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DEC. musicians: 06 ANNE-MARIE on the importance of telling your story

08 HEY VIOLET learning some brand new moves

22 WILD WILD HORSES

48 EDEN

an intimate talk with the indie star

the product of hard work

64 CAITLYN SMITH

72 MEG DONNELLY

never accepting defeat

meet tv’s new darling daughter

66 SIMPLE PLAN

dancers:

balancing nostalgia and new ideas

on their debut year and 2017 plans

actors:

30 GOODY GRACE

14 LAROYCE HAWKINS

one of 2016’s hottest new acts

bringing love and humor to everything

32 OLD DOMINION

38 MADISYN SHIPMAN

one year of meat and candy

52 SHALITA GRANT

on achieving her dreams

40 RAELYNN

46 ELIZA BENNETT

preparing for the year of wildhorse

on her culturally relevant new role

16 WITNEY CARSON taking life one goal at a time

double threats: 24 AJ MICHALKA returning to music & staying on tv

54 DEREK HOUGH on mirror balls, hairspray & more


publisher: CATHERINE POWELL

editors: CATHERINE POWELL

writers: SAMANTHA BAMBINO SHELBY CHARGIN TAYLOR DOUGHERTY ELIZABETH FORREST IAN HAYS STACY MAGALLON CATHERINE POWELL VANESSA SALLES OLIVIA SINGH AMBER SPILLMAN RILEY STENEHJEM TANYA TRANER LIZ ZAVOYSKIY

photography: CATHERINE POWELL

design: CATHERINE POWELL


anne-marie For a girl with musical theater dreams, singer-songwriter Anne-Marie never saw herself as the girl who would one day write and perform her own songs. She went to a performing arts school from the age of 2, starting musical theater at the age of 5. When she was 9 she actually took a bit of a detour and started karate. “That 06

took over,” she says. Anne-Marie was a self-proclaimed “naughty” child, so karate helped teach her discipline. It wasn’t until college that Anne-Marie truly got back into performing arts. “I didn’t know how to write before,” she says of learning how to compose her own songs. She thought she would always be doing musical theater, where you don’t

Words by TANYA TRANER Photos by CATHERINE POWELL

need to write your own stuff. A bit of a fluke got her into the music industry. A friend needed a voice for some songs she had written, and Anne-Marie decided to lend hers to the tracks. The engineer liked her sound so much, that she was signed to a label the next week. “I didn’t know who I wanted to be, what kind of artist I wanted to be,” she says. “From


that moment, it was kind of a massive learning journey.” Anne-Marie says that she is lucky to have good people around her who’ve let her grow and figure out who she is as a singer. She never felt pushed in a specific direction artistically, but finding herself wasn’t easy. She says she needed to learn how important music is to the world before she could honestly write for it. She knew you could change so much and affect people’s lives with music. “Like when I was growing up I used to listen to Christina Aguilera’s albums a lot, and

it’s just so good, and it was about growing up to be a strong female, a strong woman,” she says. She was also heavily influenced by Alanis Morissette, Alicia Keys and Lauren Hill. “Just very strong females,” she says. At the time, she didn’t even realize the influence these musicians had on her. In hind sight, she realized how the music actually changed her growing up. “Now I write all my own stuff, and it’s very important to me to do that,” she says. “Just keeping it real as possible, talking about real experiences.” She wants to have that same effect on her listeners. The multitude of musical influences was a good thing for Anne-Marie, “but it was also why it was hard to choose a direction because I loved so much music,” she says. The first song that actually clicked for her as a songwriter was a ballad. “At first I was learning so much,” she says, “During that time I was making music and it was real stories about my life, but I didn’t realize until this song that I could actually be like ‘No, just have the piano.’ Or just have this section here.” This song would become her single “Peak”, written about a bad break up. Over time, as she’s honed in on her craft, she believes that she has created something meaningful but ready for people to listen to. Changing gears a bit, Anne-Marie says that she had no idea how much her karate background would help her career. “It’s massively about focus,” she says. “Just knowing yourself and learning about your body.” She doesn’t believe she would have this mindset without the practice. When she has the time, which is rare these days, she says she still likes to practice. Anne-Marie’s sound found its way into her latest smash single “Alarm”, garnering international attention, which she can’t even put into words because she thinks it’s “so mad”. She says she used to have such high expectations for herself, believing that this kind of success was the end-all-be-all. “But after a while in this industry and figuring out how things work, you kind of just let it flow,” she says, “And that’s what I’ve done with “Alarm” – just let it grow on its own.” Anne-Marie still finds it to be “mental” that so many people have heard this song (there are over 23 million views on

YouTube). She’s received a lot of positive feedback on the song, and that’s what she says she’s doing this for: the people. “Just the fact that I can go to countries and sing and do a festival or show and I get to that song and they’re singing it with me, that’s just mental,” she says. She lives for looking out into a crowd and seeing cheering fans. Anne-Marie has been successful lending her voice to other artist’s tracks as well. She recently toured with Rudimental featuring her voice on their single, “Rumor Mill”. “I think it was the best thing that I could have gone through before doing this,” she says. Before touring with the bass and drum band, she had really only ever performed on stage with musical theater productions and this kind of performing is just so different. “I was so scared,” she says, “I thought I was going to be amazing, like seriously I’ve done this since I was 5. But I walked on stage and I watched the videos back, and I was just standing still the whole time.” She says this was a huge learning curve, teaching her how to perform, how to get her emotion across. “It actually taught me that I need to write more up-beat songs,” she says, “I find it easier to write about heartbreak.” Her first solo show featured mostly slower tempo songs, but the audience needs something more dynamic. Because of her work with Rudimental she began to write more songs that she could move to on stage. “Most of my fans have come from that audience,” she says, “It’s nice that I’ve got those fans there that have known me.” Coming off the success, of “Alarm” Anne-Marie has been and will be extremely busy. She toured the UK throughout November. Next year, she plans to do a European and Australian tour. She believes they will be putting out an album next year as well. Over the last two years touring with Rudimental, she’s been building up an army of songs to choose from, writing and perfecting her songs on her days off. “I think we’re going to release maybe like two more songs next year, and then have the album come out,” she says. The former musical theater girl’s new dream is to have a successful album, to be able to tour anywhere and have people come, and ultimately to continue to help people. NKD NKDMAG.COM

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hey violet Words by TAYLOR DOUGHERTY Photos by CATHERINE POWELL

The best part of a fresh start is all of the new doors it can open, and the new life it can breathe into something. This is has certainly been case for Hey Violet, a band on the cusp of becoming one of music’s next breakout sensations. Currently consisting of lead singer Rena Lovelis and her drummer sister Nia Lovelis, lead guitarist Casey Moreta, bass guitarist Ian Shipp and rhythm guitarist and keyboardist Miranda Miller, Hey Violet has certainly have had their share of growing pains and have taken some time to find out who they really want to be, but they have become a stronger and more focused band by doing so. Hey Violet’s origins stretch back to 2008 when it started as the all female band Cherri Bomb consisting of the Lovelis sisters, Miranda and Julia Pierce. It was also a much more hard rock and alternative band than it’s current iteration.

They released their first album, This Is The End of Control in 2012, via Hollywood Records and even opened for many hard rock bands like The Smashing Pumpkins and Foo Fighters during their time as Cherri Bomb. In 2013 they parted ways with Julia and brought in Casey as the first male to the group, even ‘proposing’ to him on stage at the Viper Room to become part of the band permanently, after having played with them on a temporary basis. Almost two years after bringing Casey into the band they found themselves at a crossroads. With their musical tastes evolving and growing, they found that the name Cherri Bomb no longer suited who they were as a band and the direction they wanted to go in; so on February 18th, 2015 they officially announced via their YouTube page that they were changing their name from Cherri Bomb to

Hey Violet and began reintroducing themselves with the intention to move towards much more of a pop sound. “It was definitely a huge change for us, and it was scary because we were like ‘is this the right decision?” Rena says, “I think what was going through all of out heads was: we need a new beginning, we need a fresh start. We all wanted to go a little more pop anyways and we just wanted to try a new genre of music.” And not only was it a big change for the band, it was also a big change for fans who had been with them from the beginning. “I think some of them were a little shocked with the name change and everything, they weren’t use to it. But there are so many fans that have welcomed us with open arms and have just been so warm and sweet. Most of them were totally fine and were like ‘Oh, cool. Awesome. Love the new name!’ We got a bunch of tweets NKDMAG.COM

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about it and it was all positive stuff,” Rena says. A little over a month after announcing their new direction, they released their first single as Hey Violet, “This Is Why,” and moved labels, joining Hi or Hey Records – 5 Seconds of Summer’s imprint with Capitol Records. “We had a friend from another label who started working closely with people from the new label and she figured out that 5SOS was looking for a female fronted band, and we were like, ‘Hey, we’re a female fronted band!’” Rena laughs, “They [5 Seconds of Summer] guys came over to our house and listened to us play a few songs, and we got along thankfully. Then we got signed to their label and it was just such an incredible experience because they’re musicians who are our age, so they know exactly what we’re going through, musically, and how we’re growing. They’ve been through it before, so they really took us under their wing.” While it was an exciting time for the band as they started a new chapter, it was also a time with some definite growing pains and learning curves as they found that jumping into a new genre of music wasn’t as easy as they thought it was going to be. “We struggled for a little bit because we were so use to our instruments and we weren’t quite sure like… how do you use this synth? That was all really new to us,” Rena says. “We kept playing kind of harder rock songs and we tried to go a little more pop and tried to write a little more pop, but it was still a little difficult because it was all instruments, so it still sounded like a rock song.” They used a few writing sessions to really experiment with the pop sound and eventually found a producer “who really understood where we wanted to go,” Lovelis said. “We kind of honed in our sound, and we really made it how we wanted it to be. I’m really proud of the songs that we have. I just love them. They’re exactly how we envisioned our sound to be.” They released NKDMAG.COM

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their first EP as Hey Violet, I Can Feel It, in July 2015 and Brand New Moves in August 2016. A big demonstration of growth, and move farther into pop music, can be found in the dichotomy between I Can Feel It and Brand New Moves. You can hear the progression they’ve made in a year and how much more comfortable they are in the genre now, with the title track from Brand New Moves being a perfect example. They also released another single, “Guys My Age” in October, which has been impacting at radio. 5 Seconds of Summer proceeded to take their new label mates out on their Rock Out With Your Socks Out 2015 tour and again this year on the Sounds Live, Feels Live Tour – an experience that has been a huge highlight for the band, especially this year, as it included them permanently adding touring bassist Ian Shipp to the band full time, and getting to play larger venues such as Madison Square Garden. “That was incredible to us. It was such a moment that we all started falling backstage,” Rena laughs. 2017 is already shaping up to be a big year for Hey Violet as they prepare their first full-length album. “Basically we have enough material for like, three albums right now, it’s just a matter of going through and picking which ones we want. It’s like picking your favorite child,” Rena says, “It’s hard because you pour your heart and soul into these songs and then you have to go through and pick out which ones you want. But hopefully we’ll have an album out by early next year!” Hey Violet is an excellent example of how taking the enormous risk of changing everything you know and completely starting over can pay off. They have reinvented themselves and become a stronger band in the process, proving that they are one to keep an eye on. “We all just have the same goals of wanting to be the biggest band in the world,” Rena says. “Just casually take over the world. Real nonchalant.” NKD 12


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laroyce hawkins Words by IAN HAYS Photos by CATHERINE POWELL

