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SEPT. 2017 16 SHANNON PURSER

on the positive reaction to barb + her upcoming projects

04 FROY GUTIERREZ

22 DALES

46 KYLA DREW

on joining the last season of teen wolf

on finding excitement in music again

on her goals, social media + nicky, ricky, dicky & dawn

06 ALEXANDER JEAN

26 LIGHTS

48 BRITT BARON

on finding their groove as partners - in every sense of the word

on putting in the work to bring skin&earth to life

on glow + being part of a primarily female ensemble

12 MEGHANN FAHY

32 ANDREW J. WEST

52 BILLBOARD HOT 100 FEST

on women supporting one another + the importance of the bold type

on putting his own spin on a familiar character

highlights from the annual festival at jones beach

36 VAL CHMERKOVSKIY on passion, storytelling + dancing with the stars

CATHERINE POWELL

publisher, editor, photographer, designer, writer

SAMANTHA BAMBINO

OLIVIA SINGH

writer

writer

SHELBY CHARGIN

IAN HAYS

RILEY STENEHJEM

ELIZABETH FORREST

VANESSA SALLES

LIZ ZAVOYSKIY

writer writer

writer writer

writer writer


froy gutierrez

Words by SAMANTHA BAMBINO Photos by CATHERINE POWELL

It’s the end of an era. After six seasons of wolves, banshees and hellhounds, MTV’s Teen Wolf is going off the air. While cast veterans like Tyler Posey and Dylan O’Brien said a bittersweet goodbye to their favorite sets during the last days of filming, Froy Gutierrez and his character Nolan, who was introduced this season, were just getting familiar with the supernatural world of Beacon Hills. But with every ending comes a new beginning and now armed with a pack of loyal fans, Froy is ready for his next creative adventure. Born and raised in Dallas, Texas, the 19-year old actor spent much of his childhood in the south as well as Mexico, where a large portion of his family lived. Like any other kid, he tried a few hobbies to see what interested him, but none stuck for very long. After quitting the swim team in middle school, Froy’s mother was determined to get him out of the house and involved in something new. Mostly against his will, Froy was enrolled in a summer acting camp at the Dallas Children’s Theater. After spending some time surrounded by the performing arts, he surprisingly found himself enjoying the experience more than anything he’d previously tried. Once summer was over and 04

class was back in session, he took this new interest a step further and auditioned for the school play. Though he didn’t get a part in that play or the next one, he eventually landed a spot in a production. As luck would have it, an agent spotted him during this first performance and liked what he saw. Froy’s acting career officially took off from there. Before landing the role of Nolan on the final season of Teen Wolf, Froy admits he had never seen an episode. Still, he was familiar with the general plot from friends who were dedicated fans, and distinctly remembers his pre-teen self being fascinated by advertisements of Tyler Posey and his glowing yellow werewolf eyes. “It’s just very full circle for me because I remember seeing those posters and going, oh wow that’s an older kids show, I think I can watch that now,” he reflected. Fast-forward six years, and Froy found himself working alongside Tyler, who has since traded in his yellow eyes for alpha-red ones. As for his character Nolan, the new guy in town is human... at least for now. In early episodes, fans are introduced to him in guidance counselor Tamora Monroe’s office, another new character played by Sibongile Mlambo. At a first glance, it’s clear Nolan has witnessed a bizarre occurrence or

two. “He is a little bit crazy, for lack of a better word,” Froy says. “He’s a sensitive, sweet, paranoid, disturbed little soul.” Despite his initial anxious demeanor, Froy promises fans will see Nolan blossom into his own person as the season progresses. As one of the few non-supernatural creatures, Nolan serves as a representation of how the humans in Beacon Hills view the supernatural. “He’s kind of your vessel to figure out what is the general population’s idea of what’s going on right now,” Froy says. Just like his character was thrown into a strange new town, Froy had to jump head first into the welloiled machine of cast members who worked together for years. With emotions running high over the last season, this was no


easy feat. “I felt like an outsider going to a family’s funeral to an extent,” he says. “They’ve been together for eight years and it’s all over, so there were a lot of ‘lasts’ happening for each person.” When filming began, Froy felt like a shadow, a fly on the wall taking in his new surroundings. While Tyler and other original cast members were getting emotional over filming their last scene in a particular hallway or bedroom, Froy was still trying to figure out where the bathrooms were. But by the time the final scene was shot, he felt like he’d been apart of Teen Wolf from the start. “I was crying a bit more than some of the regulars if I’m honest,” he says. As a grand finale to the series, several fan favorites, including Tyler Hoechlin as Derek Hale, were brought back for the last season. Though Froy had never met any of these returning actors, the buzz around set from colleagues who hadn’t seen them in years was contagious. It was like a big family reunion as old friends reunited and mem-

ories were shared. “You’re very much getting an insider’s look into their lives and how they work,” he says. “It’s a real privilege to be one of the people who gets to see it happen.” The young actor also got to learn a few industry pointers while surrounded by the cast of television veterans. His main takeaway was to always put the work first. Though much of the Teen Wolf cast was close both on set and in their personal lives, they still managed to put their work before everything else and serve the character they were there to create. “No matter where you stand with your coworkers, you’re there for a specific reason. You’re there to get your hands dirty everyday,” Froy says. Even though Nolan lacks supernatural powers, Froy made the character captivating in his own unique way, and the Teen Wolf fandom quickly took notice. After the first episode of the season aired, he watched his social media following quickly skyrocket. Though he admits the sudden wave of attention has been a bit overwhelming, Froy enjoys the ability to connect with fans from different countries. “There’s enough love in that fandom to run the whole world,” he says. NKD NKDMAG.COM

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ALEXANDER JEAN Words & Photos by CATHERINE POWELL


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The conception of Alexander Jean is truly the result of two people being in the right place at the right time – but we’ll get to that. BC Jean started taking music seriously around age 14, when she began taking weekly music classes in San Diego. When she was 17, she moved up to Los Angeles and began writing with everyone she could get in a room with. While flipping through a magazine, she saw an article on producer Toby Gad that listed all the artists he worked with. Intrigued, she sent him a MySpace message, which resulted in a meeting. That meeting resulted in BC flying herself to New York and writing nearly one dozen songs with Toby – including “If I Were a Boy”, which would later be cut by Beyoncé. Eventually, she signed with Clive Davis and released a few singles, but none really gained much traction. “There was always some sort of block,” she says. It was the time in the industry when everything was changing and people were losing their jobs left and right. Due to firings hire up, BC was never able to release her record and graciously parted ways with the label. She then took a break from music in order to find her passion again, and eventually started playing singer/songwriter nights – including a living room streaming concert that would ultimately change her life. Mark Ballas started getting into music at a young age, picking up the flamenco guitar at age 9 after seeing his dad play. At the time, all Mark wanted to do was play rock music, but his dad insisted he learn the basics first, which Mark is now grateful for. He eventually formed the Ballas Hough Band with childhood friend Derek Hough and the group was signed with Hollywood Records, but

the band wasn’t happy with how their sound was changing and eventually broke up. Mark then began pursuing a solo career and put out a few acoustic EPs that he had recorded himself. “It was kind of the first time I had gone on my own as a musician,” he says. And then one night, he walked into a living room. “I walked in and this room was silent while [BC] was singing,” Mark recalls. Mark was immediately entranced by her vocals, and wasn’t even able to see her from where he was standing – her voice was his first impression. When it was Mark’s turn to perform, BC sat in the front and after his set, Mark joined her. Mark asked her to dinner, and in response BC pitched herself as a songwriter to him. Months later, BC finally caved – just as Mark was about to give up – and agreed to go on a half hour date with him. The date ended up lasting over five hours, and the two began their relationship. But it wasn’t until a year and a half in that they sat down and wrote a song together. On occasion, BC would jump on stage with Mark’s funk band and sing on a song, but they had never truly collaborated. So they made it a date night and sat down on Mark’s couch with a bottle of wine and a pad of paper. The both agreed that there was something really special about the song. “It was a passion project turned success story,” BC says,” That song – the first song we wrote – is what we named the first EP after.” Even after that first burst of inspiration, the duo didn’t immediately commit to Alexander Jean. Their relationship hit a few bumps, but once they were back together they agreed to make the band a priority. “Once we put each other and the band first

