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ISSUE #70 - APRIL 2017

by Catherine Powell

HUNTER HAYES


letter from the editor: Dear Readers, Almost six years ago, the idea for NKD Mag was born in a sweltering hot New York City apartment. We started as a music magazine, and slowly began to morph into an overall entertainment magazine - pulling additional talent from the acting, dancing and digital worlds. There was a logo change, dozens of staff changes and a handful of design reboots. But what has stayed consistent is the ability to access NKD Mag for free online. Starting with our May issue, that will change. We will be introducing digital sales for the first time ever, with subscription options coming later this summer. We will still be selling physical copies via MagCloud as well. When NKD first started, I was 17 and had no idea how to run a successful magazine. It didn’t feel right to charge for content before it was at a level that I myself would pay for. With our 5-Year Anniversary issue last summer, I feel like we finally reached that level. We figured it out, and spent the past year making sure every issue continued to be just as great. I hope you would agree that we succeeded. When putting together our digital sales plan, we were given the option to put our entire back catalog up for sale as well. I don’t think that would be fair to any of our readers, and all 70 issues released prior to May 2017 will continue to be free to access. To any of our readers upset by this change, I truly understand. I want you to know we will be keeping things affordable, and that the quality you’ve come to expect will still be there. I hope that over the past six years we have proved what we can do and you will continue to support us, whether that’d be by purchasing future issues or continuing to interact with us on social media. All 10.5 million of you have contributed to a lot of my dreams coming true, and I’ll never be able to thank you all enough for that. I promise that what we’ve got up our sleeves for the next few months will be worth it. Over the next month, I would love to speak with some of you about your concerns - please do feel free to reach out. Lastly, I’d like to thank my incredible staff of writers, who have graciously worked for free for the last six years. I am well aware that your time and talent could be going elsewhere, and I’m humbled that you all still produce incredible work, month after month. I hope you enjoy our last free issue - I made sure it was a great one. Here’s to new chapters! Sincerely,

Catherine Powell Founder, Editor-In-Chief


APR. actors:

06 DRAKE MILLIGAN playing his version of the king

14 CARTER JENKINS staying grounded and eager

28 JACE NORMAN from baby steps to huge leaps

musicians: 08 LACY CAVALIER not backing down anytime soon

12 KAYLA BRIANNA ready for the world to hear her

20 RYAN LAFFERTY

finding a sound and a home in nashville

22 THE CADILLAC THREE country’s loudest phenomenon

32 CHARLOTTE OC making her way across the pond

34 HUNTER HAYES on growth, change and country

44 JERROD NIEMANN writing and finding songs that speak

48 CLAYTON ANDERSON making a splash in nashville


publisher: CATHERINE POWELL

editors: CATHERINE POWELL

writers: SAMANTHA BAMBINO ELIZABETH FORREST AUTUMN HAILE IAN HAYS BRITTANY LANDAU MEGAN MARUSAK CATHERINE POWELL VANESSA SALLES HANNAH SCHWARTZ RILEY STENEHJEM TANYA TRANER

photography: CATHERINE POWELL

design: CATHERINE POWELL


drake milligan Words by SAMANTHA BAMBINO Photos by CATHERINE POWELL 06


If you ask most kids what they aspire to be when they grow up, their answers will rarely stray far from superheroes and princesses. But Drake Milligan was different. Instead of capes and crime fighting, he envisioned a future of sequined jumpsuits and hip shaking. His childhood hero was Elvis Presley, and Drake now portrays The King himself in CMT’s new series, Sun Records, which details the rise of 1950’s rock and roll in Memphis. Drake’s story began in Fort Worth, Texas, where he was just your average southern boy who loved to play outdoors. Things changed at the age of seven, when he accidentally saw an Elvis impersonator. Drake was completely mesmerized. “I went home after that and started watching all the videos I could, all the books I could find, and movies and everything. I just became this huge Elvis fan after that,” Drake reflects. “Shortly thereafter, I started mimicking him, standing on the coffee table in a cheesy jumpsuit, lip syncing to his songs.” As the years passed, Drake’s love for the rock and roll star continued to grow. Once he reached high school, he started to impersonate Elvis, and began traveling to various towns to perform. Last February, Drake got wind of open call auditions in Memphis to play the part of Elvis in Sun Records. Though his only acting experience was a short film in 2014 called Nobody, which chronicles Elvis’s high school days, Drake took a shot and auditioned, a chance that clearly paid off. At that point in his career, Drake had his Elvis portrayal down to a science. Now came the challenge of delivering this performance on camera in front of an entire production crew. Luckily for him, the cast of Sun Records served as a crash course in acting, allowing him to learn from industry veterans Chad Michael Murray and Billy Gardell. Director Roland Joffé was also vital in making Drake feel at home on set. “He really made me comfortable on camera and made it not acting so much as conversational. Just being in the moment. So it took a lot of that pressure off. I never felt like I was having to act while I was on camera,”

Drake says. The first season of Sun Records introduces us to producer Sam Phillips in 1950’s Memphis, Tennessee and his quest to find raw, local talent to record. Most people believe that Elvis and Johnny Cash were the first rock and roll artists at the label, but it was the African American blues singers like Ike Turner and BB King who came beforehand that truly set the stage. “That’s where the real story starts, and that’s where these guys got their influence from, and that’s how they brought it to everyone in America,” Drake says. “Elvis and Johnny Cash and them were just a vehicle, and this series really shows that.” Sam Phillips was color blind when it came to music. All that mattered to him was feeling something, and he was able to bring the rhythmic music of Memphis to the masses through artists like Elvis, who shared his passion for all things soul. Before filming began, Drake already knew how he wanted to portray Elvis, who was much deeper than the showman fans know and love from the stage. Drake wanted to capture the human side of Elvis, who was just a poor boy from Mississippi. “I wanted to show that he had all the problems of anybody else. And then all of the sudden this fame hits and it’s hard to deal with,” Drake says. “He felt the pressures like anybody else would in that situation.” Despite years of researching and portraying Elvis, Drake uncovered a few new facts about his life while filming. Many people are unaware of the strong bond Elvis had with his mother. He had a twin brother who died at birth, so Gladys Presley was naturally protective of her remaining son. “There was a real closeness there, and at times, unhealthy,” Drake says. He also had the honor of speaking with Elvis’s high school friend, George Kline, who gave him insight on a period in the artist’s life from which there are no interviews or footage. “Elvis was just this quiet, shy, really reclusive outcast, and I think that was a good side to get from that perspective,” Drake says. Sun Records was filmed on loca-