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Don’t pigeonhole LaRoyce Hawkins. He is best known as Officer Kevin Atwater on NBC’s, Chicago P.D. The hit drama may give off the impression that LaRoyce is an actor only for serious roles. But, this actor has his roots in comedy, music and his high school speech team. LaRoyce grew up in Harvey, Illinois in Chicago’s south suburbs. While it is labeled as a rough neighborhood and “doesn’t look like the most ideal place to grow up”, he has nothing but pride for his hometown. “It raised me and groomed me into the artist that I am. I take a lot of pride in the good, the bad, and the ugly,” he says. Coming from humble beginnings, LaRoyce greatly appreciates the life he currently lives. But that’s not to say he still didn’t enjoy your average American childhood. He grew up with an affinity for television and movies. He even jokes that he didn’t learn to ride a bike until he was 11 or 12 because he spent countless hours watching and studying films and shows. But, when it came to the outdoors, basketball was his first love. “It [basketball] was my right of passage in my community. It was either you play basketball or you were in a gang,” he says. And while he loved the game, by the time he was in high school, other extracurricular activities began to catch his eye. One that particularly grabbed him was the speech team. Once he discovered the speech team, he quit the basketball team and found a place he was more comfortable in. LaRoyce cites this as his first step into acting and performing. While he took speech team seriously, LaRoyce was a bit of a class clown. He was in a comedy duo that performed various routines and he often brought that humor into the classroom. He says that his teachers were okay with it though because he made them laugh as well. “Once I caught that entertainment bug I never looked back,” he says. He and a friend brought their comedy to churches and school functions in the form improv. For them, it was all about the performance and seeing the enjoyment of others. Because of this, the duo began to pick up traction. Before he knew it, they were gigging around. The ball player turned speech team kid was now a gigging comedy performer. One of their favorite routines to do was called, “The Meeting”. They often performed this during black history month as it was performed as a hypothetical meeting

between Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X. “I would play Dr. King and he would play Malcolm X. We would perform that all over Chicago, man. And then at school functions during Black History Month, we would do skits based off of their curriculum,” he recalls. And as if that weren’t enough, LaRoyce also had a Ray Charles tribute band. He would sing the songs of Ray Charles while his brother was a self-taught musician. “I was lucky that with the family and friends that I had, we were always encouraged and creative. We were able to just chase those vibes,” LaRoyce says. He was never brought down by others for chasing his dream. He was happy and doing what he loved. No one had any reason to dash his dreams. He was working hard, staying out of trouble, and learning each step of the way as he became more serious about pursuing the entertainment industry. And that is what finally led him to his success on Chicago P.D. “I’m extremely grateful and appreciative because of the leverage that it [Chicago P.D.] has. But, naturally, I would be just as happy doing The Glass Menagerie at the after-dinner theater for old folks, you know what I’m saying? That’s the kind of vibes I get from what I do, because I love it so much,” he says. And this humbleness is traced back to his solid foundation of friends and family. While he is the only one in his family to pursue acting and performing professionally, LaRoyce is quick to cite those closest to him as his greatest inspirations. His father is in lawn services and LaRoyce cites him as the funniest man he knows. His mother is a braid technician, but knows how to ride a unicycle, and because she had this unique talent, she would often be cast in plays relating to the circus. LaRoyce loved seeing his mom on stage and deep down knew that he wanted to be up there entertaining the crowds as well. LaRoyce wouldn’t be where he is in his career today without all of these previous steps and actions. It’s easy to write off dramatic roles having no relation to comedy, but for LaRoyce, all of it is intertwined. You can’t have one without the other; they have to meet in the middle. And that is where his passions and past experiences come into play. For him, it is easier for those experienced in comedy to find their footing in serious roles and dramas. They are able to find that light and bring it out easier than those who study the dramatics and try to then to

comedy. “There’s a certain humanity, seriousness and honesty that you have to have to be an effective comic. And those vulnerabilities can translate to the dramatics,” LaRoyce says, “I studied theater at Illinois State. And one of my favorite things I learned from one of my professors was that, in any scene, there are two things you need to find: and that’s the humor and that’s the love.” It is this philosophy that LaRoyce carries with him in Chicago P.D. Whether the scene is more dramatic or light-hearted, these rules still apply and allow him to fully immerse himself in not only the scene but his character as well. In scenes where he is speaking to a victim’s family, he finds the love – and he also finds the ‘humor’. For LaRoyce, this doesn’t mean something funny; it’s that certain something that helps you relate, in any way you can, to that other person. Part of that, is bringing his actual experiences to the show. He grew up in a rougher neighborhood just outside Chicago, and he now portrays an officer of the law in Chicago – a city which is known for the tension between the communities and law enforcement. But LaRoyce isn’t acting to preach; he is acting to bring forth that human element. It’s easy for him to experience those bad moments because he’s “experienced enough of those for one lifetime.” But, that’s not the whole story; that’s not the human element that LaRoyce is searching for. “I try to take the full, well-rounded experience from what I know, growing up. You know, there were just as many good cops in my life as there were those who couldn’t care less about me,” he recalls, “But, my first basketball coach was a cop and he was a great example of not only caring about the youths in the community, but to be a leader.” He’s had friends and family who were victims of gang violence. He’s witnessed firsthand tensions between police and those in his hometown. He brings this knowledge and these stories to the show. But, he knows that there is more to it than that. It is what makes him an artist. And for those looking to seriously pursue the arts, LaRoyce’s best advice is to “put your faith before your feelings”. You are going to be told no more times than you are told yes. The entertainment industry is subjective to a fault. It can be discouraging. It was and is discouraging for LaRoyce. But, he realized he was doing this for where he came from. He was pursuing something greater than himself. That allowed him to continue and become the actor he is today. NKD NKDMAG.COM

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witney carson Words by RILEY STENEHJEM Photos by CATHERINE POWELL

As a So You Think You Can Dance? alum and Dancing With The Stars professional, it makes sense that dancer Witney Carson would say that she started dancing when she came out of the womb. She was first put in dancing classes by her mother at age 3, starting with jazz and hip-hop. She moved on to ballet and tap and then, at 9-years-old, took her first ballroom dance class. “I absolutely loved it,” she says, “Sometimes I didn’t want to go because I thought boys had cooties, I was at that age — they still do — so, my mom kind of made me go, and I’m really glad she did,” she says. Throughout middle school and high school, Witney trained for about four hours a day and competed in ballroom dancing competitions all around the world. “That was kind of my life. I really didn’t have much of a social life. I was a bit of an outsider when it comes to school and friends at school,” she says, “My dance friends were my family.” When she wasn’t busy training and competing, Witney spent her free time watching dance TV shows, like Danc16

ing With The Stars. “I was about 11, and that’s when I was really into ballroom, so I was watching Dancing With The Stars religiously, always voted, always watched it,” she says, “[Being on the show] was my main goal, and then So You Think You Can Dance?. And that was pretty much it. I think that really gave me the motivation to work really hard, every single day.” Right after graduating high school, Witney auditioned for So You Think You Can Dance?, after some convincing from her mother. “I really just wanted to go on Dancing With The Stars. I wanted to work toward that instead,” Witney explains, “But my mom goes to me the night before the audition happens, and she’s like, ‘I really think you need to go out for this audition.’ So I was like, okay, I guess I’m just going to do it and see what happens.” Luckily, Witney did go out for the audition, because she ended up making it to the top three girls on the show. Following a tour with the show, she worked on a dance movie for a couple of months, before receiving a call from Dancing With The Stars.

They had seen her performing on So You Think You Can Dance?, and asked her to join the show’s dance troupe, a group of professional dancers who perform on the show as a group, not with the celebrity partners. After two seasons as a troupe dancer, Witney got the call for her promotion to a professional on the series. She says she remembers the moment her phone rang like yesterday. “My mom and I were in the car and I just came back from dance rehearsal. I got a call from the producer, and I put it on speakerphone, and they said, ‘Hey Witney, we’d really love to have you on as a professional this season.’ Both me and my mom were screaming. A car looked over at us and probably thought that something was going wrong, because we were just going ballistic,” she recalls. After dancing around the clock since childhood, Witney had accomplished her one big goal. The first season as a professional, she explains, is kind of like a trial run. Each dance is like an audition, as the producers watch and see if the


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dancer is the right fit to be a professional. Naturally, there was a lot of added stress. “Of course I was really nervous and had a lot of pressure on me, but I’ve been doing dance my whole life, so I was confident in that, at least,” she says, “I kind of just relied on my instincts and relied on what I did know.” Not only did she have a lifetime of training to rely on, Witney had the Dancing With The Stars team to help out along the way, too. “It’s like a family. Everybody’s super willing to help you and it’s a team effort. Even though I did have a lot of stress on me, it was taken away by the support of everybody,” she remarks. Her first season as a professional, Witney was partnered with Australian musician Cody Simpson. By her second season, she and partner Alfsono Ribeiro won the competition and the Mirror Ball trophy. Getting to work with a new celebrity partner every year is exciting, especially when Witney’s already a big fan. After waiting and waiting each season to find out who her partner is, Witney has to keep it a secret for three weeks until the season’s competitors are revealed. “It’s really, really hard, because you’re so excited and you want to tell everybody,” she says. She was most starstruck when she got partnered with Chris Soules, from The Bachelor and The Bachelorette. “I am an avid watcher of those shows. So when I got Chris, I about freaked out. I came to this random field, and I was like, my partner is a farmer,” she recalls, “When I walked in, and he was hiding behind a trailer and he popped out of the trailer, I was completely speechless, and I am never speechless. I was literally like, I have

no words.” With one dream partner checked off the list, Witney’s hopeful for a Hemsworth or maybe Channing Tatum. “Channing could pretend he can’t dance, and then really dance toward the end. Just delete Step Up,” she jokes. Working for Dancing With The Stars meant making the move from her hometown in Utah to Los Angeles. “It was crazy. They’re completely different worlds,” Witney says, “In Utah, you kind of live in a bubble. You just have your mountains and your greenery, and everybody’s really nice, there’s no traffic. Then you get to L.A., and it’s just like a slap in the face. You’re like, ‘What is happening?’” Luckily, Witney had a friend move with her, so the two could navigate the new, big city together. In her off time, Witney has been working on acting and singing. “I did that movie, so I kind of fell in love with acting as well. I’m just keeping all of my options open,” she says, “Dancing With The Stars is my main focus right now, but I am venturing out into different things.” Of course, she doesn’t have all that much down time to begin with. “I think maybe two to three times a week I get a couple of hours in of something other than dancing,” she remarks. In addition to her other new performing projects, Witney has been working with the Skin Cancer Foundation. Her work with the foundation started when she was partnered with Von Miller on the show. “I started charging him for every minute he was late. I collected a handful of money and decided to donate it to a foundation that’s very close and personal to me,” she says. Since then, she’s started working closely

with the Foundation, and hopes to raise awareness. “Many people are uneducated when it comes to skin cancer and skin protection,” Witney says. “Since I’m off the show, I’m able to do a little bit more. I do have some things that I’m passionate about that I can focus more of my time on.” When touring, Witney gets to connect with her fans more, as she moves from city to city each day. “Because we’re on television, and we’re behind the camera, it’s really hard to connect with the audience. You don’t get to meet them, you don’t get to see their reactions to your dancing, so it’s just you and the camera, that’s all you’re really seeing,” she says, “When you’re on tour, you get to be in front of all of your fans and the people that are inspired by you. I think that’s the best part of tour, just getting to see all your fans and realizing that you do make a little bit of a difference, in some way.” Many fans have told her that the time spent watching her dance on the show is how they bond with their family members. “I also get really young kids being like, ‘You inspire me to dance, you inspire me to make my dreams come true.’ That gives me so much happiness,” she remarks, “I get to make a little bit of a difference in somebody’s life.” Dancing full time, doing work for the foundation, and trying to work on acting and singing, Witney doesn’t have time for much else. She says, “I’m kind of just going with the flow at this point. I am super determined and I love to look at new goals and try to successfully achieve them, but I think right now for me it’s just going with the flow and seeing what happens from here.” NKD

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wild wild horses Words by ELIZABETH FORREST Photos by CATHERINE POWELL


A year and a half ago, Jack Edwards, Billy Adamson, Jonathan Harvey and Greg Rogove had no idea their lives were about to change completely. Since initially forming Wild Wild Horses, it’s been a nonstop, uphill climb. With Jennifer Morrison directing and appearing in their Ordinary Life EP videos and the completion of their first US-based tour, it’s clear they’ve had a successful year. However, this UK-based band doesn’t plan to slow down anytime soon. They’re working tirelessly to produce new music and hope for even bigger and better things to come in 2017. NKD: How did you get together and how did you get to this point? JE: We all did different things in the music industry before we got together. I was a songwriter and had a few songs written initially, and then I met Johnathan and Billy through friends in London. Then we came to LA and met Greg through some other friends, so we started playing and realized there was something there. We flew to London, drank lots of whiskey for one night, tried not to throw up in rehearsals the next day and then we decided to live together. That was 18 months ago now. JH: We were all session players. For me, it was sides in England and Europe. I hadn’t played in America before. BA: Yeah, same with me. We were all doing little projects here and there and playing with other musicians or friends and having fun. GR: I used to live in L.A. and I’ve always had a band and played with various other groups. NKD: When you guys first got together and started playing, what was it that made you realize that what was happening was special and you needed to keep it going? JH: Whiskey. JE: It was just kind of immediate. The musicianship was pretty insane. Compared to these dudes, I can barely play my instrument. As soon as we started playing, I realized that everyone was really, really good. It didn’t come as a surprise because everyone had these credentials and this history in music, but I just realized it was going to be easy.