is when it really started to work,” Mark says. They released “Roses and Violets” essentially anonymously and watch the song climb up the charts on iTunes. The labels started calling, but the two opted to keep things independent in an effort to approach things differently than their previous projects. They’re not opposed to working with a label in the future, but haven’t found the right fit just yet. Mark and BC got married last November, and now that they’re partners in every sense of the world, they sometimes have to take a beat and decide which part of their life to focus on – either their personal or professional. When they go on vacations together, Mark will bring his guitar and they’ll write while they’re enjoying downtime, but other times, they’ll make an effort to leave work at home and go on a true date night, but it truly just depends on how they’re feeling that day. “She’s a mood ring,” he says. “And he’s a machine,” BC adds, “He helps me focus and I help him relax.” The band spent a chunk of their summer on tour with R5 playing to an audience of people who mostly had no idea who they were – which was their intention. They opted to keep their social media presence low so concert attendees could experience them with open ears. But when they played “Roses and Violets”, the room seemed to light up – both in excitement and with cell phone lights. Alexander Jean is already looking forward at more touring opportunities. They want to go on their own headlining tour eventually, but feel like they need to pay their dues as an opener, still. Their list of dream tours includes Bruno Mars, John Mayer, Ed Sheeran and Sia. “Or whoever,” NKDMAG.COM

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Mark laughs, “We like a challenge,” BC adds. While their latest EP, High Enough, is still only a few months old, they’re already thinking about the next one. Some of the songs – like “Easier Said Than Done” – Mark says have been “being kicked around forever”. The two agree that they know a song is complete when they can listen through it entirely without rewinding it because they heard something they didn’t like. “He hears everything,” BC says of Mark’s ability to hear minor things. She predicts he’ll one day take his talents behind the scenes as either a producer or audio mixer. Looking forward, Alexander Jean are excited for their next chapter. After spending a weekend at Coachella surrounded by music, they found a whole new wave of inspiration. But while they’re in the studio, they try not to let other music influence them too much and just focus on what they’re doing. “We naturally have our inspirations from the past,” BC says, listing off some classic rock bands, “Things like that we’ll always draw inspiration from because it’s what we were raised on.” For the rest of the year, Mark and BC are excited to keep getting the songs from High Enough out into the world. Mark will return to the Dancing With The Stars stage this fall after a two-year hiatus, but Alexander Jean will still be staying active. They’re constantly writing and have five or six songs that they feel are close to being ready to release. They’d like to build a home studio so they can record and put out music at a faster rate. But their main priority? Finally taking a honeymoon after almost a year of marriage. “We’ve just been working,” BC admits. “And I’m not good at vacation,” Mark laughs. NKD NKDMAG.COM

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FAHY MEGHANN Words by OLIVIA SINGH Photos by CATHERINE POWELL

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Meghann Fahy is currently one of Freeform’s newest faces, starring on the network’s latest hit drama, The Bold Type. This isn’t where she envisioned herself at the onset of her career, but Meghann loves where she’s at right now and hopes to continue doing what she’s passionate about for as long as she can. The 27-year-old actress grew up in Longmeadow, Massachusetts and always found herself singing. Music was her main passion growing up, and it wasn’t until Meghann started doing local theater productions that she began to realize that she was also interested in acting. During her final year of high school, she participated in her senior class production of The Wizard of Oz, starring as Dorothy. “I always was a singer,” she says. “I never really wanted to be an actor and then the first job that I got was after I graduated high school. It was a Broadway musical called Next to Normal, and so I kind of got into acting by way of this musical.” When Meghann booked a role in Next to Normal in 2008, she moved to New York – and that has remained her home ever since. “I sort of hopped on that train and didn’t really know where it was going, but I figured, ‘Hey, I’m here and let’s see where this goes.’ I’ve had some really awesome opportunities along the way and I’m thrilled to be where I am now.” Television wasn’t always the path Meghann imagined for herself, but it was an organic progression. “It was never really the plan. I was just kind of going with the flow for a while.” Following her time on Broadway, Meghann booked her first official acting role on Gossip Girl. Though her role only required two scenes, she was understandably uneasy being on the set of a TV show, especially one that was incredibly popular.

“I was so nervous I could barely even remember my lines – which were not extensive – but I was just scared out of my mind and I remember my scene was with Ed Westwick and he was so kind,” Meghann recalls. “He knew how nervous I was and he just went out of his way to make me comfortable and I was so grateful for that.” After Gossip Girl, Meghann landed a spot on One Life to Live. While on that show for two years, she learned invaluable skills from the fast-paced environment of a soap opera. “That specific work is really difficult,” Meghann says. “It moves at such a quick pace. It is long hours and I say that I honed my memorization skills on One Life to Live. I am so grateful because you really have to memorize so information so fast and it’s such a machine.” Meghann continued to land more TV roles, and her biggest one yet arrived when she booked a role as Sutton Brady on The Bold Type, one of Freeform’s newest TV shows. The Bold Type focuses on the lives of three young women navigating the media world as employees at a fictional, New York City-based magazine named Scarlet. It’s a show geared toward the millennial audience, tackling serious and relevant topics, from sexism to racism, Internet trolls to sexuality, in a Cosmopolitan-esque manner. When Meghann read the show’s script, she immediately knew that she couldn’t pass up the opportunity to audition. She made a made a self-tape and sent it to Los Angeles, fingers crossed that she’d receive a response. “Every time I make a self-tape, I feel like it’s just something that’s going out into the universe that’s never going to be seen by anybody, but somebody watched it and they liked it, so they asked me to tape again and I did and then they asked if I could come out to

L.A. and test for the show and I did,” she explains. In L.A., Meghann did chemistry reads with who would later become her co-stars, Aisha Dee and Sam Page. After arriving back in New York, her phone was filled with several missed calls to tell her the good news. On The Bold Type, Meghann plays Sutton, an assistant at Scarlet magazine who has aspirations of taking on a more fashion-related role at the publication. During the first few episodes of Season 1, Sutton questions her career choice and wonders whether she should pursue fashion or a more sustainable and profitable position in ad sales. Ad sales might not be her dream job, but it pays her rent and will help to eliminate her student loans. And despite her background as a Business/Economics major in college, her true passion is the fashion side of Scarlet. Her struggle is one that is all too relatable to viewers of The Bold Type, who like Sutton, may also grapple with choosing a suitable career path. “I think it’s really hard to take a chance,” Meghann says. “I think that a lot of people want to set themselves up for success and security, which makes perfect sense, but unfortunately, that translates sometimes into people not being passionate about what they’re doing – so I think it’s really cool to see somebody who’s making a change to become a happier person.” At the same time, Sutton also tries to maintain her secret relationship with Richard Hunter (Sam Page), a member of Scarlet’s executive board. “It’s a genuine relationship,” Meghann says. “They both care so much for each other. They both want what’s best for the other person and the only thing that’s really getting in the way is this idea that if people found out about it, that Sutton would be not taken seriously – and that’s unfortunately a NKDMAG.COM

