Hello listeners, this is Kazuki Akiba. For a long time, I’ve been working in the entertainment industry both as a content creator and business professional.
As I’ve produced more and more content and engaged with a number of different platforms, I realized that fresh voices are not reflected enough. We’re mired by clichés and adaptations that oftentimes play it safe.
In 2016, I began to work on an idea for a documentary series, Meal Ticket, focused on immigrant chefs in New York City. As we dove into the stories of these individuals, I gained a new perspective on struggle. And ways people overcome adversity….each deserves a story. Living in New York City, there are over 11 million unique stories and voices out there and I want to shed a spotlight on stories that have never been heard.
That’s why I’m launching the show called “Stories for You.”
“Stories For You” focuses on unique underrepresented voices from various industries that need to be heard. Focusing on these professionals shows more than one way to find success. Everyone has their own journey.
We’re going to release 10 episodes ranging from artists to entrepreneurs who are making their mark in their fields.
Join us each week as we follow the individual’s journey from where they began, where they went, and where they are now. You’re now listening to the first episode of “Stories for You.”
For this week’s guest, we’re excited to introduce Piera Van de Wiel, who is an international recording artist, actress, and entrepreneur from the UK. We’ll dive into her life story and learn about her inspirations in pursuit of her artistic endeavors.
Kazuki: Like you know inside a yogurt, there’s like a random bacteria that kind of-
Piera: No, I know-
Kazuki: -eats it for you…
Piera: Lactobacil- Why are we talking about Lactobacillus? Lactobacillis?
Kazuki: Yeah, I think that was the name…it’s because our whole stomach is very acid so…if you like add more acidic stuff-
Piera: I think this goes into the podcast. -giggles-
Piera and I took a class together back at our alma mater, NYU – and it was for a Producing for TV course focused on pitching to different pilots to executives from different networks.
We had some late-night sessions on different producing projects and eventually everything came in full circle as we both produced for mutual friends.
Despite knowing her for two, three years…I didn’t really know much about her origin…and why she got inspired to become a singer/songwriter and be in the entertainment business.
Piera: I grew up in England-on a farm actually funny enough, and singing and music first came into my life when we had a foreign exchange student from Italy come and stayed with us. She was also looking after me, which was really lovely when I was very small- about three years old. She would teach me these beautiful Italian songs and then, according to my mum and dad, I don’t actually remember this, but suddenly- we were on a boat-and I would stand up, oh my god, on the seat or wherever I was apparently and just start signing in Italian. And everyone was like “oh interesting,” because everyone was British and kind of like “what is she doing?” as I’m just singing in Italian. Apparently I also did that on a plane. So singing came kind of early for me. I want to say to do with Paola, who was the exchange student, and she definitely introduced me and from then on I started having singing lessons with my mum’s best friend, Debby. She was an opera singer. So then from the age of eight, I started my lessons etc. and sort of fell in love. And I was then part of this lovely choir in the Cotswold which was surrounded by fields and cows, and I was still in the choir. And we cut a CD and I was eight, and I just remember, you know, seeing a conductor and we were –and I think it was about 45 of us- and I just thought “Wow music is so powerful” and I was eight and I just knew that I had to keep singing in my life.
So, she fell in love….Many of us can pinpoint the exact moment where we found the urge to pursue the dream we want to do for the rest of our life.
Piera: So then from singing competitions etc. it just sort of kept progressing. And really acting didn’t come into my live until later until I was 17, actually.
Kazuki: Wow that’s …like what? Fairly recent: six, seven years at this point?
Piera: I mean, yes, I’m 24 so…It was…I was performing…I was cast in “Cabaret.” So I was playing Sally Bolds, who was a wonderful, wonderful character and I discovered I could sing and…well I knew I could sing but I could also act and tell a story and be a part of a group of amazing people and be with cast members etc. And I just thought “Wow I could tell a…this incredible story.” And also dance too…um…my dancing is okay. It’s fine. It’s definitely better now, I think. But, so, I was performing this in Switzerland.