BA: It just worked really quickly. GR: It just came to us the first day. We heard the songs that Jack had started working on and we got together within a few hours. Despite the hangover, we realized we actually sounded really, really good. JE: And it was immediately clear from the outside. I had these songs, but I needed peoples’ inputs and the musicianship to get behind them. As soon as that happened was when it all came together, and that’s what’s different about the live shows and the EP. The trajectory is so much more authentic now because we’ve been playing live. NKD: When you first started putting music out there, how quickly did you feel like it was catching on with people? GR: It was probably when we released the first cover videos. That was the initial movement. People seemed to respond a little bit to that and then we did a video with Jennifer Morrison. She obviously has a large following, so that new group of people heard the music and it seemed to resonate with them very, very well. Then there was a lot more interest. JE: It definitely surpassed expectations on the scale of it. Opening weekend when we released the “Demon Days” video, I said that I hoped we would get a few thousand views every day. I thought that would be great! And within 48 hours there were like a million. My mom was super proud of us. NKD: The EP’s been out for a while now. When can we expect some new music? JE: We’ve been writing absolute shitloads actually. We’re about to go back to L.A. after this tour and do a condensed, consolidating period of writing and recording the ideas we’ve been throwing around. New music around March was the idea. JH: Yeah, probably springtime because we’re recording stuff in the new year. NKD: Do you find it easy to write on the road or do you need to be home and in your own bubble to do it? JE: I would say it’s quite an experience. Everyone’s got their headphones on in

their room and they’re trying to bring something in. It’s not like we’re just waiting for the world to whisper a song. GR: It’s tough on the road. It always seems like you can only get sketches of songs. Really developing and finishing one is hard because there’s no space to have alone time to really focus in on what you’re writing. There are always sounds, someone talking or a band sound checking, so to really get in and get a nice recording on tour is difficult. When we get back we’ll set aside a few weeks to develop our sketched ideas. JH: I think that goes back to that question from earlier: when did you realize you were the real thing? In those first couple of days that we just jammed in London, we also wrote. We just came out with some songs really quickly in that time as well. And it just kind of happened very smoothly. So I think because of our very musical backgrounds, when we’re actually in a room on our instruments together, it’s quite a creative process. That’s where I think we do our best, sitting in a sound check. NKD: Are you guys the type of band that likes to test out songs before you go into the studio or is it the opposite? GR: We’ve done both. JE: Yeah, we’ve done both ways. Sometimes that’s necessary when you’re away or recording, but I much prefer that we play it, find out what it really is to us and then ask how somebody’s going to help us get this recorded. That has the best results for sure. NKD: Besides putting out new music in 2017, what are some of your goals for the year? JE: We’d love to do the festival season in Europe. That would be amazing, so we’re working on getting that done. And another tour as well, we just don’t know who with yet. It would be great to keep this momentum going live because that’s where it all seems to really come together. BA: I really can’t wait to do a show in London. It would be nice to go home and tell people what we’ve been up to! People have been asking what we’re doing in L.A., so I’d love to be able to actually show them what we’re doing. NKD NKDMAG.COM

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aj michalka Words by VANESSA SALLES Photos by CATHERINE POWELL Styled by ALISON BROOKS Glam by BETSY KELLY MARSHALL

If you were a fan of pop music in the early 2000s, chances are that you’re very familiar with AJ Michalka. Making up one-half of the sister pop duo, Aly & AJ, the 25-year-old singer/actress has made great strides in her career these past few years. Currently working as a series regular on ABC’s The Goldbergs, AJ has truly made a name for herself. However, that’s not all she’s been up to. With music being her first love, plans for an Aly & AJ comeback are already in the works. “My sister and I are going to have an album out next year,” she says. “It’ll be the first one out in ten years.” Having been signed to Hollywood Records at the mere age of 12, AJ remembers the time as being “a big turning point in [her] life”. The duo released two records and a Christmas album under the label and then went their own way. “We took a pause on

music to really focus on our acting careers,” AJ shares, “I booked The Goldbergs about four years ago and that’s been my main gig. I love it.” As for how acting came about, AJ caught the entertainment bug at really young age. “Aly and I found a flyer in the junk mail pile at home and that’s where it all started,” she laughs, “It was advertising an acting workshop and, at the time, my sister and I had become such big lovers of entertainment. We knew we wanted to enroll in it. My mom was definitely hesitant about it at first but once she saw how passionate we were, she helped us go after it. Once we moved out to L.A., things just took off from there.” Fans of The Goldbergs were quick to recognize AJ’s scene-stealing talent as Lainey Lewis and that led to AJ’s few guest-appearances to become a recurring vital part of the show. “I’ve actually known the creator

of the show for quite a while,” she says, “When he was first starting out with Season 1, Lainey was just a character that was being talked about a lot. I remember him emailing me and telling me about her and asking if I’d want to come in for a few episodes. Just from knowing and loving his work, I was immediately into it. When I got around to watching a few episodes and getting to see how the cast works together, there was no way I could pass it up. Two episodes became four, four became seven, and the next thing I knew, I became a series regular during Season 3. It’s been so neat to see how they’ve grounded the character; I think Lainey could’ve just ended up being a bratty mean girl in the crowd but I think that’s so cliché. There’s more to her than that.” Getting to be a part of Lainey’s development, AJ’s been able to incorporate bits and pieces of NKDMAG.COM

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her own personality into her TV persona. “There are certain reactions and mannerisms of mine that have become a part of her,” she says, “I think my personality is definitely bleeding into the show. What I love about Lainey is that she’s really blunt. She has this dry wit that some people can sometimes take as harsh or mean but she never means any harms by it; she’s just honest and I love that.” Coming up, fans can expect a lot more laughs from the show’s new episodes. “Our Thanksgiving episode was so much fun to shoot,” she says, “It was the first Thanksgiving episode that I got to be a part of for this show and it was great. As for our upcoming episodes, there’s an awesome Chanukah one that’ll air soon. We’ve also got a fun musical episode coming up that’s a cool ode to an amazing Broadway show; fans of Broadway can really nerd out on it when they watch.” On the Aly & AJ front, 2017 will be a big year for the duo. “Right now, we’re working on the songwriting,” she says, “We’re kind of writing three records and making one; it’s always smarter to write more material than needed so that all you have to do is narrow it down afterwards. We’d probably want to make a 10 song record but I think our plan is to find three songs we absolutely love and get those out first.” With the ways that fans consume new music constantly changing, AJ recognizes the newfound importance of streaming. “When Aly and I first released music, none of this was around,” she says, “There was no Twitter, Instagram, Spotify or Pandora. Times have definitely changed and so we’re

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definitely starting to strategize on how we’ll be streaming and releasing our music – using those types of platforms is probably the most important way to reintroduce ourselves.” Although fans of Aly & AJ were constantly asking for new releases, AJ admits that the duo began to question their place in the music industry. “We took a pause for a long time because we just weren’t feeling inspired,” she says, “There was definitely a sense of writer’s block going on and we were very fearful of that. There was also this sense of doubt about whether we’d be able to prove ourselves as adults. I think, for a long time, we were definitely our own worst enemy because we were thinking that maybe music wasn’t for us anymore.” Eventually, things clicked for the duo and everything changed. “Last March, my sister and I just looked at each other and we both knew that we had that bug in us again,” she says, “We started writing and the stuff that’s come is the best stuff we’ve ever written. During our break from the music biz, we were a bit frozen in time. Now, we’re back and writing, and loving it more than ever.” For the new record, AJ credits many musical influences. “We’ve actually referenced so many great artists for this past record,” she shares, “Kate Bush has been such a big influence for us. Also, bands like Beach House, St. Lucia and Tame Impala definitely have the sound we love. For me, it’s just about the sonic energy that you get when you listen to a record and your ears just tingle because you’re so excited about what you’re hearing. That’s what Aly and I aim for.

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We listen to a lot of Crosby, Stills & Nash for vocal references on harmonizing. We’ve been singing together for so long that it’s easy to get stuck in this kind of robotic sound so it’s just about making it fresh again and finding ways to harmonize in a cool way that sounds and feels real to us. The bands we listen to have definitely played a big part in our sound.” With Aly & AJ working on their musical comeback, AJ gives props to fellow pop star JoJo, who made her comeback earlier this year. “I’m really proud of what she’s doing,” she says, “I haven’t seen her in a really long time but our paths have definitely crossed when we were younger. I didn’t even know she was working on new music and now she made her big comeback which is so cool to see because that’s what we’re hoping to do.” Even with a schedule as busy as hers, AJ hopes to find the time to do more of the things she loves, including some behindthe-scenes work. “We started a production company about five years ago,” she says, “That’s something Aly and I definitely want to pursue further. Whether we option a book or create something from the ground up, working on a behind-the-scenes level is something that really interests us. We’re partners with Aly’s husband [Stephen Ringer] so, between the three of us, I think the next project we’d want to do is either based on a book or something for TV. Last year, we produced and starred in Weepah Way for Now which was just released on DVD last month. It’s actually set to air on Starz this December so that’s really exciting. It’s really the ‘little movie that could’ because we turned it into something bigger than we could have ever imagined for it.” For now, AJ’s been keeping her focus on music and The Goldbergs. “Anytime that my sister and I aren’t filming, we’re in the studio,” she says. NKD 28


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goody grace Words by OLIVIA SINGH Photos by CATHERINE POWELL

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Goody Grace took the stage at Gramercy Theatre, wearing a black hoodie with the phrase “Fuck Donald Trump” and a Canadian flag hanging in the background. It was his 11th night on the u, me and us tour with gnash, and he easily fed off the energy of the fans at the packed show. Even as an opening act, Goody had concertgoers mouthing the words to his tracks. So, how did a 19-year-old musician from a small town in Canada end up at one of New York City’s most popular venues? Goody Grace grew up in South Manitoba, Canada – a town he describes as one with a relatively small population and a frigid climate. “There’s like 8,000 people there and it’s winter 10 months of the year,” Goody says. From a young age, Goody recognized his passion for music and knew that was the path he wanted to pursue for the rest of his life. After picking up several instruments and becoming fluent in each, he began writing original music. “I’ve been playing the guitar since I was 5,” Goody says. “I started writing songs when I was about 10, then started putting stuff on the Internet during middle school.” Like many fellow artists, Goody turned to social media and used platforms like Twitter, SoundCloud and YouTube in order to expand his audience beyond his friends and family. He regularly posted covers and original songs online, slowly gaining more attention. At 16-years-old, he contacted singer, songwriter and producer Cisco Adler via Twitter, and his career has taken off ever since. In 2014, Goody officially signed to Cisco’s Bananabeat Records. Shortly after his 18th birthday last year, Goody moved to Los Angeles – a geographical and cultural contrast from his Canadian hometown. Since joining Bananabeat and moving, Goody has spent even more time refining his style. For those who aren’t familiar with Goody, he describes his musical style as one that’s affected by artists from a variety of genres. His favorite artists

and groups include Blink-182, Bob Dylan and Wiz Khalifa – but popular TV shows also have the potential to inspire a song. “Musically, I take influence from everything, from the show Twin Peaks to The Smiths to Kid Cudi,” Goody says. “I would say it’s a fun adventure to listen to.” Groups like The Smiths have not only influenced his sound, but also his lyrics – as seen in one of his more recent tracks, “Girls In The Suburbs Singing Smith Songs.” For Goody, the British group’s significance extends past music. They have impacted the way he sees the world. On Goody’s right forearm is a tattoo that reads, “Don’t forget the songs that made you cry & the songs that saved your life.” The words are actually lyrics from The Smiths’ ‘80s track, “Rubber Ring.” While performing at several festivals in Europe a few months ago, Goody decided to get the tattoo in honor of the influential group. “I don’t like a lot of things – to be honest – but if I do like something, I’m usually utterly obsessed, so The Smiths are one of those,” Goody admits. “I know every lyric to every song, definitely, and that one just spoke to me. When I went to London, I was originally going to get a tattoo of Morrissey – the singer – but I got lyrics instead.” Being Goody’s fifth tattoo, it serves as a constant reminder that music (especially bands like The Smiths) will always be there for him. “It means a lot to me,” Goody says. “Music’s always helped me, and especially The Smiths above all, so it’s always there for me to look at so I don’t forget. All my tattoos are reminders to myself, so that’s the only one that says ‘don’t forget’ in it.” Goody’s tracks are the product of the aforementioned artists and his first hand experiences as he navigates the music industry. “I would sum it up as pretty much the story of my life,” he says. If it’s not directly about me, it’s how I see the world conceptually. It’s about girls I meet, people I meet and the things I’ve been through.” Last year, Goody released “Memo-

