Entertainment » Music

Kirstin :: Pentatonix, Going Solo

by Joel Martens
Sunday Sep 3, 2017

If you don't know who Pentatonix is, then child, you just haven't been listening. The group is named for the pentatonic scale, which is made up of five notes that smartly represent each of the group's five members: Scott Hoying, Mitch Grassi, Kevin Olusola, Avi Kaplan, and Kirstin Maldonado.

This hard-working, gifted quintet has managed to create and then skillfully ride their own unique acapella wave doing intricately arranged covers since they first debuted on the reality show "The Sing-Off." Slick vocal harmonies, basslines, riffing, percussion and beatboxing modeled into a seamless pop vibe they tirelessly shared via social media, as they opened their lives and shared their journey, creating a passionate, very loving and intensely loyal fanbase along the way.

It was with great sadness this last May that Avi Kaplan's tearful announcement of his impending departure left fans wondering what would happen to their beloved group. Though thankfully, several encouraging, exciting things have happened since. First, the four remaining members have assured fans that the group would go on, though it would take some time to restructure and formulate what's next, which is a process that is still ongoing.

The group promised also to continue feeding their fan base by offering up new music, not as a group per se, but doing so through individual projects. Undertakings that still reflect the rich, gifted musicality that made the group unique and their vocals so irresistibly compelling. It's just in a different format now. Mitch Grassi and Scott Hoying released their fun, wonderfully energetic and musically engaging EP under the borrowed name of their popular YouTube web show, "Superfruit, Part One" (available now) and "Part Two" (releasing September 15). If you haven't nabbed Number One, get it... it will leave you aching for the second, for sure.

Flying, too, from Pentatonix's fruitful nest and striking out on her own is the group's only female member, Kirstin Moldonado, standing out not simply because of her femininity, but because of her intelligent musicianship and superb vocal prowess. She continues that tradition, shedding the safety of PTX (even if only temporarily) too, and rebranding herself simply as Kirstin. In my humble opinion, however, that evolution is anything but simple. Decidedly adult, absolutely alluring, her recent solo venture is filled with both emotional and musical maturity.

"L O V E" is all about Kirstin growing up and into her own power, claiming
her emotional experiences, both good and bad and fusing them with powerful music and vocals. It's like bearing witness to someone as they morph from a girl into their power as a woman and I for one am thrilled to behold the transformation -- as you will be, once you've heard her latest cadre of songs.

There are many exciting things coming up for Kirstin Maldonado-sorry... I
mean Kirstin-and I can't wait to hear her roar.

You started singing very young from what I've read. Was there a particular moment when you specifically knew that you wanted to be a professional performer?

I always just loved singing. I would watch Disney and other shows with my mom and would tell her, "I want to do that, I want to sing like that. I wanna be up there too." (Laughs) Later, I sang a Shania Twain song at my mom's wedding when I was seven. (Laughs) I think she finally took me seriously after I sang publically. I started voice lessons then and got into musical theatre stuff and fell in love with that.

In terms of what I thought it would be, I always believed I would end up in New York. I honestly never thought I'd be able to have a viable career out in Los Angeles, so it's been so cool to be able to be outside the constraints of what I thought I would be able to do. It's been really fun to break down those barriers. I love living in L.A. and love being able to write and build this EP album, it's been so very cool.

How different is it for you to write as an individual, as compared to working with a group like Pentatonix?

It's very different. Honestly, it's very hard to write for Pentatonix, especially because I was so new to being vulnerable to writing. If I ever wrote anything down, it would be in my notebook and it wouldn't see the light of day. (Laughs) When we first started writing for Pentatonix and the original album, it was very, very daunting. There was so much to consider: We knew it
had to be a cappella, so you have to think about it that way, you can't pretend it's production, but we wanted it to be on the radio and have a pop sensibility. It has to be this, it has to be that... there were a lot of rules and constraints.

Personally, I can't have too many rules when I write, I have to let it just flow and let it out, whatever it is. So, when I started my solo stuff, we didn't have any of that, we just started writing and sort of vibing off each other. It was really great and I feel like it made me more confident as a writer in general. I love it now and I would love to do more for other people, too. It will be really interesting to go back and start writing again as a group and see what's changed.