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very real issue for a lot of women.” Aside from the authentic love between those two characters, one of the things that appealed to Meghann when reading the script was that despite differences in status, Sutton isn’t treated as inferior to Richard. “I loved the relationship between Sutton and Richard,” she says. “I thought it was really unique and sort of went against what it could have been, which is just a cliché relationship between a man who is in a more powerful position than a woman who is younger than him.” Perhaps one of the most positive aspects of the show is the dynamic relationship among Sutton, Jane (Katie Stevens) and Kat (Aisha Dee). All three women play different roles in the company, but somehow manage to meet up in the office’s fashion closet to discuss the latest work or personal issue that arises. It’s a friendship that is genuine and based on mutual support. Plenty of movies and TV shows have depicted variations on the hectic world of media and publishing, but The Bold Type does so in a way that is fitting for 2017. Like its title, the show is quite bold, yet charming and relatable. “I think what makes The Bold Type different than all those things is we really focus on building each other up, supporting each other, holding each other and loving each other,” Meghann notes. “That’s sort of the main focus, and that’s sort of what drives the success of each character, as opposed to intimidation or negative relationships or behavior towards other people.” This idea of support travels beyond the girls’ friendship. It also applies to people in more powerful positions, like Scarlet’s editor-in-chief, Jacqueline Carlyle (Melora Hardin). The character is inspired by Cosmo’s former editor-in-chief Joanna Coles and unlike 14

shows that portray these women in power as cold and loathsome, this show takes a different approach. Jacqueline is tough and demanding, but her end goal is to be productive and build up her fellow employees – and this concept of mentorship is one that Meghann loves about The Bold Type. “I think that you don’t get anywhere good by tearing anybody else down. You don’t and I think it’s really important that we create content that reflects that idea, so I’m pretty glad that that’s what our show is doing,” she says. The Bold Type is unapologetically daring and feminist, and Sutton, Jane and Kat are the epitome of these qualities. They bring inventive ideas to the magazine and even though their execution might not be perfect, it’s their flaws that make them even more realistic characters. “I think something that a lot of people are responding to is this idea that these girls are relatable because they do make mistakes and they own those mistakes,” Meghann says. “I think what’s really exciting is to watch a character decide how they’re going to clean themselves up, and the girls will continue to do that in a way that I think is really empowering and humbling.” As the rest of Season 1 plays out, Meghann promises that viewers will see these characters tackle serious, relevant topics in a way that is unique to The Bold Type. “I’m so excited for everybody to see the rest of the season because we continue to do that, and I think that that’s what makes the show so different and exciting,” Meghann says. Meghann isn’t sure where exactly her career will take her next, but for now, she’s enjoying her time on The Bold Type. “I love this show so much. I have all my fingers and toes crossed that I get to play this character with this cast for a long, long time,” she says. NKD


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1 B Z D E F G H I Y K L M N O P Q R S T

shannon purser Words by ELIZABETH FORREST Photos by CATHERINE POWELL


1 B Z D E F G H I Y K L M N O P Q R S T


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Few actors can claim to have received an Emmy nomination for their debut television role; because of this, 20-year-old actress Shannon Purser is member of the select few. Her story begins in Atlanta, where the self-proclaimed introvert’s love for acting began with her love for characters and books. “As I got older, I realized that people were making stories and that if you were an actor, you could be a part of them,” she remembers. “You could be a character in a story, which is what I’d always wanted.” Watching movies with her dad when she was younger cemented her love of the film medium as a whole. From there, she began to act in school plays and consequently fell in love with performing. At 15, she signed with an Atlanta-based agency and began to audition. She landed her first professional role as the adored Barb on Netflix’s hit series Stranger Things. After the initial reading of the script, it was clear to Shannon that the show would be special and amazing. It personified everything that she loved about TV and movies. “I love thrillers, I love the ‘80s, and I love that Stranger Things kind of has this universal appeal,” she recounts. She’s thankful that her first role was a perfect fit for her. Although she believed in the show, nobody could have anticipated the tremendous response it received after its release. Even more unexpected was the world’s reaction to Barb. “A couple weeks after the show came out, my Twitter was blowing up,” Shannon says. People were upset with the show because Barb was gone and nobody seemed to care or bothered to look for her. The number of people that

resonated with her character was overwhelming, especially because Barb had a relatively small role in the show. Because of the speed of social media, Barb rose to cult level icon in record time. “Justice for Barb” can be found printed on shirts and the Internet went wild with the memeification of just how unfair Barb’s storyline was. (Shannon’s personal favorite memes are of the moment she rises out of the pool during her Golden Globe opening with Jimmy Fallon.) And although the public’s reaction was amazing, Shannon never expected her performance to land her an Emmy nomination. “I definitely have a bit of imposter syndrome because I’m nominated alongside some really incredible actresses,” she admits. Her manager and team called her to give her the news after she landed for a layover at the airport. It was moving for her to see how many people were genuinely happy for her and believed that she deserved it. “As cliché as it sounds, it really is such an honor to even be nominated,” she laughs. It was her first professional role and her first time being on a film set. Although she won’t be appearing in the second season of Stranger Things, Shannon is continuing with the second season of Riverdale. In it, she acts as Ethel Muggs, a recurring character that’s set to play an even bigger role in their next season. Riverdale is based off of the Archie comics, but Shannon hadn’t read them before taking the role. She remembers that her mom read them a bit when she was a kid, but she didn’t really have any idea what it was about. “It’s really kind of interesting learning about it in NKDMAG.COM

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the context of Riverdale, which is obviously fairly different from the original comics,” she says. Riverdale as a show is much darker than the comics. Her character, Ethel, has a lot going on in her life and a dark past herself. Although Shannon can’t completely relate to the troubles she’s gone through, she understands Ethel’s quiet and reserved demeanor. She’s also felt holed up within her head. “I know what it’s like to love to read and write and to feel like a little bit of a sore thumb around the popular crowd,” she explains. Because of that, Shannon feels that she added a bit to the character that other actors might not have been able to. The Riverdale set is especially exciting to be a part of because she’s surrounded by actors that are her peers. Many of the actors are around her age and going through similar things as Shannon. “It’s a really cool experience to get to make friends on this crazy dramatic show,” she says. However, that isn’t to say she wasn’t a huge fan of all of her costars on Stranger Things. Shannon had loved Winona Ryder for her whole life, so meeting her one was one of her favorite parts of her debut role. Since blossoming as a breakout Netflix star, Shannon’s life has obviously changed in many ways. One change is how she presents herself to the world in a public sphere. Before the show, Shannon wasn’t an avid Twitter user, but now it’s her favorite platform. The sense of community that comes with the platform draws her in most, as well as the ease of communication with fans and the openness of the forum. With her rising follower 20

count, Shannon acknowledges that a sense of responsibility comes with it. “I’m definitely an over thinker, so I actually have a built in editing system for what I say,” she explains. Still, she always keeps in mind what she’s presenting to the world and that she’s being helpful rather than hurtful. In addition to thoughtful social commentary, Shannon’s Twitter has recently started to feature her own writing. She aspired to become an author before getting into acting, but she didn’t have the patience when she was younger. Shannon’s mental health sometimes suffers when she’s not working and staying busy, so she’s been slowly trying to get back into the hobbies that she used to love. “I started writing some short stories again, and I’m actually trying to write a book right now,” she says. “Pray for me.” Shannon’s gratitude for her fans is endless. Although she’s reached the level of fame that has people recognizing her when she’s out in public, one of Shannon’s most memorable fan interactions was at a convention in Melbourne, Australia. “I feel so lucky to have these really genuinely sweet and compassionate people who are kind of on my team,” she says. The convention took place on her 20th birthday, so she was bummed that she wouldn’t be able to spend the day with friends and family. On her birthday, the day of the convention, fans gave her presents to celebrate. It’s an experience she’ll never forget. In relation to any changes she’s undergone since fame, Shannon confesses, “I think I’ve become a bit more confidant in who I am.” With all of her accomplishments, the past year has been one of her

busiest and one of the most rewarding. When she was younger, she always felt that it was a possibility that she could become an actor, but this year solidified the idea that she could make an actual career out of it. It used to scare her that she wasn’t the typical person one would see on TV, but now it’s something that she’s proud of. So far, Shannon’s projects have stuck to dark-themed material that she’s naturally drawn to, but she’s not boxing herself into one genre. “I’m really just kind of on the lookout for good stories, and sometimes they’re not in the format that I would expect,” she explains. One of the great things about being in the movie business is that the options are truly unlimited, and Shannon aims to mimic that in relation to acting. She’s enjoying the fact that she can try out different things. Shannon has a bunch of new projects coming up. For television, she’s been busy on set of Riverdale shooting Season 2, coming out in October. She will also appear in NCB’s highly-anticipated Rise, a show that will revolve around small town theater kids putting on a controversial performance, brought to life by Jason Katims (Parenthood, Friday Night Lights). The show will premiere in early 2018. For film, earlier in the year she shot a movie called Sierra Burgess Is a Loser. “It’s this really adorable John Hughes-esque coming of age film,” she reveals. “They’re absolutely my favorite.” And although she might not feel completely ready to face the Emmys just yet, she’s confident in her upcoming projects and excited to have them out in the world. NKD