ries,” a direct result of his experience moving from Canada to California. The track is reflective of his musical journey, with the telling lyrics like, “Well I remember / Everyone telling me it would be too hard / But now my artists turned to friends / and Mercy Street turned into Sunset Boulevard.” A few months ago, he re-released the track as “Memorie$,” featuring vocals from The Neighbourhood’s Jesse Rutherford, whom he met shortly after moving to California. Last fall, the pair met at a Made By Us event, where Jesse was DJing and Goody was asked to perform “Memories.” Though Jesse didn’t get a chance to see Goody perform that night, the two met and began hanging out more frequently through mutual friends. Today, Goody considers Jesse to be a mentor and best friend. “He’s definitely like a big brother to me,” Goody says. “We started seeing each more after at festivals, and we went to Coachella together. Now we’re together almost every day. He’s a great guy.” His good friend Garret, a.k.a. gnash, has also been particularly instrumental in shaping his career. The two met several years ago, and they’ve “been playing shows and writing shows together ever since.” Just a few months ago, Goody was asked to support gnash as part of his u, me and us North American tour. In less than two months, Goody traveled across America, with a setlist that included tracks like “Memories,” “Vanilla Coke” and “Two Shots” ft. gnash – which has accumulated over one million Spotify plays. “We have a really good relationship and friendship, so it’s super fun playing these shows with him,” Goody says. Since wrapping up the North American tour with gnash, Goody has been hard at work writing and producing more music for fans. “I’ve just been writing a lot of songs. I plan to put out a lot more music – hopefully a full project once I get it right. I want it to be very conNKD ceptual,” he says. NKDMAG.COM

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old dominion Words & Photos by CATHERINE POWELL

The men of Old Dominion have one goal for 2017 – to stay together. Seems plausible. The last time I met with Old Dominion they were playing a sold out show at Joe’s Pub in New York – a small but respectable club that holds roughly 180 people. Tonight, they’ll play to a sold out crowd of 2,100. The last 18 months have been nonstop for the country group, and it’s clear their lack of sleep has been paying off. Preluding the release of their debut album, Meat & Candy, last November, the band has been on an uphill ride to success. Three Top 10 singles and multiple sold out headlining shows prove that whatever they’re doing is working, and for the men of Old Dominion – Matthew Ramsey, Trevor Rosen, Brad Tursi, Geoff Sprung and Witt Sellers – the climb has been especially rewarding. “A year and a half… that was probably 300 shows ago,” Brad reminisces. Between festivals, two tours with Kenny Chesney and a cross-country headlining tour, 300 32

shows may be lowballing it. “These are the most fun, though. A sold out show with our name on the ticket,” Trevor says of tonight. Dubbed the “Meat and Candy Tour”, this trek marks the band’s first headlining tour since the release of their debut album, which Matt describes as a “good but nerve wracking” feeling. “Especially when we started playing shows and you could see people singing along to songs that were not just on the radio, because that meant they were listening to the entire record. It was very validating,” Matt says. “We Got It Right” a slower, buried track on Meat & Candy, has become a fan-favorite and always takes the band back a bit when they hear it sung back to them at shows. “It could potentially lose an audience if it’s like a party crowd or whatever, but every time we play it we see people singing that one too,” Matt says. “You really don’t know until you put it out there,” Trevor adds. While a song like “Break Up With Him” was always meant to be an Old Domin-

ion song, their current single, “Song For Another Time”, was pitched to Kenny Chesney – to which he said, “This is a great song – you should cut it.” Though Kenny did record “Save It For a Rainy Day” – a song written by Matt, Brad and Andrew Dorff. Since they’ve been on the road so consistently for the past two years, the band’s songwriting process has slowed down a bit. Trevor, Matt and Brad have all had success as songwriters this year (Matt co-wrote Sam Hunt’s most recent No. 1, “Make You Miss Me”, while Trevor penned William Michael Morgan’s first No. 1, “I Met a Girl”), but because those seeds were planted a long time ago, they haven’t been able to see how much the band’s success has affected their songwriting careers just yet. “I think we write more for us now, specifically,” Trevor says, “That’s the biggest change.” Old Dominion is currently in the beginning stages of recording their sophomore album, which they are aiming to have out at some point


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in 2017. “The sound is definitely changing, but our goal is to not leave the fans we made behind,” Matt says, “It’ll hopefully be a nice bridge into the next step of a more mature sound. It’s hard to say what the sound is going to end up like.” “I thought we were going for a more immature sound?” Trevor jokes, causing a fit of laughter among his bandmates. To kick off 2017, Old Dominion will be joining Miranda Lambert on her Highway Vagabond Tour. While the band spent most of their summer with her on Kenny Chesney’s tour, they anticipate a different crowd on this run and are excited to play to a new audience. They’ve seen the effect of opening for a massive artist already, as many of the fans they made opening for Kenny have come back to see them headline. “You definitely see that they come back, and then we get to give them the full set, so hopefully they keep coming back,” Matt says. “It’s not like we took the stadium experience and brought it to the club, it’s almost like their two different animals,” Trevor adds. On an even smaller scale, Brad, Trevor and Matt joined artists Walker Hayes and Drake White, as well as songwriter Shane McAnally at a writer’s round in New York to benefit the Housing Works Bookstore. “That was one of the most special shows of the year,” Matt says. They spent a lot of time in Nashville playing similar rounds before Old Dominion took off, and none of them have gotten much of a chance to play one in a longtime, so the night was a treat for them. In fact, the band barely has time to go home to Nashville these days – let alone play a round there. But they’re not complaining. The last year especially has been a whirlwind for everyone, and are taken aback when I ask them to pinpoint their “I can’t believe this is my job” moments; they haven’t had time to reflect much. And while things like singing “Save It For a Rainy Day” with Kenny Chesney every night and singing their own songs to sold out crowds are monumental moments, 34


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for Geoff, returning home is when he’s able to realize just how special what he’s doing is. “When you come back for these little windows and you interact with all the people you spent a decade with just kind of fighting to make a living, or fighting for a piece of success,” he says, “We’re just surrounded by the people that are in the same experience, and so you go back, and you have lunch with somebody, and the way they talk about you…” When asked what they’d like to accomplish within a year from now, the group falls silent until Matt whispers “stay together”, which earns another round of laughter from the rest of the band. More specifically, though, they’d like to write a solid second record. They don’t have a timeline of when new songs will be rolling out just yet, but it is their top priority right now. Many musicians will say, “You have your whole life to write your first record, and two years to write your second.” The men of Old Dominion are sort of feeling that omen, but Trevor admits they are not opposed to digging into the archives and playing around with old ideas. “On the flipside, though, I don’t necessarily feel like that as much because you spend your whole life writing a bunch of shitty songs, and then you get to a point where you write the really good ones,” Matt admits, “And that’s only been, in the timeline of things, at the very end of it.” Speaking long term, though, there’s less jokes to be made. “We have an amazing team of people that are all focused on the same thing, and that is to grow this as big as we can. And in some ways that sounds selfish to say but we want to be a largely successful band and get our music to as many people as we possible can,” Matt says, “Whatever steps we need to take to get our records to sell, and our shows to sell, and to grow this thing and become part of the fabric of people’s lives and culture, and to have our music be a part of that, is always on our mind.” The rest of the band nods in agreement. I think they’ll stay together just fine. NKD NKDMAG.COM

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madisyn shipman Words by SHELBY CHARGIN Photos by CATHERINE POWELL Glam by JAYME KAVANUGH

Born in North Carolina to a set of encouraging parents, Madisyn Shipman spent six years in her home state before getting her official start in acting. “I went to a convention called AMT Stage and I got an agent and we moved to New York, and I booked a Broadway show called Enron and we lived out there for about another six years.” Throughout the work she was doing in New York, Madisyn’s career took a huge turn. “I booked Ordinary World and I booked Game Shakers and now we live out in L.A.,” she says. Between school and Game Shakers, Madisyn’s life is absolutely crazy, but getting the gig wasn’t the easiest process. “I actually have [getting the news] videotaped, and we’re planning on releasing it sometime,” she confesses. Getting Game Shakers was a dream come true for Madisyn. “I had been going out for the part for a year or two years. It was numerous auditions and getting told ‘no’ and then coming back for more auditions. There was a lot of hoops that you had to jump through,” she says. This did not make the process easy on her. “I just had to remember that if I don’t book this, it’s fine,” she recalls. She stayed positive and looked at other roles, but she always wanted to be on a Nickelodeon show. “When I did find out that I booked it, I was like really excited because at such a young age I did something I wanted to do ever since I was little. So it’s awesome to know that I checked that off my bucket list,” she says.

For Madisyn, Game Shakers is a show she so valiantly pursued because of the female empowerment it promotes. “The main characters are two girls who know how to code and make games. It’s really awesome to be a part of that and now that girl power is so strong in this show,” she explains. Having a good head on her shoulders is something that Madisyn clearly has going for her. Even when it comes to being critiqued or having people be more negative than positive she has a great outlook. “It’s criticism, you just have to take it with a grain of salt,” she says. This mindset has allowed her to remain so optimistic about the future and her role. “I met this little girl at a restaurant and she told me that I was her idol, and it made me really happy inside because it makes me know and realize that I’m an influence on little girls lives – and older girls too, it doesn’t really matter,” she says. It’s a high responsibility for such a young girl, but from getting to know Madisyn, she seems to be the perfect fit for the role of youthful feminism. While she is a very responsible 14-year-old, that doesn’t mean Madisyn hasn’t also had her fair share of fun and excitable moments. Like getting to work with Green Day’s lead singer, Billie Joe Armstrong in Ordinary World. The movie is about a rocker dad in his mid-life crisis figuring out just how important family is to get through the tough times in life and was a dream to work on for Madysin. “I got to work with Billie Joe

Armstrong and I love Green Day, so it’s awesome to know that I’m part of his life and he’s part of my life and he calls me the ‘daughter he never had’, so he’s like my other dad. I love him so much,” she gushes. Another major goal for the young actress outside of her career is college. “I definitely want to go to college. That’s like one thing that’s definitely something I want to do in the future,” she says. With the goal of being a neurosurgeon, it’s not hard to see how hardworking Madisyn truly is. “It’s very important to me because ever since I was little, I always wanted to be somewhere in the hospital because my mom was a nurse so I’ve always been around like the hospital and just that whole vibe, and right now I’m kind of wanting to be a neurosurgeon,” she gushes. Currently, Madisyn is in 8th grade in an online independent study program. She still has to do homework and work, but she only gets an hour to three hours to do so. “You have to balance out the whole weight with school, and school’s like really important for me. So I make sure to always have everything done and turned in,” she says. Looking to 2017, Madisyn wants to do more movies, and guest star roles. “I would love to be a guest star on Grey’s Anatomy,” she admits. While Madisyn is young, everything she does is wise beyond her years. She’s a role model for young girls and women alike who want to achieve their dreams. NKD NKDMAG.COM

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raelynn Words & Photos by CATHERINE POWELL

