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on her latest ep + stripping her songs back

20 WINNETKA BOWLING LEAGUE on starting from the ground up + making music that feels good


on finding acting through music + executive producing good trouble


on never giving up + his love for country music


on deal or no deal + how her writing has evolved


on their latest album + their incredible 2018


on writing in different cities + her debut ep, love, me


on always being a creative + his role on grey’s anatomy


on taking the reigns of her career + change the whole thing

on his upcoming tour + keeping his family in the business

on the lgbtq+ community + their venture into voice acting

on the kind of artist she wants to be + her mentor, kelly clarkson



on his australian roots + his starring role in happy together CATHERINE POWELL

publisher, editor, photographer, designer, writer







writer writer


writer writer

writer writer


hailey knox Words by SAMANTHA BAMBINO Photos by CATHERINE POWELL


From the moment Hailey Knox purchased her first guitar from Walmart, she knew she was destined to perform. She had no concrete plan outlined, and stage fright plagued her for some time. But through it all, there was a constant, indescribable pull toward music that simply couldn’t be ignored. Now, at 19-years-old, Hailey can look back on that early-recognized instinct with pride. She was right. With two releases under her belt, including the most recent Hardwired Mixtape, the artist is gearing up to take the industry by storm, trusty guitar by her side. When taking into consideration Hailey’s childhood in upstate New York, her passion for the arts doesn’t come as a surprise. At only 7-yearsold, her father began teaching her how to play guitar. “Music was just always in the house,” she says. “I found a love for music through him playing.” Along with her sister, Hailey performed at open mics in local coffee shops, each gig allowing her to feel more relaxed in front of an audience. “I get very nervous before I get on stage, still to this day. I don’t know if it’s nerves or anxiety. I’m sure it’s all the feelings combined,” she says. “It kind of helped me with my stage presence and getting up there in front of an audience. Even if I didn’t feel confident, you have to just say, ‘I’m up here and I’m putting on a show today.’” Eventually, Hailey began testing the songwriting waters. Admittedly inspired by Justin Bieber, she penned her first song “Sugar Plum” on the ukulele while sitting on her front porch. But by the time she went inside, Hailey blanked, the melody crafted in her head forgotten.

“From this day, I always think about that moment and try to voice memo everything that I come up with so that I have it stored in my phone,” Hailey explains. “Voice memo is the best. You capture everything, and a lot of my songs come from just rolling a voice memo for a while and jamming. And then you go back and listen and pick it apart and figure out if this could be a verse.” Hailey spent most of middle and high school honing her craft. In her junior year, her efforts were put to the test when she was granted the opportunity to travel to New York City to meet with professional producers. “Every Friday, I would take the train into the city and I worked on my first EP, A Little Awkward, which is cool that school let me do that. So I would get on that train, usually with Mom,” Hailey says. “For us, the city was this scary place at first because we’re from upstate where it’s kind of quiet.” Over time, both mother and daughter grew comfortable with the idea of Hailey traveling to the Big Apple alone. She was on the brink of making her lifelong dreams come true, and there was no stopping her. A Little Awkward helped Hailey build a following on YouTube, where she performed acoustic versions of her songs and took cover requests. But she refused to stop there. On November 16, Hardwired Mixtape was released, introducing to the world 11 alternative/indie/pop/ soul songs that are deeply personal to Hailey. A particular favorite is the title track “Hardwired, ,which began as one of many voice memos on her phone. “I wasn’t sure if it was anything,” Hailey says, reflecting on how she asked her friend Maggie to listen.

“Obviously, the closer you are, the more friends you become with a person, the more real the song is going to be if you sit down and write because you understand each other’s lives. So she helped me craft that song, which is probably the most vulnerable song I’ve ever written. It feels like a journal entry, I always say. Those verses talk about my insecurities and things that I go through.” According to Hailey, most of the tracks heard on Hardwired Mixtape were created in the early morning hours, usually from the comfort of a hotel room floor. “A lot of these songs really came from the most unexpected times. I’m more creative in the nighttime,” she says. “As soon as 3 a.m. hits.” For Hailey, it’s a thrill to look back on how far she’s come in such a short amount of time. Most recently, she took the stage at Austin City Limits Music Festival, her largest gig to date. Prior to this experience, which took place in October, Hailey had landed several opening slots with Charlie Puth, R5 and Us the Duo. Never did she have an hour-long set all for herself. “It was my first big festival. I don’t attend many festivals and just being there was like, holy cow,” Hailey says. “It was really fun having my band members up there and us just going for it. It was so cool seeing somebody front row singing lyrics of mine back.” Though Hailey doesn’t have a Hardwired Mixtape tour planned just yet, 2019 will see her working on new music, both produced and acoustic. “I love when you’re able to take a song, no matter what the production’s like, and just sit and sing it on an acoustic guitar,” she says. “I think it’s so cool when you’re able to pull somebody in from a lyric and melody.” NKD NKDMAG.COM


johnny orlando Words by RACHEL HILL Photos by CATHERINE POWELL

15-year-old social media star and singer/songwriter Johnny Orlando has set course on finding his way through the tumultuous music industry, wanting to write his own story. With an international tour, notable award nominations, such as Teen Choice and the MMVA’s, and signing to Universal Music Canada/Island Records all the while maintaining a normal teenage life as much as possible. I catch up with him over the phone as he’s just arriving home from a full day at high school in Toronto, Canada. Wondering how Johnny would manage to attend a traditional format school schedule, he informs me he is lucky enough to be enrolled in an “elite athlete school”, meanwhile joking about his perceivable lack of athletic ability. The school poses a flexible schedule that accommodates Johnny’s arguably hectic calendar. A few days prior, he and frequent collaborator/pal Mackenzie Ziegler, performed their hit “What If ” in the iconic Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, an opportunity Johnny views as an “amazing honor”. The holiday tradition also happens to be popular in his homeland of Canada. He recalls those around him watching it on TV or tuning in on the radio throughout his childhood. Johnny was an imaginative young boy while growing up in a small town outside Toronto. He

dubs art as his favorite subject in school and one would often find him putting his vocal range to work in the choir room. At only 8-years-old, Johnny sought out the help of his older sister Darian to utilize YouTube as an outlet for his creativity. The unknowingly promising venture began with covers of songs with the intent of publishing for family and friends to see. It didn’t take long for his first video, a rendition of Justin Bieber’s “Mistletoe,” to be shared and streamed across the country. Johnny recalls riding in the car with Darian as she shouted out, ‘Oh my God, we just hit a thousand views in a week!’ “I remember this was my first video. I was like, ‘Nice.’ I had no idea what they were even talking about,” he explains, “I couldn’t even fathom that a thousand views in a week in 2011 was insane. Especially for kids like me. I’m just an 8-year-old kid.” With his channel’s amounting popularity, the pair continued to brainstorm ideas for future videos including more covers and vlogs giving fans an inside look at his daily life. Johnny has since amassed a following of over 16 million dedicated followers across his social platforms. You’ll find it hard pressed to make it a minute or so in conversation without him mentioning one family member or another. He’s joked before that the Orlando’s are often referred to as a cult on

account of how they always travel in packs. For any appearance, interview or tour stop, there is at least one other Orlando accompanying Johnny for support. “Every single time that I’ve ever gone anywhere, they’re always right beside me and I’m just so grateful because I don’t want to be traveling with a manager or people that I’m not related to,” he says, “There’s so many artists now where their parents just stay home and wait for them to come back. But my family has always been involved with my life and they continue to support me and are involved today.” Johnny suggests fellow younger artists who are upand-coming in the industry follow suit. “It’s 100 times better to be with your family, especially if something happens, like something breaks down your family’s right there to comfort you,” he says. Darian has been deeply intertwined with her brother’s musical efforts since his start, serving as a sort of creative advisor who was responsible for steering the ship in terms of producing original songs when Johnny was very young. “When we made original songs on YouTube, I think we made the first one when I was 9-years-old, I was really too young to know what was going on,” Johnny reveals. Present day, his creative process stems from thoughts that pop into his head. “The real start of the song is what you’re thinking of beforehand. NKDMAG.COM



When you’re lying in your bed at night and you have an idea that pops into your head and you just quickly do a voice memo,” he reveals. The beat for the chorus of his newest single, “Last Summer”, arose from a K-Pop song he happened to come across while scrolling on Instagram. In the studio, it’s a “free reign” process that “isn’t steered by the label, the writers, me or Darian,” Johnny says. That’s right, Darian continues to team up with her brother creatively and holds cowrite credits for “Last Summer” along with Johnny, producer Mike Wise (bülow, Dvbbs, RALPH), and Liz Rodrigues. “Everybody is kind of bouncing ideas off each other. And if you were going to say, ‘Oh, who wrote this line in this song,’ you really couldn’t because everybody has something to do with every single line and every single decision in the song,” Johnny clarifies. This latest single was released in May 2018 and has captivated new and old fans alike and carries a more mature sound than Johnny’s previous work. “‘Last Summer’ is about having a great summer being with great friends, great family and maybe finding a lady too. That’s what the chorus is about,” adds Johnny, “It’s basically just about being a kid and having that experience of just letting loose in the summer after being tied up at school for ten months and finally having time to do whatever you want and be with people you love.” Director Aaron A (Nelly Furtado, Alessia Cara) was at the helm of crafting an engaging music video for the single, along with creative support from Johnny and Darian.

