Interview and Photos by: Hannah Vaccaro | October 1, 2023
Q: Hello! How have you been the past year or so? How has this year been for you?
It’s honestly been pretty wild. Everything started ramping up around June or July when I decided I was going to make my EP. As I was starting to make my EP, on TikTok, Philip Labes posted a video saying “Hey! I am searching for openers for my tour. Here are the cities. Comment if you are in one of those cities.” And there was a lot of feedback because he posted it on Instagram and TikTok. I didn’t hear anything for a couple of weeks. But then, he popped up in my messages and said “Hey, I really love your work and your music and I think I would love to have you as one of my two openers.” Originally, it was supposed to be two for the Portland, OR show. About a week later, he confirmed and it was just me opening!
After that, I was like, “Well, it has to be an acoustic set,” and I don’t really trust myself to play and sing at the same time in front of people on stage. I needed some musicians. I reached out to people I knew. They weren’t available, so they put me in contact with Trev Fischer, who ended up being my guitarist and cellist. He works at a music school and he was able to find the pianist, Kelly Miller. We finalized that within a week and had two weeks of rehearsals. The 2 weeks consisted of six 2-3 hour rehearsals for a seven song set.
Q: So, was this performance just on the west coast?
Yeah, so Philip had the tour itself, but I was just an opener for one of the cities.
So, after that, this was when everything for my original music started ramping up within a couple of months. It’s been a little strange and funky, in a good way!
My musicians and I had talked about putting together an acoustic album with all the songs because a lot of my family and friends that were not in Oregon or California couldn’t make it. I thought, “wouldn’t it be cool for them to have all the songs that they can listen to?” It was the first time my music has ever been put on sheet music. It was a really big deal for me.
Two days after the show ended, we recorded everything at Trev’s house. Jason Pluemkedid the audio engineering and helped record it. Then we created little music videos. It was super fun!
Q: Give us a summary of who you are, what you do, and where you are at in life right now.
My name is Kenzie Elizabeth. I am 22. I am a musician, an actor, and a dancer. I go to grad school at NYU, getting my masters in Musical Theatre. Yes, I have a passion for musical theatre, and I have a passion for everything performing arts, but songwriting is a distinct part of my life because it allows me to process things and decompartmentalize things that I may not be able to if I didn’t have it.
Q: How did you get started in music? Where did your passion stem from?
In terms of writing music, I started writing music when I was 12 years old. Before I really started really acting in shows, my mom was a choreographer and director at a small community theatre in Loomis, CA. I was there all the time. I would be there and sit in the practice rooms and just play on the piano. Eventually, I created my first song! That’s when I discovered, “Oh, this is kind of cool!”
I have always been a huge music person. I used to fall asleep to music. Like, I would have my iPod touch hooked up to a speaker charger and my parents would be like, “Turn the music down!” because I had it turned all the way up to fall asleep. I remember Imagine Dragons’ Radioactive was the song I used to fall asleep to, and I had it on repeat for, like, a solid year when I was 10 or 11.
Because I was listening to music all the time, like it was how I focused, I always had a song playing in my head, whether it’s a beat, or a song already made or not made. The way I memorized things, like for testing in high school. For chemistry, for example, I would put it into a song so I can memorize it. That has sort of changed a little bit just because I have been doing a lot more memorization with acting in general, and Tv film, and plays. But, there is still a rhythm to things. When we speak, there’s a rhythm, a melodic element to it. There are consistently pulses and rhythms in my head.
Q: Who or what are your biggest inspirations when you are writing new songs?
A big point in time, Sara Barellis. I love Renee Rapp so much. Lizzy McAlpine. It’s nice because all three of them are theater people. It’s so funny because when I started gravitating towards their music – like, Sara Barellis I have always known as a theater person. Let’s go with Lizzy McAlpine. I had no idea she was a theater person, but I started gravitating toward her music because it has a storytelling aspect to it, and it is filled with so much dynamic quality. Once I found out she was a theater person, it made sense. So, theater is a big influence for me. Even with my own music, it’s alternative pop with a hint of musical theater is how I describe it. Even with the stuff that is more pop, like with my new EP…it still has a storytelling aspect to it, still has the harmonies to it.
I think finding artists that deal with a lot of musicality in their materials is what I gravitate towards.
Q: Tell us a little bit about your newest album: The Other Side (Acoustic). What was the process like preparing for and producing this album?
