Singer/Songwriter Sebastian Kole Talks About Writing Two Hit Songs With Alessia Cara, And His Solo Artist Career

Sebastian Kole
Sebastian Kole
(photo credit: Motown Records)

During the past year, Sebastian Kole has emerged as a hit songwriter & producer, and a promising artist who’s just released his debut album on EP Entertainment/Motown Records. Impressively, he co-wrote & co-produced nine songs on rising star Alessia Cara’s album Know-It-All, including the Top 5 pop hit “Here” and her current single, “Scars to Your Beautiful.”

Originally from Birmingham, Alabama, Kole (whose birth name is Coleridge Tillman) moved to Los Angeles in 2012, and he quickly landed deals with EP Entertainment and Motown Records. He now has two successful music careers, as a solo artist who’s on tour, and as a writer/producer who’s busy working in the studio.

Kole’s new album is called SOUP, which is an acronym that describes his sound—Southern, urban and pop. One of the album’s songs is “Remember Home,” which is a duet with Alessia Cara. A video of “Remember Home” has been filmed, with Kole and Cara performing this song in a studio. Other key songs on the album include “Love’s On The Way,” “Home,” “Love Doctor,” “Carry On” and “Stay.” Three songs from this album have been placed on the hit ABC-TV series, Grey’s Anatomy.

In addition to his own album and his work with Alessia Cara, Kole has worked with Jennifer Lopez, Flo-Rida, Kelly Clarkson, Demi Lovato, Kelly Rowland, Brandy, Stanaj and other artists.

We are pleased to do this Q&A interview with Sebastian Kole, He tells how he got started, and talks about the songs on his new album. He also tells how he co-wrote with Alessia Cara her hits, “Here” and “Scars to Your Beautiful.”

DK: I read that you’re from Birmingham, Alabama. How did you get started with music?

Sebastian Kole: I’ve been doing music my whole life. My godmother was a piano player at church, and I’ve always liked making music. It’s always been something I’m into, playing and singing around. As a career, I got into it a few years ago. I wrote a song called “Goin’ In” with a friend of mine that was actually [recorded by] J-Lo (Jennifer Lopez).

DK: So how did you place your song with J-Lo?

Kole: What happened was, a friend of mine from college who used to be signed with Atlantic Records, came back home to Birmingham. So when he came home, he said, “let’s write together.” He had a friend, Michael Walling, that was trying to manage him out here in L.A. We just kind of wrote songs together—I didn’t know how the music business worked yet. He would send the songs off to his friend in L.A. Then one day, I get a phone call from a lawyer, who said one of these songs made it to J-Lo and she wanted to cut the song.

DK: What instruments do you play?

Kole: My main instrument is piano, but I also play guitar, drums and bass. I try to play anything that you put in my hands. If it can make a sound, I want to play it.

Here’s the video of Sebastian Kole’s song, “Remember Home,”
which is a duet with Alessia Cara.

DK: Do you also create the tracks?

Kole: Yes, now I do. I used to get people to help with the programming. I wasn’t really that good at programming. But now I’m a little more self-sufficent, and I can produce now.

DK: Do you also write lyrics?

Kole: I do write lyrics. I definitely wrote every word on my album.

DK: After your cut with J-Lo, you signed with EP Entertainment and Motown Records. How did that happen?

Kole: When I got this cut with J-Lo, I took the little money that I made and moved out to L.A. four years ago (in 2012). When I first moved out here, I met a girl who’s boyfriend was a big songwriter. She knew a lot of songwriters, and she would take me to these sessions, and I would start co-writing.

I would go from session to session, and then I met Tish Hyman, who was one of the writers at EP Entertainment. She said, “You can really write—do you have a publishing deal?” I said, no. So she took me to EP Entertainment that night and they signed me. The very next morning, Robeo (Eleazer) from EP called Ethiopia (Haptemariam, President of Motown Records) and told her, “You gotta meet this kid.” And less than 20 hours later, I had a record deal.

DK: So you signed with Motown a few years ago?

Kole: Yes, I’ve been at Motown for a few years now. At first I was just focusing on being a writer. When I met Alessia (Cara), which wasn’t long after that, I really spent a lot of time focusing on getting her project together and making sure we had the sound together. I wanted to establish myself as a writer for a lot of reasons, but mainly because I feel like writing lives forever…artists don’t.

DK: So how did you meet Alessia and start working with her?

Kole: Around the time I got signed, I was doing some promo work in New York, playing some shows—I was just getting out there [getting exposure]. Tony Perez, who’s the “P” of EP Entertainment, has a daughter Korinne, who’s the head of A&R at EP. She found Alessia on YouTube and invited her to come to the show. So Alessia came to the show in New York. And after the show was over, she sang for me. I thought her voice was amazing—I said we have to work together. So the next week I went up to Toronto to write with her. Alessia is from Brampton, which is a suburb of Toronto.