They invited 60 fans to participate in the filming of the video, acting as friends and even Johnny’s love interest. The video has amassed over 3.5 million views on YouTube after its release in October 2018. Johnny’s long awaited EP is slated for release in early 2019 and will center around the shared perspective of navigating the albeit confusing yet exciting ordeals teenagers face. “It’s about going through those experiences that no matter where you live or who you are, you always go through the same things as other teenagers.” Pairing with his fresh EP, Johnny has plans to embark on tour in 2019. As a young and relatively new-to-the-stage artist, Johnny will be looking to those in the industry whom he respects for inspiration. Stage presence? He’s spent hours watching Travis Scott videos on YouTube, soaking in the electrifying energy. “He’s one of the best performers I’ve ever seen in my entire life,” Johnny claims. For musical insight, Justin Bieber is of course at the forefront (hello, “Mistletoe” cover). A surprise mention, Otis Redding. “I listen to a lot of old music and draw my tone and style off of that when I sing a record because I think they had some of the most unique sounds,” he says. As for what the future holds, Johnny is determined to forge his own path that is true to his story and values. Hopefully along the line is an arena or stadium tour. “I’m getting super lucky here, but I think that would be so cool just to be on tour and make music and meet fans every single day on such a high scale. It means so much to me,” he says. NKD NKDMAG.COM



At only 24, Bex Taylor-Klaus has a diverse resumé. For close to the last decade, the non-binary actor has been providing bold and unapologetic representation for the LGBT community with their roles on network television dramas, including The Killing and Arrow, and more recently appeared in the Netflix original movie Dumplin’. Growing up in Atlanta, Georgia, to Jewish parents, Bex took to the performing arts so naturally that their parents felt obligated to put them in acting classes. “They thought it would be cheaper than therapy,” they joke. “It wasn’t—but it worked out fine in the long run.” Bex had a charismatic personality from a young age, saying, “I’ve always been a very goofy child.” They would entertain friends and family with their impressions of various Harry Potter characters, including Hagrid, which was “especially funny, because I was this tiny child, trying to do this big man’s voice.” However, they adapted to more serious roles as well. In third grade, they fell in love with stage acting, and balanced two seemingly contradictory passions—sports and Shakespeare—until their mid-teens, when they decided to narrow their focus. Although they are a skilled athlete who played on their school’s varsity softball team, acting took priority. “I figured out that acting was actually a viable career choice. Who knew?” Bex says. The catalyst, Bex recalls, was a simple radio advertisement. While still living with their family in Georgia, Bex and their siblings heard a commercial targeting aspiring child actors. The program was a boot camp of 12

sorts for kids interested in careers in the entertainment industry, and happened to be co-founded by Phill Lewis, who played the iconic Mr. Moseby in The Suite Life of Zack and Cody back in the mid-2000s. To Bex, this seemed like the golden opportunity they’d been waiting for. They were offered a spot, thanks in part to their brother’s willingness to follow up on their behalf. The program provided children with professional acting training, and most importantly, connections to the industry. “I got introduced in a really cool way,” they say. After completing the program, Bex’s career trajectory shifted. Acting professionally suddenly seemed not just plausible, but actually practical, given their experience and talent. They had confidence in their abilities, and the opportunity to do something with them. “It was something I was really good at,” they say. “I went through the training and ended up coming out to L.A. I started coming out here back and forth, from Atlanta to L.A., for a little while, and made the move on my eighteenth birthday.” It’s a Hollywood story that most only dream of, but Bex maintained their characteristic quirky and laidback attitude in spite of the massive lifestyle change. Their first major role was Bullet, a homeless, streetwise, lesbian teen, in the crime drama The Killing, which garnered them a cult following in the LGBT community. At a time when many major network executives feared the controversy that would arise from showing an out lesbian character on primetime, Bullet provided an outlet for queer youth that they desperately needed. It’s easy to imagine that Bex,

who didn’t officially come out themselves until late 2016, was somewhat over-whelmed by their sudden position as an LGBT icon. “Sometimes it can get a little overwhelming,” they admit. “Especially as a queer person, sometimes you say things and you’re trying your best, and if you don’t say it perfectly the first time around, you will get dumped on. Attacked.” By the other members of the community, or the public at large? “By the other members of the community. It’s an interesting phenomenon. You have to be perfect. There’s no room for error. And that’s really sad,” Bex admits, “It’s really sad that you’re being put on such a high pedestal, in a way that’s really quite unique, and disappointing.” They emphasize the gravity of this. “If you’re a member of a marginalized community, and you’re seen as a voice for that community, you have no room for error. If you say something, and it comes out not as you intended it, you come crashing down. They are knocking that pedestal out from under you,” Bex says. Although Bex had already established themselves as said voice early on in their career, when they decided to finally come out, it was in a surprisingly casual way. Their statement was done via Twitter. Was this decision made due to the size of their social media platform, or the potential to make a subversive statement? “A little bit of both,” Bex says. “Part of it was because [Twitter] was easily accessible. The nonchalance was what I found to be really important.” They had originally come out in what they call “fun ways” for their




friends and relatives, and decided that a similar approach was necessary for their fans. “There’s something about the kind of public that Twitter is,” Bex muses, “That has kids who are closeted, who are on Twitter, seeing that and going, ‘Okay. I can do that.’” It wasn’t always so easy. They admit that they were frightened “the first time,” especially since their portrayal of Bullet had made them the target of homophobic trolls. “I think it’s important. If you’re not living your truth, you’re doing yourself a disservice,” they say. Having such an animated personality in real life inevitably made Bex a natural at voice acting. They remember dreaming of “being a cartoon character” for most of their childhood. That particular dream came true in a very big way a few years ago, when they received a call from their agent informing them of an upcoming audition for a voice acting job. That job was for Voltron: Legendary Defender, an animated sci-fi television series produced by DreamWorks which premiered on Netflix in 2016. Bex voices the intelligent and driven tomboy Katie “Pidge” Holt who has become a fan favorite among Voltron super fans. Bex shares their fandom’s enthusiasm for Pidge, who disguises herself as a boy to sneak into the prestigious Garrison institute from which they was banned after a failed mission that left most of their family presumed dead. “I fell in love with Pidge at first character description,” Bex says. But no one expected the show to become the phenomenon with Tumblr teens that it is today—certainly not Bex.

“I don’t have foresight, or forethought! I’m just flying by the seat of my pants all the time!” they admit. Nevertheless, they knew that this character was something special. “I knew that I connected heavily to Pidge. I knew that as a kid, watching this character, I would have been over the moon, and so excited, and drawn to her in the way that so many kids have.” What is so important about Pidge, exactly? “I didn’t always get to see myself represented growing up,” Bex explains, “And now I get to be myself represented onscreen.” Coming from a stage and screen background, Bex considers themselves very lucky that they are so naturally “animated,” as it makes their preparation for voice work easier. “It’s interesting, because everybody moves when they speak, and you have to be able to bring that to the booth.” They have learned a few interesting techniques from their colleagues. One day, while observing them, they noticed their Voltron co-star Josh Keaton, who voices Lieutenant Takasahi “Shiro” Shirogane, actively grabbing his arms, “just to get the physicality, and the sound of his body moving, into his voice. It was really, really cool.” Have they developed their own personal voice acting style? “I hope so. I really, really hope so.” They remark that while they tend to trust in the process and not overthink, they recently came to a certain level of peace about their own innate abilities. “I figured out that I do know what I’m doing, even if I can’t really articulate how I’m doing it. It’s become second nature.” They also believe that their

ADHD diagnosis has been beneficial to their career. What many people view as a disability that hinders people in the workforce is actually a blessing in disguise for someone in entertainment; it allows Bex to channel their energy in a productive way. One of the most significant moments in Bex’s career so far was their appearance on the penultimate episode of Glee, a series that more or less launched the modern queer-friendly television era. Before Bex was famous, they and their siblings were Glee fanatics. “Just to be able to show it to my family, and say, ‘We used to sit around and watch this, and now I’m in it!’ For me, Glee was a full circle moment—for my family, really. I wish I could say it was because of how amazing the show was for the LGBT community, but no, it was solely for my family!” Bex says. Bex recently appeared in Dumplin’, the comedic coming-of-age film about a plus-size pageant queen set to a soundtrack of Dolly Parton songs. The film is worlds apart from Voltron, and certainly nothing like The Killing, but it has already become wildly popular since its early December release, exposing Bex to a new audience. Soon, Bex will star alongside Kate Winslet, Susan Sarandon and Rainn Wilson in the 2019 film Blackbird. They consider it the type of film an actor “prays they’ll get to be a part of ”. With a star-studded cast, the movie is already expected to get critical acclaim. Bex, for their part, is not especially nervous. They know the film will move people. “With all due respect, I don’t care about what people expect. What they’re going to get is something amazing,” Bex says.NKD NKDMAG.COM