Kazuki: So you’ve been performing all over Europe basically with all your performances since you started singing around eight. So, you were like doing a lot of…
Piera: Yes, it started in England…
Kazuki: Lessons with Debbie…
Kazuki: And so got to know more…did you travel everywhere in Europe? Like France, Italy…Switzerland.
Piera: Well I was actually traveling because I was a ski racer.
Kazuki: Oh okay.
Piera: So I was ski racing and I was also singing. So from the time I started doing Cabaret, I remember after performance this woman came up to me, who’s now a really good friend of mine, and she said, “I think you should apply to the Tisch School of the Arts.” And all I said was “What’s that?” No idea…Absolutely no idea. I didn’t know what it was, at all. ’Cause originally my plan is that I wanted to study opera in London. I wanted to go to the Royal Academy of Music and I had done some classes and training there and I thought. “Okay this is what I wanted to do.” But after she said that, I started looking into, you know, this “Tisch.” And I was like, “What is it?” Is it something that was going to suit me? And I started looking into it and I fell in love. And I decided “Okay, that is the only place I’m going to apply.”
Kazuki: Wow, just one school?
Kazuki: At the time, you also had skiing… So how did you balance that out? Both skiing and being a performer? You had both passions obviously.
Piera: Well, skiing is performing. It’s basically throwing yourself down a race piece and it’s really based on your performance. If you have, you know, one run and you come in 2nd and you just go on to the next thing. It’s really given me endurance and the strength to persist…in my career and to also hustle as well.
Kazuki: How were you able to manage those times? ’Cause those are big, heavy commitments, like performing is a huge, long-
Piera: Oh no absolutely. At the time, I was still in school so I was in Switzerland and I was able to train etc. but I did after… one of the championship races, I did have a wee bit of a crash. I don’t want to say a wee bit of a crash, but it did take me out. Really from then, my shift fully went to performing. But I love skiing…like I would still throw myself down a mountain. I love adrenaline, so I’m like “Yes! Bring me on top of my mountain. That’s great.”
Kazuki: Do you still go once in a while or is it more like a hobby right now for you? Do you…
Piera: Oh yeah, absolutely.
Kazuki: When was the last time you went?
Piera: The last time I went skiing…March? This March.
Kazuki: Okay, that’s fairly recent.
Piera: Yes, it was lovely.
Kazuki: And in the States or…?
Piera: No, I was…I was back in…I went to France…went to the French Alps. It was beautiful. It was amazing. It was…and the snow…I love the snow…When I’m on top of a mountain, I feel very powerful. I feel like I can conquer anything. ‘Cause you’re just standing on top of a mountain and all you can do is go straight down. You’ve no choice. You can’t just be like, “Oh I’m going to take my skis off” and just like try and go…I don’t know, get yourself down the mountain somehow. You can just…you just have to push your pulls and just… off you go. And I love that. I love the fact that you just go. You go and you go super-fast…well I go really fast. You got wind rushing your hair…It’s fantastic. I love it.
Kazuki: That’s the part of you that kind of taught you to be more bold and fearless in what kind of decisions you made.
Piera: It did. It absolutely did. It taught me, as I said about endurance, my own strength, and I’m really using that in my career as an actor and a singer, also as a producer and entrepreneur. Like that’s …I’m using the skills that I learned as an athlete. And really…in London, I mean, before I came out to New York, I had done this beautiful production at the Rose Theatre in Kingston called “Korczak” directed by Nick Stimson – who is an incredible director – and it was a story…it is about this man named Dr. Janusz Korczak and he took in orphans in Poland, in Warsaw during WWII. It was a musical and it was just very… beautiful and empowering and I met some incredible people including like Holocaust survivors etc. and the cast. We all got very close and that’s the first time I was introduced to like reviews and press nights etc. And I just thought, “Okay” like what an incredible experience I’m having in England and I just so excited of what could come next… in New York. It’s New York City, so I was like “okay, let’s bring on something…another adventure.” So I was very excited when I came here and I didn’t really know what to expect. And Tisch was incredible. It really was. It exceeded my expectations.
We delve more into her school career…making a bold move to move to an unknown place is something not many people can do….and on top of that being able to accomplish so much in school is also hard.
