INTERVIEW: Keiynan Lonsdale

Over the past couple of years Keiynan Lonsdale has been on a journey of self-acceptance and growth. Relocating from Australia to Los Angeles, the actor, singer, songwriter and dancer has had an impressive career that has highlighted his diverse strengths and has seen him starring in TV shows like ‘The Flash’, ‘Legends Of Tomorrow’ and ‘Dance Academy’, as well as movies like ‘Love, Simon’, ‘Work It,’ and ‘The Divergent Series’. But in a search of opening himself up and sharing his own story instead of a character, he’s bared his soul through his coming-of-age centred debut album ‘Rainbow Boy’. 

With the album having been out for over a year now, he’s begun to start evolving along with the songs and experiencing new thoughts and relationships with them. “When I wrote them I had only just stepped into what those songs meant for me, but I wasn’t necessarily living them yet” he explains of his understanding of who he is now as a person and as an artist. The record explicitly explores queer and black culture through Lonsdale making a commentary on his unique experience with his own heritage and roots, as well as his understanding of his sexuality, love, life and relationships. 

A great example of this personal introspection is through his new 80’s groove inspired single, ‘Rhythm & Music’. Detailing the conversation he had with an ex-partner about the idea of an open relationship, he explains how he understands that your heart doesn’t ever fully belong to anyone but yourself. Leading back to the idea of monogamy, he uses his platform to educate people a bit more on what an open relationship is, and how it can work. It’s something that it quite common in queer relationships, but it’s just not universally understood yet due to stigmas still surrounding it. 

I recently chatted to Keiynan Lonsdale about the sensual stylings of his new single ‘Rhythm & Music’ and it’s accompanying music video, as well as explored the important messaging of queer and black culture embedded in his debut album ‘Rainbow Boy’. Check it out BELOW;

THOMAS BLEACH: Your anthemic new single ‘Rhythm & Music’ is this 80’s synth inspired banger all about exploring the idea of an open relationship with a partner, and it’s got such an addictive groove to it. Can you explain the creative process behind this track? 

KEIYNAN LONSDALE: It was a track I worked on with my producer Louis Futon. We made the majority of the album while we lived together in Los Angeles. We would start every day by just asking “how do you feel today?”, and I probably was fully venting to him that morning about my relationship at the time. He very much knew my thoughts on non-monogamy, and we wanted to make something that was groovy, nostalgic and that we could dance to.

I’m pretty sure the chorus for this song came first as that was lyrically what I wanted to share the most. I wanted it to come from the perspective of anyone in a relationship feeling that way is like “I know that you love me and you know that I love you, but there is more inside of here that can be explained”. And it doesn’t even have to be in terms of open relationships. It’s more about where your heart sits, what your heart feels, and what your heart is going through. In general what I’m trying to say is that as much as my heart is yours, it doesn’t fully belong to you as it’s mine. I think it’s comforting having security with someone, but I also think it’s comforting knowing that you will be your own individual person throughout all of that too. 

TB: Your debut album ‘Rainbow Boy’ explores queer and black culture quite explicitly. And ‘Rhythm & Music’ is a great example of that because open relationships are quite a normalised thing in queer culture but not really understood outside of it. So from putting this song out, have you had any feedback or comments from people about how it opened them up to the idea, conversation or education surrounding it?

KL: With certain people I’ve spoken to about the song and subject from different ages is that they’ve felt some sort of relief. It’s all the internal attacking you do when you feel like you’re wrong, and then you realise that it is normal and it’s an equal kind of love which is beautiful. So I think the response has been really refreshing, and people have also said that it’s been refreshing to hear this topic in a fun and freeing light. I wanted it to feel like you can take the stress off and dive into an adventure. 

TB: The accompanying sensual music video sees you embracing your dancing roots. How hard was this choreography for you to learn? 