DK: When you got together with Alessa, what was the first song you wrote with her?

Here’s the video of Alessia Cara’s hit, “Here,” which was co-written
by Sebastian Kole.

Kole: One of the first songs we did was “Stars,” which is on her album. This song is one of the records that we’ve had for quite some time.

DK: I love Alessia’s hit song “Here,” which you wrote with her. How did you come up with this song?

Kole: What happened was, it was a Sunday, toward the end of one of the first trips we wrote together. Every day I would ask her, “What’s on your mind?” That’s the way I like to write. I want to talk about what you’re thinking about right now. So I asked her, “What’s on your mind?” She said, “Nothing.” I said, “What? Nothing? What did you do this weekend?” She said, “I went to a party.” I asked, “How was it?” She said, “I hated it.” So I said “Okay, let’s write about this.” I could totally relate—I’ve been to many of those parties myself.

What we wrote (for “Here”) was pieces of things she experienced that night (at the party) and pieces of things I’ve experienced. It was just a culmination of those things. I feel like everyone’s been to those kind of parties, but nobody’s ever sung about it.

DK: I also like Alessia’s current single “Scars to Your Beautiful,” which has a special message to it. How did you co-write this song?

Kole: Towards the end of the project, we were in New Jersey. We wrote the songs “Scars to Your Beautiful” and “Seventeen” during the same trip. These were things that Alessia had on her mind. I came in and asked her, “What do you want to talk about today?” She said, “I want to talk about body image.” This particular record (“Scars to Your Beautiful”) is near and dear to me, because I feel like it was my opportunity to encourage women, I guess. It’s definitely Alessia’s opportunity to encourage women, but it’s also mine—I had a chance to say things. Sometimes, men don’t get the chance to say things—if a man tells a woman she’s beautiful, she might think, “Oh, he’s just trying to be sexy.” But I didn’t mean it that way. I just wanted it to be, “Hey, you’re a beautiful person.”

DK: Let’s talk about your own album, which is called SOUP. What does SOUP mean?

Kole: It stands for Southern Urban Pop. When I first got signed, I just wrote an album really quick. I went in (to the label) and they said, “Well, this is good, but it’s all over the place.” Part of it was super R&B, part of it was super pop, and part of it was singer/songwriter. So [the label] said, “We just have to narrow it down. We have to focus it on something.” And that’s when the whole SOUP idea started to form. At first, I wanted to include all of [these different styles], but I can’t do one song like this or one song like that. So we decided to keep it focused and [create a sound] which we’ll call SOUP.

DK: One of my favorite songs on your album is called “Love’s On The Way.”

Kole: That’s my favorite song on the album—this record has the most meaning to me. If there’s anything I wanted people to know about the album, it’s that message (“Love’s On The Way”). There are a lot of love songs out there, but not many artists are talking about the condition of life…that we’ve gotta just love each other.

Here’s the video of Alessia Cara’s hit, “Scars to Your Beautiful,”
which was co-written by Sebastian Kole.

DK: What are your other favorite songs on the album?

Kole: I really like “Stay,” just because I like the sentiment…it’s very, very honest. Everything on the album is honest, but with “Stay,” that’s exactly what I wanted to say on this record.

DK: I like your song “Remember Home,” which is a duet with Alessia. How did this song come together?

Kole: What happened was, I wrote that song, and I just thought it would be a cool duet. Alessia was coming to town to do the Ellen (DeGeneres) show, so we just linked up and knocked that out.

DK: Now that your album has come out, what are your plans? I know you’re currently on tour, opening for Alessia.

Kole: My focus on this tour is to play live and also to meet people. I try to make it my business after every show to go out and shake as many hands, get as many hugs and take as many pictures as possible. To me, that’s what it’s really about…to reach people on a really personal level. That’s my focus on this tour, or any tour.

I’m also busy working in the studio. I’m writing with a lot of artists right now, which is a blessing. EP Entertainment has signed several new artists and I’ve been working on their projects. I’ve also been doing work with Kelly Clarkson, Demi Lovato, Kelly Rowland, Brandy, Stanaj and other artists.

DK: Is there anything else that you’d like to talk about for this article?

Kole: Yes. I want to encourage any up-and-coming songwriters, producers and singers to never, ever sell yourself short. Never, ever stop believing in yourself. We don’t dream…we plan. We makes plans and work—it takes a lot of hard work. But don’t ever give up.

Dale Kawashima is the Head of SongwriterUniverse and a music journalist. He’s also a music publishing exec who has represented the song catalogs of Michael Jackson, Prince, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan and Motown Records.
Dale Kawashima