The Voice discovered Brynn Cartelli, winner of the show’s fourteenth season, through a YouTube video. They liked what they heard so much that they contacted her to personally ask her to audition. “When an artist has an opportunity knocking on their door, they don’t turn anything down,” Brynn laughs about it. “I just took it and ran with it.” After passing through an initial audition in New York for the thirteenth season, she failed to turn a chair during live taping. But Season 14 was a different story. After a year of hard work, Brynn returned to the Voice stage to audition in front of the show’s judges. Before the end of her rendition of “Beneath Your Beautiful,” Kelly Clarkson and Blake Shelton both turned their chair. Ultimately, Brynn chose Kelly as her mentor. “Kelly really believed in me and gave me confidence in who I am and what I was doing,” Brynn says about her choice. The two were a perfect match. Although The Voice was a positive, life-changing experience for Brynn, there were a few obstacles along the way. It was her first time on national television and she had her first experience with internet trolls and brutal negativity online. “I think you totally doubt yourself, especially

when you think about pleasing everyone,” she says, “and at the end of the day, you just can’t.” That realization pushed her to work harder than ever. At 15, she was younger than the other contestants, and in turn felt that she needed to really prove herself to stay on top. “Whether it was the arrangement or how the stage was going to look or what we needed in the song or the song choice itself, I really wanted to take ownership over it,” Brynn says. “I’m a very visual person, so I put everything I could into the songs each week.” And of all of her performances, she is most proud of her version of Coldplay’s “Fix You.” When the show’s winner was announced, Brynn was shocked; she never thought she was going to win. Once the finale’s cameras stopped rolling, she was immediately whisked away to speak to the press, but once she returned to her hotel and was able to take it all in, she chose to spend her time with her family and friends. “I knew I was going to have to talk about it a lot in the next week, so we spent our time eating our faces off and talking about everything else,” Brynn remembers. “I reflected later by myself, but it was a time to celebrate the people who came out for me.” One of Brynn’s long-lasting

relationships to come out of The Voice was with her mentor and friend, Kelly Clarkson. Since the show’s end, the two have remained close and Kelly continues to help Brynn with expanding her artistry. From the very beginning, Kelly believed in Brynn and trusted her in a way nobody had trusted her before. “She’s just so nice and so real. I think it’s hard to find that across celebrities,” Brynn says. “She’s just really cool and cares about people, no matter who they are. She’s been an inspiration for me since I was 5, and I am still very, very inspired by what she does.” One lesson that Kelly taught Brynn is to be true to herself. “I really wanted to break out and be heard across not just people who watch The Voice, but across all listeners of music,” Brynn says. That time is rapidly approaching; Brynn will open for Kelly Clarkson’s Meaning of Life tour, kicking off later this month, alongside Kelsea Ballerini. Before tour begins, Brynn promises to release some new music. “When I play the show closest to my home, that’s going to be really fun,” Brynn, who is from Massachusetts, laughs. “A couple people have told me they’re going to be buying tickets, and I’m like, ‘Well, I’m going to be singing songs about you and you have no idea.’” NKDMAG.COM


In addition to singing, Brynn has been a writer since sixth grade. Her first song was about a friend moving out of town. She plays guitar, piano and ukulele, and keeps notes in her phone with lyrics and things that have inspired her throughout the day. Later, she returns to them and works them into songs. “What I’ve learned is I never want to force myself to write a song, because when I force myself sit down and write a song, it’s never good,” Brynn says. “I tend to get inspired by watching other people and putting myself in their shoes. That’s a huge part of my process, just being with my friends and not being so focused on me having to write a song. It comes when it comes.” Brynn released her first single, “Walk My Way”, during The Voice’s finale. She recorded the song four days before its release, a standard for the show. “It was an amazing process. I really wanted to make it my own, so I totally did that,” she says. And when it came to making the music video, Brynn took ownership of that, too. Kelly Clarkson connected Brynn to two talented members of her team who would go on to direct the “Walk My Way” music video. Brynn’s manager told them not to go easy on her because of her age, but Brynn had her own ideas about where to go with the video. “I’m a very visual person, and I always had a vision for what I wanted it to look like,” Brynn explains. “I’m not the kind of person who’s going to dress up in golden, glitzy glam right off the bat and pose 18

on a throne.” They shot the video on the streets of the Arts District in Los Angeles and Brynn’s ideas were turned to “magic.” The experience was a dream come true. If she hadn’t ended up in front of the microphone, Brynn figures she would have pursued a career behind the camera in some way. In the future, she’s hoping to direct more. “I really love the idea of putting a piece together and watching it transform into something that’s really special. I’ve always been interested in that,” Brynn says. Brynn has new music on the way. With musical influences like Coldplay, Florence and the Machine, Allen Stone and Amy Winehouse, Brynn’s sound was shaped by “people who bring a dark side and edginess to pop, but at the same time are real,” Brynn explains. “That’s kind of what I’m attracted to and I connect with emotionally.” Fans won’t have to wait long, either. Brynn recently signed a new recording contract with Atlantic Records and is excited for what is to come. “Atlantic really supports me and my vision as an artist and where I want to go. They’re very about the music instead of the business, so I’m very, very excited about it,” Brynn says. At 15, Brynn was the youngest winner of The Voice in history and she doesn’t plan to slow down. She performed at the 2018 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and is eager to begin the Meaning of Life tour. Overall, she is most excited for a career of excitement and to evolve alongside her music. NKD






Words & Photos by CATHERINE POWELL


Matthew Koma grew up in Long Island, New York and was consistently surrounded by music from an early age. He played in bands with his brother for years before eventually moving out to Los Angeles ten years ago to pursue music more seriously. He began writing and producing for other artists, but wasn’t sure what he wanted his own sound to be. While working on an album for Interscope, he was hooked up with a few electronic producers and took “a weird left turn”. He spent a few years in that region of the music world before eventually making the concrete decision to focus on something new. And thus, Winnetka Bowling League was born. Winnetka Bowling League was never a side project, and Matthew never wanted to approach it as such. “I put a hard stop to the [electronic] stuff,” he says. His main goal with the music he was writing was for it to feel good to him, because he had spent so much time making music that didn’t necessarily hit that bar. “I was really jealous of artists who you would hear their story and it was like, ‘Yeah, I was just doing what I was doing and it started resonating with people.’ I felt like I never got to do that,” he says. Matthew spent six months demoing songs that he had collected over the years, but didn’t feel like any of them were different enough from what he was known for to be considered a definitive change.

Then he wrote “On The 5” – which served as Winnetka Bowling League’s first single. “It sort of straddled the line of being song-driven, which is definitely the foundation I come from, but sonically I felt was a little different from where I’ve been,” he says. That’s when the lightbulb went off. Winnetka Bowling League’s first, self-titled EP was built around “On The 5” and was released in September. Despite Matthew’s success elsewhere in the music world, WBL serves as a completely separate project, with most fans being new listeners and not necessarily people that have followed Matthew’s entire career. “Proof being, I put out a song with The Midnight Kids recently and so many of the kids listening to it are like, ‘Matt’s back! He hasn’t put out music in over a year!’” he laughs, “It’s such a separate world, and I’m grateful for that, to be honest. It’s humble beginnings and starting from ground zero.” This allows Matthew to really project a true representation of himself and his music out into the world, without preconceived notions based on his past releases. “It definitely feels like the first step of the latter,” he says. Going into a new project with an arsenal of knowledge has made the experience “a lot more fun” for Matthew. “From years of doing it and years of seeing certain kinds of successes, it’s almost a self-lesson,” he says, “All you really have is a process. What

happens outside of that box is regardless of you.” Over the years, he’s learned that so much of what he once thought he could control – like what songs resonate the most with listeners – are out of his control, which has been a freeing realization. “I’m so grateful to just get on stage and play shows,” he says, “They may be way smaller shows than what I was playing, but they resonate in such a different way that I’ve never been happier.” The band played two shows in New York and Los Angeles in October, and will head out on the road with Mother Mother starting January 12th. Past that, the band will release their second EP in the spring and promises to be on the road a lot more throughout 2019. “It’s a true restart. We’ve played two shows but I’m so hungry to play more,” Matthew says. Being used to full record releases growing up, the single-driven culture that is dictated by the electronic and hip-hop worlds was at first foreign to Matthew, but he’s beginning to see the benefit of having a constant stream of music coming out. “I think songs raise their hands when they’re supposed to and collections raise their hands when they’re supposed to,” he says. That being said, an album is a goal, but Matthew doesn’t see albums as “this big important thing” anymore. He writes a lot, and he’s having so much fun writing for this band, that his main priority is to keep putting music out. NKD NKDMAG.COM