tion in Memphis, and it was a surreal experience for Drake to walk the same streets as these incredible musicians. The series transports the audience back in time to 1950’s Memphis, with its iconic buildings, cars, and clothes, something that was really special for him to be a part of. “There’s a certain energy in Memphis that you can’t get anywhere else,” Drake says. “I’d say that Memphis is the main character of the show.” Throughout the series, we see Drake as Elvis crooning on his guitar to girlfriend Trixie, and singing all of the classic hits on stage to screaming fans. While “Jailhouse Rock” will always have a place in his heart, Drake eventually wants to find his own voice and sound in the music industry, which he predicts to be a combination of blues, jazz, and rock, but mainly country. “All an artist is, is somebody who’s taking all their musical influences and putting them together to make their own sound,” Drake says. In addition to his dream of making his own music someday, Drake also caught the acting bug from filming Sun Records. While he has enjoyed his years of portraying The King, Drake is ready to find his own voice as an actor. “After doing this and working with so many great actors and a great director, I’m wanting more,” he says. “I want to go find my own part, find something that’s not Elvis. Something opposite of Elvis.” Until that day arrives, Drake’s focus will be on the success of Sun Records. He has high hopes for the series, which includes top actors and fully live music and performances. Both die-hard Elvis fans and those who aren’t as familiar can find common ground in the show because there is a want to learn about this music and the time period in which it was created. By the end of the first season, Drake hopes the audience gains an appreciation for the music and continues to learn about not just Elvis, but the other pioneers of rock and roll like BB King and Ike Turner. “Every kind of music that’s out there today is in some way influenced by what these guys did,” Drake says. “So it’s an important story to tell.” NKD NKDMAG.COM

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lacy cavalier

Words by ELIZABETH FORREST Photos by CATHERINE POWELL

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“There’s home videos of me at 5-years-old telling my parents that I’m going to be a star,” Lacy Cavalier remembers. As soon as she realized it was a possibility, the country singer knew that she was born to perform. Then, she refused to let anything stop her. “My parents were like – oh Lord, what are we getting ourselves into?” she says. But her parents supported her completely in her dreams. Lacy begged her mom to take her to an acting camp at 8-years-old. From that experience, she was able to book a role on Barney and kick started her career as a performer. A few years later, though, Lacy realized that she

grateful to be where she is at such a young age, being away from home has been difficult. “For the most part, if my family can come up here then I’m okay,” she says. “I like to go home a good bit too, once a month or once every few months.” Home is a nine-hour drive, but it’s worth it to her to see her family, backyard and pond. Although Lacy has only been writing professionally for about five years, she’s been writing music since she was a child. The short answer to what inspires her music is boys, but she is also inspired by hers and others’ situations, along with everyday mundane things in life. “I feel like if you’re open to an

you see a potential in guys,” she reveals. “You look at guys like they’re an HGTV fixer upper, but they’re really not. There’s nothing we can do about it, but we still try because we know how good they could be.” Although she’s played it live and it went over well, she’ hasn’t yet had the courage to release it. Although she loves all aspects of what she gets to do professionally, performing live might be her favorite part of the process. “That’s when you actually get to see how your songs react with people face to face,” Lacy explains. “You have the complete control of the audience’s emotions for an hour, which is cool.” Luckily for her, she went on

“You look at guYs like theY’re an hgtv fixer upper, but theY’re reallY not. there’s nothing we can do about it, but we still trY because we know how good theY could be.” was more interested in pursuing a singing career than an acting career. After moving to Nashville, she recorded a demo that was heard by an A&R management group; subsequently, she signed with them and moved to Los Angeles. But at 14-years-old, she moved back to Nashville to sign with Victoria Shaw and Downtown Music. She’s been there and writing ever since. “I’m here now and I can thank Barney for it,” Lacy laughs. Ambitious beyond her years, Lacy graduated high school at 16 to focus on her publishing deal. Now at 20, she’s decided to sit out college and focus solely on her music. Although she’s

idea, you can find inspiration pretty much anywhere,” she says. Nothing is off limits to her. Lacy’s favorite song she’s written changes by the day, but she insists that that’s normal for songwriters. Although songwriters are always partial to their newest song, her two main favorites alternate. The first, “Put You Down,” is a song she released two years ago. The song is special to her because she was proud to have made it onto CMT, but the second is dear to her for more personal reasons. She wrote “Man You Could Be” completely by herself, but it’s never seen the light of day. “It’s about my awesome ex-boyfriend and how

tour with Chase Rice and Ryan Hurd throughout the spring and fall of 2016 and was able to truly experience the performance life. “It was the coolest year because I had never done that before,” she says. She had played live shows before, but never consecutively and touring with the same band and lineup. “The whole four months we were in a van, so we would leave shows and drive three hours, then wake up and drive five or six more before doing it all over again,” she says. It was a lot of time with a lot of the same people, but she had an awesome time making memories with her band on the road. She also got to travel

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places she never would have been able to otherwise. She had such a good time on tour that she documented it through her own YouTube channel. She named her vlogs “One Stage at a Time,” a title that was actually coined by her mom. It represented the current stage of her life as well as the fact that every night she was on a different stage while on tour. Although it was a great way for her to connect with her fans, 75% of the vlog was to document the tour for herself. “We were like – what if we show our grandkids one day? How cool would this be?” she remembers. Since the tour, she has looked back at the videos. Even though it’s only been three months since the tour ended, it’s been fun for her to relive it. Getting to be involved with other artists is a tough thing to do, so she felt lucky to be sharing the stage with Chase and Ryan. They began with performing in college arenas and city’s stadiums, but the crowds far exceeded what Lacy envisioned. The very first night, she was shocked to discover that there were 6,000 tickets sold. “I

