied ethnomusicology, which a big word for world music. Ethnomusicology is the study of music from different parts of the world and basically looked at the traditions and the early music from all sorts of areas and compare that to what's going on now. It's kind of a mix of anthropology and sociology and musicology. It's very academic.

Do you consider yourself to be foremost a singer or a songwriter or a performer?

Yeah, I call myself a full-stop shop. I'm a writer, I'm an artist, and a producer. I definitely am pursuing both an artist project and a songwriting career. And really the push for the artist project came from my time on Songland because I was doubting myself and unsure if the world needed another artist and once I went on the show, Ryan and Meghan really, and Shane, I mean they all were giving me like a ringing endorsement of "You need to go for this." And it felt genuine. Since then, I've been really pushing my artist project and have a lot of interest now from people in industry and we're going to see what happens. It's going to be a fun summer.

If you could write for any other artists from any era, living, dead, who do you think it would be?

I'll just say living. I'm really trying to get a cut on an Ariana Grande album. I love her stuff and I've been writing a bunch of songs that are, we're trying to pitch them to her. We'll see what happens. I know her camp is pretty tight, but cross your fingers. I'd love that. I love the R&B pop vibe and her concepts are so empowering. I love writing breakup songs that aren't sad. I think it would be a good fit. That's the goal.

Are there any specific songs, along the lines of 'Hurt Me' that you took inspiration from in terms of the message they have or the empowerment?

That song was really truly from the heart and happened in the room quickly and the only references came from, I guess melodic references like Janelle Monae, Meghan Trainor, funny enough, but no. Some days you go in and you're like, we should make a song like this, we should make a song like this. But that day was just really organic and came really from the heart, which is why it's so special that it ended up on Songland and it ended cut because it was really me. It was very, very much me. It was cool to represent because if I had gone on the show and sung a song that didn't feel like me, like a ballad or something that's not really in my wheelhouse, it would have been amazing but because this is so much a part of my identity, it was just a really incredible way to come out to the world.

Do you have any other plans for the near future?

I'm going to be putting out a single called 'Stimulation' in the next couple weeks. I don't have a release date, but it's a wonderful song that I wrote and co-produced with my friend Ariza who worked with Ian Kirkpatrick a lot and played on the last Julia Michaels EP. He's wonderful and we've been making a lot of music together. That's what's up next and then an EP in the summer.


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