lennon stella Words & Photos by CATHERINE POWELL

Lennon Stella has spent the better part of the past decade in the public eye. First, in a viral YouTube video of her and her younger sister, Maisy, covering Robyn’s “Call Your Girlfriend”. Next, as Maddie James in the hit ABC-turned-CMT series, Nashville, which just wrapped its six-season run this past summer. Now, Lennon is stepping into a new spotlight with the release of her debut EP, Love, me. Lennon has always had music in her life – both from her musician parents and then her role on Nashville. Working on the show for her entire adolescence allowed her time to perfect her songwriting, and over the past two years she really began hammering in on what would be her first release. “I was writing with more of an intention,” she says. When Nashville started winding down, Lennon had a choice to make. She could either audition for new roles and focus on acting, or put 100% into music. She chose the latter. “It was the perfect time for me,” Lennon says, “I signed the record deal as the show ended.” She admits she wants to continue acting at some point in her life, but for the time being she wants to focus her energy on music. There was never a doubt in Lennon’s head that the songs she sang would be ones that she had written. Even while playing a musician on television, Lennon was adamant 24

that Maddie James was a character, and that’s why she was singing those songs. Her first release, “Like Everybody Else”, was nerve-wracking for Lennon because it was so deeply personal and stripped down. “It was a vulnerable song for me,” she says, “It was so exciting, though, because it’s been such a long time coming. I’d been writing for so long and no one had heard anything.” Not long after the first song, Lennon’s debut EP Love, me was released to critical acclaim. The five-track collection is just a taste of what’s to come from Lennon, but listeners are already picking their favorites. Among them, “Fortress” appears to be the standout. “It’s hitting people emotionally the most,” Lennon says, “People tell me how much they can relate to it.” Her personal favorite, “Breakaway”, is also resonating with fans on a level she’s incredibly proud of. “It’s so cool when you write something so true of how you’re feeling in the moment, and then having someone in their own situation feel the lyrics so specifically to them,” she says. In addition to her own EP, Lennon was also featured on the monster hit “Polaroid” alongside Liam Payne and Jonas Blue. Lennon had worked with songwriter Sam Roman, who wrote the track, a few months prior, which is how she believes her “name was thrown into the bucket”. The



song has become a massive success – peaking at No. 1 on the US Dance Club Songs chart and landing in the Top 40 in countries all across Europe. Because of both Liam’s and Jonas’ United Kingdom roots, Lennon feels that the song has taken on a larger life over there. “The UK is a really cool spot to be in and put music out of, and having people respond and resonate with my music over there is really cool,” she says. London itself proved to be an ally for Lennon during her writing process. She wrote the EP in Nashville, Los Angeles and London, and feels each city pulls something different out of her. “In L.A. I write more of my pop, mainstream songs, and in London I feel like I’m more left and more creative. London is my favorite place to write. It’s where I feel the most understood musically, and I think the way that they think there in sessions is the way I think,” she says. Lennon had been going out to London for writing sessions for years before she even knew what her first release would sound like, but once she knew a release was coming, getting back to London to write was a priority. But as far as her roots go, she’s planning on keeping them firmly planted in Nashville. “I just find Nashville is such a breath of fresh air. I’ll stay there as long as I can,” she says. After the EP was released, Lennon announced a string 26

of shows in New York, Los Angeles and her home of Nashville – all of which sold out in minutes. “I’ve found a whole new love for this side of things,” Lennon says of putting her live show together. She had a hand in every aspect of the show – from the song choices, to transitions, to the lights and production. And while the two may not be singing together as much as fans are used to these days, it was important to Lennon to have a moment with Maisy on stage. Towards the end of the show, Lennon brought Maisy on stage for a haunting cover of MGMT’s “Kids” – which ignited a fit of screams from the audience. “I was like, she had to come,” Lennon laughs. Learning to perform without Maisy next to her all the time was a learning curve at first, but she’s starting to get used to it. “I find I keep looking around like, ‘Who’s driving?’ and it’s like, ‘I’m driving!’” she says, “I forget that I’m the one in control, really, and there’s no one else to lean on.” Starting in March, Lennon will head out on a much larger tour in much larger rooms – most of which are already sold out. And while fans who were lucky enough to catch the first string of shows have heard some of Lennon’s unreleased songs already, getting those out into the world either as singles or on an album is a priority for 2019. Looking past her own headlining tour, Lennon cites

Japanese House, The 1975 and Dua Lipa as artists she’d love to open for. After playing her first few shows, Lennon’s top goal for the year is to connect with as many fans in-person as she can, noting that as much as she loves talking to people on social media, getting to see them sing her songs back to her and talk to her about what the songs mean to them in real life completely changed her perspective. While she has an album’s worth of songs in her back-pocket, putting out Love, me has reignited a spark in Lennon. “I feel so inspired. I was sitting on so much music for so long and no one was hearing it, and I was writing and writing and writing and I got a little burned out,” she admits, “Now, people have heard it, people like it, and now I want to push myself and challenge myself and write something weirder.” She’s found a strong group of co-writers in different pockets of the world, but would love to write with artists like Alec Benjamin, Billie Eilish or John Mayer – the latter of whom is a fan of hers and even came to see her show at The Troubadour in L.A. “Can we just talk about that? Because I just love him so much,” she gushes, “It was really cool to have him there. As a musician he’s such a freak of nature, so to have him come on his Wednesday night to see me play… It was so crazy cool.” NKD



jake borelli Words by IAN HAYS Photos by CATHERINE POWELL

Jake Borelli grew up in the suburbs just outside Columbus, Ohio. He was raised with his two older brothers, feeling safe and encouraged to explore his artistic endeavors. As he puts it, it was a liberal environment that was accepting of all people. His first love? Painting. Visual arts were his forte through high school. He surrounded himself with likeminded artists, finding inspiration far from the test screens of Los Angeles. “I was always drawing and crafting. I remember sitting in the bathroom and making weird sculptures out of toilet paper and water. Or, like, trying to make a rollercoaster out of construction paper,” he says with a laugh. “I was always doing something creative.” His grandmother was a painter and sculptor; she’s where he found the most inspiration. Going to Grandma’s meant he would have free reign – tubs of markers dumped out on the floor for easy access. It was in high school that he took formal art classes and learned to appreciate art on a new level. While his early focus was on

painting, another visual art slowly began taking center stage: acting. Originally, theater was just another artistic outlet. He performed in the Columbus Children’s Theater. But the deeper he dove, the more it took hold of him. As with painting, he learned the technical side and found he not only enjoyed it but was good at it. As a teen, he was signed to a local talent agency and started getting radio and commercial work. That’s when he realized he was meant to take a different artistic path. “The big decision came when it was time for college. Do I go to visual arts college or do I go out to L.A. and pursue acting? In my heart, I knew acting was what I really wanted. So, four or five days after graduating high school, I got on a plane and moved to L.A.,” he says. Having made connections in the months leading up to the potential move, Jake came to LA with a plan. His first goal was to get representation. For, Jake he was in a prime spot for acting. He was 18, a legal adult but also “looked 14” so could be cast for younger roles. He was signed to a manager before the plane touched

down. But even with this first step quickly accomplished, Jake knew he still had a lot to learn. “I crashed on the futon of one of my managers’ son’s. I was 18 and had no idea what I was doing. I was there for two months before I met friends and moved in with them. I was just kind of stumbling through this process, relying on my instincts and just hoping everything worked out,” he reflects. As time passed, Jake booked roles guest starring on TV shows and acting in short films. Then, he was cast as Wolfgang on the Nickelodeon series, The Thundermans. It’s no secret that some of today’s biggest stars got their start on Nickelodeon. And Jake couldn’t have been more excited. He grew up with Nickelodeon on the TV. “I know people say this a lot, but that set was truly like a little family. We all hung out, we were all young and experiencing this new thing together. I came in at the end of Season 2 and everyone welcomed me so quickly,” he says. A one-episode stint turned into a recurring role. It was a role where Jake was encouraged to find those extremes and absurdiNKDMAG.COM


ties as an actor. It called for being loud, goofy, eccentric from head to toe. It’s here he learned the ins and outs of the industry. And then came Grey’s Anatomy. A year and a half later and Jake is still in shock. The show is an institution that with an ever-expanding universe thanks to Shondaland, her production team and a global fan base. His character, Dr. Levi Schmitt, is placed in that world, contributing to a show that he originally watched as a fan. At the time he got the call, he was living in New York. “I was subletting an apartment with five friends. I walked out into the living room and was like, ‘You guys, I just booked Grey’s Anatomy!’ I found out nine o’clock New York time and took the red eye flight to L.A. and started shooting at ten in the morning the next day.” He dove in head first with out a lot of time to process. He was still in shock over the opportunity. Like The Thundermans, the role was supposed to be guest stint. He filmed the two episodes and flew back to New York, happy with the experience gained and opportunity given. A few days later he received a call. Production wanted him out for more episodes and he was to have a recurring role. So, he packed up and moved back out to L.A. Growing up, Grey’s was part of Jake’s family culture. So, to now be on the show still blows his mind. The show is known for breaking ground and working on keeping diversity at the forefront. Recently, his character came out. Coinciding with this, Jake came out publicly. He had been out for 30