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got there and I was like, ‘Mom, I don’t know if I’m prepared for this. I don’t know if I brought enough deodorant’,” Lacy says. However, the minute she got up on stage, she didn’t want to get down. To Lacy, strengthening her connection to her fans was one of the best parts of touring. “I had one person who drove four hours and waited from around noon until eight to watch us,” Lacy says. “I’m still at a stage where I’m shocked that people even heard of my music or anything, so that stuff was cool to see the turnout.” Because of that, having someone wait hours for her to perform was huge. At 20, it’s clear Lacy has accomplished a huge amount for someone in the early stages of their career; much of that is due to her life outlook. “My philosophy is people can tell me ‘no’ as many times as they want, but I’m not going anywhere,” she says. Because of this, her advice to anyone trying to get into music is to keep working on their craft and figure out what it is that they want to say. Personally, Lacy likes to convey

authenticity. “I don’t know how to fake it if I’m having a rough day or I’m going through a rough season in life,” Lacy explains. “Whatever it is, it’s going to come through in my music and I don’t really have a way of hiding that.” Writing specifically is at the forefront of her mind because she’s in the middle of preparing for a new release, but there’s also much more for her to look forward to in the near future. She has a few upcoming shows at Nascar races, a feat that’s extra exciting because she’s never been to a race before. Looking back at all that she’s accomplished, one of Lacy’s proudest moments was having her music videos air on CMT. “I grew up watching CMT, so knowing that my videos are now crossing across their screens is just the coolest thing ever,” she says. She still hasn’t accomplished all that she wants to and has many hopes for the future, though. Current goals are to get a record deal, put out a full-length record and tour again. “But I think I mostly just want to put out records I love, that I’m proud of and that I can see the growth of,” she concludes. NKD


k a y l a brianna Words by BRITTANY LANDAU Photos by CATHERINE POWELL

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Kayla Brianna wants the world to hear her sound and know her name. With the drive and passion to go far, there’s no doubt that’ll happen soon. But it wasn’t always so easy. Growing up, Kayla was extremely shy and wouldn’t sing for anyone, including her parents. “Once I sang for my parents, I felt like I had gotten my confidence and knew that was what I wanted to do,” she says. The now 23-year-old went on to join a few girl groups and while none of them really worked out, she gives them credit for showing her the ropes. “That was good practice because I got experience being in the studio and on stage,” she says. After starting her solo career, she was picked up by Interscope when she was just 16-years-old. She was signed by Vince Herbert, who has worked with Lady Gaga Aaliyah, and Destiny’s Child, and Ron Fair, who has mentored Keyshia Cole, Mary J. Blige and Christina Aguilera. A short while later, however, Ron Fair left the label and so did the artists he signed on, including Kayla. And she’s been an independent artist ever since. “I wasn’t getting a lot of attention, which is a problem that a lot of artists have with labels,” Kayla says about Interscope. Though she didn’t know how to make the transition from a label-signed artist to an independent one, she knew she had to keep pursuing her dream. “I didn’t know how it was going to happen, but I was happy I was able to have more creative control over my music. If I wanted to put out a song tomorrow, I could put out a song tomorrow,” she says. Last month, Kayla release “Luck” featuring fellow upcoming R&B artist, Dreezy. Both girls were nominated in the 2017 iHeartRadio Music Award’s Best New R&B Artist category. Seeing an independent artist

nominated for an award show is a rare sight, but with other independent artists like Chance the Rapper winning two Grammys, Kayla finds it possible to do the same. “Seeing Chance win when he hasn’t even sold a single record - he’s been putting out mixtapes for free - and he won two Grammys. That’s crazy. It’s just a sign I’m on the right track,” Kayla says. “It just shows you anything is possible. That’s cliche, but you’ve just got to put in the work and believe in your dream. I’m sure there are people who thought he would never be nominated, let alone win twice. I would just say, it definitely inspired me to keep going and stay motivated and believe in my dream,” she continues. The song with Dreezy will be featured on Kayla’s upcoming EP, along with her other single “Work For It” featuring YFN Lucci. “I’m excited for people to hear my body of work,” Kayla says about her first EP. After releasing her four singles, including “Honest” and “Do You Remember” featuring Rich Homie Quan, she’s looking forward to finally let people learn her voice and music. “I’m just very particular and picky,” Kayla says, “So I’ve been fine tuning the songs for the EP and making sure it’s perfect, so that when I put it out, it’ll be like, ‘Okay, this is Kayla Brianna’s sound’ versus us having two or three songs. It’s hard for people to gauge what direction I’m going in at the moment, so it’ll be good for people to know my sound when the EP is out.” Kayla describes the EP as relating to the everyday struggles of real life. “Relationships, learning about relationships, and being young. It has the different stories of things I’ve been through with relationships and how I like to go out and have fun, but still have to be in the spotlight and figure out who I am as a person and as a

woman. It’s all of that,” she explains. While her main focus is music, Kayla is also invested with the clothing line she shares with her sister, called K.M. Fem. Their clothing is geared towards “the sexy, sassy, self-sufficient lady.” Their clothes are fun and colorful, yet classy and sophisticated, just like Kayla’s live show. Her dance moves on stage come from the “Work For It” video, where she found the choreographer in a unique way. “I actually found her on Instagram. She did a cool dance video to my song before the video was out and I wanted to meet her. I really wanted to learn it and it ended up being my video. She’s amazing,” she exclaims. “We have two dancers and a DJ. It’s a lot of energy and a lot of fun,” she says. Kayla’s ideal live performance would be her current show, but amped up. “I would have a lot of obnoxious things on stage, like bright lights and a big K and B. If you saw Beyonce where she had the moving catwalk? Things like that. A lot of fun, high energy stuff - more dancers and a band, for sure,” she says. As for the future, Kayla just wants to keep doing what she loves, with or without a label. “I definitely want to keep going down this independent route and see how far it can go, so if I do want to sign to a label one day, I would be able to be very specific with what I want and don’t want. I’m learning the system and you have to meet certain kinds of people and be in certain rooms. It’s really a lot of politics involved, especially when you don’t have a label to say, ‘Oh, she’s with so-and-so’,” she says. “I want to branch out with the clothing line and eventually see it in stores. I also want to keep making great music and get recognized for it and win a Grammy. I’m really just excited for people to hear my sound as a whole.” NKD NKDMAG.COM

