With Caffeine & Big Dreams, Kira Isabella’s sophomore album on Sony Music Entertainment Canada, the Ottawa-born Country singer/songwriter has released a set of songs that showcase her depth as an artist as never before. “One of the main things that I want to convey,” she says, “is growth – not only as a vocalist and a songwriter, but personally as well.”
Caffeine & Big Dreams does that in a big way, and Isabella sets the tone right off the bat with the blazing country rocker, “Shake It If Ya Got It” – a good time party track with an edge that signals a bit of a departure from her 2011 debut, Love Me Like That. “That song definitely has some attitude,” Isabella says. “I want to grow with the people listening to my music because when I look down at the crowd and see girls my age rocking out with me and loving it, I feel like we’re all going through this together.”
While tracks such as second single “Gone Enough,” and “Hey Love” find Isabella blending rock and country styles seamlessly, Caffeine & Big Dreams also has its share of the poignant love songs that have drawn so many to her music, including the standout ballad “A Night Like This,” which listeners of any age will see their own lives and loves reflected in instantly.
This time out Isabella also takes on the weighty issues of date rape and cyberbullying on lead single, “Quarterback.” While it sounds like your typical ‘boy meets girl’ Country ballad initially, it’s actually a cautionary tale that’s as bold as it is powerful and shows Isabella’s desire to offer her audience not only music they can sing along to, but that will strengthen their resolve to find a way forward in life on their own terms.
That’s exactly the approach Isabella has always taken to developing her chops as a singer and songwriter, and one that has, over time, enabled her to fulfill her all-time dream of making a life for herself as a performer and songwriter.
In 2009, Isabella’s drive and undeniable talent attracted the attention of major labels, ultimately leading to a deal with Sony Music Entertainment Canada. With the release of her first single, the title track of her debut album, Love Me Like That, Isabella found herself with a serious crossover hit on her hands, which earned her a 2012 Canadian Radio Music Award. Her success with follow up singles, “A Real Good Radio” and “A Little More Work,” opened up more doors, among them the chance to perform at high profile shows such as the Boots and Hearts Festival and Big Valley Jamboree and an opportunity to share the stage with the likes of Gord Bamford, Aaron Pritchett, Terri Clark and Carrie Underwood.
In 2012, Isabella’s success garnered her the Canadian Country Music Association (CCMA) Award for ‘Rising Star’ and, in 2013, she made her US debut with the release of “A Country Boy For Christmas” (HitShop Records). That year she was nominated for a JUNO Award for ‘Breakthrough Artist of the Year’ and took home the 2013 CCMA Award for ‘Female Artist of the Year.’
While those achievements and her second consecutive nomination for the 2014 CCMA Award for ‘Female Artist of the Year’ are a thrill, fame has never been the driving force behind Isabella’s passion for music. Rather it’s her desire to make an impact in her listener’s lives with her songs. “That’s something that’s always been the most important to me; growing as a writer and a storyteller and, more than anything else, making music that people connect with personally.”
Early on, Isabella had a passion for singing and songwriting; a passion encouraged by her family and deepened by her early accomplishments at the vocal competitions she entered beginning at age seven. In time she began to write poetry and lyrics and opened herself up to a huge variety of music; much of which she was introduced to by her older brother. “My brother was 13 when I was born and he introduced me to The Beastie Boys, Rage Against The Machine and opened up that rock door for me. And I still listen to everything – alt. rock, pop, hip-hop – everything.”
But it was the tradition of storytelling in country music that had the greatest impact on Isabella. “My Mom grew up on a farm in Orangeville and she loved country and always played it around the house. So when I started writing music it just came out as country.” That said, she is pleased that Caffeine & Big Dreams gives her the opportunity to rock out a bit more.
Now, with over a decade of experience songwriting and hundreds of shows behind her, Isabella has realized her dreams and then some. But although early influences like Shania Twain, Faith Hill, Sheryl Crow and Taylor Swift come into play on Caffeine & Big Dreams, it was the writers she worked this time out that had the most effect on the direction the record took.
“I’ve gotten the opportunity to write with some pretty incredible people,” she says, including Deric Ruttan (Dierks Bentley, Eric Church), Chris DuBois (Brad Paisley, Darius Rucker) Walt Aldridge (Ronnie Milsap, Travis Tritt) and longtime collaborator, Jason Phelps. “And that’s helped me learn a lot as a writer. My dad always told me to be a sponge and take everything in. Everybody has a different writing process and I’ve learned a lot about myself through learning how other people work.”
The result is a record that, while instantly relatable, is also extremely personal, “Some of the music is definitely autobiographical,” Isabella says. “It’s almost like opening up a journal and sharing it with everybody. I didn’t mean for this record to be as personal as it ended up being, but it truly is.”
Although Isabella co-wrote the lion’s share of songs on Caffeine & Big Dreams, even the few songs she didn’t were chosen largely because she could so easily see her own experiences in them, and nowhere more so than on album closer, ‘Heaven’ by Todd Clark and Mallary Hope.
“My father was in the military and traveled a lot and my parents still listen to everything with me and are part of the decisions I make. When we listened to ‘Heaven,’ my mom got teary-eyed and said, ‘That’s exactly how I used to feel when your dad would go away.’ But I’ve also been doing this since I was fifteen – leaving home to go on the road – and I can identify with not being ready to go, not being ready to say goodbye to friends and family, so that’s a really special song for me.”
Produced by Mark Liggett and Jerry Lane, Caffeine & Big Dreams takes its title from the lyric of another song Isabella says hit her extremely hard personally, “Coke Can.” “When I heard the line ‘we were running on caffeine and big dreams, I would’ve given you my life’ I just thought, ‘That’s the name of the album.’ Everyone gets their heart broken and comes to a point where they realize how quickly love can come and go and that’s something I’ve experienced since my last record.”
With songs that speak about having your faith tested like “You’re Gonna Make a Sinner Out of Me,” and highly personal offerings like “Late Bloomer,” on Caffeine & Big Dreams, Kira Isabella clearly shows how important exploring the common ground she shares with her listeners is to her. In doing so, she also offers up a set of songs that will serve as a welcome reminder to anyone who hears them that it’s the simple moments in our lives that are often the most important and enduring.