KL: It was not easy because I only started dancing again at the top of 2020 by going back to dance classes. I was always free-styling at home, but then the lockdown happened in LA and then I was just dancing in my backyard which is different to doing a full-on jazz routine with turns, and kicks, and leaps, and everything. So my body was feeling it for sure. And we actually shot two music videos in that week with one day apart, so I was really struggling with having two different sets of choreography in my head. And on one hand it felt so good to dance with my old friends and be like “I’ve still got it”, but on the other hand it was really humbling as I was like “this is a lot harder than it used to be”. But the one thing I had that felt more natural was that I knew how to perform it better and execute the right energy into the different moves. So even though I hadn’t been dancing full time for a little while, I felt like I had been living my life and I was able to put that energy into the movements, which is a lot of what dancing is at it’s connecting your life to the movement. 

TB: What was one of the funniest or weirdest things to happen on that video shoot? 

KL: I was looking at the BTS footage *laughs*, and there is a moment where my team had forgotten a bunch of the outfits. They were left at home, but no one wanted me to know. I could smell it on my friend, but he was just like “everything is going perfectly”. As soon as he walked over to me and put his arm around me I was like “you forgot the costumes didn’t you” *laughs* and he was like “Yes, how did you know” *laughs*. But we got them in the end, so it was fine.  

TB: Your album ‘Rainbow Boy’ has been out for over a year now. So from hearing how fans have embraced these songs in their own lives, and being able to continue your own experience with the songs post-release, have any of the songs meanings or impact for you changed?

KL: A lot of them, as I had to mature with the songs. When I wrote them I had only just stepped into what those songs meant for me, but I wasn’t necessarily living them yet. At the time, ‘Rhythm & Music’ came out of a frustration but now having done the videos last year, I’m in a different space and can understand the songs a lot clearer now. Not all of them though, as I’m still learning and coming into who I am. But that’s why I choose what songs to do videos for you and when, as they are based upon where I am at with my personal growth. 

Another great example is ‘Ancient One’ which we shot a video for. That one is very much about family, and two of my brothers are on the track as they co-produced and feature on it. I wanted to shoot that one purely because I wanted to work with my family, and part of me going back to Australia last year was for me to connect with them and find some peace to certain things. But the edit of the video keeps developing and changing because of where I am at with family, and the more I’ve discovered through that healing journey as that’s what the message of the song is. 

‘Gay Street Fighter’ is another example too as when I put out that songs as a single I was really scared as it’s a really forward facing song where I’m talking a really big game. I started to question if I was really that guy. But now it’s out there and there’s no hiding. 

TB: ‘I Can’t Confess My Love’ is one of my favourite songs from the album because of its early 2000’s RNB pop vibes. What was sonically inspiring you specifically when you were working on this track?

KL: Definitely Michael Jackson as he’s been a huge inspiration for majority of what I’ve done since I was a little kid. But I also listen a lot to Usher, Ne-Yo, and Frank Ocean who definitely inspired this track too. RNB is something I felt like we didn’t dive to heavy into on this album. I feel like there is a RNB sense in each track of course as that’s where my voice sits, but I wanted to really hone in on that but in a pop way still. 

That song was only written because an ex had called me after not talking to me for two years because our bills got messed up. I don’t even know if that was even true, or if he just wanted to plant himself back into my life *laugh*. But because all I could think about was that he called me, it sent me on such a trip that I just needed to write about it. It’s one out of 4 songs I co-wrote, as the rest I wrote completely solo. The two co-writers came in that day and they were like “what is on your mind” and I was like “well… this is what is going on, this is what he did, and this is what I did”. I was just venting and they were like “cool, I think we’ve got our song” and we just went from there. 

TB: I definitely got some Usher vibes on it, but I also even got a bit of early JoJo vibes too. 

KL: Oh yes, that is so cool! I actually only just got to meet JoJo at the Outloud Festival we both played. I had a little fangirl moment, she is so sweet. 

TB: ‘Mirror’ has some very important lyrics, and one that particularly stood out to me was “And though we wish pain was fast, It’s better that the healing lasts”. When you hear that lyric back now, where does it take you to mentally and physically?

KL: We had finished the album, but then I was in a real downward spiral at the time and my roommate was like “are you okay”, and we started talking about what was going on. He started working on chords, and then we just wrote into the night and that’s how we started ‘Mirror’. 

