An autobiographical song and video about wanting to fit in spotlights Khyla Granstrom, whose musical path took a positive turn at a youth jam back in 2018.
One night at The Bennett pub in Port Coquitlam, not far from where the then-19-year-old grew up, she reluctantly stepped to the microphone and impressed members of backing band Apartment1109, and probably the audience.
“It was her first experience on stage as a singer in a band,” recalled Sami Ghawi, guitarist, keyboard player and singer. “A musical fusion and explosion happened from the very first bars of the first song she sang, and the rest is history.”
Granstrom later became lead vocalist for the collaborative band, whose just-released first single, “I Wanna Be Cool,” offers a chill R&B vibe and lyrics that shed light on the singer’s difficult teen years.
“The song is about the struggles of peer pressure and fitting in, told from the perspective of a young woman who’s reflecting upon her youth,” explained Ghawi, who helped launch a Surrey Music City Centre office in 2018, in a partnership of his FUSIONpresents company and Surrey Board of Trade.
“This is a story that is so relevant to today, and not only to young people, but to all who feel that they have to succumb to peer pressure to fit in and not truly be themselves.”
Now 22 and studying theatre in Wales, Granstrom says the lyrics of “I Wanna Be Cool” came together “pretty much on the spot” during a songwriting session with Ghawi and Myles Philpott, “kind of as an homage to who I used to be,” she elaborated.
“In high school I wasn’t necessarily an outcast but I wasn’t, you know, very popular, and I didn’t have a lot of friends,” Granstrom recalled. “I was also just figuring out my sexuality, and I had a girlfriend for a period of time. So I definitely felt like an outcast because I didn’t really know who I was. And then there were all these pressures of me trying to be someone for other people. So there’s experimentation with drugs, which the song talks about, and alcohol and sneaking out – all the things teenagers do, and I wrote about those things, kind of in an effort to let that person go, because I’m very different now. I’ve kind of come into my own.”
Granstrom had some fears about putting out such a revealing song, especially her first.
“It’s so incredibly personal and it makes me feel very vulnerable, but I also think people like to see that in an artist and be able to relate and feel like they’re getting to know the songwriter more and more, as they release new content,” she noted. “So I thought I’d just start out strong like this and give (the listener) this bit of my life, you know.”
Granstrom’s love of singing started in choir at age five, and by 10 she was writing songs and poetry. She performed in shows, including one of Michael Bublé’s Christmas specials, sang national anthems at South Surrey’s Softball City, and got involved in musical theatre productions and talent shows.
The 2018 youth jam with Granstrom almost never happened, according to Ghawi.
“We had been hosting the youth jam for five weeks before Khyla came to (perform),” he explained. “As I do at every show, during sets, I’d go to every table in the audience asking them if they were enjoying the music and entertainment, and it just so happened that Khyla’s father, who came every week, expressed how much his daughter would love this, to which I naturally said, ‘well, invite her!’
“Finally, after five weeks, Khyla showed up, ready to join the band on stage for a song or two. She had never played with other musicians before, let alone with a band, other than her choir experience.… From the very first bars, we were all wowed, and most importantly, she was. We looked at each other on stage as we were performing to the audience, her first time, and ours with her as the lead singer, and we just smiled in musical bliss! We had no idea how amazing a songwriter and lyricist she was, and we would have never known had we not met her at that youth jam.”
Such musical success stories encourage Ghawi to get more youth jams happening in Surrey and other cities locally.
“A major focus of FUSIONpresents and the SBOT Music City Centre is enabling more youth jams around Surrey, and I have a series of meetings with municipal representatives this week to present my ideas of how the city can help,” Ghawi explained. “There is an abundance of talented artists like Khyla not only in Surrey but in B.C., and without youth jams and open mics and all ages events, where would they go to develop their talents, learn how to play with other musicians, learn how to perform on stage, and meet other musicians, develop and ultimately release songs?”
Formerly known as The Apartment, Apartment1109 pays tribute to Ghawi’s former Montreal home, where FUSIONpresents was born years ago. A year ago, the musicians put a cross-cultural spin on “Blue Christmas” for a song and video recorded remotely over a two-week period.
Following “I Wanna Be Cool,” more original songs are in the works, and the lead singer plans to return home from Wales by next summer.
“I’m very active at the karaoke nights, I can tell you that,” Granstrom said with a laugh. “They seem to really like karaoke over here, and I’ve made my staple song “Waterfalls” by TLC, and I swear people go crazy when I start rapping, it’s actually hilarious. But other than that, I”ve made a few music friends and have begun writing songs with them.”