But what interested me the most was her time working as a Co-Director of Fusion Film Festival, which fueled a critical pivot in what she wanted to pursue.
Piera: I began at Fusion Film Festival and I was there for three years. And I became the Co-Head of alumni relations. Fusion Film Festival celebrates women in tv, film and media, and then I became Co-Director. I met some incredible filmmakers, including giving the… I have to say a highlight for sure was giving the Woman of the Year award to Melina Matsoukas. And for those of you who don’t know who Melina Matsoukas is… Melina Matsoukas is the director of Beyoncé’s music video “Lemonade” and she was our Woman of the Year back in 2017. I got the privilege of giving her an award and that was pretty amazing. I got to meet some really incredible people- work with NBC, HBO etc. But really, Fusion is just about the team and there’s so many members and everyone works together to get it done. It’s female lead which is really…I love that, that it’s female lead.
Kazuki: So, would you say that Fusion was more like an introduction to on screen film and tv? Like for you?
Piera: Absolutely, because I was at the Tisch. I was studying at the Atlantic Acting School founded by David Mamet. It was very theatre-based. I got to do some really great shows. Neighborhood Two, where I played this really punk-rock, well, not really rock…punk teenager who was very aggressive but it was a lot of fun to play including like chockers and like spikes. It was pretty intense. It was pretty fun and then in Romeo and Juliet and then House of Bernarda Alba working with the incredible director Lauren Keating and Katie Lindsay –she’s an incredible director…Then, Fusion just sort of…yeah it did, it introduced me to doing short films, also thinking about making my own content…it definitely shifted my perspective which was really lovely.
Kazuki: So, would you say that was the start for you to creating your own type of piece and work with online content type media?
Piera: Yeah absolutely. Because I was just surrounded by these incredible women who…we were all lifting each other up whether, you know, supporting each other’s stories, working on each other’s sets and I just thought “This is amazing.” And you don’t have to wait around. You can make this content yourself, and currently now I’m writing a short film which is a LGBTQ period drama and it’s really exciting. I’m really excited and then once I’ve finished writing it –it’s very close to being done—I can’t wait to put a team together. I think that’s the most exciting thing is: putting a team together and finding the right people who want to support your story and move forward.
Her excitement for producing and creating content led her to even bigger adventures…..starting a new media series…..known as Stronger with Music…
Piera: I’m the founder of Stronger with Music, and also lead vocalist. Stronger with Music is an artist collective that empowers women and promotes mental health and mental illness. I wanted to start this quite a while ago, but I didn’t–not have the courage to, that’s not right…I didn’t think I was ready. I was like, “okay once I’ve come out of school I can…I’m going to start this artist collective and then I can really move forward with that.” But if I was going to give anyone any advice, this is start it when you have that sort of “gut feeling.” Go with your gut. Go with your gut and just begin something. But now I have and I absolutely love it, so the moment it’s a music media series on Like A Boss Girls, and you’re asking me about Like a Boss Girls, it’s a music media site and I’m also a contributor for it so I write articles for them, which is really lovely. The articles are typically about empowering women or featuring lead women who are having incredible careers which is amazing and currently I’m doing a piece on Barefoot College. Barefoot College is a not for profit organization and empowers women in rural communities in India to be trained as solar engineers. So they go to this college for six-months and they are trained and they are giving the equipment etc. and they take it back to the village and then they teach the girls about these solar energy skills. So that’s something I’m working on right now with them which is really wonderful. I love to write and the fact that I can right for this site is very empowering. It feels really lovely. So, yes, Stronger with Music is also on their site. We’ve released two episodes and now I’m very excited to tell you about an event that will be happening on January 18, 2019, and it’s going to be a Stronger with Music live event happening at 54 Below.
Kazuki: What will the live event be featuring besides big musical performances?
Piera: It’s going to be telling a story and sharing a song. And it’s going to be revolved around mental health.
Kazuki: So what kind of made you go into that focus more with Stronger with Music?