There’s patient, and then there’s RaeLynn. After pushing to release a full-length album since she was a teenager, the now 22-year-old is finally closing in on her dreams. I’ve known RaeLynn for over two years now and while she’s traded in her floral skirts for black lace, not much else has changed. She’s still delightfully bubbly and chatty… and she still hasn’t released her debut full-length record. Thankfully, though, the ladder will be changing soon. I meet RaeLynn in her hotel room in Times Square in early October as the leaves are in their final stages of changing colors outside the window. It’s an obvious metaphor for where RaeLynn is currently at in life. Almost exactly a year ago we sat in a different New York hotel discussing her plans for 2016 and the giant diamond that appeared on her finger the night before. Aside from marrying her longtime

love Josh Davis, no one would have been able to predict what this would be like for her. After signing a deal with Big Machine following her stint on The Voice, RaeLynn parted ways with her longtime home and moved over to Warner Music Nashville this summer. With a near completed record in hand when she signed her new deal, the country starlet is finally gearing up to release the songs she’s held onto for so long. “If you had told me a year ago that I would be talking to you about coming out with my debut record, Wildhorse, I would have said you were crazy,” RaeLynn laughs, “Everything has just been such a whirlwind.” The first step towards releasing Wildhorse was the release of her latest single “Love Triangle” – a song she wrote when she was 18 about her parents’ divorce. “To see this song that I’ve put my heart and sole in… I’ve been praying for this song to be a single,” she ad-

mits. She’s known for a long time that this song would relate to people, because it is so personal and with over half of marriages ending in divorce, she knew other people would find lines in the song to latch onto. Relating to people has always been RaeLynn’s goal with her music. For a long time, she was adamant about needing a hand in every song on her debut album, but when she heard “The Apple” (written by Nicolle Galyon, Emily Weisband and Marshall Altman), she knew it had to be on her record. “I was like, ‘How did I not come up with this concept?’ I got really mad for a second,” she admits. This was the first time she had heard a song and felt like it was hers, and couldn’t pass up the opportunity to record it. After an original release date of December 2nd, RaeLynn and her team opted to push back the release of Wildhorse to 2017. Four songs have been released thus far – “Love TrianNKDMAG.COM

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gle”, “Wildhorse”, “Insecure” and “Diamonds” – and after an early listen, I can confirm it’s worth the wait. But that doesn’t mean RaeLynn is keeping quiet about the stories behind some of her favorite songs. The first song on Wildhorse is “Your Heart”, which she wrote when she was 19. The hook of the song is “You don’t know who you are until somebody breaks your heart”, which was a concept she had come up with and rolled with. “I had to go through a few life experiences. I went through a few break ups, I went through a few things that I had never gone through before,” she says, “When I went through this break up, I had decided to cut off all my hair and go a couple shades lighter with my hair. Break up haircut.” She thinks “Your Heart” is a true girl empowerment song, as it reflects on the positive changes girls make to or for themsleves after a hard time. “Wildhorse”, a song she re42

leased as a promotional single when she announced the record in August, was a turning point for her in the record-making process. She feels that her record is very different that what’s happening in country music right now, but the stories are very country. “When I think about writing, I write what I would like to hear,” she says. RaeLynn’s grandmother used to call her mom her wild horse, and that inspired RaeLynn to write the song and felt it was the perfect name for this body of work. “It’s not just a record that feels one way,” she says. Another already released track, “Diamonds”, is a special one to RaeLynn – especially after getting married. “He could have given me a ring from a little toy shop. It’s not about that – it’s about the love behind the ring,” RaeLynn says. The song references all the places you can find a diamond – a pawn shop, your grandmother’s drawer, at Tiffany’s in New York – but how the

stone doesn’t matter until “you put it on the right left hand”. RaeLynn and Josh released their wedding video with the song earlier this year. “Lonely Call” – another track she penned when she was just 18 – is one she’s been anxious for fans to hear for a long time. “It has been one of Blake [Shelton]’s favorite songs,” she laughs, doing a spot on impression of him. The song was inspired by an ex-boyfriend calling her late at night and her declining the call, declaring she would not be his lonely call. “Say” was also written by 18-year-old RaeLynn about Josh. “When I met Josh he was very soft spoken,” she says, “I could tell that he cared about me but he didn’t say it with words. He didn’t tell me he loved me and that bothered me for a while.” The song is her telling him that she knows he loves her, even if he doesn’t say it with words. She tapped country duo Dan + Shay


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to add their vocals to the track. Potentially the edgiest track (and my personal favorite on the record), “Trigger”, is what RaeLynn describes as “left from center”. She didn’t know if she wanted it on the record at first because it was so different from the rest of the songs, but she felt the story of it was told too well to ignore it. “I always wanted to run to that song,” she says, “There’s something so badass about it.” Fans who saw RaeLynn open up for Blake Shelton this summer got a sneak peek at a good chunk of her record, and she felt enormous pride hearing songs like “Love Triangle” sung back to her for the first time. “We have been getting such incredible feedback on the road, and it’s been so awesome to learn from Blake,” she says. As a longtime mentee of Blake (she was on his team on The Voice), watching him has help build her confidence on stage. There was a period of time between record deals where RaeLynn wasn’t feeling too confident about her future, and was “grieving” the thought of some of her songs never seeing the light of day. “I would always get so caught up in wondering, ‘I hope I get to put out a record, I’ve worked so hard’,” she admits. As 2016 comes to an end, the release of Wildhorse is seeming more and more real to RaeLynn. “They’re about to hear my story!” she exclaims, “There’s just so many cool songs. It’s so funny because I’ve lived with these songs for so long.” While the songs aren’t new to her anymore, as people begin to hear her new songs for the first time she’s getting to feel new emotions over them. While there’s no exact release date yet, pre-orders are available on iTunes and the album will likely be out in the first half of 2017. 2016 was a year of change for RaeLynn, but 2017 will be the year of Wildhorse. NKD NKDMAG.COM

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eliza bennett

Words by AMBER SPILLMAN Photos by CATHERINE POWELL

Making the move from England to Los Angeles at 18 by herself may have been difficult, but for the one of the stars of MTV’s Sweet/Vicious, Eliza Bennett, now 24, feels her leap of faith has definitely paid off. Born on March 17, 1992 in Southern England, Eliza found her passion for acting when she was young. “I kind of did the childhood acting thing for a while,” Eliza, whose first job was in the West End Theater, says. 46

She starred in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang when she was 9. Eliza was in and out of school while filming, starring in movies such as The Prince and Me, Nanny McPhee, and Inkheart. She’s also grateful that she was able to spend her time filming in England, and because she didn’t have to travel out of the country for films, she feels that this led to more of a “normal” childhood compared to other young stars.

Although working mostly on films when she was younger, after moving to Los Angeles, she now finds herself in television roles, which she says has been a really fun experience. However, aside from the practically perfect weather, it was a bit difficult to adjust to the new city at first. “[It was] daunting and scary and for three months I didn’t know anyone,” she explains. “And I hated L.A. initially. I was so lonely and I thought it was the


worst. I think now at the end of the day it’s the people you have around you is whether you have a good time. I’ve got wonderful friends in LA now, and I think that’s made a huge difference. And now I really love it.” Currently, Eliza is working on promoting Sweet/Vicious, which premiered on MTV on November 15th. Although the plot of the show might be that of a more sensitive topic, Eliza is excited to be on the front of something new that MTV is doing. Sweet/ Vicious is set in a fictional university called Darlington and is centered on two girls who become an unlikely duo by taking justice into their own hands. Essentially, they’re vigilantes by moonlight avenging sexual assault victims

on campuses. When Eliza’s agent first approached her with the pilot for Sweet/Vicious, he basically told her that she had to read it. “I read it and I was like, ‘This is not going to come along very often,” she explains. “It was like no show that I’ve ever seen before, and I think that’s really hard to do now in this day and age.” Eliza is also excited that instead of playing the more typical role of a damsel in distress, she gets to star in a show where the women are pretty kickass. Her character, Jules, learns to fight, and tell an incredibly important story all at the same time. “She’s a sorority girl by day,” Eliza says. “Then this thing happens in her life and it turns her world upside down.” Her character then discovers several sexual assaults and rapes that are happening on campuses, and realizes no one is doing anything about them. The universities are shutting the girls down and are taking the side of the attacker rather than the victim. “And [Jules] can’t live with it. She can’t talk about what’s happened to her so she kind of pushes that energy into seeking justice on all the other rapists on campus,” Eliza adds. Jules and Ophelia (played by Taylor Dearden) are polar opposites, whose lives become intertwined in the very first episode through a series of events. “Ophelia is a local weed dealer and tech girl,” Eliza explains, “She has green hair and is kind of crazy looking, and Jules looks like the picture sorority girl.” Eliza believes that their friendship is really the driving force of the show. Although the fighting and violence portrayed may seem a bit Kick-Ass-ish or even Gotham-esque, the show juxtaposes this concept of people being very real and grounded, even with the emotional turmoil they face, which results in a great balance for the overall mood of the show. “I think Jules’ and Ophelia’s friendship is symbolic of female friendship and female empowerment,” Eliza says. Although it’s one thing to be cast in a show that she thinks is really well written, and loves the part and is excited about, Eliza says that it’s another entire thing on top of that to be in a show where she feels like she can actually give a voice to something of importance. Because sexual assault on campus is such a huge issue right now, and with the show being on MTV, Eliza hopes that boys and girls watching Sweet/Vicious will be able to connect and possibly reach out or even give them the strength to share their story. So far, the girls from The Hunting Ground

documentary who serve as inspiration for Eliza have even reached out to her on Twitter after discovering the premise of the show and are interested in it, which Eliza says is very humbling. Not only is Sweet/Vicious telling a powerful story to the right demographic, Eliza says they are also partnering with RAINN, which is the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization. Throughout the ten episodes of Season One, Eliza says that Jules’ arc will be a heavy one. “She’s kind of lying to everyone, keeping secrets, and through the show Jules has a lot of growth. I think she gets to a point where she finally, in many ways, dealing with her trauma by channeling it through being a vigilante and also gets to a point where she has to deal with what’s happened to her,” Eliza says. Although Eliza doesn’t think the show is necessarily giving the message that one should turn to violence and become a vigilante if sexually assaulted, she explains that throughout the story there are consequences to Jules’ actions, both emotionally and literally. “She is dishing out justice to so many of the on-campus rapists and I think she eventually has to start dealing with her story and experiences, and that comes full circle,” she says. The entire experience working on the show has been humbling, and Eliza is both excited and nervous to share it with the world. Working with the MTV family has been a very fun and positive experience for Eliza, and she says they have been so welcoming, and she is definitely excited to be something new and speak to their audience through the show. Since filming and promotion for Season One has finished, Eliza is just getting back into the groove of auditioning again for other roles while waiting to hopefully be picked up for a second season. And although Eliza has been in Los Angeles filming for a majority of this year, she has already returned to London to visit friends and family. Eventually, she hopes to land a role that will film in England so she can be close to home. “It would be awesome to get a job that actually shoots in England,” she laughs. “Then I could actually be there and live in my own home and be in my own bed and then travel to work. That would be wicked.” In addition to hopefully landing a role in her home country, Eliza says she would also love to actually star in a play in the West End or even Broadway. “There’s nothing like being on a stage. You don’t get that buzz from filming,” she concludes. NKD NKDMAG.COM

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eden Words by IAN HAYS Photos by CATHERINE POWELL

