Soul and R&B singer came to Berklee via Las Vegas and has big plans plus a debut album coming soon
Kayla Erhardt was 13 years old when she met Cher and was told by the Goddess of Pop that pursuing music will make life and its challenges worthwhile. The mantra stuck, and it helped lift the burgeoning singer after she was kicked out of foster care at the age of 16. The Las Vegas native couch hopped and scrambled through her senior year, the whole time hoping to fulfill her dream of attending Berklee College of Music in Boston.
“I just remember getting into Berklee my senior year, and all of my teachers were like, Okay, cool. You have a full ride to the University of Las Vegas, and you’re turning it down for a school that hasn’t offered you any money yet,” Erhardt recalls. “And I was like, Well, they’re gonna offer me some money.”
Erhardt’s positive mindset manifested just that: a scholarship to attend the school of her dreams. Since then, the now-21-year-old has released three singles, with her debut album set to drop in April.
Elements of Erhardt’s musical influences—Donny Hathaway, Leon Bridges, Nina Simone, others—are prevalent in her silky, neo soul R&B style. Her songs are produced with the help of her friend Ryan Kay, a fellow Berklee student, and are already finding national audiences. “Faraway Land,” on which Erhardt describes the excitement of falling for someone from a different country (in particular, a British boy) was featured in the Warner Bros television series Kung Fu. Over a rich, blues-inspired beat she elegantly sings: Take me to your faraway land / Wanna grow old holding your hand / Take me to your faraway land / Where life seems a little less bland.
Heartbreak, romance, and relationships remain a common theme among her music, even with her limited experience in that realm.
“I’ve only really had one boyfriend,” Erhardt laughs. “He’s actually sitting in my room. But I’m a big movie watcher, so I feel like I’m able to articulate different feelings in different ways.”
In “Let’s Talk,” she speaks about racial inequality and frustrations she has over the lack of social change in this country: We keep having the same old talk / My heart is breaking / Too much mistaking / Seem to get closer but yet still feel so far from change.
For her debut album, Erhardt says many of her songs will address her emerging from a dark place in her life.
“I think growth is super uncomfortable because it’s all about change that you haven’t experienced and things you haven’t dealt with before,” Erhardt says. “I’m experiencing a lot of that, obviously, coming from across the country and trying to make Boston home.”
To Erhardt’s surprise, she has been able to play multiple shows amidst the pandemic with her nine-piece band. Even with a limited budget, she has traveled back and forth to New York City to play at Rockwood Hall multiple weekends in a row.
“The funny thing was, we couldn’t afford to pay for accommodation,” Erhardt says. “So we paid for our bus tickets there, did the show, pulled an all-nighter in New York, and then hopped on the bus back to Boston at four am—then I would go to my job at noon.”
Erhardt is comfortable on stage. As a teenager in the foster care system, she was part of a program called the House of Blues Music Forward Foundation. On weekends, she and other members opened for multiple bands at venues such as House of Blues, Brooklyn Bowl, and other major spots in Vegas. Erhardt says those experiences were the driving factor in professionally pursuing music.
Around here, Erhardt and her band recently performed at Game On by Fenway for Breaking Sound Boston, a music company that specializes in showcasing emerging artists. With her debut album dropping in the spring, she plans on playing even more around the city and beyond. Next up, Erhardt will be back on the bus to New York to perform in the Writer’s Block showcase at Arlene’s Grocery on March 15.