Words by IAN HAYS Photos by CATHERINE POWELL

Brian Dales grew up in a suburb just outside of Detroit, Michigan. Music was Brian’s foundation from the get-go. His family wasn’t very religious. So, for him, going into the basement to listen to Bruce Springsteen on vinyl was like attending church. “My parents aren’t necessarily musical, but they are huge music fans. And that was an integral part of my childhood,” he says. After spending his early years in Michigan, the Dales family relocated to Arizona, where Brian and his brothers attended school. Each summer, they would drive back up to Michigan, being sure to take the iconic Route 66. Relief came in the form of listening to hours of music 22

friends to join Student Government with him. Tuesdays after school could now be dedicated to her. Unfortunately, things didn’t really go as planned. His sophomore class was in charge of Battle of the Bands that year. Because he was the only one who showed interest in it, he was tasked with leading it. One minute, coffee-date dreams danced in his head; the next, he was having to worry about putting on an underappreciated production. But, Brian took it seriously. He went for while driving. “I think so much of my musical identity came from be- the music festival formula with essentially no down time. In being in cars and being on the road. tween sets, acoustic music would I think that is what made touring so easy for me, so far,” he says, “It’s be played in lobby. Unfortunately, something I’m used to and want to he was struggling to find performers. “I went to my friend and said, do. I’m just so comfortable being ‘Hey, what if we just make fools of on the road.” ourselves and you play guitar and But for years, music was someI sing?’ So, we learned five cover thing appreciated only from the outside. Brian’s father was a hockey songs and performed those. It was after that it felt like I was struck by player and Brian himself grew up lightning and the entire course of playing sports. According to him, while music was loved, he was in a history changed,” he recalls. By senior year of high school, family of jocks. Brian was at a crossroads. He was Romantic feelings ignited a a state champion tennis player but change of heart. At sixteen, he the thought of playing college tendeveloped a crush on one of his classmates. Wanting to spend more nis was a plague on his mind. He had to make a decision, and music time with her, he convinced some


was the only option. And while his parents were wary, they eventually came on board with his decision. And thus The Summer Set was born. Through his then guitarist, Brian connected with several members of who would become The Summer Set. They were in a band that was gaining traction on MySpace and were looking to start something new. It was a whole new experience for Brian. He was still 17 and while he would attend high school during the week, he would drive out to California on the weekend to play shows. “I mean, I played South by Southwest when I was still in high school. It all happened so fast. I didn’t really know what to expect. By the end of senior year, we were signed to a record deal. From there it was graduate, crawl into a van, tour for twenty people a night. Then, ten years later, its tour for one thousand people a night,” Brian says. Brian had made it. Over ten years, The Summer Set grew a solid fan base and released several albums. Not only was he in a band with some of his best friends, he was in a band with equally as talented musicians. His early adulthood was spent learning the ins and outs of the industry, making sure his dream never left his grasp. “We played a relentless amount of shows. For a while there, our backs were always up against a wall. Eventually we found ourselves a good home and surrounded ourselves with a team that was great for us,” he says. This allowed Brian and his bandmates to not only tour the country, but the world. For a time, the UK felt like a second home to The Summer Set. But touring and

solid management allowed them to nail down that work patter. Between 2009 and 2016 they released four albums. They lived on the road for each one. As time went on, Brian realized he had become complacent with the routine. More so, he felt his songwriting was in a bit of a rut. While objectively he knew the songs were good, self-doubt was peaking around every corner. There was a yearning his process could not satiate. During the making of The Summer Set’s last album, Stories For Monday, these difficulties began to manifest and take hold of Brian while writing the songs. Emotions were running high for Brian. They had finished touring and the album cycle for Legendary, which Brian considers their best record cycle. “We had gotten a taste of something we never had before. We saw these new doors begin to open,” he recalls, “But it was like being invited to a party and not being allowed to stay for very long.” This weighed heavily on Brian. He wasn’t sure of where to go next, what direction the music should head. There was a desperation bleeding out and Brian did not know the first step to take. He knew growth was needed and wanted to grow. He just didn’t know how. The expectations he set on himself obscured his vision. He had set up the impossible task of manufacturing songs that would fit the format needed to let them back in the party. The pressure hindered his writing. And when he could write, doubt splashed on each page and he wasn’t able to see when he did write a good song. “There

were some songs that were really great that I just hated. I think that I maybe set the bar so high that nothing was going to meet it. The whole record process was becoming very apathetic,” he admits, “We were meeting up so infrequently that we decided to take a hiatus in the middle of the record.” This lead to the band doubting their future. An unofficial decision was made that they would take what they had, produce it themselves, and release it as a farewell record. While this was happening, Brian made the decision to take a “soul searching trip to Alaska”. But, before up and leaving, he happened to run into an old friend: Matt Beckley. The chance encounter happened at a breakfast diner in California. Fate made itself known. Matt is accomplished in his own right. He was a guitarist for Katy Perry and 3OH!3. He’s a producer who has worked under Dr. Luke and Rob Cavallo. Maybe Matt could tell something was off with Brian. Later that night, he texted Brian asking if he wanted to swing by his house where he had a new studio built. “The next day, I went to his house. I thought we were going to write a song. I really needed to just write a song. But we ended up just spending hours talking about music; we talked about what I loved about music as a kid in my parents’ basement, what I felt was missing in the state of the music industry today, and where I’d love to see music go. We opened up a bottle of whiskey and just talked,” Brian recalls. This led to a Youube spiral. They found themselves in a vortex of Brian Adams’ work. They NKDMAG.COM

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stumbled upon an acoustic live recording of ‘Summer of ‘69’ he performed in Portugal, where thousands of people who lived half-way around the world were singing every word so loudly, you couldn’t even hear Brian Adams. This chord struck the hardest for Brian. “I wanted to just feel something,” he says, “I want to fall back in love with this whole process.” This happened the day before he was supposed to leave for Alaska. While he didn’t want to admit it at first, part of the trip was to see if he was going to make the diffi24

cult decision to not make music anymore. Drunkenly leaving Matt’s house, he wasn’t sure what to do. Luckily, Matt passed on some sage advice. He told him to go to Alaska but not to bring a guitar or think about music. “So, I went to Alaska for four days and turned my phone off. I hung out with strangers in bars. I made friends with one local who taught me how to fly an airplane. I came back from Alaska a changed person. And they day after I got back, I went to Matt’s house and we wrote ‘Young for the Summer’. And it became the first

DALES single,” Brian says. At the time, the song was written just to write a song. DALESs had not yet come to fruition, as Brian was still brushing off the cobwebs. But he and Matt liked what they heard. Something about the song felt different to Brian. The chemistry between him and Matt was obvious, and this song encapsulated a new chapter of Brian’s life. It felt fresh. And with each song they would write, the excitement would grow. But there was still no mention of a solo project and that contributed to the ease of


writing. He was creating to create; there was no forcing a song. It was all organic. During the blossoming of this renaissance, Brian and the rest of The Summer Set completed Stories For Monday. Listening to the mastered tracks, they realized there was so much to be proud of on this record. There was no need to make some formal announcement about this being a farewell album. They decided to release the album, go on tour and see where it took them. “We ended up touring almost the entire year,” Brian says, “They were really fun shows, just really great shows.” But during the downtime on tour, whenever Brian was able to get to L.A., he would go to Matt’s house and write and record songs for DALES. “The songs were different. I’m very prone to every time I make a record, I want the next record to be the polar opposite. Stories For Monday was an album that was created mostly through a computer on tour buses, hotel rooms, and the like, he says, “And with the way technology now is, the songs on that album had a lot