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carter jenkins Words by TANYA TRANER Photos by CATHERINE POWELL


“In the audition they asked me if I liked roller coasters, and I’m like ‘I love em.’ I get on set, sitting on the roller coaster, trembling because I’d never ridden a roller coaster. I lied,” Carter Jenkins jokes about his first starring role – in a Six Flags commercial, “Thankfully, I loved it because I had to ride it like, 25 times.” He might not have been so honest with his debut acting role, but Carter is incredibly true to himself, what he expects of his career and how to get there. Born in Tampa, Fl., Carter had an early interest for acting – so much so that he gave up playing baseball. At a young age, he was already thinking about his future. He decided that if he were to have a career in baseball, it would eventually have an expiration date, while acting could last his entire life. So at only 10-years-old, he and his mom flew to California on what was supposed to be a short, two-week trip. It ended up turning into a permanent living situation for his whole family. “I look back and I think that they were very bold and adventurous,” he says. “They wanted to Carpe Diem and let me take a shot at this thing that I was very passionate about.” He says he considers himself lucky to have such supportive parents because of the many obstacles young actors face, sometimes the biggest one is unsupportive parents. His parents are definitely the opposite. “They feel the pain of it when I don’t get the part, and when things are going well they enjoy it just as much as I do,” he says. Carter knew California was where he belonged during a boot camp of acting classes. “In those two weeks I just found my people,” he says. He loved the work and he loved the possibilities. “It’s like buying a lottery ticket, I just wanted to play,” he says. “But it’s not like buying a lottery ticket because you can hedge your bets by working hard, and honing your craft and hopefully having talent.” This boot camp ended with a showcase, and this is how he got an agent. At this point, his family decided to extend the trip to see if he could get some auditions, and the rest is history. Carter has been able to take his career as a childhood actor into adulthood by remembering the faith his family had in him after only a few small roles. He 16


felt the pressure to give it his all, staying focused and not letting anything get in the way of his potential. He says he was always aware of the traps that can ruin a career. Drugs and partying were something he always knew to stay away from, if not for himself, for his family who sacrificed so much for him. “I was the kind of kid that would not go to the party. I would stay home and work on my next audition,” he admits. Even still, there were a lot of lessons he had to learn along the way, most importantly having a life outside of acting. “You have to live a full life so that you can have something to act about,” he says. “That’s the clay that we mold from, you have to have experiences.” He learned this one the hard way. Carter had an audition for a role that he thought would be a game changer, and when he didn’t get this role, he realized how important it was to have another creative outlet. “Then you’re not dependent on these forces that are really so out of your control,” he says. “Live a fascinating life, and you’ll attract fascinating work.” Learning this lesson has helped him grow healthily into his newest role as Rainer Devon on Famous In Love, premiering on Freeform this month. Famous in Love is based on the book by Rebecca Serle about the filming of a movie based on a book. (You can go ahead and read that over a few times.) It follows the story of Paige Townsen (Bella Thorne), who experiences an instant rise to stardom after landing a major motion picture gig. Carter says there were many things about the script that drew him to the part. “It’s a show about Hollywood and love,” he says. “And I know those things very well.” He’s been acting most of his life, like Rainer. He also knows the industry, and he’s seen many of his friends rise to fame and fall just the same. “I’ve observed what it does to people, and I’ve experienced plenty of peaks and valleys in my own career,” he says. While the show is all about Hollywood, he says it’s relatable to the everyday viewer because the main character, Paige, is just a normal girl herself who sort of falls into this intense fame. “You always wonder ‘What if? What if I did hit the lottery?’” he says. He notes that

her journey is very different from how most Hollywood actors get their big break, though. Paige hits it big after auditioning for her first role, while most actors pay their dues, facing years of rejection and auditions. “It’s usually taking the stairs, and Paige Townsen gets an elevator,” he says. He says his own character had an escalator ride to fame, having a big time producer for a mother. “But you have to have some talent. Nepotism only gets you so far,” Carter says. The first season of Famous In Love chronicles the filming of the movie in which Paige has been cast. Carter says that she and his character, Rainer, have an on-and -off set fling, though we don’t know who she will end up with ultimately as there is a bit of a love triangle going on. He’s personally rooting for “Raige” as he calls them, maybe with a small bias. “What I really love about the first season is that I play a movie star, but you pretty quickly see behind the image of the star,” he says. “It’s not just how he’s perceived to the public. You get to see behind the curtain.” To Carter, this is one of the most interesting parts of the show. Most actors try to portray their image at all times, he says. They’re not showing off their bad days on Instagram, for instance. These are uncertain, but exciting times for the star. The cast of Famous In Love is packed with up-and-coming young actors, with some of the same production team of Freeform’s big hit Pretty Little Liars. With all of the buzz and excitement, he says staying grounded and focused is important. “We’re sort of trying not to jump the gun. It’s not a hit show,” he says. “I’ve been involved in things that looked good on paper and don’t pan out.” Carter wants to focus only on the process, on the work, and not have too much anticipation for the show’s success. Outside of the show, Carter has been open to wherever the wind blows him. He’s been traveling a lot, and working with some of his filmmaker friends here and there. He’s just excited to premiere the show, and hopefully start shooting a second season. Mostly though, the kid who told a fib to land his first job just wants to keep living his dream so he won’t regret giving up that baseball career. NKD NKDMAG.COM

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r y a n lafferty Words by MEGAN MARUSAK Photos by CATHERINE POWELL

