Today our Spotlight – Kenzie Cates. We spend some time with this talented young artist to talk about her music. Her new release Just Ain’t You which is out today! Check out Kenzie’s story from her home town to how her music is born.
What got you started in music?
I always loved music and singing, and I wrote poetry and even songs when playing with my friends sometimes. When it really hit different was when I got deep into Avril Lavigne as a kid. I remember reading that she wrote songs and because I loved her and wanted to be her, I got into songwriting in a whole new way.
Who were some of your bigger influences growing up? Who is someone fans would be surprised that you are a fan of?
I’ve always been a pop lover. Already mentioned the incomparable Avril Lavigne, and when I was younger I Britney Spears and the Spice Girls. But people might be surprised to know that some of my biggest influences growing up were classic rock, like Led Zeppelin, AC/DC, The Clash, Jimi Hendrix and The Ramones. My mom loves classic rock. As I got older (like age 7+), I started really loving the music she used to play around the house all the time as a kid.
Who are some current artists you cannot get enough of?
I think I might be in love with JP Saxe. He’s definitely one of my favourite artists right now. My roommate can confirm that I have been listening to his songs on repeat for the past four months (and he’s releasing a new song on the same day as me! May 7th! We also both have red hair and like John Mayer). I also love Ashe and LÉON, indie kweens, and hit-songwriters-turned-artists, like Julia Michaels, Amy Allen and Tayla Parx.
You are a West Coast artist, what is it about BC that makes it so special to you?
I am, indeed! My family is in BC, and I went to Quest University in Squamish. Most of my friends ended up here in Vancouver too (with some notable exceptions). It’s the clean air and water but it’s really the people that makes it special to me.
When you were 11 years old, you won the KISSM scholarship. What was that experience like for you, and how did it help grow your skills as a musician?
You are the only person to have asked me about this so far. I am actually so glad to have the opportunity to reflect on it, because I do think it was a formative experience. I think going to KISSM sort of made me realize that my passion is in songwriting and artistry more than musicianship, if that makes sense. I’m not (nor have I ever been) a particularly skilled vocalist or guitar. It’s good to know your weaknesses as well as your strengths. It helped me learn both of mine: KISSM is where I recorded my first original song (it was called “Let You Go” and it was a devastating ballad about unrequited pre-tween love), and its reception among my band camp buddies definitely encouraged me to continue writing and performing.
Then comes back-to-back success with Canadian Music Week and your hit single “Black Magic”. How did it feel to get recognized for your skill and ultimately your passion?
It was super affirming. Releasing “Black Magic” sort of sent me into an existential crisis because by the time I put it out, the song didn’t really feel like me anymore and like I wasn’t actually sure if I wanted people to hear it. It was nice that some people somewhere liked it, and it made me feel like releasing it wasn’t a huge mistake (lol).
“Black Magic” is a dope track, reminded me of KT Tunstall, that era of early 2000s pop meets alt-rock. What was it like writing and recording it?
Thank you so much for saying that! I wrote the song at a yoga ashram when I withdrew from college to confront my mortality – usual quarter life crisis stuff. I recorded it with Winston Hauschild a few years later. It was a stressful process because it required me making some decisions about my direction as an artist. It felt scary committing to a sound, but recording it was still fun and ultimately lead to some cool experiences and connections, so ~no regrets~.
Now that it’s been out for 2 years now, is there anything you would’ve done differently?
I wish I hadn’t made so many compromises. Because it was my first song, I had trouble trusting my own instincts in terms of direction, image, marketing, etc.. I was working with pros who knew what they were doing, and I ended up deferring to them a lot instead of doing what I liked or felt right. They were good at what they did and I’m grateful to them, but I should have been more unyielding with who I wanted to be as an artist. But in the end, what happened with Black Magic with CMS taught me that I should trust myself more, so I think everything has worked out the way it needed to.
Your new single; “Just Ain’t You,” comes out May 7. Can you tell us a bit about what the track means to you?
For sure! I think that it can be hard to accurately gauge how poorly you’ve been treated by guys you’ve dated until you start dating somebody who treats you really well. When you finally experience being treated right, it’s almost disorienting because you’re so not used to it. But this song was about that happening for me—dating somebody who treated me super well, and being like, “wow, I didn’t realize this was an option and from now on I’m not gonna settle for anything less.” I joke that this song is my take on TLC’s “No Scrubs”.