going on in them.” But when it came to the songs Brian was writing with Matt, there was a different philosophical approach used. They took a deep look at the often overlooked notion of purposefulness when it comes to composition. Instead of layering five synth tracks on one another because they could, they looked at the six or seven elements necessary for them to write the purest form of the song. For Brian, the thesis of the Dales record is, “How do me make something important with a mindset of ‘less is more’. What do we need to make it the best thing we can make it?” The Summer Set tour ended and Brian was spending more time at Matt’s home studio. They were eating and breathing the songwriting and recording process. Once tour was officially over, Brian had new batch of songs to begin working on. And even with the success and excitement of bringing these new songs to life, Brian and Matt were still waiting for that final, ‘Ah-ha!’ moment that brought the songs to an even higher level. “So we thought, what if we play a show, just for friends and people at a bar; we won’t announce it or anything like that,” Brian says, “We wanted to get the rawest sense of how these songs played live. Especially since we were recording such organic rock songs.” Brian and Matt started a routine of playing new songs live at a friend’s bar. As with the first show, no announcement made, just whoever comes gets the opportunity to listen. This way, they feel how the songs translate live before fully recording them. Playing and learning the songs live in front of

an audience has proven successful in Brian’s songwriting process. The song is learned and perfected in a live setting and the recording is designed to reflect that. This way, when the song is recorded, you are hearing the best possible version of that track. “So every few weeks, I play a residency at a bar called No Vacancy. And it’s literally us playing the songs, on a porch. It was the most liberating feeling I’ve ever had,” Brian says, “There’s three guys with a guitar, a bass and drums. There are no computers or backing tracks. We just make it up as we go, fucking up a lot; but that’s part of the charm. It became very fly-by-the-edge-of-your-seat. It became so rewarding. I never want to be playing a show and thinking about what I’m going to be eating later that night. I want to be in it. I want to be in that moment the whole time.” Currently, Brian has upwards of fifteen songs and all are able to be finished on a dime. Currently, his third single is finishing being recorded and a music video his second release, “Girls On Their Phones”, is being finished as well. While a full tour is visible on the horizon, Brian is sticking to powering through his sets in LA and perfecting his new songs. But, for all of you Summer Set fans out there, don’t fret. “We as a band haven’t officially said anything about a break or hiatus or anything like that. But, I believe, that in 2017, it’s perfectly normal for bands and artists to take little breaks and get back together,” Brian says, There’s no reason for a band to break up in this day and age; there’s always a reason to do something.” NKD NKDMAG.COM

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LIGHTS Words by VANESSA SALLES Photos by CATHERINE POWELL

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If Lights isn’t already on your radar, you’re doing it wrong. The Canadian singer/songwriter’s forthcoming album Skin&Earth is a serious game changer, incorporating an accompanying com28

ic book to go with the 14-track record. Growing up, Lights recalls a childhood surrounded by the arts. “I was always learning,” she says. “Music, painting, drawing, and poetry were heav-

ily incorporated into my homeschooling program. Family, art, and music were the constant in my life.” At 13, a young Lights saved up to buy an 8-Track and start-


ed producing her own music. Two years later, by chance, she met her would-be manager. “It’s actually a funny story how that happened,” she reveals. “I was modeling a shirt for a Walmart

flyer and the makeup artist on the shoot asked me to play something for him; he ended up passing my demo along to a friend of his and that friend became my manager.” For the next

few years, the artist used her time to truly discover her sound. “It takes a long time,” she says. “I finally landed on this lo-fi electronic sound which didn’t really exist back then. At 18, I packed up my stuff and made the move to Toronto; things kind of took off from there.” After placing local ads to recruit band members, Lights put together a solid group of musicians and started doing shows. “In 2009, with just one EP out, I was up for and won Best New Artist at the JUNOs,” she gushes. “It was such a nice accolade as an emerging artist in Canada and it just kept going from there. Now, I’m on my fourth record and am really just living the dream. I couldn’t be happier to be doing what I love and to be releasing a project that combines both art and music.” The album, due out September 22nd, wasn’t an easy process for Lights, but will undoubtedly be worth the long nights she put in. “It’s crazy what you can accomplish when you really put the work in,” the singer says. “So many people shut themselves down before even trying and I know because I’ve done that in the past whenever I thought about combining an album with a comic book. I think people are always afraid of accomplishing something just because of the work that it would take to get there.” Though there have been a couple of instances where bands tried to combine the two (i.e.: My Chemical Romance), Lights’ Skin&Earth is the first to do it so directly. “There are song lyrics right in the comic’s dialogue,” NKDMAG.COM

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she says. “Each chapter title is the name of an album track and everything flows in a cohesive storyline. I’ve always wanted to see somebody do that and I finally decided I would have to be the one to do so. I think it gives fans a reason to really listen to the record in its entirety and it is sort of a reward for them for taking the time to listen to everything. There’s so much more to an album than just the few singles that end up on a Spotify playlist. Skin&Earth tells a story from beginning to end and there’s a lot that you’re able to explore.” When speaking of what came first (the music or the comic?), Lights described the process of creation to be a very symbiotic one. “What kicked it off from day one was the story I had in mind,” she says. “I had a very basic idea of what I wanted it to be and so I would take those ideas into songwriting sessions and write a few songs about each major story moment. I knew there were certain emotions I wanted to convey and certain moods I wanted to be sure to infuse into it. As the songs were being written, more story ideas would pop up and I’d go back into that and add to it. In the end, I had about 60 songs written for the album. It was a bit of puzzle but when it was all done, I wrote out the story in-depth and, from that, created a story board and brought the comic to life. When I knew everything was chosen and finished, that’s when I started drawing.” Originally planning on creating a 20-30 page issue, 30

Skin&Earth quickly became so much more. “The story grew to be more than what you could fit into just one issue,” Lights says. “There was just so much I wanted to say and the plan for one issue became a series of six. The creative process was so cool because it really showed me what I’m capable of; I never thought I’d actually be able to do this.” After creating it all on paper, Lights began to bring her vision to life with the release of the “Giants” music video, the album’s first single release. “Filming the video was so cool,” she shares. “It was actually really tricky to do because, although it’s the first single, it isn’t the first track on the album. There are things that happen in the video that you won’t really know about for a while and we couldn’t give too much of the story away.” Having spent so much time crafting these characters and storylines, Lights made sure to be as hands-on as she could be with very aspect of the video. “I was really involved with the stylist, casting, and props department,” she says. “Walking onto the set was just bizarre and surreal because this world that I had created was actually coming to life.” Having released the comic’s first issue ahead of this year’s San Diego Comic Con, fans of Lights surprised her by attending SDCC in cosplay from Skin&Earth. “I didn’t know what to expect that day,” Lights says. “It was my first time attending the convention as a guest and I had a panel and signing scheduled that day, both of which ended up having an amazing

turnout. At that point, the first issue had only been out for a week and I was just blown away to see people dressed up as the character I had created.” Lights’ project, a fairly new one in the music industry, has no template or rules to follow on how to release an album and comic in a way that people would understand its connection. “One of the challenging things was creating an album that didn’t necessarily need a comic and creating a comic that didn’t necessarily need an album,” she says. “They’re both intentionally meant to stand alone but when you put them together, they’re suddenly so much more. Skin&Earth can be absorbed in any way that you want but when you have both pieces of the puzzle, you get a whole new side to the music and a brand new perspective on the comic.” As for what she’s hoping fans take away from the project, Lights’ mission is to make people feel empowered. “There’s actually a lot of commentary on environmental issues and depression in the comic,” she says. “That’s at the very root of the story and I think that’s important to talk about. My goal was to show the character overcoming her struggles and coming out the other side stronger. I really do believe that when we overcome something, whether externally or internally, we’re stronger for it. It’s all a part of our journey. What I love about modern comics is that you can confront these social issues without having to beat people over the head with it.” NKD


andrew j. west

Words & Photos by CATHERINE POWELL

In the lobby of his hotel in San Diego, Andrew J. West can’t walk ten steps without someone stopping him for a photo – a request he happily obliges every time. It’s quite possible fans recognize him from his starring role on ABC Family’s Greek, or from his guest stint on The Walking Dead, but more likely, these Comic Con attendees are anxious to see him take on the role of Henry Mills on the much-adored fantasy drama, Once Upon a Time. Backtracking, Andrew’s story begins in Indiana, where he grew up and later attended Indiana University, where he majored in philosophy and anthropology. Outside of his required classes, he started taking acting classes and eventually taking part in campus 32

stage productions. Following graduation, he moves out to Los Angeles – which kick started the slow process of getting into audition rooms and eventually booking jobs. When he first got to L.A., Andrew was waiting tables to make rent. When he booked his first co-starring role on The CW’s short-lived series, Privileged, he quit his restaurant job. In hindsight, he realizes his confidence was premature. “I was naïve enough to think that was a wise move,” he laughs. Regardless, that first booking got the ball rolling for Andrew and he continued to book work fairly steadily. “In retrospect, that’s the dumbest thing ever,” Andrew says. Now, nine years later, Andrew is stepping into the En-

chanted Forest to play the adult version of Henry Mills on Once Upon a Time – a role occupied by Jared Gillmore for the last six years. After Andrew’s casting was announced last spring, fans began speculating what his “secret role” could be. “The response has actually been really great, and I was nervous about that,” Andrew admits, “You don’t know what the response is going to be like even when you’re not replacing a beloved character.” Andrew stresses that even though he may be new on the scene, Henry is still Henry, and the creators and writers of the show are making sure despite his growth, he’s still the same character fans have grown to love. Andrew admits that continuing a character’s story