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Nashville isn’t only for country artists. And while it took Ryan Lafferty quite a few years to realize that, it looks like his career is finally shaping into what he’d hope it would. Ryan grew up in West Virginia and first experienced music as a singer in church. He loved it, but never felt it was anything he could build a career off of. “Nobody had ever talked about writing music for a living where I’m from,” he says. But for some reason, he was still fascinated by it. “I remember watching music videos and waiting for the end to see who wrote the song even before I knew songwriting was something I would consider someday,” Ryan says. But it’s not surprising that music drew Ryan in so much, considering he grew up listening to such an eclectic mix. “My dad raised me on Journey and Billy Joel, and so much different music,” he says. He can even remember the first song he fell in love with. It was a single song on a cassette tape left at his grandmother’s house by his cousin, but he knows it helped shape him into the passionate songwriter he is today. “I put it in, I had no idea what it was, and it was... “On Bended Knees” was the name of the song… I must have played that song on repeat for days,” he says. And after that, music was Ryan’s main focus. Eventually, Ryan took to the stage for the musical Grease in high school. It’s the only show he’s ever been in, but performing in front of an audience gave him the motivation to make a career out of performing. “I knew at that point that maybe I could get a job in [entertainment],” he says. Ryan enrolled in college, mostly to please his parents, but he was still writing songs as often as he could. Over time, he gained a pretty impressive following on MySpace and quite a few avid listeners, but of course, MySpace soon came to an end. “I was so bummed when MySpace died. I never could figure out how to find those people on Facebook,” Ryan says. Ryan’s had his fair share of odd jobs while trying to make it in the world of singing and songwriting. In college, he worked at a television station, where he says he gained a lot of experience being on the other side of the entertainment industry. “They gave me the experience to talk to you right now, except I was on the other end, interviewing and asking questions,” he says. He had a job as a substitute teacher in Nashville to make ends meet for a period of time, and worked some pretty intense 4:00 a.m. shifts for UPS. It was rough for him, and hours were crazy and days were long, but he’d do whatever he had to make his career

work. Unfortunately, tragedy hit in Nashville, and floods destroyed Ryan’s apartment. He was left with no choice but to move back to West Virginia. He’d planned on only staying there for a few months, then heading back to Nashville, but when he met the woman who would become his future wife, he decided to stick around and wait for her. So he started up a routine. He’d drive up to see her at school on the weekends, then head down to Nashville to do some writing and make as many connections as he could in the industry. Eventually, he met Jim Stevens, Luke Bryan’s producer, who heard something special in his voice. He advised him to ditch the pop music he’d been writing and to give country a shot and shop around a few songs to see if something could come of that. Ryan decided to take the advice and run with it. “It was opportunity. I wasn’t making any money on my songs yet, so I decided that I would see if I could find a home for myself in country music,” he says. For a few years, Ryan worked in the country market to see if he could make it work. He began to build up a fan base and used them as motivation to get out new music. “Fans would send me in their stories and then I would write songs about them,” he says. Every Monday, Ryan would post a new country song for the fan of his choosing. Not only did it help him gain more experience in writing, but it was the perfect way to connect with his supporters. Eventually, Ryan decided to give Nashville another shot, and moved there and married his wife all in the same week. Once they were settled into their new life, it was right back to working on his country music. And he would do anything he had to to make sure he could keep chasing his dream of music. “From four-o’clock to eight in the morning most days I’d be loading trucks at UPS, then I was writing demos from other people from 10 to one, then from two to seven I went back to UPS and worked another shift. It was like a crazy insane year of trying to get bills paid, trying to keep being able to have that time to write, to send demos, to make connections I needed to make,” he says. Eventually, Ryan began working with the Orbison Publishing Company, and him and his new team continued to work at the country thing. “I couldn’t do the country thing and fake it, you know? I couldn’t sing about trucks or cornfields or anything. Don’t get me wrong, I love a cornfield, but it brings up no emotions in me that I want to sing about,” he says. So Ryan went on to record an EP with songs that

he knew would fit the country market that he still felt he could relate to. Unfortunately, though, record deals weren’t working out for him. A total of three had fallen through over this time. “I had planned to have a record done by January 2016 regardless of what happened. And so I finished that record, and then the last straw was pulled on the record deal and we got word that that was not going to happen,” he says. This meant Ryan needed to come up with more country songs, but instead, he decided to take a break from country and give his old song a shot. “I wrote two songs, I turned them into my publisher, and I was like ‘This is something I have to do to get this off of my chest, get it out of my system, and I’ll get back to writing country songs’,” he says. But surprisingly enough, his publisher felt that they could would together to find a way to make the pop music sell. So Ryan switched back to his old sound, and spent the summer locked up in his office, writing songs, and doing what came naturally. “I was trying to just have fun with it, and not worry about what it was, or if such-and-such DJ on country radio was going to play it,” he says. Eventually, Ryan came up with what he felt was a pretty strong collections of songs. At the end of the summer, just before going on a 10-day vacation, he sent the new music into his publisher, and awaited the news from them. “They called and they were like ‘Dude, this is really really cool stuff, and we believe in it, and we think we should record with this. It’s clearly where your hearts at’,” Ryan recalls. Ryan says it took him a few months to really comprehend the fact that a Nashville label would believe in something other than country, but once he got over the shock of the good news, he bucked down and got to work. Now, Ryan and his team are working together to promote this new sound, and so far, it seems to be going pretty well. “Here It Goes” was one of his first big releases, and one of the songs his publishing company fell in love with. It’s a fun, quirky, comedic song that does an impressive job of giving you a quick background to exactly who Ryan is. And Ryan’s most recent release, “Church Boy”, does exactly the same task. His music in fun, relatable, and finally, exactly what he wants to be doing. Right now, Ryan is working to promote his new songs, playing a few gigs here and there, and working on getting out more music. He hopes to put out a full project by the end of April or early May so fans, both old and new, can finally hear exactly what he can do. NKD NKDMAG.COM

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the cadillac three Words by HANNAH SCHWARTZ Photos by CATHERINE POWELL

