IN CONVERSATION WITH GIA WOODS
Interview by Jana Letonja
Over the years, Persian-American pop artist Gia Woods emerged as a potent voice in the LGBTQ+ community. On 28th June she returned with the release of her audacious personal anthem ‘Gia Would’. Along with the single release, Gia also announced her EP ‘Your Engine’, which will be released later this year.
Gia, you just released your newest single ‘Gia Would’. Tell us more about the story of this single and the inspiration behind it.
‘Gia Would’ is the piece of ‘Your Engine’ that holds your hidden demons and deepest insecurities that can sometimes fuel you when the worst side of yourself takes over. It’s the part of you that wants to act insane over a breakup, that wants to lash out when you’re angry, that has the urge to do something you know you shouldn’t. But instead of being embarrassed or trying to shut that down, ‘Gia Would’ is about embracing and owning up to that side of yourself. It’s an anthem to acknowledge the darker side we all have inside of us, even though we never want to admit it.
In my case, this song was inspired by a really tough time I was going through when I had found out two of my ex-girlfriends were dating each other. It definitely sent me down a little bit of a spiral and I let that darker part of me take over for a bit. From my exes’ perspectives, I was the crazy one, but from mine, obviously I felt what they were doing was crazy. The situation made me realize wouldn’t anyone feel crazy in these situations? Gia would.
The single explores your dark side, contrasting tounge-in-cheek word play with a darkly sensuous electronic beat. Adding your cultural flavor to it are the instrumentals from the Persian setar. How important is it for you to include your Persian culture into your music?
It’s really important and definitely something I want to be doing throughout my music as I evolve as an artist. Growing up, it was around me so much I didn’t realize until I was older how much of a part of my life it was and how much it influenced me. I’ve always gravitated towards music that has cultural meaning. It’s important to me to be the one to bring Persian culture into Pop music. I want to be the one to do it since I’ve never seen it represented in the mainstream.
Later this year, you’ll also be releasing your EP ‘Your Engine’. Will the EP follow the electronic beats of ‘Gia Would’? What can we expect to hear when the EP drops?
There’s a lot of dance music within the project, but all different eras and genres of dance music. I pull from a lot of music I grew up listening to and am inspired by, but want to put my own spin on it. Artists from all different eras, places and genres inspire me, from Daft Punk and Madonna to underground Italo disco artists.
When making the project, I wanted to mix and honor all the sounds that inspire me and build a project that has different styles and genres, but all done in a cohesive way. I like having a song for every moment and every type of listener. Some for dancing, driving, crying, etc. I feel like I really finally found my sound and I’m always trying to push it further.
What inspired you in general while recording this EP?
I usually like to figure out what I want to say or the world I want to build around a project and when starting this, I was in a place where I was searching for what I wanted my next project to be about and was overthinking a lot. Once I was able to stop overthinking and was still with myself, I realized the answer was already in me. I was thinking why do I do any of this, what is this all for, what keeps me going. And I started to think about what drives me.
All these different things are tied to my purpose in life. Music motivates me, as do love, failure, success, loss, culture, dance. I thought about that a lot and created the name ‘Your Engine’, not to make an EP about motor vehicles, but instead about what drives me as a person and what drives the people who listen to the music. And I want to do so much and change the world for the better.
Last year you became one of the first artists to release on TikTok’s exclusive SoundOn+ platform, when you released ‘Hello’ from your 2022 EP ‘Heartbreak County Vol. 2’. How has TikTok in your opinion changed the music industry? What are the biggest advantages of TikTok for an artist?
TikTok is the reason why there’s a lot of artists who are able to share their music and stories. It’s given less power to the traditional hierarchy of music and leveled the playing field, especially for independent artists. It’s become such a powerful player in the industry that gives everyone a chance to put themselves in front of an audience and share their art, which is really special.
Over the years, you have emerged as a potent voice in the LGBTQ+ community. What are the biggest challenges for a queer artist in the industry and in today’s world in general?