The process for preparing was super last minute. They are all songs – besides “Breakthrough”, I wrote that song, I wanna say, a week and a half before we performed it – I had written between the years 2020 and 8-9 months prior. There was a good amount of time between when I wrote them and when I performed them. When I sent Trev and Kelly the set list, it was like “Song-Song-Song-Unreleased Song..” I didn’t know what it was, but I wanted to perform an unreleased song to give people an incentive to come. I ended up writing “Breakthrough.” I didn’t have a plan on the material or the concept. The line “I’m working, trying to fill every minute / Hoping that it will all work out in the end,” – that one line popped into my head one day while I was nannying. I was like, okay, I can work with this. I ended up writing the song that night, just the lyrics and the chords, and then I recorded a rough demo with the instruments within the next couple of days. Within three days I went from start to finish and I brought it to Trev and was like, “Hey, what can you do with this? Can you put it on sheet music?” And he was like “Yeah! Awesome!” A lot of it was improvised by him just using the chords because – yes, there were specific instruments I put in the song and I go from different time signatures and tempos – but, with just the piano and cello, we really had to figure out what we wanted. The original version was very acoustic based and had a lot of violins.
It was a two week long rehearsal process. We met for about six rehearsals, for about 2-3 hours each. And then we performed it! The recording process was just one day. We started in the morning and did about three takes for each song. I didn’t want to splice anything, I wanted to do the whole take, so it was all live. The instruments were all played at the same time. So the videos that you saw in the living room, that's what it looked like recording it and that’s what you hear as the sound.
The backyard scenes, we quickly chose the best takes of everything that way we had it on the speaker for when we were singing it outside. I actually sang along with the track because I didn’t want to miss anything since the breaths – you can tell. It was all one day, about seven hours of filming.
Q: Do you have a favorite song off your newest album that resonates with you the most or that you enjoyed creating the most?
Honestly, it’s so hard! All the songs are so good. “Interstate 80” is fun as heck! But the one I resonate with the most is probably “Breakthrough.” Just because I wrote it for a dear friend of mine who is really, really struggling living paycheck to paycheck and it’s causing a lot of hardships for them. They literally work 7 days a week, 11-12 hours a day. The line “I work 13 hour days” was from when I was working 13 hour nanny shifts. I wanted to mix it with my own truth as well.
So, [my friend] has no days off, and when they do have a day off, they feel guilty about it because they think they could be making money. It’s that part of like “it’s never enough.” I feel like a lot of people can relate to that, especially living in the city, it’s hard.
With my personal experience, “Breakthrough” really resonates with me because I was working 5-6 days a week, but I wasn’t burnt out because I really loved my [nanny] families, they were like a second family to me. But, it was almost like it was never enough.
Q: What are some of your goals moving forward for the rest of this year and maybe for 2024?
Specifically regarding my original music, I really want to do another opening gig, or work with or collaborate with, or do something with Renee Rapp and Lizzy McAlpine. It’s so far out there, but like I just met Natalie Weiss last night! Nothing is too – P!nk reposted me! – nothing is too far-fetched at this point.
They are my two biggest inspirations. Sara Barellis, yes, she’s incredible – I’m already going to work with her. It’s a given. She’s a theatre person, like we are gonna do it.
Q: With so many random things that have happened to you so far, nothing is far-fetched!
Well, with the power of social media. I knew the internet was a powerful tool and can be used for good and bad, unfortunately. In regards to the art, I mean, take the “Fiyero” video for example. I know that wasn’t original music, but it quite literally changed my life.
So, in terms of original music, it got me the gig for Philip Labes, P!nk saw me and knows who I am. It’s a powerful tool. I have also met very wonderful songwriters and musicians on the app – both TikTok and Instagram. I got to work with them and meet them in the city or over Zoom.
Q: What is one thing you hope your listeners or fans take away from your music?
I want them to find some sort of connection to it. I want them to feel something. I want it to be cathartic for them. There is not much more to be said about that. I don’t really write for other people, I write for myself. I write to process things, but once I put it out, I want other folks to feel like it helps them process whatever is going on in their minds.
Even if they take it the completely wrong way than what I intended to write it for, I just want them to feel something. Like, if they feel nothing, then I have failed.
Q: Lastly, what would you tell your younger self now that you are where you are at in your career? Did you ever imagine you would be where you are now?
I did not imagine I would be here, absolutely not! But, what I would tell her is that it is worth it. I was in a really really low place. It sucks because kids should not feel low. But, when I was 12 – around the time I started to write music – I was in the darkest place I could ever be. I think I would tell little Kenzie that what she is going through sucks, but it will be worth it in the end.
You’re allowed to not be happy, and feel things. You’re allowed to breathe. But, your passions are valid and it’s worth it!
I would also tell her I’m proud of her!
Q: I wanted to give you this time to tell people where they can find you, and any promotional thing!
As of October 1st, Kenzie Elizabeth will be over everything. My KZ Liz stuff will still be there. My new EP is called “Reminded.” The album is about processing and finding a new mindset. It’s coming out October 1st. It’s an album that has an intro song – it’s the real deal! There is a theme to everything. It’s car ride worthy!