some time with family and close friends; but this was the best time for him to speak his truth. “I’ve always known I would have to come out if I were to continue acting and continue to have larger platforms,” he says earnestly. “I just didn’t know when that was going to happen or how that was going to look. I really wanted it to feel right, you know? To see after 15 years the show finally tackle a gay, male storyline, was going to huge.” On both a personal and professional level, Jake was never more excited and nervous. He knew that if he was going to enter this dialogue, he would have to embrace it with honesty; this includes his own story of coming out and embracing his sexuality. He remembers reading the scripts for the episodes leading up to coming out and getting so excited and wondering what would happen next. Then he began receiving messages from people about how much the storyline means to them. It was already changing their lives; they were feeling represented for the first time on the show. And as Jake points out, his character hadn’t even come out yet. He felt the bravery in the messages form the fans and knew he needed to be just as brave by coming out publicly himself. The beauty of representation comes from its power. There’s a dichotomy in modern culture – you can be an individual as long as you fit within this circle. While everyone is unique, seeing others live, breathe, fear, love, like you do, it springs hope that in a world so terrifyingly large, there are others that can understand you

and encourage and celebrate your existence to others. For Jake, all the stars aligned in this moment. “As a member of the gay community, there’s a lot of milestones with coming out in your life: your best friend, your parents. But honestly, you have to come out every single day. Every new person you meet, you have to come out to. Some are intense while others are just more casual. There’s a whole spectrum. And I’m so lucky to have this platform now to speak to such a large group of people.” The LGBTQIA community inspires Jake every day. When he came out publicly, he was welcomed with wide open arms and the love was overwhelming for him. He felt accepted so quickly by the community at large. He uses words like “big”, “heartwarming”, energizing” when describing the love, participation, and work within the queer community at large and working on bringing representation to the forefront. “To with such a great company like Shondaland is a dream come true. I feel so honored to just be a part of it. I know the direction things are going and I can’t wait to see what happens in terms of honest representation with the show, and with television as a whole,” Jake says. Grey’s may be keeping Jake busy, but he’s always looking ahead of the curve. He’s taking acting classes and you can usually find him reading plays in his down time. He’s hoping to hit the stage in New York soon, ready to bring what he’s learned to where it all began. NKD



maggie rose



Over the past decade, Maggie Rose has changed her hometown, genre, label, hairstyle — even her name. Now, she wants to change the world for the better. Growing up Margaret Durante just outside Washington, DC, she attended Catholic school and sang in church choir. “There weren’t a whole lot of secular opportunities” to sing, she recalls, but nothing could hinder Maggie’s passion for music. “Even before I could speak, I was crawling around singing,” she says. Her parents quickly took notice, letting Maggie perform for all their houseguests, and singing soon became her identity. At 15, she began performing in Jersey Shore bars with the B-Street Band, a Bruce Springsteen tribute band founded in 1980. It was an unconventional pairing, but she loved it. “That’s when the professional aspect of being a performer really merged with who I was as a singer,” she remembers, and also when she started writing. After high school, she moved to South Carolina, studying vocal music at Clemson while still performing with the B-Street Band in New Jersey. In the midst of it all, Maggie received the opportunity of a lifetime: she caught the attention of Tommy Mottola. In 2007, he was still one of the biggest music industry moguls in the game, “so when I got a phone call from his assistant on my way to Econ, I about passed out,” she remarks. A few weeks later, Maggie sang for Tommy in Manhattan. Recognizing her potential, he asked if she was ready to move to Nashville. “I couldn’t just stay at Clemson and put it off,” she realized, so 18-yearold Maggie made the decision

to leave college and pursue her dream. “The next couple of years were really just baptism by fire,” she recalls. A teenager navigating Nashville when Music City had a signature look and sound, she was pressured to grow out her hair and lose weight. “Tommy Mottola comes from the old guard,” Maggie comments, so there was more time spent shaping her appearance and brand than her writing. Fortunately, that period of her career was short-lived. Tommy connected Maggie with Laura Stroud in A&R at Sony, who worked diligently to make her appointments with successful writers. “When you’re playing an opponent in a sport and they’re better than you, it inherently makes you better at what you do because you get to study all the things that are their strengths,” Maggie recognizes. Ultimately, record label politics overpowered Laura’s determination, and Maggie left to form her own label with a backer. But even that was not true autonomy, so she went fully independent. “As a creative person, you have to make compromises,” she says, “When you feel like you aren’t being entrusted with the reigns to your own destiny.” During that process, Maggie went through a complete rebranding — a term she hates but cannot seem to escape. She cut her hair short and became Maggie Rose (her nickname and middle name) professionally. “There is power in reinvention,” she shares. “Everything that I’ve done subsequent to that has been something that I’ve really owned.” Maggie’s transformation was

also musical. “My story and my self-discovery really began [in Nashville],” she tells. At 19, she was surrounded by professionals and writing songs every day. As a country artist under Universal Music Group, she could churn out songs quickly, but releasing her first album as an independent artist, Change the Whole Thing, was “a huge act of liberation.” Over time, the city’s changing music scene shaped her sound: influenced by a musical potpourri, — including Americana, Roots Revival, Gospel, and R&B — Maggie slowly leaned into soul. With Change the Whole Thing, Maggie focused on “following the music and trying to see what feels right” rather than letting labels or conventions limit her creativity. Her decision to subvert genre was also motivated by the lack of airplay given to female artists on country radio. “I ended up using those challenges and responding [to them] in a way that helped me discover the music that I actually did want to make,” she shares. In making music she loves, Maggie inadvertently backed herself into a seemingly unmarketable corner; her “vocally forward” sound is hard to fit into an iTunes category. However, rather than losing support, Maggie’s audience has expanded. Fans are not concerned with defining her music, “they just connect with it,” she says. “I feel like I’ve found my lane, which is being versatile.” Unsurprisingly, Maggie’s influences are also genre-benders: artists like the Beatles, as well as “soulful trailblazers” like Otis Redding and Curtis Mayfield who were “known for their versatility NKDMAG.COM


and a little hard to define as well,” she notes. Additionally, she reflects, “it’s no coincidence that a lot of my biggest influences are women.” She rattles off a list: Bonnie Raitt, Etta James, Aretha Franklin, Linda Ronstadt, Madonna, Lucinda Williams, Mary Chapin Carpenter. Strong, outspoken women “direct my compass for where I want to go artistically” and in her message, she elaborates. Maggie’s passion for women’s equality shines through in her songs: “Hey Blondie” discusses inequity in the music industry; her Land O’Lakes collaboration, “SheI-O,” spotlights female farmers. Growing up with two sisters, she was surrounded by inspirational women — although, she adds, “I don’t need to have sisters to feel this way.” Additionally, her history with country radio “was an ember for my disdain” about the inequality that women in all industries face. The world is changing, “and that’s a great thing,” she acknowledges, “but it doesn’t mean that the fight stops and that the conversation stops.” Maggie works with a lot of women “who feel like there’s just one slot for their particular craft, and if that slot is filled, then there’s not really a demand [for their music], but we’re getting very resourceful,” she shares. “We’re


finding a place.” Maggie created that place for herself with Change the Whole Thing. “No one told me to write this record,” she explains, she just found herself “thinking about the state of the world” and channeling those feelings into song. “It’s been a bit of a tough time, and I think in the face of that anxiety, in the face of these insurmountable problems, [it is easy to] turn our backs on it and walk away.” The idea behind the titular track, “Change The Whole Thing,” is that even small acts of kindness make the world a better place. The title also refers to another change. In 2017, Maggie and her 13-piece band started recording the album. For nearly a decade, fans had been telling Maggie that they loved her recorded music, but nothing compared to live shows. “While it sounds like a compliment,” Maggie recognizes, she felt like something was missing in her recordings. Now an independent artist, she decided to cut three songs live “in one room, one take, no auto-tune or overdubs.” There was no plan to record the whole album live until they heard the finished product. The “human element” that Maggie loves about soul music was able to shine through beautifully “not only in the lyrics and the message, but in

the delivery of the vocal takes and how we’re playing it,” she explains. Up for a challenge, they recorded nine more. Fans have impacted Maggie’s writing as well. On tour, she draws inspiration from everyone she meets, showing just “how many universal topics and feelings there are to expand upon.” This year, Maggie shares, she will be touring with a handful of different artists, including Kelly Clarkson, Jason Isbell, OAR and Elle King. Hearing how fans worldwide respond to her music “is a great opportunity that I have as a writer,” she remarks. Maggie hopes that her fans can feel her authenticity in Change the Whole Thing. “I hope they hear the camaraderie between me and the band,” she says. The writing process forced her to reflect equally on the exciting and difficult moments of life. “There’s some sadness in the stories,” she acknowledges, but the resounding message is one of love. To Maggie, the beauty of music is its ability to reach people from all walks of life. It is her olive branch, extended “to people who might not be expected to connect initially.” Maggie hopes that the album resonates with her audience and that it “touches their soul, lifts them up, and makes them feel as grateful to be alive as I feel in having written this music.” NKD

