Dave Stewart and Kaya Stewart Car Test Their Records “If Things Go South” and “Honey” in a Porsche Taycan
Photography by JESSE LIROLA
Isaac Asimov astutely said that for him, writing was “simply thinking through my fingers.” It might’ve also been what the producer of Kaya Stewart’s latest record had in mind when he advised her to shut in and write out the complex feelings of worry and pressure she was feeling. Admittedly a complex endeavor, Kaya took the advice not just because her producer is a Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee, but because he’s her father. GRAMMY® winning, co-founder of the Eurythmics, Dave Stewart, told his daughter to use the music.
“She’d been through a really hard time and she was suddenly trapped in a flat on her own and she started to work her way out of it with songs. Within about four or five days, ten songs came blurting out. I would play the guitar and she would just sing sitting in a chair. She never got up and it all came out and then she realized what she was letting out,” he recalls.
Kaya, like many, was already dealing with the challenges of mental health during lockdown when she was concurrently diagnosed with Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). She was faced with an instant barrage of thoughts about the future, and of course, the anxiety of learning a new normal. What if things went…south?
“I was always so worried. A lot of this album is about having OCD and constantly thinking about what can go wrong. And from there forward was this journey of like, ‘Alright, now I got to figure out how I’m going to live with this and not let this be my whole life anymore.’” Recently released, her second full-length album, If Things Go South gives listeners ten songs about Kaya’s reckoning with her diagnosis during the isolation of lockdown. “This record is one-hundred percent who I am now. This is the Kaya I was working towards all along.”
Luckily for Kaya, her father not only produced the record; he’s been nurturing her musical interests since she was a kid. Pre-teens everywhere might be inspired to learn that Kaya was able to cut a deal that would make Don King proud. If she wrote five songs she really loved, could she drop out of middle school? “He let me do it! But I had to complete homeschooling.”
That home-based instruction included listening to Bob Dylan and singing the blues. Sounds like she was practically incubated in a music paradise, but Kaya understands her music career is less predestined and more a tribute to her supportive dad, regardless of what her interests might have been. “He was always looking out for me. If I wanted to be a soccer player, if I wanted to be an accountant: it would have been the same relationship. He’s really in my corner and we get along so well. I simply happened to fall in love with the same thing that he did.”
She also wasn’t afraid to experiment as a child. It didn’t matter to her if she didn’t know what she was doing. “My dad had put a piano in our living room. And I started writing my own songs when I was around 12 years old, and I think it drove everybody crazy because I didn’t really know how to play.” But Dave was definitely intrigued and recognized the unique attributes of her toying around. “She really started to do this all the time. And then play strange chords on a piano and sing very oblique, strange melodies,” he marvels.
Our Porsche Sound & Driven team recently caught up with Dave and Kaya to talk about that specific joy of sound you can only find in the car: the grit, the immersion, the vibrations. “In the studio, you’re altering everything, and you think that’s it. But nothing is more exciting than running out to do the car test” admits Dave. As they both sing along to newly laid tracks during the drive, Kaya explains the car as a rite of passage in the journey of her songs. “A lot of the first time I hear my music is sitting in my driveway with a little notebook, and it solidifies the end of the session.”
It’s also about setting the scene. When hearing an album, most listeners aren’t going to be in a recording studio. They aren’t going to be in great seats at the town concert hall. More likely, the aux cord is life. Driving to your friend’s house, heading to school, going to work. Aside from the acoustic value, it’s the real-world value of the automobile listening experience that Dave has always found fascinating. “I’m always talking about putting content into a context, which to me is what life is about creatively. The car test becomes probably the most important test of how a public are going to receive the music or the work that you’ve done.”
Anecdotes in practically every language warn about the dangers of working with family. Sometimes the closeness can be an obstacle especially in creative fields that are so subjective to era and taste. But Kaya feels fortunate to have had her dad as a collaborator. “My dad’s my favorite person to work with. It was nice to have someone who totally understood from the start why I started making music. And it was because I just love to do it.”
Warm fuzzies pervade the Porsche Taycan. Especially when they both start singing the track “Honey” in unison. Kaya breaks from the rendition to explain the way she intonated the word. “So the reason I did the ‘honey’ in that sultry voice was almost to be like, ‘I’ve made myself… I’m so nervous and so unattractive and all these things that I’m saying, but at the very end it’s almost like, ‘Honey, you still like me.’”
Between their singalongs, hugs at stoplights, and contagious positivity, LA barely made an impression, but we feel the love. As the Sound & Driven car test concludes, and Kaya puts the Porsche Taycan into park, she gives their joy ride one final litmus test by turning it up.
“Oh! These are loudest speakers I’ve ever heard!”
If Things Go South was released September 30th, 2022 by Bay Street Records.