That line is really the truth to me. So often in times of depression you are just wanting it to be over no matter how long it may have been whether it be 2 weeks, 2 months, or two years. But I think the more I’ve been realising through turning the story concept of pain into the story concept of healing, it’s better that the healing lasts. I don’t want to put a band aid on this and I don’t want to feel temporarily better. I want to heal this, and if that takes a longer time and more work, then I’m going to do that. It might hurt more for a bit longer of a period, but I think this is truly what I need to do to resolve this because I don’t want to have it for the rest of my life. 

TB: Also that lyric “Recharge your heart cause deep down you got all this” also hit me hard.

KL: It’s true! Through the human condition we get to experience so much love, but there is also a lot of suffering that comes on different levels and for different reasons. We are capable of so much more than we think. 

TB: ‘Destiny Road’ is a pretty important song for this record where you question “Yeah, do you believe in yourself rainbow boy?”. So what was it about this line and this song that inspired you to call the album after it? 

KL: I started writing the album because I found all of this crazy belief in myself, and I knew that I could build this project and create something original. A lot of things in my life and my career started to explode which was amazing, but to be honest, my confidence went all the way down. I was really losing sight of who I was, and I was finding it really hard to believe in myself. It was really strange because the one thing I always had my whole life was self-belief, even when I had no money or means to get to where I needed to get to, and even when my music was terrible *laughs*. Even with all the no’s and doors closing I had so much belief, but then all of a sudden I was in it and the doors were unlocked and I stopped believing in myself. 

That song was really just a reflection of how you can feel lost on your way to your destiny, and asking myself if I believe in love anymore? Or if I even believe in myself anymore? At the time I didn’t know about any of those things. 

TB: If you could insert a song from this album into a movie or TV show you’ve been in, what one would you choose and why? 

KL: *Laughs*, that is a great question! There is a new record I made that I want to release this year which we are thinking about putting into the last movie I’ve done. But from ‘Rainbow Boy’, I would say that mostly every song could work in ‘Work It’ as it’s a funny dance film. Or otherwise I would love to see ‘On My Wave’ in a film, but ideally in something I’m not in. 

TB: I think it’s more important than ever to put a spotlight on queer creatives so we can keep giving back to our community and help create more representation in media. So who are some queer creatives that you think people should be following or discovering? 

KL: There is this rapper called BoBo Sango who’s album just came out two weeks ago. We met at a restaurant and we just randomly chatted and I was like “yeah, send me your stuff” and I heard it and watched the video for his song ‘Thirst Trap’ and I was like “this is amazing. I wish I made this”. He’s an underground artist that I really loved what he was speaking about through the lyrics. He’s a great rapper, a great dancer, and has a really strong sense of self which was really cool to see in the Hip-Hop space. 

An Australian group I will highlight is called H.I.A who are led by Nancy Dennis who is this Queer Haitian-Australian. The band is her and her two brothers, and they are amazing! I know they’ve got a bunch of stuff coming out soon. 

TB: Let’s play a quick game of rapid fire of questions to do with ‘Rainbow Boy’. Are you ready?

KL: Yeah, let’s do it!

TB: The emotion that best describes my debut album ‘Rainbow Boy’ is…

KL: Joy and fear. 

TB: The song that nearly didn’t make the album was…

KL: There was a point where I was questioning whether ‘Play’ would make it, but I actually wrote ‘Play’ first.

TB: The song that made me cry when I heard it back was…

KL: ‘One Man’.

TB: The lyric that makes me giggle on the album is…

KL: There’s a few! Probably the “Bussy” line in ‘Gay Street Fighter’ is the funniest. Also in ‘Destiny Road’ the final lyric is “How to accept the current” but I only pronounced it in a particular way as a personal joke to my friends who worked on Dance Academy with me. I used to go around saying “current” all the time in a weird pronunciation. So the way it is pronounced on the album is very deliberate and specifically for them *laughs*. 

TB: The song that took the longest to hone it’s sound was…

KL: ‘Play’ and ‘Ancient One’!

‘Rainbow Boy’ is out now!