It sounds like you're on the cusp of entering a whole new world... and the discovery of your own voice. Though we're all very happy that you're planning to keep Pentatonix together as a group. Do you see yourself continuing to tour with Pentatonix and as a solo artist, as well?

I definitely want to tour my own stuff. People have asked me a lot where I think I'll be in five or ten years, and honestly, I have never had that countdown of years vision for myself or for Pentatonix. We've always just wanted to do better, to keep growing and learning. We've been very fortunate to hit a lot of the goals we set very early on, and it surpassed all of our plans, so I don't really like making predictions. I just want to keep moving forward musically. I would love to tour, I'd love to open for someone and would love to be headlining one day. I do still have all those goals and dreams, so yeah, as long as I'm growing.

I'm really blessed to be on two different sides of this industry in a way. I get to fulfill two different passions of mine. One is more harmony/choir/geek- based in a way, that fulfills my kid side. (Laughs) Then in a personal way, what I want to say, the messages I want to send and the things that I want to talk about, that I might not always have been able to express in a group situation.

From the outside, Pentatonix has always appeared like such a strong little family: You work together for the same purpose and now, you're growing and evolving into individuals. That's what healthy families do. They allow for exploration and move forward both as a group and as individuals.

It's like with anything, even a relationship with two people. You can't identify yourself based on the relationship, you have to identify yourself based on who you are as an individual. For me, this has been so encouraging and inspiring, because I never really took the time to identify who I was as an individual. In turn, I couldn't be as helpful or as much of an asset to the group as I feel like I can be now, now that I have a better sense of who I am and what I like. That includes having a better sense of what I like as a writer. It's a confidence thing, for sure.

I'm curious, when did you decide to start putting together a solo album? Was it always a goal?

I started writing it early last year. We were on the world tour at the time. Honestly, it's kind of hard to put it into quantitative terms, because I was only home for a week here and there, five days here or two days there. It was all done in between the tour and shows.

Your schedule has been pretty intense. I'd be exhausted.

It was so much fun, though. This has sort of been a break, from Pentatonix at least, though I'm not technically getting one. It's a break creatively, I can still do what I love. When it's something I'm passionate about it's really not work for me. It's the same with Pentatonix too, sometimes it doesn't feel like work at all, because we're just having fun.

It's impressive, how you've managed social media to not only promote yourselves both as a group, but individually as a way to connect with the people who love and listen to you. It's part of what makes your fans so passionate, they feel like they know you.

I feel like they know us, too. (Laughs) They sometimes say things like, "Were you okay the other day when this or that happened?" I'll be like, "Oh
my God, how did you know that?" In the beginning when we came off the reality show ["Sing-Off"], it was really important for us to connect with the people who listened to us. They are very attentive and I love that; it makes it so easy to want to talk to them.

Let's talk about why you chose "L O V E" for the album title.

I wanted an all-encompassing word for my journey and my vision. It just felt very fitting, because at the end of the day it's all about love's journey. Whether it's with another person or about some sort of vibe you want to be a part of, or love within yourself. It's all around finding oneself, so I thought it was appropriate. I'm always encouraging people, especially with all this crazy shit that's happening these days, to focus on the love and spreading that more than adding to the hatefulness. It's about cutting through the noise.

Do you have a favorite track off the album?

The ones that mean the most to me are "Break a Little" and "Bad Weather." They both speak to very important moments in my life that I had big realizations. I'm very proud of them both.

In a way it's kind of funny, because they are the complete opposite of each other. Especially in terms of general love for yourself, taking care of yourself and a personal outlook on life.

"Bad Weather" has such a deep emotionality to it. A lot of what the album is about seems to be around being emotionally vulnerable, taking risks and dealing with what comes.

I'm not trying to say I'm an expert or have any education around this and I don't want anyone to take my words and use them verbatim. (Laughs)
I just try to share my experiences and what I've learned from them. You have to learn from them and have to be accepting of yourself and yet still be an emotionally free, fun person. You can't go about life always scared of what people are going to think or say. It's good to hear what's going on, but you
don't have to accept it...You have to just be who you are. Easier said than done I know, but it's a learning journey we all have to go on.

Kirstin's new EP, "L O V E," is out now. To keep in touch with her, follow her on Twitter, @kirstin, on Facebook at facebook.com/kirstinmaldonado

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