felix mallard Words by NICOLE MOOREFIELD Photos by CATHERINE POWELL


At just 20-years-old, Felix Mallard is unexpectedly insightful, which his rapid success over the past year reflects. Felix grew up in the suburbs of Melbourne, Australia. He never considered acting until he was scouted by a modeling agency at 13. They got him an audition for Ben on popular Australian soap opera Neighbours and conveyed that, while he wouldn’t get the part, “it’s just good to network,” Felix remembers. Much to the agency’s surprise, he was hired for six episodes. With a fast-paced shooting schedule and an experienced, supportive cast, Neighbours was a great learning experience. The show’s large audience taught him that “what you put out in the world is going to be seen regardless of whether you want it to be,” he shares. “There is a sense of being a role model.” But it is responsibility, not pressure. At first, Felix was unsure about acting professionally, but advice from director Declan Eames changed his understanding of the job. Felix was trying to understand why 14-year-old Ben was grieving for his father, who passed away when Ben was young. Declan helped him grasp the character better, but also explained that Felix’s job as an actor was to convey to kids watching Neighbours who were growing up without a dad “that it’s okay to go through that emotional journey,” Felix recalls. Ever since, Felix has favored roles with important messages. Felix’s love of meaningful stories continues with his most recent project, CBS’s Happy Together. “It’s about finding an unorthodox family,” he explains. Felix plays Cooper James, an Australian pop sensation who moves in with his accountant, Jake (Damon Wayans Jr.), and his wife, Claire (Amber Stevens West). Happy Together “is such a nice thing to have on TV,” Felix says, because unlike most sitcoms today, the

show portrays marriage and family optimistically. “That’s what sets it apart,” he adds. Viewers get to “be happy for 30 minutes.” The show didn’t have a name until the network’s Upfronts presentation in May, but Happy Together perfectly sums up the message, as well as the set dynamic. “[Everyone working on the show is] so hardworking, but they’re so happy,” Felix observes. The sitcom is loosely based on a true story: at the peak of his One Direction fame, Harry Styles was living with Happy Together’s executive producer, Ben Winston. “We took the concept of Harry living with Ben and then made it our own,” Felix tells. Cooper isn’t based on Harry at all, allowing Happy Together to write storylines without affecting Harry’s reputation. “I didn’t watch any of [Harry’s] mannerisms,” Felix reveals, but instead drew inspiration from people he knows “who are like human Labradors.” Cooper is “endlessly happy, and he doesn’t take things for granted,” and Felix can’t always match his unrelenting optimism, “especially in the morning,” he jokes. At the same time, playing Cooper has made Felix more grateful for his own life and privacy. Although Cooper has found wild success and possesses an internal pride and happiness that Felix strives for, “he doesn’t quite know who he is yet,” Felix notes. Cooper moves in with Jake and Claire to find normalcy and human connection in a new, unfamiliar world of agents and fangirls. Originally American, Cooper was rewritten to be Australian when Ben Winston heard Felix’s accent, and “it informs the character so much more that he’s so far away from home,” says Felix. Felix’s next big role is Roamer in the film adaptation of Jennifer Niven’s All the Bright Places. Shifting from the mindset of a lovable pop-star to a big-

oted bully takes a lot of mental energy, but Felix enjoys “finding out why those characters behave the way that they do.” “[Roamer] is really an antagonist through the film,” Felix explains, “but from his perspective, he’s being antagonized by the person who has taken his girlfriend.” He doesn’t understand the pain he is inflicting and just wants to protect Violet (Elle Fanning). “He wants her to be okay and doesn’t know how to deal with that in himself.” Felix hopes to make Roamer’s internal turmoil evident such that viewers will understand him and “love to hate” him. He wants to show that Roamer is not just “a dick because the plot needs it,” but that “he’s really going through a hard time.” Many characters in the film are similarly struggling. All the Bright Places tells the important story of teen suicide in hopes of destigmatizing depression and showing viewers that they are not alone. “It’s okay to seek help and it’s okay to go through these things,” Felix expands, “but you are loved.” He commends the entire cast and crew for their “incredible job in portraying that everyone has their own journey to go through and [hardships] to deal with.” While Felix has flirted with comedy and drama, his dream role would encapsulate both. “So much of life is the good with the bad,” he elaborates. Felix recently ran into this balance in his own life when his grandfather passed away. The pain unified his family, teaching Felix the duality of emotion. “It was all of us staying in the one house, all of us going through the grief of losing someone, yet, at that time, I’d never laughed with my family more.” Felix’s ideal part would highlight life’s bittersweet moments. “It’s finding the dark in the light and the light in the dark, and that’s what I love.” NKD NKDMAG.COM



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Cierra Ramirez booked her first acting role in 2006. Since then, her credits include appearances on shows like The Suite Life of Zack and Cody, The Secret Life of the American Teenager, and of course, The Fosters. Now, she stars on Good Trouble – a Fosters spinoff that follows her character, Mariana, as she navigates young adulthood. The 23-year-old currently juggles acting and singing, but she got her start in the entertainment industry through her love for music. “As far back as I can remember, I was always putting on shows with my sister for my family members and anyone who came through our house – even the mailman,” Cierra, who grew up in Houston, Texas, says. She started performing in competitions and fairs, then flew to Los Angeles with her family for a singing competition. The competition also included an acting category, which she spontaneously decided to try out for. Cierra had nothing to lose, after all. “My dad ended up helping me write a monologue about a true story that had happened during lunch, with a horrifying lunch lady and I ended up getting my agent that way, and I’ve been with him ever since,” Cierra recalls. “It’s been a whirlwind. I kind of stumbled into the acting.” She officially moved out to L.A. when she was 17-yearsold. At the time, Cierra

booked a recurring role as Kathy on drama series The Secret Life of the American Teenager (which aired on ABC Family, now known as Freeform). Cierra joined the show during the fifth season. In 2012, it was revealed that The Secret Life of the American Teenager got canceled and Season 5 would be the final installment. After hearing the news, Cierra’s agent told her about a new show for the network called The Fosters, which was already in the late stages of casting people. And they were already testing actresses for the role of Mariana. Regardless, Cierra was fascinated with the premise of the show and knew that she had to audition for the show. She submitted a self-tape and learned that she booked the role the next day, which Cierra says, “was crazy in itself.” Prior to filming The Fosters, there were already negative reactions from people online who felt uneasy by the show’s premise – a multi-ethnic family led by two mothers who were raising biological, adoptive and foster children. Based on that response, Cierra realized that she joined a show that would be impactful and spark conversations. “I knew I wanted to be a part of it because it was so groundbreaking,” she says. “Early on, before we even started filming the pilot, there were blogs trying to ban it, trying to get the network to not go ahead and let us film NKDMAG.COM


it.” “There was something about it,” she continues. “I was like, ‘OK, this is going to cause confrontation, but in the right way. It’s giving a voice to people that don’t necessarily have it and I want to be a part of it.” For Cierra, who was 17 at the time, being on the show felt less like work and more like an escape from school. “I was in school while we were filming for the pilot and I just remember being so excited to be on set, trying to run away from school at any chance I could get, just so I could be on set as long as I could,” she says with a laugh. Over the show’s five seasons, fans got to see Mariana deal with a variety of challenges, from the need to fit in and be accepted by her peers to meeting her biological parents. Through it all, Mariana served as a complex character, capable of placing importance on her hair and manicure, while also being a skilled coder, singer, and member of the robotics and dance teams at school. “I definitely think that there are similarities and differences between Mariana and I,” Cierra says. “We’re both very sassy and it’s been a fun process seeing her grow into the woman that she is – and you’ll really get a sense of that in Good Trouble.” “I feel like I too grew up on the show, so I kind of get to experience everything alongside her and I’m really proud of the person that she’s be42

come,” she adds. “I mean, she was a teenager, had ups and downs, and she’s really become comfortable in her own skin and I’m excited for Good Trouble because it just kind of continues. The growing up never stops, honestly.” In January 2018, Freeform announced that The Fosters would end with a three-episode finale. But it wasn’t the end of the characters’ journeys, because the spinoff focused on Mariana and Callie (played by Maia Mitchell) was already in the works. “Just to have my own space to be able to tell this story, I was completely on board,” Cierra says. “I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to Mariana or The Fosters. It’s really nice. It’s the same character, but it’s in such a different light. It’s set five years in the future, so she’s almost a different person altogether, which is really great to play.” Good Trouble, which premieres on January 8, follows Mariana and Callie as they move to Downtown Los Angeles after college. Mariana works at a software engineer at a tech startup and Callie is a first-year law clerk for a conservative judge. They quickly learn that being adults isn’t exactly what they perceived. In Mariana’s case, she’s faced with sexism and advised not to be “too ambitious” in the workplace because it might “rub people the wrong way.” “The tech industry is a big boys club, so she’s going to

find out real quick that her nails and the way she dresses, she’s not going to be taken seriously because of it, and things need to change in her mind in that workplace,” Cierra explains. “I’m really excited about Mariana’s storyline because she’s always kind of had it together,” she adds. “She’s always kind of gotten by either with the way she speaks or Mama Lena would come in and save the day. She comes to realize that this is the real world and you can’t call your mom to come and help you.” And when they’re not “fighting the patriarchy”, Mariana and Callie reside at a not-soswanky apartment located in The Coterie – “an intentional community where we share resources to enrich our lives and the lives of others by cultivating friendship, social progress, and artistic expression.” In other words, Mariana and Callie don’t have their own bathroom or kitchen in their apartment and instead have to share with everyone else in the building. “It’s about navigating your ‘20s in a new city and it goes hand in hand with the idea of The Fosters, creating your own family that isn’t necessarily by blood,” Cierra says. “A lot of twenty-somethings can relate to being in this new, scary city and finding your way and meeting people along the way that help you.” Good Trouble is comprised of “the same heart and soul that you know and love about