Not many country music artists are influenced by Nirvana and Dinosaur Jr., but one group in particular is making waves. Meet The Cadillac Three, a band that started out playing music influenced by grunge bands and 80’s country music. Jaren Johnston, Kelby Ray, and Neil Mason have been at it since they were quite young. “We were 13 or 14 years old and that’s right when you’re the most influenced. We were all learning how to play our instruments at that time so we threw a little bit of that Southern mix with the rock stuff that we grew up listening to,” Jaren says. During high school, they were all in different bands. In 2005, Jaren, Kelby, Neil, and their friend, Ben Brown, formed a band called American Bang that was signed to Warner Bros. Records. In 2011, Ben left the band. Jaren, Kelby, and Neil decided to continue to make music as a new band. They named themselves The Cadillac Three. In addition to writing their own music, The Cadillac Three love to write for other musicians. Jaren’s father was a song plugger, so he pitched songs to bands. “I always loved the idea of being able to 22

write songs for a living so that was kind of an added bonus. Being able to do that in a town like Nashville where you can be a songwriter behind the scenes but also be in a band,” Jaren says. How to establish which band gets the song being written is the tough part. They have to choose whether to keep the song for themselves or to give it away to another artist who might make it a big hit. “It’s different every time. Now it’s way different for us because we are more conservative with the songs that we give away. We are glad that we have success with other bands but now we have become this kind of band where we can do some of these bigger songs. So we keep a lot of them now,” Jaren says. Even though they love writing songs for other artists, there are songs that they wish they did not give away. “I don’t regret it because it was a huge song, but ‘Raise ‘Em Up’ [by Keith Urban and Eric Church]. I like that one a lot,” Jaren reflects. However, since The Cadillac Three is establishing themselves as a band and becoming more popular, they have been more cautious about whether they should give a song away or keep it for themselves.

“There are songs that we’re doing on this new record that we didn’t give away. ‘White Lightning’ is one of our biggest songs. The Band Perry wanted that one but we took it back. We’re keeping a lot of the better ones now. We’re giving away the B-Sides,” Jaren jokes. The most recent record they made took three and a half years to complete. “Before we were on Big Machine, I feel like we had some of the songs that ended up on the Bury Me In My Boots record,” Kelby says, “It took quite a while just because we re-released our first record on Big Machine so that kind of slowed down the album making process. We were also on tour for four years.” Their busy schedule made it difficult to make an album in a short period of time. They wanted to finish their album so badly that they started to record on their bus in between cities. “We started making [the album] right when we signed so it was over the course of three and a half years and we have recorded a lot of them on the back of the bus. If you listen to the record carefully, you can hear the generator on the bus in a lot of the vocals,” Jaren says with a laugh. Just like with most things, timing is


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everything while releasing a song. “I think ‘Drunk Like You’ would have been a much bigger hit if we would have written it earlier. That’s the way records are. That’s the way the industry is, in country at least, the way it goes now is you put out singles and singles and singles and create demand for the record and then put the record out,” Jaren explains. Musicians have to decide whether they want to create an album that tells a full story or a collection of songs that tell many mini-stories. The Cadillac Three did a bit of both on their recent album. “It’s tough to do that over such a long period of time because you are constantly changing and you are having new life experiences. It still fits together pretty well even though it is spread out over an amount of time,” Jaren says. Jaren, Kelby, and Neil grew up listening to vinyl records that told a story on each album, and they hope to recreate that experience. “You still want to be able to put it on vinyl and have it feel like an album like they did when we were kids,” Kelby says. The reception to the new album was everything The Cadillac Three could have wanted. “They [the fans] sing along every night to every one of them. That’s the kind of record I loved when I was a kid. The records where you are skipping the singles almost because you are so in love with the other stuff,” Jaren says. They are more than happy that their fans sing along with the ballads because that shows that their fans listen to more than just the singles they release. “It shows that we are gaining real fans” Kelby says. The band’s fan base keeps growing to the point where they have started to recognize people in the audience from previous tours. “After the Florida Georgia Line tour, we have noticed a lot more young, pretty girls in the audience. That’s kind of neat,” Jaren laughs. The guys enjoy touring with other bands, as well, as that gives them exposure to other fan bases that might not normally listen to their music. Like everything else, music is constantly changing, but The Cadillac Three have a great attitude about it. “We are just going to do what we want to do. When we started Cadillac, we were like ‘we aren’t going to let anybody tell us what to do. We are just going to play. We’re going to stick to that for sure,” Kelby says. Country mu24


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sic might be changing, but The Cadillac Three are sticking to their roots. “We’re not changing. You float in and out of the mold. Hopefully you fit,” explains Jaren. The band continues to write songs, and the theme for the next album is growth. “Our songwriting skills are getting better. It’s like working out. We are constantly working these muscles out and trying to stay creative and try to go to new places we haven’t been yet. Maybe put me as a singer in a more vulnerable place that I have to kind of swim out of. You got to keep swimming,” Jaren says. Growth does not mean change, though. “This new record still got the badass riff-y stuff, but there is some depth and a lot of good lyrics and we are excited about it,” they all assure. 2017 will be The Cadillac Three’s busiest year yet. Jaren and his wife are expecting a baby in April. “So we are going to be The Cadillac Four,” he jokes. They are also taking on Europe. “We are bigger there than we are [in The United States]. It’s pretty crazy over there. We have been going for three years. We went the first time by ourselves. We put out a record there and went for one show and some press and couldn’t even get into the room, it was so packed,” Jaren remembers. The band loves their European fans. “They are excited. They go to a pub next door [to the venue] and get hammered. They barely make it through the show. They are all really excited and you hear all of these weird accents singing in a Southern accent and it is very cool,” Jaren says. They are continuing to tour through Europe and will be playing at the Download Festival in Paris and Donington Park, United Kingdom in June. “It’s a cool thing to have going on both sides of the pond,” Kelby says. The Cadillac Three have accomplished many of their goals, but not all. “We would love to be the biggest band in the world. You can’t really beat that one yet. At first we wanted to get out of a van. Three or four years ago we got a bus and that was the ultimate goal. Now we live on that bus. We are still pretty happy about that one,” Jaren says. “So two busses, next?” jokes Kelby. The Cadillac Three have toured the world playing their music and they could not see themselves doing anything differently. “We’re three pretty happy dudes,” Jaren says. NKD NKDMAG.COM