Piera: Well it originated from very personally to me is that music is the healer. It can change your energy moods, change your frequency. It’s such a powerful tool. So when I was 15, I lost my best friend in a car accident and I sort of spiraled. I was not…I don’t know. I was not functioning as I would and I was very upset all the time. I didn’t really know who my friends were and didn’t really know where I belonged. I mean I lost my best friend and I was very young…and just trying to deal with that was very hard in itself. But music…music helped me so much. Every day I would just spend hours in the music department just singing and with my music teacher and other friends etc. who were in the music department. Urgh I just…I just loved it. The fact that I could sing and I started writing songs. I actually wrote my very first song when I was 15 called “Waltz to Sophie.” This is not being released. Who knows if it will be released to future date? I would love to go back and rework on it and do an official release, maybe I don’t know. We’ll see but it just showed me the power of music. It’s always been in my head since I was 15 and I just thought I really want to do an online artist collective where I can share this; where I can share these messages about self-love, power, and worth. You know if you are feeling down or you’re going through something, and obstacle or you’re just trying to push yourself through—music can help you. Music is there for you. And yeah, I hope guys can follow it! It’s at Stronger with Music on Instagram so.
Kazuki: What is interesting about you is that you have all these different type of backgrounds starting from the strong music side to the ongoing theatre: acting, and you’re on screen and now you’re starting businesses. These multi talent that interests me and I kind of want to hear from there like your acting, you’re running Stronger with Music and now you have a record label now, right?
Piera: Yes I do! So I am signed with Steve Barakatt who is an incredible composer and music producer, and also Barakat Group. They are in Canada…in Quebec, very beautiful city you must get to Quebec, and it’s really been such a privilege to work with him. He is a very renowned artist. He’s currently in Korea actually at the moment. He’s been so supportive and I’m so excited for our journey together and what we are going to do next.
Kazuki: Could you tell me more about the press that you’ve gotten with the “It’s Complicated,” because it’s been a huge single. Obviously it’s been on the charts recently so I just want to hear more about it.
Piera: Yeah, so “It’s Complicated” received press from Broadway World which was very cool. They also mentioned me as an actor which is fun and also from Markets Insider, Yahoo Finance, also places in Europe so La Van Gardia, New Dehli Times in India which is pretty cool! Sina News in China, I Feng News, so it was… it felt pretty global which was very exciting. I didn’t expect to receive all this press from different places in the world, so it was exciting. It was very…I don’t know, made me very happy that people wanted to talk about my single.
Kazuki: I’m just curious. How did Steve actually approach you? Did he just find you one day and be like, “Hey, I want to sign a deal with you? You are such an amazing talent.” How did that fruition?
Piera: We met four years ago. He just invited me. He said “oh yes you know you’re a singer” etc. and I believe I sent him a song of mine that I was singing – not something I could composed but just a cover that I had sung- and he then invited me to come to Quebec to the studio. And I’ve been doing that every summer. Then, last summer, he said “Okay, we are gonna write a song!” and I was like “Okay let’s do it! Absolutely.” So, it was an amazing…I love this collaboration. It was so wonderful and then “It’s Complicated” came out of that. I really love the song, it means a lot and it’s my first single. And working with Steve was…I feel very grateful. I feel very grateful.
Kazuki: I just want to know more about what kind of messages are behind that. What kind of thought process was put into one’s mind on how you wanted to project it? What’s the message you want to make for these people who are listening to it?
Piera: Okay, well “It’s Complicated” has a lot of people tell me “Oh it’s clearly about relationships” and I’m like “Well it kind of is…” It’s about multiple loves that I’ve had in my life and what I’ve learned is that love doesn’t just come from being dependent on one person or other people. It comes from yourself. So one of my lyrics is “I’m stronger than you / Watch me build and break through…” Like you have the power in yourself… self-love, self-worth. And knowing that, you can always get through. One of the favorite parts of the song for me is right at the end. I wrote sort of a chant which is “The time I think instead of do / Stand up, shout out what’s inside of you.” And when I wrote that I just thought I can’t wait for people to start chanting this song, you know, like chanting at the end! I want people to chant with me and just be like “Yes. Stand up; shout out what’s inside of you. What you believe to be true.” You know? I believe in the honest message and being able to empower yourself. Which doesn’t mean you don’t need love from others because I think that’s how everyone can move forward including the support from family, friends and loved ones etc. but also knowing that “yeah, I’m also relying on myself.”
