Get to know... Lia Pappas-Kemps

Ready to graduate high school with both an acting and a musical career under her belt, Toronto newcomer Lia Pappas-Kemps has the world at her feet.

Her breathtaking new single, 'Sad in Toronto' has just dropped via Tin Pot Records and is a breathtaking, melancholy soaked introduction to Lia's intimate ability to document sadness and loneliness armed an acoustic guitar and the influence of some of music's greatest female talent, from Joni Mitchell and Taylor Swift to Phoebe Bridgers.

Blown away by her debut, we caught up with Lia to learn more about her upbringing, the huge part music has played in it and the new chapter that 'Sad in Toronto' marks for her as an artist.

Hi! How’s it going?

I’m doing really well! Graduating high school in a month, so I’m feeling pretty nervous about starting life, (I heard it’s hard?) but I’m feeling hopeful and excited about everything that’s going on too!

For those of us in the UK who aren’t familiar with your music, can you tell us a bit about yourself?

I’m a singer/songwriter from Toronto. I landed a role on the Netflix show Anne with an E a few years ago. It ran for 3 seasons, and I was lucky enough to make lifelong friends who I now consider part of my family. I write all my stuff by myself in my bedroom with my guitar and then bring it to my producing partner, Elia Pappas, (we share half a last name since he’s also my cousin). He lives in Salzburg so it’s definitely unconventional but it’s worked great for us, especially in COVID times.

Did you have any form of music in your upbringing, or did you stumble into songwriting in more of a natural way?

Music has always been a big part of my life. I was lucky enough to have parents that prioritized music lessons and had the means to put me in them. I complained about the piano (which was my first instrument) but then found a teacher who I really clicked with and taught me Jazz standards in her living room. My sister was in one of the first underage bands to help jumpstart the all-ages scene in Toronto, so as an eight year old, I bounced from venue to venue watching her play. I get asked that question a lot, about how I started writing, and I don’t really have a satisfying answer. I was the little kid who was always humming and singing at inappropriate times. Even now, when I’m not actively writing, it feels like there are always these cogs turning in my head about lyrical or melodic ideas.

You’ve got a new single out over here on Tinpot Records, what can you tell us about ‘Sad In Toronto’? Where did that track come from?

It was a combination of quarantine-blues and falling into a rabbit hole of looking back on old photos and feeling wanderlust to the extreme. I was sitting in my room, thinking about these trips that I had taken for granted because I was so caught up in my head. Lots of people place their happiness on arbitrary things, like visiting a city, or a new haircut, but none of that is really going to change the way they feel. It’s the “grass is greener” thing. Especially with insta and tiktok being such a huge part of my life, it’s so easy to slip into that feeling that if I had someone else’s life I would be happy. Really, no one is happy if they’re comparing themselves to someone else.

So I wrote this track, not thinking it was going to even be something I released, let alone my first single with a label. I played it as part of my set at a couple livestream shows over the first quarantine in Toronto and several people reached out afterwards to ask about it specifically. So I decided it was going to be the next thing I would record, and reached out to my cousin to produce it, since he’s my go-to. It was one of those magical moments where the song came out exactly how it had sounded in my head. Honestly, it’s a testament to the rapport I have with Elia. We’re family, so that helps, but he really gets exactly what I’m going for and what I want.

My experience with Tinpot has been amazing. They’re such a passionate group of people who genuinely care about the artists they are representing.

Would you say this track marks somewhat of a new chapter for you as an artist?

This song is a perfect representation of my writing style. It was a fast writing process because the feelings were already so present for me. It wasn’t rushed, but it definitely exploded out of me with only a bit of revision. It felt ready the first day I sat down and wrote it, which if you know me is very unlike me. I’m definitely a perfectionist. The production process was like that too, everything really quickly fell exactly into place, which is so rare. It seemed like a nice amalgamation of all of the music I’d been listening to and was influenced by at that point in my life. I think this song is a perfect appetizer for what’s to come!

You take a lot of influence from incredible female artists like Joni Mitchell and Taylor Swift - if you were to collaborate with someone of that scale, who would you choose?

I mean, collaborating with Taylor Swift would be surreal. She’s one of those rare pop sensations where you feel like you know her and that she’s your friend. Her storytelling skills are unparalleled right now, especially on Folklore. She’s definitely someone I’ve learned from and taken huge inspiration from, so to write with her would just be mind-boggling. Phoebe Bridgers too has been such an inspiration to me. Her lyrics are stunning, but her production choices are also so interesting. She produced a record for Christian Lee Hutson that came out last year, and I’ve used that album as reference for production so many times. She is the blueprint for a lot of my work. I think to write with her would be so educational.

Who are some of your favourite upcoming artists at the moment?

Leith Ross is one of my favourite songwriters ever. Their album Motherwell is so honest and heart-wrenching. I have such a soft spot towards Toronto bands too, since the scene here is still so underrated. I’ve shared a stage with Moscow Apartment a few times now and not only are they the sweetest but their musicianship is just expert. They’re really a band to watch. Another album that benchmarked 2020 for me was The Baby by Samia. The first time I heard it I listened to it three times through because I was so obsessed and then immediately bought it on vinyl. Her writing is so interesting and the production is *chefs kiss*

And what’s on the cards for the remainder of 2021? Anything you’re particularly excited for?

I have this collection of songs that I’ve written over the past year that are very dear to me and that are going to be so much fun to record. I’m graduating high school in a month so I’ll have all the time in the world to really polish them. If COVID permits, I want to go to Austria to visit Elia so we can actually make music in the same room for once. I’m really really really excited for this next single I’m releasing with Tinpot. It’s one of my favourite songs I’ve ever written. One word: banger.