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jace norman Words by RILEY STENEHJEM Photos by CATHERINE POWELL

Before actor Jace Norman was starring on television screens as the title character in Nickelodeon’s Henry Danger, he was starring in roles on a slightly smaller screen: that of the camcorder he and his older brother used to shoot movies as children. Jace was first introduced to his passion for acting after seeing Star Wars as a child, and after that, he and his brother were convinced that they could make their own feature film from their farm in New Mexico. “We literally thought we were making Star Wars,” he says. “We wrote a script and everything.” It didn’t take long for Jace to move from his home movie acting days to the real thing. After his family moved to San Diego when he was eight, he and his brother started meeting with talent agencies. “You know those ads that are like, ‘Do you want to be on Nickelodeon?’ ‘Do you want to be on Disney?’, those things that are probably scams?” Jace says. “My brother saw one of those, and asked my parents 28

if he could go, and they were like, ‘Alright, fine’, so I was like, ‘Can I come too?’” As it turns out, this one wasn’t a scam. Two agents were interested in Jace, and he ended up signing with Osbrink Talent Agency. His first role was on Disney Channel’s Jessie. “If I didn’t get that, I don’t know if I would have kept acting, because it’s so hard to book things and that first initial good feedback gave me the confidence to push through when things really got tough,” he remarks. “You fail a hundred times, and you get one, and you’re a success, but you’ve failed so many other times before that.” Luckily, that first success gave Jace the confidence to keep going, and after two years of auditions and a few roles here and there, he booked Henry Danger at 13. The show was created by Nickelodeon mastermind Dan Schneider. Jace plays the seemingly normal teen Henry Hart – except instead of working part-time in a restaurant or movie theater, Henry lands a job as

the superhero sidekick of Captain Man. The audition process for the show was a crazy one for Jace. “I was auditioning for all the Nickelodeon stuff and then there this Dan Schneider project, and I didn’t know who he was at the time,” Jace says. “Obviously I looked him up and was like, ‘Oh wow, he made all my favorite shows growing up.’ He created all of the Nickelodeon shows basically, like Zoey101, Drake and Josh, and iCarly.” When Jace was trying out for the role, he had to do a sketch that Dan created and uses for all of his auditions. “I don’t know if he just sees if you have comedic timing or what, but it’s this weird sketch where you play a character called Alex, who’s auditioning for a part. The character plays different characters,” Jace explains. After five callbacks, Jace did a screen test, and finally got the call that he booked the part. Throughout the process, he didn’t even know that he was auditioning for the star of the show. “I knew I was one of the leads, but


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I didn’t know I was playing Henry, it was called like, Marve Mars, and I played David, and I think people did that so we couldn’t tell what was going on,” he says. “I was like, ‘Oh, I’m Henry of Henry Danger’ when I got the script. So I was doing it, I’m going in.” After shooting the pilot, Jace had a long six-month waiting period before finding out whether the show would be picked up or not. Because of how busy his acting career was, he dropped out of traditional schooling. “No one knew what happened to me, and like, three years later, they’re like, ‘Oh, that’s where he went!’” he says. “I think it’s so funny that I just slowly disappeared and then popped up on their TV screens or their sisters or brothers are watching me a little bit later.” Once Jace got the call that Nickelodeon gave the show the green light, he was in full time work mode, and didn’t even have a chance to let the news really sink in. “It wasn’t like I even had time to stop and think, like, ‘Wow, this is kind of a big deal, all of my dreams coming to realization’, because it happens so fast and you’re just in it, and then you look around and you’re like, ‘Whoa, what’s going on?’” he remarks. “It wasn’t even until Season 3 that I could look around and be like, ‘Look at all the stuff that we created,’ because I was just in adrenaline mode for like two years.” After about a season and a half of Henry Danger, the show really started gaining popularity. “Halfway through Season 2, I started noticing some significant gains. You can kind of just tell. Season 3 was even bigger than that, and it just kept going,” Jace explains. “You can kind of just tell, like, how much you get recognized on the street, and social media stuff, and parents will start asking you, random people, if they can take videos for their kids, and that started really happening in Season 3.” Over the course of Henry Danger’s three seasons, the characters have grown alongside their actors. “Henry’s weird because he started off as the new kid to this whole

superhero thing, and I was the new kid to the whole acting thing,” Jace says. “As Henry gets more mature and capable and knows what he’s doing more as a superhero, I do as an actor. I got to be the new kid on set but also be the scared kid being interviewed by a superhero for the first time.” As Henry and Jace become more confident in their abilities, ironically, the adult characters on the show become more childlike. “The two adults, there’s like, this guy named Schwoz, and he’s this weird, mad scientist, and then Ray’s this crazy guy too, so it’s almost like the kids now parent the adults,” Jace says. “[Ray] became a superhero as a kid so he didn’t have a normal childhood, so he doesn’t really know how to interact with people other than in superhero mode.” In addition to Henry Danger, Jace has been in a few Nickelodeon movies, like Splitting Adam, and also took on a voice role in the upcoming animated film Spark. In the film, out April 17th, Jace voices Spark, a teenaged monkey, who travels the universe with his friends to retake Planet Bana from an evil general. Jace did the film alongside Hilary Swank, Jessica Biel, Susan Sarandon and Patrick Stewart. “[Hilary and I] did a little recording together, for like, two days. The whole movie in two days, and then you don’t hear anything for, like, two years, and then they’re like, ‘Oh, it’s coming out!’ and you’re like, ‘Oh, cool, I barely remember!’” he says. Voice acting presenting a new challenge for Jace, since all of his skill has to be concentrated in only his voice. “I’m used to being able to use my whole body,” he says. “I have a ton of respect for the people who do voice-over, because you can’t even do anything else, you just have to make your voice [work].” Upcoming for Jace is an animated spin-off of Henry Danger, the live action Season 4, as well as an upcoming film. He says, “It’s looking busy, which is kind of scary, because last year it felt like I barely made it, and now it’s right back into it,” Jace says. NKD NKDMAG.COM