Kazuki: Who were also your inspirations, mentors and collaborators that you look up to? Who did you really connect with for support? Is it your family more for these or?
Piera: Absolutely, from the start, my parents who have been so incredible. They…they’re wonderful. They are literally my very best friends and number one supporters in all that I do. I wouldn’t be where I am without them. Whether it’s calling them in the middle of the night and be like “Oh my god, this happened” and they’re like “That’s okay, it’s totally fine.” You know, it’s anything. Just having them there and even though, you know, they are back in England and I’m in New York I still feel so supported. And it’s…I’m very grateful. They’ve both taught me such different things. Both of my parents are very good networkers, they love speaking to people and I’ve definitely taken that from them. I love meeting new people; making new connections and moving forward with those connections. I think that’s really important and then my father he’s an entrepreneur. He started his own company etc. and he made it into such a success. I just see that and I’m so inspired. I’m like, “Okay, yes, I can do the same.”
Kazuki: And just go for it.
Piera: And just…yeah! He worked in the car industry so I’m probably…yeah not going to work in the car industry. I love cars but…entertainment.
Kazuki: Being far away from home, obviously, moving into the States…what actually changed you and how did you think you grew out of that? What do you think changed a lot by moving to the States and what kind of influence do you want to bring in the future?
Piera: I’m going to say…courage. Have the courage. So, if you, for example, have an idea for something – as you said it could be any industry – start by telling a friend and once you’ve told a friend, you know, maybe tell another couple of friends. Just have the courage within yourself that your ideas are worthy and that you can move forward with them. Don’t be afraid of them, because you know-
Piera: -once you have told whether it’s a friend or even a family – your mom or your dad about this idea, that’s already…you already begun the motion. So, don’t be afraid of that. Have courage and take a step forward ‘cause it’s down to yourself to make it happen.
KAZUKI: If you want to learn more about Piera, please check out her website, event, and social media down below. Also, listen to her new single, “It’s Complicated” on iTunes, Spotify, and other formats.
Coming up in the next episode of “Stories for You” is an Emmy award-nominated writer, Cheryl Davis who’s worked on various TV shows and plays. She talks about her experience going from a corporate lawyer to writer who also works as an attorney for the Authors Guild:
<<Cheryl: I saw an ad that’s actually for somebody who was looking for somebody to write lyrics for a musical. That I think was going to be a review and we were technically calling it “Times Square seen through the window booth of the Howard Johnson’s at 46th and Broadway” which is god no longer there, I feel very old. But, so that’s when I started writing lyrics for that particular show, the idea is that we’re writing songs for characters who then Times Square would be singing and that got me into BMI…>>
That’s next on Stories for You.
This is a Daylight Interactive production. This week’s episode is produced by Ed Lee.
Additional dialogue written by Raven. Edited by Mike Wilson.
Sound mixed by Ray Lanuza. Our theme song and music are composed by Graylaptop.
Join us next time on Stories for You as we focus on exciting, new voices.[/expand]
When Piera Van De Wiel was inspired to sing and perform, she had a dream that one day she would be the Singer-Songwriter that she wanted to be. And once she came to the US, it seemed the sky was the limit for Piera. Find out how Piera went from an aspiring Singer-Songwriter to Singer-Songwriter, Actress, Film Producer, and Entrepreneur.
Stories For You is hosted by Kazuki Akiba. This episode is produced by Ed Lee with additional dialogue written by Raven and edited by Mike Wilson and Kazuki Akiba.
Ray Lanuza mixed the episode. Theme Song and Music by Graylaptop
About Piera Van de Wiel:
Piera is also a producer, and has worked with the Princess Grace Foundation and the BAFTA Britannia Awards. She produced a new play called Paramour an equity approved show staged at the Access Theatre with podcast interviews and a write up in Newest York. Piera has also worked with award-winning filmmaker Susan Youssef who is a Directing fellow for Fox Studios.
Come by the Feinstein’s 54 Below Stronger With Music show will be on January 18th at 9:30pm!