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when another actor has laid the groundwork is tricky. “You have to certainly take into account the foundation that was laid for six years, but also trusting that you have some room to play and experiment a little bit with who this person is, because so much time has passed,” he says, “In a lot of ways he’s a very new person.” Throughout the seventh season, viewers will see Henry in various stages of a serious relationship with a new version of Cinderella, portrayed by Dania Ramirez. “He definitely has very strong feelings for Cinderella and sort of the different personas that that character has,” he says. Unlike the first six seasons, which took place in Storybrooke, Maine, Season 7 will see Henry – along with a few other familiar faces – living in Hyperion Heights, a town just outside of Seattle. “We’ll get a sense of the struggles that he’s had since we last saw him,” Andrew says, “There’s some really surprising things that happen to him and that he gets involved in.” Despite six major departures in the cast, the Once Upon a Time set is still a well-oiled machine, which Andrew admits can be a little intimidating to jump into. “When you walk in the first day you just don’t know how it’s going to be and how you’re going to fit in to a world that’s already established,” he says. Luckily, his cast mates and crew have been extremely welcoming, and all agree that the Season 7 reset feels significantly different than the past six seasons. “I get the sense that

it’s even new for [Lana Parrilla, Colin O’Donoghue and Robert Carlyle], because of all the changes that were made,” Andrew says, “We’re all kind of figuring it out together and it’s fun. Everybody is there to just have fun and continue to make a really great show.” Because of his time on The Walking Dead, Andrew has had a taste of what it’s like being part of a show with a huge fan base, but notes that the Once Upon a Time fans are different, but equally passionate as the Walking Dead fans he encounters. While at Comic Con, Andrew was able to experience the passion firsthand, between the panel (which was attended by over 4,500 people) and signings. “When you’re on set every day and you’re just working and going through the scenes, it can be easy to forget that you’re doing this for so many people that really enjoy it,” Andrew says, “It’s not just about our enjoyment [as actors] and having fun making it. You’re reminded of how much it means to some people.” For Andrew, one of the most fun parts of his new role is getting to bounce back between different realms – one day he could be filming in modern day Seattle, and the next day he could be running from ogres in the Enchanted Forest. “On most jobs, you’re playing one person on a linear path and that’s it, but on this show you get to play different iterations of the same character, different sides of a personality of a character,” Andrew says, “You often times

feel like you’re playing a different person.” While most details of the season are being kept under wraps, Andrew can reveal that when we catch up with Henry, he will be going through a struggle and he’s after something. “That’s something that everybody can relate to,” Andrew says, “Henry has always had missions and operations, but we’ve never seen him struggle quite this way. Almost internally.” Andrew finds it both challenging and interesting to grapple with as an actor. In addition to Once, which will be premiering on October 6th, Andrew also stars in the indie comedy Middle Man alongside Jim O’Heir, which will hit Netflix on October 8th. The film follows a middle-aged, aspiring stand-up comic named Lenny (O’Heir) who goes to Las Vegas from the Midwest to audition for a variety show. On the way he picks up a hitchhiker who turns out to be a “less than safe” person, and they end up getting themselves involved in a murder spree, which strangely affects Lenny’s comedy in a positive way. “It’s just this bizarre tale about fame,” Andrew says. As we wrap up our conversation, Andrew gives his attention to the handful of fans who have been patiently huddled near our seats in the lobby, hoping to get photos with him. Once again, he happily agrees and as we make our way outside, he’s stopped four more times. The hotel’s outdoor patio is mostly empty, and he lets out a breath. “This weekend has been crazy,” he says, still smiling. NKD NKDMAG.COM

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VAL CHMERKOVSKIY Words by SHELBY CHARGIN Photos by CATHERINE POWELL Grooming by EMILY DAWN


Valentin Chmerkovskiy is in one word, passionate. The Ukrainian-born professional dancer who rose to household American fame alongside his brother Maksim on Dancing With The Stars has been a prime example of just how fervent a first generation immigrant can be about the American dream. Growing up in the Ukraine – which at the time was part of the communist Soviet Union – led Val to appreciate his strong family unit, a theme that hasn’t left him throughout any of his ventures. “I mean, for me, it made no difference because I was always excited I was always happy. I was very fortunate to have incredible parents and an older brother that was amazing. And that family unit was really everything to me and for me for the longest time,” he says. His ventures into performing started young. At age 5, Val began playing the violin with dance fol38

lowing just a couple of years later. Although no one in his family were dancers, his parents put him into classes anyway. “It was kind of unusual. It was more of them being overachieving parents and putting their son into everything. He’s playing violin, he’s dancing, and that’s playing into chivalry too,” he says. It’s this machismo that makes Val such an enticing talker. His posture and stature scream confidence with everything he says, but the boast is a perfect amount that allows you to see his intense humility. Easily reminded of humility comes from his “education was No. 1” belief out of all the things he did. Life quickly changed for Val when his parents decided to flee the Soviet Union and settle down in Brooklyn, New York. “That trip was not easy. Now I have an greater appreciation for it because I’m closer to the age where they made that choice,” he confesses. It’s

a defining moment for Val in his life, and one that rings throughout everything he does. “I think that was one of the driving forces for me is to make sure that I was at my best all the time and giving it every ounce of effort, in anything that I was doing,” he says. A lot of this goes towards Val’s outlook on life, to be grateful and thankful for the things you have surrounding you. The hard work began to pay off throughout his childhood, despite dance being seen as more effeminate in the United States compared to Europe. “I was dancing because it was accepted in the Eastern Europe community as kind of the norm, but it was kind of cool for boys to go ballroom dancing. It wasn’t soft. If you dance, you’re not soft. If you dance you’re just as masculine, you’re just as athletic as a boxer. Dancers are looked at as athletes,” he says. Explaining that there’s pride in


winning dance competitions in Eastern Europe and how “ballerinas are respected in our community. It doesn’t make you a soft man”, is a far cry from how dancers are seen in the U.S. “I think what helped me out, of course there was a lot of bullying, because it’s such a – I feel like that word doesn’t do the actual scenario justice,” he reflects. The word – he says – is too simple. “Of course there was a lack of acceptance, there was hurtful rhetoric in that direction. But in my case I didn’t kind of advertise it. That’s not the first thing I chose to introduce myself as, and I still don’t,” he says. Coming to the realization as we speak that his reluctance to introduce himself to this day as a dancer may come from his childhood in America, Val’s current emotions are just as grabbing as his past stories. “Before I introduce myself as a dancer, I introduce myself as a smart, savvy, cool guy,” he says. He locked in his friends before they knew he was a dancer by showing he was better at other sports. “By that time it was already too late I was already a cool kid. It was too late for them to hate on me because of dance,” he says. The type of confidence Val exudes and his ability to humbly and respectfully understand the world around him have made him a vital part of the Dancing With The Stars cast. He’s a series regular, a favorite and very easy to fall in love with. As he chats, his expressions and hand motions are only second to his ever permanent smile, and striking eyes. He’s relaxed, but still poised and has mastered the art of rhetoric in a way that paints him as not only talented, but truly intelligent. It helps that at a young age