When I first started putting out music, people would always suggest I do what will appeal to the masses. Even though I was signed because of my song about being a lesbian, I was then told to sort of dumb down that side and make music that could fit for anyone. There were a lot of outside opinions about not writing lesbian music because I’ll be too boxed in. And I thought why is it limiting to be a lesbian? Everyone has a space for their story and I don’t like when people try to tell artists to be like everyone else. Artists are supposed to be representing freedom of self and expression.
People like that are a part of the reason why the general mainstream never changes, because they’re afraid of the risk they’ll take by doing something that’s not accepted in the mainstream and then it puts fear into artists’ heads to take that risk, even if they were ready to. Art is such a powerful way to change the way people feel about the world and it helps everyone find common ground to relate on and feel accepted and less alone. I’d like to see being different as something that’s more encouraged, so we can expand on that and change society. My team now always pushes me to be exactly who I am and having that support changed everything. My voice and vision is stronger than it ever has been.
Your parents saw music more as a hobby than a real career path for you. How did it all begin, your passion for music and then the official beginning of your music career?
It started when I was 7 years old. One of my cousins had a ton of instruments in their room and my sister got jealous of that cousin and begged my dad for a guitar, so he got her one. It sat in her room and she never really played it, so I picked it up one day and started playing and writing songs. I was really socially awkward and didn’t have very many friends, so I spent a lot of time alone and would write.
It’s funny when people see who I am now. They find it hard to believe, but I was really shy and insecure. I’d always cover up my body and couldn’t sing in front of anyone. I even got nervous to order food at restaurants. English is my second language as well, so I wasn’t always confident talking. Growing up, knowing no one in the industry, I always wanted to do music as my job, but I didn’t know that was even possible. I was lucky enough to get scouted while singing in my high school choir and the person who discovered me put me in a real studio for the first time and I recorded my first song in my senior year of high school, which was ‘Only a Girl’ and when that took off, I was not ready for what was to come. It was crazy.
Who has been your biggest musical inspiration over the years? Have these inspirations changed over the years?
Madonna has been my biggest inspiration since I heard ‘Confessions on a Dance Floor’. My older sister showed me such a range of genres when I was really young. She only played Madonna, Bjork, Radiohead. Meanwhile my mom was blasting Persian music in the living room. If it wasn’t for my older sister, I wouldn’t have been exposed to such an eclectic range of sounds.
As an artist, I’m trying to push genres because I’m not just drawn to one, I’m inspired by so many different types of sounds, writing, depth, feeling and at the same time I also like music that’s just got dancing and escaping. I love music that puts you right in a certain story, where an artist shows depth and feeling. And on the other hand, I love music that gives you the same feelings, but is carefree and helps you disconnect. Both approaches are both equally emotional and powerful, so I hope to do a mix of the two within my songs.
You wrote your first single ‘Only A Girl’ in high school and it was your bold, coming out anthem, not only to your parents, but also to your friends and everyone who didn’t know that part of you. Why did you decide on this approach to come out? Has it made it easier to come out with a song, especially to your parents?
When I first put it out, I wasn’t in a place to realize how much of an effect it was going to make on me later in life, because when you’re younger you have less fear, less fear of acceptance, society, etc. I felt so confident in putting it out at the time because I really wanted to be purely myself from the beginning and the truth was I was falling in love with a girl and it was just so real to me. I was falling in love with my best friend and I was thinking how confusing it was because I didn’t know any girls who were falling in love with their best friends around me.
Now years later, it’s crazy how my younger self became an example to me years later. She was so carefree and authentic in a way only a teenager could be and looking back, I want to keep doing that. I was shocked to see what it did, but it really gave me a confidence to see how many people around the world have connected to this song and the lyrics and that’s one of the best things about art. You can put it out and not realize how many people are going to relate and connect. It’s scary to put yourself out there, but when that happens, it shows that it’s all worth it
Gia, besides your new EP coming out later this year, what is next for you in your career?
What’s next is that I’m constantly evolving. I will probably always have an idea of what my next project is because I never stop writing and producing music. I want to continue get even more honest and dig deeper within myself to put out songs that are really personal to my life and culture. So I want to keep finding myself, sharing my experiences and push that boundary further with each release.