You got to work with Ryan Stewart on the track who’s worked with some heavy hitters in the industry. What was it like working with him? Was it intimidating? Was it empowering?
I was definitely intimidated by him when we were emailing about doing a session, but as soon as I met him in person, I stopped feeling intimidated. He’s so kind and he made me feel so comfortable immediately. He’s also really smart—he both sees who you are as an artist and where to want to go, and balances them perfectly.
For example, I brought him a SZA track as a reference for “Just Ain’t You”. He was like “Cool, I love this direction, lets go” but at the same time, he could see I wasn’t an R&B artist, so he incorporated elements of the track I loved while still making sure it sounded like me (AKA not at an R&B track). Working with him was super empowering. It’s hard not to feel empowered and affirmed when somebody you admire so much thinks that what you’re doing is cool enough to want to be a part of it.
2020 did not allow for too many live shows, so what was it like for you to do online shows?
I haven’t done many, but mostly weird. Not at all the same as live before COVID. But nothing post-COVID was the same as it was before.
2021 is not looking too great either. Do you have any big plans this summer?
I have plans to keep doing some things with Ryan (we just demoed something new yesterday, in fact). I’m also going to work on new stuff with my producers in Nashville, Will McBeath, and in New York, BABYBOYBLUE. I had lots of plans to go to Nashville and even Berlin to work with people, but spending the summer in Vancouver with the people I love is even better, tbh.
Being one of the younger artists we’ve profiled, do you think social media (including YouTube) allows artists to reach audiences they otherwise wouldn’t have, or is it over saturating the market?
I deliberate over the value of social media often and I haven’t arrived at a satisfactory take, to tell you the truth. On the one hand, there are connections I’ve made through social media that I would never have made otherwise. On the other hand, social media is a bit of a void—a place people go to speak and hear their own voice reflected back to them. Just because it can help you reach audiences you otherwise wouldn’t doesn’t mean you need it. It needs you, not the other way around. I mostly think we’d be better off without it. (I deleted all my social media for three years and it was blissful but I got it back in anticipation of music activity this year).
As a young woman in music, do you struggle to get your voice heard? How do you handle that?
This is a great question! I do, but I don’t think I struggle in the way you’d think. My biggest struggle in terms of being heard is that I don’t think music consumers are, on the whole, willing to take women seriously as artists or intellectuals. I think there are a number of reasons for this, but that some part of it is that we don’t see women as being capable of bearing universal knowledge we see their experiences only as representative of other women rather than representative of humankind.
For example, we can point to tons of people in music history (Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen are easy examples) who we think of as nearly prophetic, speaking for all of humanity etc., but there are few women to whom we’d afford similar status. I think that the pervasiveness of misogyny makes all testimony to my experiences of womanhood inherently political. So that’s part of how I respond: by doubling down on my passion for speaking to my experiences of life as a woman, insisting that they are no less particular and non-universal than men’s stories, and embracing my own femininity when doing so. I also handle it by celebrating other women fiercely, and by championing them at every possible opportunity.
How has quarantine been for you? Were you able to pick up any new skills, hobbies or quit a not-so healthy habit?
I’ve been very lucky and have had a very nice quarantine, thank you! There were definitely some dark months this winter where I was sooo0o0o0o sad and felt so bad. Now that I’m starting to be able to see people inside and outside things have really taken a turn for the better. I managed to maintain all of my not-so healthy habits over quarantine too, for the most part.
What is one thing you wish that people knew about you that would not come up in normal conversation?
There’s not that much to know about me, really. I guess I’d like people to know that I haven’t always moved through the world in a state of grace (to put it lightly), and that I’m trying to get better at discerning when I’m not so that I can excuse myself.
Lastly as our favorite independent and smaller businesses have been hit hard from Covid. What are some of your local favorite places to hype up and give a shout out to?
So many! I’m so glad you asked.
- I love Hey Jude in Vancouver (@HeyJudeShop)
- Hecho & Co (@hecho.and.co)
- I love Skwálwen Botancals (skwalwenbotanicals).
Other misc. faves (mostly art or art-related):
- Marbled Magic (@marbledmagic)
- She Found Her (@she.found.her)
- Dariushka Alexandra (@dariush_alexander)
This Spotlight – Kenzie Cates is in the books! Big thanks to Kenzie for taking the time to answer our questions.
Check out Just Ain’t You out now!
Keep up wit Kenzie right here
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