Kami Van Halst (’14 BA, Sociology/Music) was in fifth grade when she wrote her first song — an ode to rock legend Bon Jovi, she remembers: “Either that or Robocop.”
But while the details of that first tune may be a bit murky, her passion for music has always been crystal clear. Van Halst began singing in a choir at six years old and started vocal training shortly after. In her youth, she performed at local festivals and events, and further honed her skills at Edmonton’s arts-oriented Victoria Composite High School.
In spite of her lifelong passion for music, it’s only now — at 25 years of age and a BA with a double major in music and sociology under her belt — that Van Halst is pursuing music full-time. “I always put school first,” she says. Even when Blackstream Records (a division of Universal Music Group) saw her perform at a gig and offered her a record deal, she asked them to wait a year before recording her album so she could finish her courses and graduate. “I’ve always felt it was important to be educated. Music is a great dream, but a once in a billion opportunity,” she says.
In July 2014, she officially signed with the label and now she’s in the process of writing songs for her heavy, alternative rock album, Monster, slated for release in March 2015. Van Halst describes her musical aesthetic as a mix of Joan Jett, Evanescence, The Pretty Reckless and, her favourite band of all time, Shinedown.
“I think we could make a big difference in society if people spoke up more.”
“I think this is really the perfect time to jump into music full-time,” she says. “I’m a bit more mature in life and have more to say.” Van Halst explains that almost all of the songs on her album will be about social issues, particularly youth homelessness, domestic violence, bullying and inequality — topics she learnt a lot about as a university student.
“I always say my sociology degree was the best and worst thing that ever happened to me,” she says. “It opened my eyes to so much, but it makes you angry, seeing things others don’t.” Van Halst says her education — particularly Sociology 321: Youth Crime and Society, taught by PhD student Joshua Freistadt — inspired her to get involved in the community.
Van Halst got a job at Edmonton’s Youth Emergency Shelter Society (YESS), where she gave music lessons to teens until funding cuts erased her position. Since then, she’s been supporting the organization on her own dime by hosting or performing at benefit concerts, soliciting donations from corporations and even creating a music video to create awareness.
That video, Death Toll Rising, was inspired by the stories she heard from the young people at YESS, many of whom had survived horrendous violence and abuse. In 2013, Van Halst received the Outstanding Creative Activity award from the U of A’s Undergraduate Research Initiative in recognition of her efforts.
Van Halst is thrilled to see her music career taking off and will soon be moving to LA to start the next leg of her adventure. But she stresses that her goal isn’t to become a rock star, but to use music as a vehicle for social change. “I think we could make a big difference in society if people spoke up more,” she says. “I think people in the entertainment industry have a responsibility to do that.”