Being an artist is all about evolution. Jonathon Ng has taken this to heart. Jonathon, best known by his stage name, EDEN, has been writing, recording, and producing music for years. During that time, his sound has evolved from bedroom EDM mixes to full-fledged indie pop stretching his talents in electronics and live instrumentation. With his latest EP, i think you think too much of me, and supporting tour, EDEN has started to take shape and garner a growing international fan base. NKD sat down with the Dubliner to discuss his early years, touring, making a virtual reality music video, and what the future holds for EDEN. NKD: Let’s start with your life story, from the day you were born until today. JN: I was born was the 23rd of December, 1995 in Dublin, Ireland. My parents put me and all my siblings in music classes when we 48

were really young. So, I started learning the violin when I was 6 or 7. And, I got pretty good at it pretty fast; I kept skipping grades and stuff. I was supposed to do grade 8 when I was 12, but quit. Because I hated it. I hated every second of playing the violin. But, I feel like that was really important, because you know, you could be the best horse rider in the world and if you never get to horse ride, you’ll never know. So that opened my mind to music. So, by the age of 8 I was writing songs. Really bad songs. I taught myself to play guitar, piano, and drums around 12. I always feel like I’m better at music than at a particular instrument; like, I’m better at music than I am at singing or playing piano. I just feel like I get it. So, I found figuring out those instruments wasn’t tedious; I didn’t hate it like when I was playing the violin. And from there, I just kept doing it. It was really weird, because I think I always thought about

having a career in music. And suddenly, 10 or 11 years after first starting to write songs and stuff, I realized it was a career. About five months into my first year in college, I realized I was spending so many hours doing something that I hate, that I’m not enjoying, when I’d rather spend 100 hours a week doing music. So, I dropped out and that summer I released the End Credits EP which launched all the stuff that I’m doing now. And it’s been a crazy ride since then. It’s been absolutely insane. NKD: So, let’s talk about putting your live show together. I know you have a lot of visual elements that are really important to your show. JN: Yeah, so it’s kind of a one-man show. I run a lot of things - basically, my laptop is the brain of the show. I will play a guitar, or piano, or synth line, or something - and obviously sing; and the laptop kind of helps me


out and does the rest. So, if it needs to change from like one guitar sound to another one, it will do it automatically. And then, another very big element of the show is the lighting. So, it’s a similar set up to the last tour we did, but, we’ve just improved the programming with the lights ten-fold. Honestly, I think the show this time around is so much better. Because, all the lights are behind me; so, every time I see a photo or a video, I’m reminded that this is really, really cool. NKD: Did you know going into it that you wanted the visual aspects to be as important in the live show? JN: Absolutely, I definitely wanted it to be an experience. I wanted fans and people who like the music to go have just this thing that would really stick in their memory and would be an amazing experience from the sound, to the visuals, to the structure of the set list and all of that. It’s kind of like a journey - a bit more than me turning up and playing some songs and leaving. So, for the first tour, we didn’t do a budget cut, we just lost a lot of money. But, it’s all good, we’re getting there. You know, everyone who is involved with this project just wants to make really cool and make what we love making great music and a cool show and make it as good as we possibly can. This is our job and we love every second of it. We don’t need to make a million dollars to be happy with that. NKD: Did you always know that you wanted it to be just you up there? JN: Definitely. More so, because I’m kind of a control freak when it comes to my music. So, if I had other people playing - and it was my first show ever - not only would I have to worry about me getting my stuff right, but getting other musicians to play my stuff the way I want it to be played would be a very stressful time. But, it also leaves room for us to scale the show if we want to bring in musicians the next tour; it leaves room to grow. NKD: And at what point, when you started releasing music, did you feel things were really starting to catch on? JN: I don’t know. For a lot of people, they were like, ‘Woah, where did this guy come from? He’s already got a good following.’ But, for me, this summer marks four years of making music at an alarming rate and putting it all on the internet for free. So, I think in the first three years I released something

like 70 completely original songs and then some remixes; so, about 100 songs for free on the internet. So, it was a slow build. There wasn’t really a time where like, ‘Woah, this song did well and all of a sudden I’m getting a million or more plays.’ But, the moment where I thought - I guess, when I wanted to drop out of college, to convince my parents, I wrote out a business plan. I looked into how I could sell music by myself if I wanted to - I still didn’t sell music at that time. And I figured I could make this amount in six months if I started selling my music and producing what I was doing then. And it hit me that this is a job and I don’t need to work in Starbucks or anywhere - I’ve never worked at Starbucks. I never had a real job. But, that was the moment. And then when End Credits, the EP, came out, and people really loved that, I was like, ‘Woah, this is moving’. And faster than even I thought it would. It’s been so wild. NKD: And when did you start bringing in a behind-the-scenes team? When did you realize you couldn’t do this by yourself anymore? JN: That’s a funny story. Due to the popularity of End Credits a year ago, basically a lot of music industry people started emailing me and asking me to meetings and stuff. One of them was my current manager, Michael. The first Skype call we ever had I said, ‘Look, I don’t want to sign with a record label or a management team for at least six months, if not a year.’ And then about three weeks later, I was drowning in emails and was like, ‘Okay, why am I doing this when you guys can do this a thousand times better.’ And honestly, it was one of the best decisions I had ever made. I already had a lawyer, thankfully, just because a rapper had sampled one of my songs before. And so she helped me with the paperwork and helped me with all the industry things. I mean, I love all the people I work with from my accountant, to my lawyer, to management, to even the people I work with at the record label now. I love just hanging out with them. They’re really good at their job, which is important, but as people they’re great to hang out with and work with. It’s such a pleasure. NKD: And how soon after that did you sign with a label? Did you try to put that off for a while? JN: I did, definitely. I still haven’t signed a full record deal. But, we licensed the i think

you think too much of me EP. I only did that at the start of the summer. So, it was not that recent. But, just doing that alone, it opens doors to what you wouldn’t have had before. It was definitely beneficial. NKD: I want to talk about the VR music video you did because that’s so unique and so cool. How did all of that come together? JN: That was very much a collaborative thing. The head of the company who made the video, approached my management and wanted to do a video. The first idea we had was to do a live concert except on virtual reality. And, we quickly were like, ‘Maybe that’s not the best idea’ because, how would we do it in a crowded room and make sure it’s not boring? So, eventually we settled on the idea to do a music video. Even the scope of the music video changed from the very start. So, I sent them a bunch of references of what I really like and they sent me a bunch of stuff - it was kind of back and forth. And we shot some things and they basically went to work for a long time. Because building all those different scenes, it’s all computer generated - I think we kept one live shot in. So, it took a lot of tweaking to get it right. But, I think it came out really good. It’s amazing to think that’s probably the future. Because the whole thing was kind of an experiment; we just wanted to make something real cool. NKD: Is that a process that you would want to do again? JN: I’m not sure because it was so much work. And I am such a sucker for normal, 2-D videos as well. So, having done normal music videos compared to the virtual reality one, I don’t know? It’s such an interesting space. Everyone is innovating there right now; they’re all making it up as they go. So, it’s so fun and really exciting to be a part of that and creating something. It remains to be seen. If we have another that will work really well, then maybe? But, I definitely, definitely love the 2-D videos. NKD: And in terms of new music, you were releasing things so quickly. Was the slow down more of you wanting to hone in on something? JN: Yeah, it was a lot of different factors. Before, when I was releasing a large quantity of songs, it was kind of like I was writing songs like, ‘First this bit, then this bit, then this bit comes afterwards.’ Now, I’m feeling like I get NKDMAG.COM

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to do whatever feels right. And that just takes a lot longer. Essentially, for a lot of my older songs, I was writing to a formula - it still took artistic thoughts, but I was thinking, ‘after the chorus comes the drop’; I’m trying not to think like that so much anymore. But, honestly, I’m also just a whole lot busier now. I’ve been on tour for four months now, with another two months to go, I think. And I’m so inspired by being on the road and seeing these new places, it’s been amazing. But, I just can’t work. I find it really difficult. So, between that and a ton of other stuff I have to do - meetings and meetings, being here, there, and everywhere, it just slows down the process. And not necessarily a quality control thing in that I thought my earlier music was bad, but, I’m really kind of hard on myself nowadays. Just trying to make something that I love but is also explorative in some way. I like creating whole projects that are conceptual. So, that takes time, unfortunately. NKD: And kind of on the contrast of that, since this last EP has had a lot of time to breathe, what have you noticed in terms of fan reactions and people finding it ‘X’ amount of months later? JN: I mean, it’s just such a different project than what I had put out before. Seeing people’s reaction to it, initially, was really cool; I was kind of nervous people wouldn’t get it. But, a lot of my fans really liked it. What’s kind of funny now is I’m kind of seeing a split - there’s definitely one group of fans that are like, “Oh my god, they only know his new songs. They’re not real fans.” And I find that so funny, because they’re so much a part of where I am right now, they were so important to getting me to where I am; they have so much pride and ownership over it seeing people who only know the new EP. It’s kind of amazing that they feel that’s almost wrong, I guess. But, I’m not mad at that. If they any of my songs, that’s a bonus. I’m not going to judge anyone about that. NKD: I feel like that’s a weird concept that’s been around, even more so since Spotify took over. Because, there’s almost no excuse to not know someone’s older music. JN: As I said, if I listen to any of music you can turn up to my shows and still not know all of the songs. But everyone is still having a good time. I’m not here to force music down 50

people’s throats. I just want to share what I love doing and what I like to listen to. So, if people vibe with it, that’s great. If they only listen to half of it, great; you can do what you want to do. NKD: What is on your agenda for the end of this year and beginning of 2017? JN: I’m really excited to just get home and work. So, this summer, I was at home, but I was preparing for the live show. NKD: Is home still Ireland? JN: Home is still Dublin, Ireland. So, I’m really excited to just get home and work on music and see what happens. I don’t really have anything I need to do - like another EP by the end of the year - I’m very much looking forward to just seeing what happens. I literally sat down with the rest of my team and said for the first couple of months next year, I’m not doing anything. I want to be at home. Since End Credits came out, I’ve been travelling at least once a month doing something. And for someone who made music for so long in their bedroom all year without disruption, it took me out of my comfort zone, which is never a bad thing. But, I couldn’t just make stuff like I used to. So, I’m really just looking forward to a period of time where I can be at home and just kind of by myself. I know that sounds anti-social, but I feel like you need both. And then just see what comes out. There’s so much new music that I’ve been inspired by; new experiences that I’ve been really inspired by and I just can’t wait to get working on new stuff. NKD: Looking long term, what are some of your goals that you’d like to accomplish? JN: Um, I don’t know. I saw an interview with a friend of mine, who’s a musician, and one of the questions was, ‘Do you think you’ve made it?’ And they were like, ‘No, if I ever think that then it’s game over and I lost.’ And, I really disagree with that. I’ve made it already. I’m living comfortably, doing what I love doing, with amazing people and I wouldn’t change that for the world. But, saying that, I am incredibly ambitious. Give me everything - the Grammy’s. I want to make the best album that anyone has ever heard, ever in the history of music and sound. But, most of all, I just want to keep making things that I’m proud of and that I can stand by forever. NKD


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Words by LIZ ZAVOYSKIY Photos by CATHERINE POWELL

shalita grant


Raised in Virginia by way of Baltimore, Shalita Grant’s acting career started at a young age when she auditioned for art school by acting out a scene rather than a monologue. Playing out the scene in Raisin in the Sun where Beneatha tells Mama she doesn’t believe in God, Shalita sealed her entry into the school by slapping herself as part of the role. While the decision was unorthodox, it was ultimately effective and gave her what would become her first dose of acting. After moving to Baltimore to be with her father’s family in an attempt to remedy an angry childhood, Shalita quickly realized that her bad behavior was only doing damage to herself in the long run. Between some guidance from a teacher at the Baltimore School of the Arts and a healthy helping of good fortune, Shalita was accepted to Juilliard for college, not fully understanding the merit of what it had to offer her. In addition to an acceptance into one of the highest ranking arts schools in the country, Juilliard also gave Shalita the economic opportunity to attend, so the choice to move to New York was a natural next step. “I just sort of lucked into these institutions, not really knowing what I was doing. No one in my family was in the business, so I didn’t really have a model, I just did it. And in between I became a presidential scholar of the arts, had the opportunity to go to China, was getting on planes,” she says, “It just worked out. I worked for everything, but it also just so happened that it worked out for me. Getting into Juilliard really cemented things for me.” In addition to simply being at Juilliard, New York in itself was a life changing experience for Shalita. “Juilliard was a microcosm of the city. It’s 18 people getting into the acting program. Everybody’s a different age. It’s not just 17-year-olds, there are 25-year-olds, and everyone is just working on their stuff,” she says. Being both in an intensive acting program as well as NYC gave Shalita the focus and drive needed to accelerate her career, and within a few short years of being in the city, she’d received her first Tony nomination for her role in Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike. “Being a woman of color, who does not have a strong economic background, we can often be our own worst enemies

