Jo MacKenzie is an immensely talented fifteen-year-old singer-songwriter whose musical accomplishments already belie her age. The past twelve months have shown the fruits of her serious "take time to write everyday" work ethic, with the release of seven ready-friendly pop songs that demonstrate MacKenzie is ready to take on the world with her music. In this interview, MacKenzie describes her approach to songwriting, what she's learned after such a productive and creative year, and how she balances school work with her art, among other topics. We are very fortunate to share an exclusive interview with this emerging artist.
Please introduce yourself. Describe your music for new listeners.
Hi! My name is Jo MacKenzie. I'm a 15-year-old singer/songwriter of what I like to call alternative pop music, and I live in Leawood, Kansas!
Talk about the music you’ve released in 2018 in terms of your evolution as a songwriter and recording artist. What’s been the biggest takeaway from such a busy and creative period?
This year, I've released five new songs out into the world. I released my first song, "C.U.R.E.," back in November 2017, and it's crazy to look back and see how much I've grown. I've changed a lot regarding how I manage my time to be able to write and still get all my school work done. For example, everyday, I set aside at least 30 minutes to write music. In middle school, I actually wrote a song every day, but since the start of high school, time has become much harder to manage. My biggest takeaway has been to write from the heart, always (as cheesy as that sounds). I think that will always guarantee a good result, because I believe that songwriting is also a therapeutic process.
What got you started as a songwriter?
My start came from when I was seven years old, and I remember sitting up in my room, just creating really simple songs. Then, when I was 10 years old, I used to always make my friends write songs with me when they came over. I think this nurtured my undiscovered love for writing music without me knowing it. From there, I started to write songs on my own, and later, I started producing and recording them too.
Describe your creative process. How often are you writing songs? What technology (apps, software, etc) do you use, if any?
My creative process can come in many forms. Sometimes I start a song by noodling around with a new sound/instrument I've discovered. Other times, by taking elements from other songs I really like and putting my own twist on them and creating a song around that. I try to write something every single day, even if it's just a measure of music or something I will never listen to again. This is because I think it's all about repetition and building the "songwriting" skill by doing it over and over again, learning something new each time. To produce my songs, I use Logic Pro X.
Who are you biggest influences?
My biggest influences are Elton John, Maggie Rogers, Lorde, The 1975, and AJR. Elton John is an especially important one because I really loved his music and songwriting when I first began writing.
What’s ahead for you in the coming year?
In the coming year, I'd like to release new music and play shows with more people. I'd also love to continue to build my fan base!
Jo MacKenzie's book and music recommendations from the Johnson County Library catalog:
1. One of my favorite books of all time is The Perks of Being A Wallflower. This book showed me that there are so many things that go on below the surface of people. Humans are so complicated, and this book was written so that I felt so connected with Charlie by the end of it. It was heartbreakingly beautiful.
2. I Was Here by Gayle Forman
I Was Here was the first book I ever checked out at the Johnson County Library with my own library card!
3. All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
Anthony Doerr made me cry so much when I read this book. It gave me such an intimate look into the lives of two very different people during the horrific disaster that was World War II.
4. Looking For Alaska by John Green
5. Empire Falls by Richard Russo
This book, for me, was so enticing because of the detailed characters and their intricately woven backstories. I felt like I lived in Empire Falls and had known those people my whole life. I could also relate so much to the characters, like Tick, who is a teenager like me.
6. Greatest Hits 1970-2002 by Elton John. This was one of the first albums I ever bought, and it means so much to me, because Elton John is one of my biggest inspirations when it comes to music.