Kaleena Zanders is a dynamic and soulful vocalist, songwriter & DJ who’s been making waves in multiple genres while carving a path for similar artists like her self to receive the recognition they deserve.
For many years, the industry wrongfully relegated her to the diminutive title of “dance music vocalist,” but she has always been more, producing her own music for labels like Helix Records and a FEMME HOUSE compilation on Insomniac Records, while performing her own DJ sets at EDC Las Vegas, Bass Camp, and Splash House.
We had the opportunity to sit down and chat with her at Breakaway San Francisco about everything from her Bay Area roots, her love for superheroes, and even unveil a bit of backstory behind her recent single “Nightmares.”
EDM Maniac: Coming from such a diverse scene like the Bay Area, are there any memories or experiences you can share that stood out as instrumental in your development as an artist?
Zanders: Oh, absolutely. In San Jose, when I was in college, I used to go to this, not a club, but like a bar hangout, college thing. And there used to be a live band, I think it was called Cafecito.
We used to jam and I used to improv sing. There was a lot of funk influence, a lot of rock and everything. I think that’s where I got my first notion to be front and center.
EDM Maniac: Your work with Anabel Englund on “ANYTHING 4 U” was a hit. I’m curious, what was it like working with another vocalist?
Zanders: Honestly, it was pretty easy. <laugh>, we speak the same language, literally. So I think it was coming from the same struggles in the industry and it was just really sweet for us to get together and be able to do anything we wanted.
We also became really strong friends through that. So it was actually a pretty easy process. There was no “diva diva” drama or anything like that.
EDM Maniac: Your music embodies such a sense of empowerment and positivity. Can you describe the emotional journey of performing that music live?
Zanders: Well, it kind of feels like you’re surfing on a wave, even though I’ve never surfed, but it feels like you’re surfing. And you’re at the highest point, that highest vibration.
Or you know when you watch those YouTubes of those really huge waves that you’d never encounter? It’s kind of like that <laugh>.
EDM Maniac: Now I heard you’re a fan of superheroes, so I’m gonna assume you’re a Marvel fan? So from nerd to nerd, what character’s storyline are you most invested in?
Zanders: I am a Marvel fan, absolutely. It would be Jean Grey because I think once upon a time I had so many crazy emotions that I felt like I couldn’t control. Also a lot of strength.
I feel like I had such power, but I didn’t know how to use it. And now I feel like I can use it in music. She’s fiery and has a lot of passion, and that’s how I am.
EDM Maniac: Let’s talk about your new single “Nightmares” which is coming out next week. Is there any backstory or inspiration behind it you want to share?
Zanders: Absolutely. When I was a little kid, my cousins used to show me a ton of scary movies when I would go visit them and I’d be so scared, like crying and terrified, but I couldn’t stop watching them because I really loved it.
So every time I would go back home, I would pull the covers over my head, sweat profusely, and cry. But I was so excited to watch these movies.
I think early on I was a thrill seeker. I was just like, “I must watch this, but I’m scared.” I think that’s where I developed my early courage and trying to get rid of my fears.
So I was like, “I’m gonna become the fears” <laugh>. I don’t know if that makes sense, but it’s like becoming what you’re scared of in a way. Just embody it and then let it go.
EDM Maniac: How would you sum up your personal and professional journey in 2023?
Zanders: Honestly, this year I grew the most in my skill and in my performance. I got an agent last November, so they’ve been throwing me into a ton of shows and I’ve learned so much about curating for people and then also telling a story.
I’ve learned so much about the art of music, even though I’ve been doing it for years.
And I’ve learned a lot about myself too and how possible it is to do anything. I really pushed myself this year, so I’m really proud of myself. I am proud of myself for pushing myself outside my comfort zone.
EDM Maniac: Following that, how do you envision your artistic path evolving in the coming year?
Zanders: In the coming year, it’s going to be more of just honing in my language, voice, and communication to the audience. Darker tones, more soulful tones, more church tones.
Also in the future, I’d like to go back to being in a band. Cause I was in a band, so I want to have the Kaleena band at some point. That’s what I want my live experience to be.
All images courtesy of Kaleena Zanders.