because of the expectation,” she says, “You think, ‘Oh, I don’t come from anything and there aren’t many people who look like me in this specific way, not traditionally, so it’s not something that I should go for’. For me, especially now, I think, I don’t want to get in my own way. There are so many aspects of who I am that people want to deny, why would I add another voice to my own oppression?” The Tony nomination came on the heels of playing a role that was written for her but almost slipped past. The role was created with Shalita in mind, but when Lincoln Center signed on to do the show, Shalita was overlooked. Following a lengthy audition process by Lincoln Center, of which Shalita was excluded, the playwright, Chris Durang finally asked Shalita to come down from Boston to audition for her role. Of course, she got the part. Reviews of the world premiere in at the McCarter in New Jersey came in, and they were filled with praise for a show stopping performance from Shalita. However, when the show moved to Lincoln Center things quickly changed up. “I got to Lincoln Center, and I got an education in the business. And it really pissed me off. I barely even got a name mention,” she recalls, “It felt like the reviewer had an agenda, and there were people he wanted to trash, and I wasn’t one of them. So I talked to my manager and decided I wanted to get a publicist. I was going to take my career into my own hands and she pushed and pushed, and about a month after being on Broadway, I got my first Tony nomination. I knew my work was good enough to be counted, but I didn’t believe it would actually happen.” With a Tony nomination on her resume, Shalita decided it was time to change things up, officially making her decision to move to Los Angeles. Upon arriving, bright eyed and bushy tailed, another major dose of reality set in. “I thought, ‘I’m going to move out to L.A., and they’re going to love me.’ And I moved out to L.A. and they were like, ‘Who are you? And who’s Tony, and why were you nominated?’” she recalls, “And then they’d read my resume and see Juilliard and also Broadway and ask me if I can do regular acting? It was so insulting and gut wrenching. My heart would break. I had 59 audition projects, I had callbacks, producer sessions, I was testing, and I did

not get booked.” A year down the line, she ran out of money. With her manager stepping in to pay her rent at one point, Shalita got a job that would give her some security. Learning the tricks of the trade via YouTube, she became a self taught bartender. With a resume consisting of only New York restaurants that were now closed, Shalita suddenly found herself with three years of bartending experience. Resourceful to say the least, it did the trick and got her a job working at Dave and Busters, and a few months down the line, she booked her first on-screen gig and consistently kept booking jobs after that until she landed her role on NCIS: New Orleans. The audition for NCIS, she says, was like any other. “I learned to not put a lot of stock on auditions, because you never know the circumstances. I didn’t want to hurt myself emotionally by putting my hopes in another audition,” she admits, “When I got the part, I realized that it was a recurring role for 3-5 episodes with potential to be a series regular.” Of course, in order to prepare for her role, certain adjustments had to be made. Shalita decided that she would switch up her diet and start lifting to get into the shape she wanted to be in, in a healthy and loving way. During her time on the show, her real life persona and on screen character have grown to mirror each other. “Being on a procedural show like NCIS, they can get more ideas from you for your character,” she says, “They want your own personal flair to keep the characters real, so I really brought a lot of myself to the character. I would say Percy is 70/30 me.” When asked if she had any advice for young people in similar situations as she was some years ago, Shalita had a rather strong statement. “If you’re thinking the world is a meritocracy, it’s not. You will be woefully disappointed. You have to think beyond your own hard work and see the world in which you are in and how things happen. When you can figure out how things happen, you’ll have a better sense of how you fit and how you can make yourself fit. That’s just practical advice,” she says. In Shalita’s case, hard work, a bit of luck and a lot of persistence molded her career into what it is now, a reminder to the world that when things get tough, learn to bend, rather than break. NKD NKDMAG.COM

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Words & Photos by CATHERINE POWELL Styled by AUDREY BRIANNE Grooming by EMILY DAWN

derek hough

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Derek Hough may be a staple in Hollywood these days for his ability to effortlessly jump between different medias, but the 31-year-old’s first stumble into dance started in his mom’s car in Utah. Derek was born in South Jordan, Utah – the fourth of five children and the only boy in the family. Growing up, Derek remembers making up games with his siblings and making their own toys, which helped fuel his creativity early on. The home was also filled with instruments, and Derek learned to play the drums around 8-years-old. When he was 10-years-old he would sit in his mom’s car waiting for his oldest sister to get out of dance class, and eventually decided to go for it himself. “At first I did not want to dance, I was like, ‘This is for girls, I’m going to get bullied’,” he admits, “But then I ended up loving it.” Because of his experience with drums, rhythm came naturally to Derek and he was able to pick up moves very quickly. As he excelled at the craft, he began traveling to places like New York and Hawaii to perform. Derek didn’t really fit in at his schools in Utah (he attended six different ones in two months, at one point) and really thrived in the dance studio environment. When he was 12, he had the opportunity to move to London for school and went for it – moving all the way across the pond by himself to study at the Italia Conti Academy of Theatre Arts. “The lifestyle in London was very structured,” he recalls, “We’d go to school every day, come home and eat, and go to dance practice. Saturdays we’d have dance classes all day and on Sundays we’d have competitions.” He thrived in the environment, though, and was able to travel the world because of it. He ended up staying in London for over 10 years, starring in NKDMAG.COM

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the original West End production of Footloose in 2006. “If I look at everything I’ve done, that’s one of the most difficult things to do. Theatre, that is,” he says, “To do eight shows a week. It’s so physically and vocally demanding.” After his stint in Footloose, he flew out to Los Angeles to visit his younger sister, dancer and actress Julianne Hough, and she asked him to go on the Dancing With The Stars Tour with her. He ini58

tially declined because he was exhausted from the last few months, but she sold him with promises of tour busses, 5-star hotels and arenas. They were both back-up dancers and eventually joined the show as professional dancers in the fifth season. Prior to Dancing With The Stars, Derek never considered himself a choreographer. But the show forced him to learn and hone that side of himself, and

challenged him creatively. “I was going from faking it to making it, to faking it and becoming it,” he says. To teach people and to coach people was especially rewarding for him. During Season 18 he was paired with Paralympic snowboarder, Amy Purdy, which ended up being a life changing experience for Derek. “To see the light in her eyes when she felt feminine again for the first time since she was 19… Those type of moments


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I’ll look back on,” he says. He cherishes these last few years with the show. After having so much success on Dancing With The Stars, Derek and Julianne started the Move Live Tour in 2014, which included dancing and singing from both the siblings, and a group of dancers. “We would tell people it was a rock concert for dance,” he says. The concept confused a lot of venue promoters with their idea, but sold out across the country. They brought the tour back in 2015 and are eager to plan another one in the future. Currently, Derek is hard at work on Hairspray Live!, which will air on NBC on December 7th. He’ll star as Corny Collins alongside Kristin Chenoweth, Ariana Grande, Jennifer Hudson and more. “It’s very entertaining and bright and fun, but also very important. Especially with these times right now, I think it’s a really important message,” he says. Taking place in Baltimore in the 1960s, the musical highlights a transitional time in United States history. “We’re reminded how we all are one,” Derek says, “I was in rehearsal and we were in the gymnasium at the dance, and there’s a rope down the middle and it’s totally segregated.” Even though he is playing a part and it was just a rehearsal, Derek felt extremely uncomfortable. “I was in shock. I can’t believe this happened not too long ago,” he says, “I had a moment.” He hopes that the younger generations watching Hairspray Live! will take something away from seeing that on screen. “When you see the segregation, and when you see how stupid and silly it is, and you see these characters who are trying to keep kids in the ‘right direction’ or the ‘white direction’, you’re just like, ‘Wait a minute’,” he says. He’s aware that there are still people out there who think like those characters, and he hopes that if

they watch Hairspray Live! they may start to question why they feel the way they do. “It really is a great story, and it’s funny and it’s light-hearted, and it’s very campy, but in a really good, appropriate way,” he says, “This is a great way to mash those two things. Something very serious with something very just playful and fun.” Corny Collins was based on a real person – Buddy Deane. Buddy was for integration back in the 1960s and his show, the Buddy Deane Show, was cancelled because of it. Derek really dove into the history of his character and the time period he is from. He learned that dances like The Twist came from these underground clubs, but on television at the time, dancing was very proper and stiff, still. “That integration really changed not just culture and humanity, but dance,” he says, “Me being a dancer and learning the history of it, and seeing where all these moves and trends came from, it’s pretty cool.” In terms of choreography, the moves he’s doing are relatively simple – but it’s not about that. “It’s about that time and what it meant. To do The Twist was considered vulgar,” he says. On the side, Derek has been working on what he describes as a “passion project”. He has been releasing videos with original music – most recently being a collaboration with Lindsey Stirling where she played violin, he played drums and they both danced. With music being such a big part of his life, it is not something he wants to give up – but doesn’t envision himself trying to be a pop star. (Though, he did co-front The Ballas Hough Band with his best friend and Dancing With The Stars alumni, Mark Ballas.) “I want to create great music to create great pieces to,” he says, “Original music, original dancing, original choreography, concepts… I enjoy that.” 2017 will see a bit of change

for Derek. He is officially leaving Dancing With The Stars to accompany Jennifer Lopez and Ne-Yo as a judge on NBC’s new dance competition show, World of Dance. The show will have three age divisions of dancers who will compete until only one act, solo or group is left in each. The Top 3 will then compete against each other for a million-dollar prize. “It’s going to be a great year. It’s going to be a transitional year for me. A new chapter,” he says. As excited as he is for his next endeavor, he is hyper aware of how important Dancing With The Stars has been to his successful career, and “will never say never” to the prospect of returning to the show one day. “The show is my family. It’s really important to me, and it’s been a part of my life for so long,” he says. He has thrived off the healthy competitiveness the show brings out in both the dancers and the stars, and learning how to coach, teach and choreography has been an invaluable experience for Derek. He has watched (and been a huge factor in) the show developing from “a ballroom competition for celebrities” into something that people take more seriously – while still having a ton of fun. “My reason for not returning is when I look at that room, I kind of feel like I’ve done what I can in that room and in that space. I’ve accomplished so much in that space,” he says, “I feel like I need to move onto a different space.” Moving forward, Derek simply wants to continue to grow as an entertainer. He plans to keep working on Move with Julianne, which, in addition to the tours has put on fitness events called Move Interactive in Los Angeles. “For me, it’s starting new things, new careers, new adventures, but also having an actual adventure,” he says, “I’m looking forward to new experiences and new oppurtunities.” NKD NKDMAG.COM

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caitlyn smith Words by SHELBY CHARGIN Photos by CATHERINE POWELL Caitlyn Smith knows what it’s like to have humble beginnings. “I grew up in a small town outside Minneapolis, about 3,000 people. I kind of grew up singing. I started singing at church and county fairs and things like that,” she says. From her parents driving her to first gig, to performing as a pre-teen in a band with her brother, it’s not a wonder that Caitlyn has grown into a budding country starlet. After constantly working and playing small shows in Nashville until she was 20, she finally made the jump and moved. “[I] just did the thing independently and moved to Nashville about seven years ago, got married and my husband and I – he also does music – we met doing music. I signed my first publishing deal,” she says. The publishing deal made Caitlyn realize that she had to work and create good songs to go with her killer vocals. It didn’t take long for her dedication to songwriting to turn into something real. “I realized early on that I have to become a great songwriter. When I signed my deal, I kind of took a break from touring for a while just to focus on trying to figure out what I want to say as an artist and try to figure out how to write a damn good song. I stopped playing and just wrote like crazy and within the first six months I got my first cut, which is super cool,” she recalls. That cut would be for country superstar Jason Aldean. Although it was “just an album cut” it start the snowball in her career. She quickly was getting requests from all her favorite country artists. Before she knew it, Caitlyn was in the studio working on what she thought would be her own record. “We made a ten-song record and

pitched it to labels and instead of getting a record deal, I didn’t get a record deal,” she laments, “But I got two Top 10s off of that record that I made that were cut by other artists.” And while it took her a bit to figure out where to go after that, she then realized that she wasn’t being true to herself, and trying too hard. “Trying too hard to write for radio, I don’t know, it just didn’t fit quite right. After a lot of ‘no’ on the artist side, a couple years ago I kind of like surveyed the scenario and I was like, you know what, I’m just going to make a record that I love,” she explains. And it worked for her. There were times for Caitlyn that she wasn’t completely confident in what she wanted to do. “It was always in the back of my mind that maybe this artist thing just isn’t going to work out, I don’t know. I hit a lot of walls with the artist thing. I was always like, writing is my Plan B,” she confesses. But seeing the reaction to her album helped spark her confidence again. “I was pleasantly surprised with how people liked it. I felt proud to just create something that I am proud of and that other people love it is really icing on the cake for me – that’s an extra bonus, awesome,” she says. That extra bonus has helped shape her career in a way where she is now able to write for herself and has learned to be able to write for others properly. “Writing for other people, you get to put on a character hat and just write, there’s a little more space in the song, it’s just a little, I don’t know, it’s not as hard,” she admits. As a woman, Caitlyn knows there can be limitations but she’s not afraid of them. In fact, she has a positive outlook on being a woman

in the industry. “There are outlets for females and I’m also a believer that where it has been such a male dominated market, I can start to see a shift of some awesome females that are coming up as well,” Caitlyn expresses. She cites her friend Lucie Silvas as one of the female artists that excite her. “[There’s a lot of badass women and they’re all over the charts and they’re doing great things,” she says, “There’s so many it’s overwhelming. I have a lot of friends that make really, really great music.” It’s this type of positive outlook and support she brings to the table that sets Caitlyn apart to greatly. Even being a part of the quarterly show, Girls of Nashville, has given her the opportunity to meet amazing women in Nashville who are doing the grind right alongside her. The cause was started to combat the assumption that competitive women aren’t supporting each other. “[We started a few years ago. I was kind of surveying the female scenario and I had heard rumors of like just a little bit of jealousy over here or bickering and bitchiness over here,” she says, “We just need to support each other. That’s what kind of spurred on this Girls of Nashville thing. I feel very excited to be a part of this movement of celebrating females, and it just feels good to have a group of awesome women in your corner.” Caitlyn is truly proof that girls can have it all, be supportive of other women and still thrive in life. Her goals for 2017 include releasing the full-length version of her album Starfire (the EP teaser came out earlier this year) in the first part of the year, and then head out on tour – brand new baby in tow. NKD NKDMAG.COM