he was already the most decorated ballroom dancer in the United States, and the world, but the traits he carries are “first and foremost, a person with a train of thought”. “That’s why you know fast-forwarding – as a competitive dancer I’m the first junior kid at 15 to win a world title for the United States, a month after 9/11. It was a huge result, it was a historical result,” he says. Knowing this however, only fueled his confidence in effort, and his comfort in his own humility. “It’s why in this town now, I have so much more to say than you know ‘here’s my six pack’,” he says. The dedication to immigrant children, and to having American pride as someone who immigrated here from Russian territory is something Val has carried with him throughout his entire career. “On Dancing With The Stars, I’m the Russian kid, I’m the kid with the weird last name. I’m the Russian kid even though I’m Ukrainian. I’m Ukrainian even though I only speak Russian,” he jokes. Citing that his accent is more Brooklyn than Russian and “mumbled sounds”. He’s aware that he is the living breathing melting pot that could be called the backbone of American society. “My name will never sound more American like Smith or Johnson,” he says. He knows there will always be a large part of him that contains that true immigrant pride. “That first World title for me changed my perception of my contribution to this country, representing this country.You know, that was the first time. They had to scramble to find the American Flag because if you win they have to hang the first, second and third place flag,

and they play the National Anthem. They didn’t have the national anthem or the flag because they never expected an American kid to win, and that drove me the most,” he recalls. His passion and patriotism come during a sensitive time in America for immigrants, and Val isn’t blind to that, and it’s why he gives back so much to his community. “Dance is my life, but it’s not only my life on Dancing With The Stars. It’s my philanthropy, it’s what I can do – Dancing With The Stars has given me notoriety in the spotlight – metaphorical spotlight that can shed light on the community as well. It’s such a renaissance if you will that has taken over this country in terms of dance,” he says. And now that dance has given Val that voice, he’s using it to the best of his ability. “My forum happens to be through the dancing thing, but the conversation is way more than just about dance. Dance was the way to do it, but it was driven by so much more patriotism, family just desire to succeed,” he says. Family has been key in Val’s success. His older brother – Maksim – is also a fan-favorite who was on the show first. In fact, Val danced on DWTS quite a few times before for his brother’s team. And he insists that it’s “healthy competition”. “He just got married and, you know, my best man speech was for the ages. Because you know, him and I we shared everything from bunk beds to the adult magazines under them our whole life,” he laughs. Despite the six year age difference, they were as close as brothers could be, and it’s what led Val to truly open his world to the DWTS scene. “He always had NKDMAG.COM

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“That first World title for me changed my perception of my contribution to this country, representing this country.�


my back, and I was always tagging along and everything we did, we did together. We were best friends. I mean shame on him for being best friends with someone six years younger than him,” Val jokes. “But how blessed am I to have had somebody older that guided me? You know, he bulldozed through life’s disappointments while I hung back and learned through the wisdom of hindsight.” The word passionate again comes to the mind as he talks so in-depth about his brother. “When he made it, we all made it,” he says of his brother’s casting on Dancing With The Stars. “It’s like your brother getting drafted to the NBA.” Val’s pride in the show began when his brother got on it, even if he was reluctant to do it himself. “It started changing our life with Max, and then as I kept competing, kept living out of a suitcase and being that struggling artist that you have to be to master your craft, and I loved it I was so proud… but then as an artist, it’s hypocritical to not want to go to the biggest stage in the world and be able to share your voice with millions of people.” And that he did, stopping competition at what he calls “the peak of [his] competitive career,” Val quickly became a cast member on the series as he slowly rose to not just a 44

judge favorite, but one of America’s favorites. “Imagine the pride my parents must see or feel… I need them to feel validated because they

have nothing else besides us – you know we’re their trophies.” While his brother did his thing,

Val was the new kid, and he knew he had something to prove, especially throughout the Houghs/ Chmerkvoskiy phase of the show. “Those fan bases are so strong, I mean, there’s a whole dynamic to the show. It’s why people get sucked in beyond the art, is the drama and the intrigue and the fans. Our fans are so passionate,” he says. It was difficult to balance his brother’s fans writing him off, and the fans of the Houghlike dancers thinking he was just like him, but he managed to make his own name and personality on the show just as he has done throughout his entire life. “I realized that when you just do your thing the way you feel it – obviously don’t be ignorant and learn and be receptive to guidance – but when you do it your way it has more longevity and it just has better pleasure,” he says. One of the big factors in loving what he does is his ability to change the lives of his partners in just three months. “I want to change this person’s life for the better. Is that ambitious? Maybe. Is this just a dance show? Maybe, but not for me. Like I said, this has never been about dance. It’s always been about people and the push,” he says. Having danced with everyone from Zendaya to Normani Kordei, he’s maintained close relationships


and friendships with the majority of his dance partners speaking more to his character and his charm. Treating dance as a metaphor for his life is something Val seemingly does subconsciously. The lessons dance has brought him are the types that few in life truly understand, let alone look back on and share the experience with open arms and an open heart. The only easily read part of his personality is the part that continuously seeks change and betterment for the world through his favorite medium: dance. His confidence and elusiveness about relationships and love, favoring discussing patriotism and family and pride in his craft adds to his charm while also creating a safe-bubble where you feel you can talk about anything, and Val will have something educated to say. Beyond their treks on DWTS, the Chmerkovskiy boys took their talents to the theater stage with a self-written, self-produced biographical play about their lives as immigrants. It’s a passion project that resonated with a lot of the fan base he and his brother created. “It’s everything before Dancing With The Stars. It’s a lot of our immigration growing up and we went through a lot of struggles together,” Val says. Val specifically

recalls his first job at a club where he performed with his brothers in front of mobsters and their wives at a club at just 12-years-old every

night for $25 a performance. “We went from performing there to being in front of millions of people in

American households, and around the world,” he boasts, “Doing the same exact thing, you know. Literally, our energy’s the same, we love each other the same. That chemistry is so priceless. So we did our stage show, we took our stage show to 50 cities. A 50 city tour last summer. It was such a success.” He accredits his success to surprising the audience and giving them a very different perspective than what they came in expecting. “It was like a heartfelt show, people cried, people laughed but ultimately –again – people went to feel inspired,” Val says. Outside of dance, his artistic abilities still resonate throughout this life. Loving music and writing, Val is a dedicated artist who – although dance may be his main job – doesn’t seem to ever break from his artistic flow, even for hobbies and relaxation. “I wrote poetry for a long time. For me, I love choreographing steps, but I love choreographing words you know too, and there’s a different way of conveying the same thing or conveying the same emotion,” he says. The most telling factor outside his dancing life of who he is his love of “critical conversation”. It’s as if his brain is constantly fed, but worked out just as much as his body, and he refuels it by learning every chance he gets. NKD NKDMAG.COM

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DREW

Words by LIZ ZAVOYSKIY Photos by CATHERINE POWELL

KYLA


Within her 13 years, Atlanta-born Kyla Drew has already achieved more than most humans have tackled in a lifetime. With a recurring role on Nickelodeon’s Nicky, Ricky, Dicky and Dawn, dreams of a major music career and almost 600,000 followers on Instagram, Kyla is well on her way to becoming a Hollywood staple. On the phone Kyla is every part as mature as her online presence would have you imagine. A frequent user of the ‘#smartgirlsrocknrule’, you can tell that Kyla’s persona is not only intrinsic, but one that she wants to project to her audience as a role model. NKD: Tell us a bit about your character on the show and how she has changed over the years. KD: The character I play on the show [Simmons] relates to me in so many ways. She’s a fashionista to start. She’s so smart and energetic and she’s always the mediator between people, similar to myself. Over the past four seasons, my character’s definitely changed. Physically, her style and appearance hasn’t changed that much but her persona has definitely developed. She has a bit more attitude now. She just grew up.