The Fosters.” But it differs from The Fosters in terms of its vibe and the content that’s covered. “It’s a lot sexier, it’s edgier, and because it’s present day, the issues are just as relevant as ever,” Cierra says. This includes topics like shootings, situations that are “dealt with unjustly in the court of law,” body positivity, and exploring sexuality. “A lot of the stories are stuff that I’ve never seen on TV, which is something that I’ve been drawn to with The Fosters, that gives voice to people that don’t necessarily have one and I think that there are going to be a lot of people that can relate to these storylines,” Cierra says. Good Trouble will also feature guest appearances from Cierra’s Fosters co-stars, including Teri Polo (Stef Adams Foster), Sherri Saum (Lena Adams Foster), Hayden Byerly (Jude Adams Foster), Noah Centineo (Jesus Adams Foster), and David Lambert (Brandon Foster). “It was literally like a little piece of home,” Cierra says of reuniting with them. “It was really fun. Just seeing these characters set five or six years in the future, it’s really fun to see where these characters’ lives have gone.” “You’re going to see them all in a different light, but it’s almost like when your family visits you from out of town,” she adds. “It’s just instantly home. I think the writers did a really amazing job of spreading it out, so the characters 46

will all come in at different times but it’ll all surprise you and it’ll be perfect timing for each one.” In addition to starring on Good Trouble, Cierra and Maia also serve as executive producers. “It’s something that I’ve always been interested in,” Cierra says. “I love being in front of the camera and I was always so interested in what goes on behind it as well. Maia and I got this amazing opportunity to executive produce and I’ve gotten a lot insight as to what goes into the making and creating of a TV show altogether.” As an executive producer, Cierra got to sit it on meetings, watch audition tapes, and give input regarding other creative aspects of the show. “I respected my cast and crew, but found a newfound respect for how much goes into it, and how much thought,” she adds. “I get to just help this experience with people that I know and love and have admired for so long. To be in the room and sit it on these meetings has been amazing.” Cierra has been acting for more than a decade, and she hasn’t made it to where she is now without encountering rejection. Ultimately, having thick skin has enabled her to continue and thrive. “I’ve been doing this for a long time so there are a lot of ‘no’s’ that I’ve heard, but you have to learn not to take anything personally,” she says. “At the end of the day, sometimes

it’s all about the work. Every ‘no’ gets you closer to that ‘yes’ and that ‘yes’ is just going to be incredible.” “Thick skin has definitely helped me, but I’ve learned so much along the way, just from my co-stars and from my cast and crews along the years. If you’re driven and passionate about anything, not even just acting, you’ll make it happen,” she says. Going into the new year, Cierra has several things she’s interested in pursuing. “I would definitely love to dabble more in executive producing other things,” she says. “I think maybe doing a film could be fun as well. I’ve done a couple of movies, but I would love to do more.” On the music front, she also hopes to “finally” release her LP. Cierra dropped an EP in 2016, but music was put on the backburner while she focused on acting. In September 2018, she released a song called “Bad Boy”, which was inspired by the movie Cry Baby. On the track, Cierra sings about being attracted to an edgier guy, despite feeling pressure to play it safe and end up with “a nice guy.” “People loved it, thank goodness,” Cierra says. “I think it was a good little summer anthem, a nice little way to wrap up the summer. It was so much fun and everyone was so supportive. I haven’t released any music since I was 19 and I have a whole body of work that I’m ready to release in 2019.” NKD

jimmie allen Words by RACHEL HILL Photos by CATHERINE POWELL


Turns out 32-year-old country newcomer, singer/songwriter Jimmie Allen, isn’t really new to the scene at all. The country crooner dropped out of the University of Delaware with $21 to his name over a decade ago to pursue his dream of making it big in Music City. He worked a slew of odd jobs in Nashville to try and make ends meet while doing writers’ rounds and even did a stint of living out of his car. If you ask if he knew he’d reach these levels of success one day, he’ll tell you he did. Not how or when. But he was sure his drive would get him there. The tenacity paid off. “Ever since I was a kid I knew at the age of like 9 or 10 that music was what I wanted to do for a living and I’ve been chasing it down ever since,” says Jimmie. Hailing from Milton, Delaware, young Jimmie sunk himself into school plays, church choir, playing the drums, piano and some bass guitar. His adeptness for creative writing stems back to his youth in which he loved to develop characters and storylines for potential movies. It’s evident Jimmie’s craft has been influenced by his eclectic taste in tunes as a boy, listening to Alabama, Ricochet, Prince, Michael Jackson, George Strait, Three Doors Down and Tupac in his high school years. Influenced by this crowd, his smash hit single “Best Shot” leans in towards R&B-flavored country. It topped off at No. 1 in Canada country radio in December 2018 and spent two weeks as the most played song on country radio in the U.S. The meaning behind the song chan-

nels Jimmie’s unwillingness to ever give up. As for the music video, viewers are treated to charming home videos and pictures from Jimmie’s time growing up with his family in Delaware. He made the choice to focus on his loved ones in the song because for him, “What makes me want to wake up every day and be better and quote unquote ‘give my best shot,’ per se, is my family. I’m super close with them.” The release of his debut album in October 2018, Mercury Lane, was highly anticipated following the success of his self-titled EP and “Best Shot”. The name is derived from the street he grew up on in Milton. It’s clear a great deal of his musical – and personal – identity is centered around his idyllic family life. “It’s like holding onto memories because I realized in order to go where I need to go, I had to move. And life is all about keeping memories in the past and just progress,” he continues, “And sometimes the progress takes you different places.” Although he stresses he always wants to leave his work up to interpretation for every listener, for him, “Mercury Lane” is an homage and walk down memory lane. “It [the album] is just a process, a process through life. It talks about relationships and never quitting, you know, chasing your dreams no matter the obstacles,” Jimmie reveals. Jimmie is currently on the road with fellow American Idol alum, Scotty McCreery. Funnily enough, they both competed on Season 10, however Scotty ended up the reigning champ, with Jimmie getting cut just before the

Top 24. With the Seasons Change tour serving as Jimmie’s first as a solo artist, he’s been learning cues from Scotty and soaking it all in. “It’s been fun getting the chance to see Scotty’s show and getting the chance to perform mine in front of his fans,” Jimmie adds, “I’m just learning a lot about the road and trying out different things.” He’ll be heading back out on Kane Brown’s Live Forever Tour for select dates. Expect to see Jimmie back on the festival circuit as well as focusing on his next single. He’s also diving into his passion for film with exciting acting and movie opportunities. 2018 proved to be a generous year for the country star. With “Best Shot” reaching number one on Country Airplay in November, Jimmie became the first African-American country artist to shoot a debut single to the top. The recent increase in discourse concerning inclusion in country music has been applauded by many, including Jimmie. “Honestly, country music stemmed from Blues. So for me, when people bring up, ‘How does it feel to be a black guy in country music?’ I was like, well that’s how country started, you know,” he admits. He has never viewed the genre as a “white thing”. “It started with black artists such as Chuck Berry and Ray Charles. And that’s when country came from bluegrass and then went Western,” Jimmie mentions, “Now it’s kind of coming back around to the intent of country music, which is inclusion. A place for everyone to kind of really talk about what’s on their hearts. So for me, it’s good to see it getting back to where it started.” NKD NKDMAG.COM


mahogany lox Words by OLIVIA SINGH Photos by CATHERINE POWELL

Mahogany Lox was born into a musical family. Her grandfather, Berry Gordy, founded Motown Records and had a knack for identifying talented artists and signing them to his label – from groups like the Supremes and the Jackson 5 to soloists like Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder. Mahogany’s older brother, Sky Blu, and her uncle, Redfoo, also followed a musical path as part of duo LMFAO. Given her family’s history, it was inevitable that Mahogany would also become a musician. Mahogany was raised in Pacific Palisades, California. Growing up, she was surrounded by music thanks to her brother, who was always either playing basketball or experimenting with music in the garage. “I knew what I wanted to do when I was young, just because everyone else was doing it and I loved it as well,” Mahogany says. Like her relatives, Mahogany found herself singing. That led to putting on small shows for her parents and getting a vocal coach. After finishing school, music became her primary focus and she started actively pursuing singing and DJing. Mahogany got her first piece of DJ equipment for her 16th birthday, as a present from Sky Blu. “My brother actually gave me a choice,” she recalls. “I was still in high school and he said, ‘Do you want a Louis Vuitton backpack to be able to look fresh at school or do you want