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simple plan Words by STACY MAGALLON Photos by CATHERINE POWELL

Simple Plan is almost two decades old. Let that sink in. That statement serves to shock, but also, to reaffirm. If you were an angsty pre-adolescent sixth grader like I was, you owned an array of black band shirts, album art that scaled the height of your bedroom walls and parents who feared the attitude equipped with your “phase”. You’re now a 20-something millennial on the verge of graduating college or pushing for that promotion at your 9-to-5. What distinguishes you from everyone else at the office is your knowledge of early 2000’s pop-punk because you’re likely screaming along to “I’m Just a Kid” at the bar beside your hypercritical co-workers. Unless, of course, you aren’t. But if Simple Plan wasn’t a part of your phase, you did it wrong. In 2002, Simple Plan made their first New York City appearance at The Fillmore at Irving Plaza. Back then, the band were just beginning to break into the waves of television and radio with their freshman

release, No Pads, No Helmets…Just Balls. Times have evolved, to say the least. Four full-length albums, one major wardrobe update, an appearance in Mary-Kate and Ashley’s New York Minute, and an international following later, drummer Chuck Comeau and lead guitarist Jeff Stinco find themselves sitting in that same venue’s lounge a few hours before their sold-out headlining show. Simple Plan is running back full circle – some of them married with children. The group that sang “I don’t want to be told to grow up” actually did, and didn’t compromise an ounce of integrity or style in the process. “What were the defining moments in our career?” Jeff asks, “I don’t think there’s a particular one.” When Simple Plan first signed to Lava Records in 2001, they were just five friends from high school. After No Pads, No Helmets…Just Balls was released the following year, the French-Canadian pop-punk group propelled into vital U.S. markets with the help of popular rock band Sugar Ray. “That one college tour

created a huge buzz around the band,” Jeff recalls, “And once we were invited to play on the Vans Warped Tour, that exposure helped us tremendously.” MTV, the then-mainstream music hub, took notice. The network immediately began to air Simple Plan’s high-energy cheeky music videos. Their popularity was fueled by frequent requests -- namely “Addicted”, “I’m Just a Kid”, and “I’d Do Anything”. Those singles turn 15 next year – a few years older than you might have been when you first discovered this band. “We were just kids talking about playing music in Russia, China, or Japan,” Jeff says, “I feel like we could go to any city in the world and have an audience stand in front of us.” The international mileage inspired the band to publish an album of their travels. Simple Plan: The Official Story is a retrospective, visual milestone in their journey, both for their fans and for themselves. “It’s just a testimony that remind us of what we’ve achieved as a band over the years,” NKDMAG.COM

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Jeff says. In the last two decades, Simple Plan managed to survive the consumer revolution of the music industry. What started out as selling cassettes evolved into selling CDs. Following that era was the creation of iTunes. And now, in the midst of a streaming era, Simple Plan is still relevant. “This band was able to make it through all of that,” Chuck says, “It’s all about how you adapt and transition into these new levels of marketing.” Their “just go with it” attitude helped the group shift into new methods of reaching the masses, especially over the internet. Simple Plan pride themselves on being accessible. In the event of social media, multiple platforms offer them the convenience to connect and interact with their fan base, even though they’ve been doing that for years. “Before that existed, we would just talk to the kids outside our shows, at our signings, or meet and greets,” Chuck says, “It’s all about having that high-level exchange with them and shaking their hands.” And the fans who stuck around as teenagers, now stick around as adults. Simple Plan’s longevity is credited to their wave of early 2000’s nostalgia and timeless songs that old and new generations resonate with. Not to mention, their lineup hasn’t changed once. “The kids who were 10-years-old and couldn’t come to our shows are now 22 or 23,” Chuck says, “And the people who were the same age as us, grew up with us and are still coming back to all of these shows.” The success of their popular singles – namely “Perfect” and “Welcome to My Life” have earned an eternal spot in the hearts of their listeners. Simple Plan know their

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fans really well and how to cater to their feelings. They’ve released three other full-lengths since No Pads, No Helmets…Just Balls and Still Not Getting Any… so continuously bringing up the oldies gets old eventually. “We’ve heard so many people tell us how much they love our first record while we’re releasing our fourth,” Jeff says, “When truthfully, some people connect with a band at different phases in their lives.” As of recently, fans have praised their recent releases: Get Your Heart On - The Second Coming (2013) and Taking One for The Team (2016). The three-year wait between their latest releases was intentional. Simple Plan wanted to challenge their creative nature by finding the middle ground between keeping it fresh and staying true to their history. They did not want their fifth album to be an excuse to go back on tour. They did not want to draw comparisons to their earlier work. “We wanted to make a record that lived up to our four previous ones,” Chuck says, “I’m grateful that we took the time to make our last album so it could stand as a rival to what we’ve created in the past.” “We were able to create something exciting and different that way,” Jeff adds, “Some songs are closer to the aesthetic of the band, and some were further away.” Finding the right balance is key. Simple Plan hate to disappoint, and, as a compromise, their setlist reflects that. “We like to play our throwbacks, the big hits, and some of our newer material too,” Chuck says, “We want our fans to know who we were and who we are now.” They’ve been known for playing the theme song for What’s New, Scooby Doo? – which happens to please fans and puzzle the ones who don’t know they were featured in an episode titled “Simple Plan and the Invisible Madman” in 2004. For the next year, Simple Plan hope to continue touring the United States to make up for lost time. So many people have yet to see them live. But if you haven’t yet, don’t fret - they’re still here, and they’re still kicking ass. NKD 70


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meg donnelly Words by SAMANTHA BAMBINO Photos by CATHERINE POWELL

Sometimes our purpose in life has a funny way of revealing itself, and this is certainly the case for Meg Donnelly, star of ABC’s new comedy, American Housewife. While Meg’s character, Taylor, tends to be a bit air-headed, the actress herself is extremely ambitious in her pursuit to make her mark on the entertainment world, and has been since a very young age. At 5-years-old, Meg dedicated herself to learning gymnastics, and took classes a few days each week. After several years of this, she decided to try out a place called Annie’s Play House in Far Hills, New Jersey, where she started training in performing arts. As she became more immersed in acting and dancing, Meg made the jump to quit her first love of gymnastics and fully pursue performing arts. “When I was 8, I decided this is definitely what I want to do,” she recalls. “So then agents came to all of the shows I was doing and I got signed with an agent when I was 10 or 11. And that’s when I professionally started doing all of this.” Meg has been auditioning for roles ever since, though she admits her career choice came at a price. Her family moved around a lot during her childhood based on where auditions and jobs were located. She has lived in several towns throughout New Jersey, owns an apartment in Manhattan, and is currently living in Los Angeles to film American Housewife. While it may seem like an adventure, moving so much makes it hard to maintain friendships. “It’s been crazy not having friends sometimes because there’s really no time sometimes. I’ve had to move schools a lot, which can be difficult,” she says. Since she’s still new to the West Coast, Meg admits she hasn’t had a chance to make many friends yet, but she doesn’t let that dampen her experience. She hangs out with her castmates on a regular basis and doesn’t forget her roots on the East. “I keep all my old friends, I stay in touch with them and then when I have the chance I see them,” she says. Meg has plans to return to her apartment in Manhattan after finishing up the filming of Season One. Although she says she loves

the weather in Los Angeles, New York will always feel more like home. “New York is just the best, especially because everything is really fast-paced,” Meg says. “So when I’m in L.A everything is really slow, and I’m just like come on, come on!” Although Meg has settled down in L.A to film the show, her schedule doesn’t allow her to attend a regular school like other teens her age. Instead, she does school on-set with her American Housewife siblings, and is also homeschooled during breaks. While she enjoys the easy-going vibe of going to school at a television studio, she does miss the experience of being in a normal classroom with other high schoolers. “The two other kids on the show are 13 and 7, so we’re not the same age at all,” Meg says. “And sometimes it’s difficult because our environment is nothing like it would be in our actual classes.” Despite the unconventional school environment of the set, Meg and the rest of the American Housewife cast have been gifted with a comedy that has a ton of potential and a hysterically funny plotline. The show focuses on Katie, a stay-athome mom played by Katy Mixon, who just moved her family to Westport, Connecticut to help get her youngest daughter, Anna-Kat, a better education to accommodate her OCD. However, this new environment filled with rich, calorie-obsessed moms is way outside Katie’s comfort zone. “Everyone’s really skinny. They’re obsessed with juice-fasts and yoga,” says Meg. “Our mom is completely opposite and she’s so against that and she’s overweight. The only reason why we’re there is for the daughter. She doesn’t want us to try to be like the Westport people. Basically, she says what’s on everyone’s mind, which is really cool and I think that’s really relatable.” Though it’s hard to imagine the show without her, Meg actually wasn’t in the pilot episode. Producers originally cast another girl, but reopened auditions for the full series, which is when she got the part. The role of Taylor wasn’t the only thing that was different in the beginning. “It was actually called Second Fattest

Housewife in Westport,” recalls Meg. “So when it was that, I was in love with the script, I thought it was so funny. And I was so excited to even audition for it.” Meg’s character, Taylor, is your typical teen, trying to balance new friends, her crazy family, and school, which isn’t exactly her favorite thing. “She’s starting to become a teenager, she’s 14, so she’s kind of going through puberty and all of that,” says Meg. “So she’s trying to figure all of that out and she thinks her family is crazy and she’s kind of to herself.” Meg also describes Taylor as kind of “air-headed” but in a loveable way. “It’s really funny because a lot of the jokes are on her,” she says. Since she is around the same age, it’s natural that Meg relates to her American Housewife character. “Definitely starting to become a teenager, when you’re going all through those changes, it’s really awkward,” she says. “I think having other interests, and not really dealing with school. Even though I pay attention to school, sometimes it’s really hard to balance your interests and school at the same time, so I definitely feel the struggle with Taylor.” Aside from acting, Meg has a wide range of interests including everything from surfing in L.A to hanging out with friends when she has some spare time. But above all, her true love is music. Meg can both sing and play guitar, and hopes to pursue a professional music career someday to follow in the footsteps of some of her idols. “I really love the 90’s alternative genre, so Nirvana, Pearl Jam and the band Garbage because it’s a female singer,” says Meg. Meg is currently working on three original songs, which she hopes to release someday. For now, she is focused on filming the remainder of Season One of American Housewife and watching Taylor grow as a character. “She’s starting to become more involved in the family and taking more interest in the family as it goes on. In the first part, she always does her own thing, but I think now she’s developing with the parents, so that’s kind of cool,” she says. “Hopefully maybe later on we’ll see a love interest, who knows.” NKD NKDMAG.COM

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NKD Mag - Issue #66 (December 2016)  

Featuring: Derek Hough, AJ Michalka, Old Dominion, Simple Plan, Witney Carson, Hey Violet, RaeLynn, Eliza Bennett, Anne-Marie, LaRoyce Hawki...

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