NKD: What was the catalyst or gateway or your entry into the acting world? KD: I always knew I wanted to be a superstar. By the age of three, I told my mom this was going to happen. So at the age of six, my mom put me in acting classes and got me an agent in Atlanta. Once I got my first role in a movie, I knew that acting was my passion. I want to be a triple threat, a singer, actress and a dancer. Three years later, we moved out to California. It was the best decision. I love California. It’s always sunny, all my friends are here. There’s just so much to do. NKD: Do you plan to tackle music one day? KD: I’m taking classes now, but when I turn 16, I want to get more into the music industry. First I want to become a household name in the acting industry and then convert to music. NKD: As a young actress, how do you utilize social media? KD: I just keep in constant contact with my fans. On Instagram, I livestream all the time. I make sure that everyone can see my day to day activities. I post all the time. I do vlogs on my YouTube channel. I love interacting, because I want my fans to know me better. They’re like my friends. I want them to know the real Kyla Drew.

NKD: With a schedule as packed as yours is, how is balancing school, friends, and work possible at 13? KD: Honestly, it’s really difficult. But I know that school comes first. So I get my schoolwork done before I see any of my friends. I also know that I have to be prepared to work nine and a half hours a day, Monday through Friday. So I go to work, do my hours, come home and get my schoolwork done. Hopefully, if by the weekend all my responsibilities are done then I can see my friends. In my downtime, I love to go shopping with my friends. I love cinemas, amusement parks, the pier. I go to the beach every weekend. I’m very active. NKD: Where do you see yourself in five years? KD: In five years, I see myself on screen at the Oscars. If not accepting an award, at least presenting. Winning awards, being a household name. Being at award shows and being on the big screen. NKD: What do you want fans to take away from you, both on the show and off? KD: I know a lot of people that want to be actors, or basketball players, singers, athletes. Anything like that. I just want people to know that dreams can become a reality and that if you try hard you can and will succeed. God has a path for you, you were sent to this earth for a reason. I want my fans to know that dreams do come true and if you put in the work to achieve them, things will happen. NKD

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britt baron Words by RILEY STENHEJEM Photos by CATHERINE POWELL

When Britt Baron was auditioning for her first role in a production of Sherlock Holmes, the then-6-year-old insisted that she take the lead, even though it was a boy’s part, and she had never acted before. “I wish that I still had that perspective that I had when I was a kid. Especially as a woman, or as a little girl, because you don’t see your gender as a disadvantage in any sort of way,” she says. “All that matters is how you see yourself, not how the world sees you.” Now, years after her stint as Sherlock Holmes, Britt has had a chance to return to that childhood mentality in her role in the empowering Netflix series GLOW. Britt wanted to start auditioning for roles as a child. “My mom told me ‘no’. She was like, ‘I don’t want you to be an actor [now]. I want you to learn how to ride a bike and be a normal kid, growing up,’” Britt explains. Her love of acting persisted, and she participated in her high school’s theater program, and went 48

on to receive a BFA in Theater and Communications at the University of Michigan. “I think I set myself up [to expect] the worst, so then I would be pleasantly surprised,” she says. “I double majored and I didn’t even know until graduation if I was going to continue acting or get a normal job with health insurance and stuff that real adults have.” Shortly after graduation, she decided to forgo the “normal” route, and moved to Los Angeles to continue pursuing acting. Britt met her agent after a senior showcase that she performed in the weekend of her college graduation. “I did a clowning improv scene, which I was so happy about, because at the end of senior year the last thing I wanted to do was rehearse scenes,” she says. “I did not know that this agent was in the audience, and afterwards she came up to me and we exchanged information, and she started sending me out on self-tapes.” After Britt moved

to L.A., her agent had her going to in-person auditions, and shortly thereafter she was signed to the agency. “I was so fortunate in the fact that I had an agent so quickly, because sometimes I think that is the biggest hurdle for actors moving to a big city, just getting representation,” she remarks. Although Britt moved west to work in film and television, her first acting gig was actually a theater production at The Falcon Theater. The casting director of that play later gave Britt a role in a TV Land pilot called Jennifer Falls. “I think that’s when the momentum started picking up, and I started realizing that I like this,” Britt says. After taking on several other roles, Britt auditioned for the Netflix series GLOW, produced by Orange is the New Black’s Jenji Kohan. The unique show’s first season was released in June. The series follows a group of Hollywood misfits as they leave behind acting and turn


to a different kind of performance: women’s wrestling. Britt’s plays Justine, a goth teenager obsessed with old B-movies who signs up for the wrestling circuit to work alongside Sam, her favorite director. “I had never seen or read any pilot like GLOW before. It’s this crazy thing,” she says. “I knew nothing about wrestling. I had never read a pilot about wrestling that wasn’t, like, a reality show, I had never seen a scripted series.” She quickly learned the ins and outs of the sport, though, as there was a month and a half of training for the cast before shooting began. “I was so excited to get to train. It felt very visceral. I didn’t know how to wrestle, so it’s cool that I have a new skill,” Britt remarks. Britt says that working on the show was like a big party. With an almost entirely female cast and crew, the environment was very supportive and fun. All of the actresses grew close in their training, and continued to encourage one another once shooting began. “Wrestling is incredibly vulnerable,” Britt says. “I was in booty shorts, most of the time, and a lot of the girls are in thong leotards or these really highcut [outfits]. There’s no looking anyone up and down, it’s more just like, ‘Oh my God, look at how cute you look!’” There weren’t preoccupations with looks or beauty, an exception in the industry. “Normally women, especially in Hollywood, we have to look pretty – even if you’re crying, as an actress, you know how to pretty cry, know how to pretty scream,” Britt says. “Wrestling is not about that. Even though

we’re in these little leotards, it’s this total animalistic thing.” Britt found this aspect of GLOW incredibly liberating. “It’s not about, you know, ‘Is this a good angle for my face? Is this a pretty scream?’ It’s all about the bigger-the-better, the more real, the more visceral,” she explains. A series like GLOW, with a group of women shown supporting each other on the screen, is still a rarity in Hollywood. “What’s so beautiful about GLOW is that it’s this cast of misfit women, all different shapes

are more complex than that. “Thank god it’s not another TV show of, like, talking models, which is kind of what we had growing up — pretty people talking,” Britt remarks. “As a young girl, in high school, that’s already going through puberty, and already insecure — I would watch TV and all it does is make you feel awful about yourself.” Because the series has such a distinctive, unseen concept, Britt was unsure of how it would be received. “When we were shooting I think a lot of people kept talking about how it was special, but you never know,” she says. “I’ve actually been shocked at how many of my male friends reached out and loved the show — and prior to it coming out, how excited they were for it. I wasn’t sure if it would only appeal to women, but everyone has loved the show.” Britt hopes that this overwhelmingly positive reception will help continue pushing the industry forward in its representation of women. “I think we don’t give audiences enough credit in how smart they are,” she says. “Smart content, interesting content, original content – you see people respond to that. We don’t need to continue the same high school scenario over and over again. Not everyone in high school is 90 pounds and 5’9” with long curly hair.” The show was picked up for a second season, and Britt is thrilled about it. “I feel like there’s so much more to see, especially where they leave off with my character. I really hope we get to explore more where Justine goes,” she says. NKD

“What’s so beautiful about GLOW is that it’s this cast of misfit Women, all different

shapes and sizes and personalities and ethnicities, coming together and embracing their differences, and Working as a team.” and sizes and personalities and ethnicities, coming together and embracing their differences, and working as a team,” Britt says. “I love that you see these fights between the women, and they still work together. It’s really amazing, and I can’t think of an example of a show that I had like that growing up.” Too often, women on screen are model-thin, always looking beautiful, and are shown backstabbing each other, getting in fights, or competing for men. GLOW’s characters and storylines

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BILLBOARD hot 100 festival Photographed in New York by CATHERINE POWELL


Big Sean


Phoebe Ryan

Jack & Jack


Camila Cabello

Major Lazer


Lil Yachyu

Marshmello


Demi Lovato


Echosmith


DJ Khaled

Hunter Hayes


NKDMAG.COM

NKD Mag - Issue #75 (September 2017)  

Featuring: Val Chmerkovskiy, Alexander Jean, Meghann Fahy, Shannon Purser, Lights, DALES, Britt Baron, Andrew J. West, Kyla Drew, Froy

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