DJ equipment and I’ll teach you how to DJ?’” The designer backpack sounded like an enticing offer, but she chose the other option. “I think the right decision was to get the DJ equipment, and I’m so happy I picked it, because now I can DJ and I love it,” Mahogany says. “He taught me how to, so it was a nice bonding experience and it changed my life.” The 24-year-old’s real name is Mahogany Gordy, and she was named after a ‘70s movie that was directed and produced by her grandfather. She started going by Mahogany Lox after Sky Blu created an entertainment company called Big Bad University. Sky Blu called himself the Big Bad Wolf, while another group member was known as Little Red Riding Hood. Sticking with the fairy tale theme, Mahogany called herself Goldilocks. Although the idea for different mascot names was scrapped, Mahogany decided to put “Lox” at the end of her name and “it just stuck.” In 2013, Mahogany started DJing at Magcon – a popular meet and greet convention where young fans could get the chance to interact with social media stars in person. The convention was comprised of a group of boys who had large followings on the now-defunct platform known as Vine, like Shawn Mendes, Nash Grier, Jacob Whitesides and Camer-

on Dallas. While fans met the Viners, Mahogany stood on a stage and DJed with bright red liptstick, cat ears and bedazzled equipment. “Magcon was totally different from anything I had ever done,” Mahogany says. “It was brand new to everybody. It was a bunch of lines and people were just waiting to meet people, and then there was me DJing. I had a really fun time trying to figure out how to get them to turn to look at me instead of just facing their line.” “It was two days, so by the second day, I got everyone to spin around and look at me and interact with me while they were waiting, and that was a big accomplishment for me,” she recalls. “That helped me grow just as a performer, because I really had to get their attention. It was a lot of fun and then we all became family.” Mahogany also opened for Fifth Harmony as part of their 2015 Reflection Tour, which stopped at more than 20 cities in the US from February to March. “It was so much fun,” she says. “It was awesome because I was in front of the Fifth Harmony fanbase and I got to meet and vibe out with more people and it was really cool to expand that way, just DJ and get to know different people.” Every night, Mahogany would watch Fifth Hamony’s performances. “By the end of the tour, I knew every dance,” she says. “It definitely made me want to dance even more. NKDMAG.COM


I do dance – I’m a performance DJ – but I learned some new moves.” That same year, Mahogany released her debut single after racking up millions of views on YouTube just from her covers of popular songs. “Boom” was co-written by Sky Blu and gave fans a taste of her “sassy pop” sound, which also includes hip hop vibes and West Coast influences. Since releasing that song years ago, Mahogany has grown more as an artist. “I’ve definitely become a better writer in that time,” she says. “I’ve learned to speak up a lot more. With ‘Boom,’ I spoke up a lot because it was my brother, but I’ve done other writing sessions with people where I’ve been more quiet or nervous about my ideas, and now I’m not like that. I’ll speak my mind, I’ll say what I think the song should be about, I really take charge. I like that, because I connect to the songs so much more now.” In November 2018, Mahogany released another track, called “No Deal.” “It’s about being in a relationship that you know you should get out of, and you’ve seen the proof, you’ve seen the text messages, you know what’s going on, but you finally pull the plug and say ‘no deal’, and nothing that he or she can say can change your mind, and you’re just staying true to what you believe is right,” she says. Similar to the message of “No Deal,” Mahogany hopes that fans listening to her songs can feel a sense of empowerment. “I also hope that they dance and have a great time listening to my music, that it makes them smile and makes them sing,” she says. She’s also inspired by a variety of 52

artists, including Mariah Carey (“I’m the No. 1 Mariah Carey fan”), Christina Aguilera, Zedd, and of course, LMFAO. “I’ll always be inspired by LMFAO,” she says. “I think that they’re amazing and I would love to put out more music like that.” In addition to releasing music and performing, Mahogany also landed a part as a briefcase model on the NBC game show Deal or No Deal. Prior to filming the episodes, Mahogany was skeptical that she was actually part of a series that she grew up watching with her family. Even when she got the phone call and went to fittings, she still was in disbelief. “Anything can change,” she says. “You can still do the fittings and then you can not get it. So once I got that plane ticket, I was like, ‘We’re in!’ I was excited even before the fittings. It was just so cool to even be considered to be a briefcase model. That’s such an honor.” Going into the new year, Mahogany has several music-related ambitions, from releasing more tracks to going on tour and interacting with fans across the globe. Mahogany has also amassed a large social media following across YouTube, Instagram, and Twitter. She’s taken a break from being as active on YouTube, where she has more than 500,000 subscribers, but she’s still trying to figure out the best way to develop more high quality content for fans while also accomplishing all her goals. “I’m still learning, still trying to figure out how to balance all of it – but I’ll get there eventually,” she says. “I really want to focus on my music and just be able to do that,” she adds. “That’s my biggest goal. And then maybe throw in some acting.” NKD




larkin poe Words by VANESSA SALLES Photos by CATHERINE POWELL

With their latest album debuting at the top of the Billboard Blues Chart, Larkin Poe has solidified themselves as a band on the rise. Comprised of singer/ songwriter multi-instrumentalist sisters, Rebecca and Megan Lovell have created their own brand of Roots Rock ‘n’ Roll. Gritty, honest, and soulful, the duo has evolved in a way that’s managed to remain authentic to their true sound. “Rebeca and I started Larkin Poe at the beginning of 2010,” Megan recalls. “We spent most of our teenage years out on the road touring in a band called ‘The Lovell Sisters,’ an incarnation that included our eldest sister, Jessica. Because of that, we already knew that we loved the lifestyle of being an artist. Starting Larkin Poe was the natural progression of our musical expression.” Creating as a duo, the sisters make sure each other’s opinions feel valid and heard. “Achieving balance as a duo is always a work in progress,” Megan says. “Rebecca and I feel so fortunate to share everything with one another in this lifetime and are so thankful for the bond that has been forged between us. We’re pretty much in lockstep with all the creative moves we make as a band and we thank our lucky stars for that.” Describing their musical journey, Larkin Poe’s evolution is ongoing. “We have never been afraid to chase after the fragments of music that we hear in our heads from record to record,” Rebecca explains.

“We’ve been fortunate enough to remain independent for the majority of our career as Larkin Poe and, as such, have been allowed a lot more space and freedom in our creative experiments. It takes years of time to figure out who you are, both as a human and as an artist. I imagine we’ll keep evolving our sound until the end.” With the release of their latest album, Venom & Faith, the 10-track release encapsulates Megan and Rebecca’s artistry and gives listeners a peek into their musical souls. “The support for Venom & Faith has been so overwhelming,” Megan gushes. “The album has only been out for a little while now, but already at shows, we look out into the crowd and see so many beautiful, smiling faces, singing along with us! It’s every songwriter’s dream.” On stage, Larkin Poe gives it their all from start to finish. Creating a world that allows fans to escape their realities for a night, Megan and Rachel pour their hearts out whilst performing. “For me, ‘Honey Honey’ is the song on Venom & Faith that really lights me up,” Rebecca reveals. “We worked and worked and worked to find the right production approach for that song – I’m talking blood, sweat, and tears – so when the musical elements of the track finally came into focus, it was such a payoff. We were elated! I love being able to perform it live.” Of their latest release, Megan and Rachel cite the album as their

top pick from Larkin Poe’s discography. “Venom & Faith is, by far, our favorite album we’ve ever released,” Megan says. “In an effort to give fans a truly distilled taste of our musical souls, we decided to self-produce the album and to commit to playing as many of the instruments as we possibly could, which wound up being pretty much all of them!” Encouraging their fans to embrace their own creativity, the band insists it’s what keeps you engaged in the life you’re living. “We want to bring joy into people’s lives with our music and our performances,” Megan shares. “We also want to inspire people to dip their toes into the pool of creativity. It can take countless forms but no matter how you access that stream, you’re bound to be more present in your own life.” As for what’s up next, the sister duo is set to cross off a major bucket list moment in the new year. “We’re touring Australia for the first time this year,” Rebecca exclaims. “That’s something we’re really looking forward to. There were so many highlights in 2018 and we’re just excited to see the milestones that we’ll reach in 2019. Having Venom & Faith debut at #1 on the Billboard Blues Charts was a crazy one for us. Getting to play at Bonnaroo and Lollapalooza, being on tour with Keith Urban, selling out headline shows across Europe, the UK, and the USA – it’s all been amazing.” NKD NKDMAG.COM



NKD Mag - Issue #91 (January 2019)