Neo-’60s heartbreak artist

By Emily Ornberg

Kirby Kaiser’s vintage style of music transports listeners to a time of sugary pop melodies seasoned with retro, doo-wop harmonies. Her music may even be mistaken for that of ’60s girl groups like The Supremes and The Shangri-Las. Kaiser, however, is a 19-year-old Boystown resident.

Inspired by heartbreak, Kaiser started writing music in high school after Fiona Apple’s songs helped her through boy troubles. She issued her first self-released and self-titled EP in August 2011, which garnered her local exposure. She booked shows at Schuba’s and the Hard Rock Hotel, and in May she landed a spot in RedEye’s Rock ‘n’ Vote competition.

Kaiser’s version of vintage pop has a modern twist that makes it all her own, matching piano chords and simple lyrics with a girl-group’s taunting melody. Kaiser continues to play shows throughout Chicago and is preparing to release her new single “Every Time” in late November.

The Chronicle met with the artist to discuss her favorite producer Phil Spector, working in the city and life as an unsigned artist.

The Chronicle: Where would you say you draw most of your inspiration?

Kirby Kaiser: I draw a lot of inspiration from anything that Phil Spector produced in the ’60s, like the Ronettes and the Crystals. I really like the Chantels, and I love Amy Winehouse, as well. I’ve also drawn a lot of inspiration from disco music lately, which is kind of random, like Sister Sledge.

What does ’60s music have that today’s music lacks?

For some reason, ’60s music is so beautiful to me. It sounds so heartbreaking, and it sounds really emotional. It makes you sort of nostalgic. It makes me nostalgic even though I didn’t live in the ’60s. It makes me feel really nice.

What’s it like working as an artist in Chicago?

It’s really great. There are a lot of people who are there to help you and a lot of people that come out to see you if they’ve heard of you. Everyone has been very supportive of me and helping me find gigs. That’s been awesome.

What has been your favorite moment in your career?

The day I got in [a] paper for the first time. I had a two-page spread in the RedEye. That was the most exciting thing ever. I was flipping out the whole day.

You designed the artwork for your first EP. Do you design in your free time?

I’ve been doing my own EP artwork because I want to make something that looks like what I want or how I think the music is. It’s pretty embarrassing. I made that album cover on Picnik. I was hoping no one would know that I made that on Picnik because that would be really weird.

What is it like to promote yourself without help from a label?

I would say it’s really good because I have all the power over my music. I can decide exactly how I want it to turn out, and no one can really tell me what to do. But it is pretty expensive, so I have to keep a full-time job to be able to do what I’m doing. But it’s really nice to be able to have creative control and have my own vision for how I want it to turn out.

For more information on Kaiser, visit and for music.