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charlotte oc Words by IAN HAYS Photos by CATHERINE POWELL

Charlotte OC is the British pop singer set to take the world by storm. Her debut album, Careless People dropped March 31st following a slew of singles that garnered critical praise. But Charlotte OC isn’t your typical manufactured pop singer. Her music influences run the gambit. Her study of human emotion, relationships, family and the empathy that comes with these gives her lyrics substance. And all this started on day one. She grew up in the town of Blackburn in Lancashire in northern England. The area was more rural so she had plenty of space to go out and explore and spend time alone with her thoughts and imagination. “I had an imaginary mouse when I was younger. I was a bit of a weirdo,” she says. But this communing with nature out in the countryside allowed Charlotte to explore those endless thoughts. There was no distracting city noise or fear of weird looks from passersby; she could grow into her true self and have a safe, fun childhood. And it was as a child that her love of music began. But, like most children, stardom was not on her mind. She wanted to be like her mother. “Let me start by saying I think she’s the most amazing woman in the world. She was a hairdresser,” she says, “And I used to be obsessed by her and hairdressing. I used to go to the salon with her and practice on a doll with a hair dryer that was too heavy for me to lift.” And while she did make a mess, it was the thought that counted. And while that was her first love, music was slowly creeping to the forefront. The radio was always on in the house. If it wasn’t on, it just wouldn’t feel like home. She was in a choir as a child and the connection she felt with music and singing made her feel whole. She felt at one with something she couldn’t describe. It was a discovery she needed to explore further. She would make up lyrics to songs on her home karaoke machine. But the real change came when her father signed her up for guitar lessons “behind my back”. She thought they were making a routine stop for chewing gum at her favorite candy

shop. Instead she was being dropped off for guitar lessons. And it was after that lesson that Charlotte became serious about music. “With the guitar, I felt like I gained so much from it. I enjoyed learning it,” Charlotte says, “That was how I started writing my own music- putting melodies over the chords I was learning.” And just what was the music that Charlotte listened to in her formative years that helped her improve at guitar? For her, the list is a little embarrassing, but nothing anyone out of their teenage years can’t relate to. She was obsessed with surfing style music as it was something she didn’t have living in rural England. Case and point: Jack Johnson and Colbie Caillat. “It made me think of Hawaii. It’s such a far, far place from where I’m from. It’s exotic and everything that I’m not. It was just a really sweet time in my life,” she says. As she got older and her exploration into music deepened, her tastes began to evolve. She moved on to Talking Heads, Leonard Cohen and Joni Mitchell. She became more interested at that cross-section of elevated singer-songwriter and unique composition. And while the sound of a band like Talking Heads is not obvious in Charlotte’s music, the influence is still there. “When you’re younger, you fantasize about everything you don’t have. As I started to really make music, I started to think the opposite about what I do have and what really sounds like home,” she says, “And that’s what Talking Heads and Leonard Cohen were. You are the music you’re parents listened to.” Time passed and her songwriting improved. Then came Myspace. She used the 12 track recorder her father bought her and recorded her songs, burning them onto CDs and putting them up on Myspace. It was there she was discovered and her professional career began to take shape. It’s where she was first signed and where she met her first manager. After the success of her EP, it was time to write and record her debut full length. Careless People was recorded in

Los Angeles, a good journey away from the British countryside. But while it was recorded in LA, the songs written all over the globe: Germany, England, The U.S. It was written over the course of two years, drawn out to bring the highest semblance of not only emotion, but reflection to the songs. And it’s this kind of careful consideration that is reflected in not only composition, but lyrical content as well. “With the album, I really wanted to make something that was different. I didn’t want anything too electronic; I didn’t want to make background music I wanted to make a record that you have to sit and listen to,” she says. That was one of the challenges Charlotte faced head on. For listeners, composition is always first judgement. She needed it to be engaging and flow, not have the same sounds and basic structure song after song. For her, it makes it “a lot more alive.” The album needed to be organic and a step away from her last EP. And lyrically, she wanted to focus on what was real. She didn’t want fabricated emotions; no plastic feelings. The lyrics tracked her real life, her real family, her real experience with love and heartbreak. “The record needed to be done in a delicate way, not in a ‘throw-away’ fashion. I needed to make sure I was making something true to my family and myself. I was in LA for a long time, away from home. I can have the nugget of being sociable but I enjoy my alone time. That space gave me time to really think about how I felt about certain things and how I was dealing with it. And then some songs are about falling in love for the first time; it blew my mind.” And it’s here that we see Charlotte OC as her true self. The child who had an imaginary pet mouse and roamed the English countryside is now a young adult who has taken that freedom of her youth and reveled in it for her new art. It is not about raw emotion for sensationalism. It is about the growth, the reflection, the attempt to understand- not manufactured speculation. It’s because of this spirit that Charlotte OC’s music will resonate with the dreamers and those looking for more in pop music. NKD


HUNTER HAYES Words & Photo s by

CATH ER IN E PO W EL L


As we walk up to a tucked away guest house-turned-studio in Nashville, Tenn., Hunter Hayes apologizes profusely for being late. Between the rain and a directionally-challenged Uber driver, Hunter hasn’t had the easiest start to his morning, but is immediately at ease upon walking into the studio space he’s built – eager to show it off. “We just got the desk in!” he says excitedly, pointing out all the custom compartments and pulling up a recording session on his laptop. As a self-proclaimed “gear nerd”, the space is everything Hunter could dream of – which is good, considering an intended three-month stay has turned into nearly two years. It would be cliché to say Hunter Hayes has been performing since he could get himself up onto a stage – if it weren’t the truth. Hunter’s earliest musical memory doesn’t even belong to him; his father had to tell him this story as he was too young to remember himself. Growing up in Louisiana, every restaurant in town had a live band, so watching musicians perform was a normal occurrence for Hunter long before he could even understand what was 36

happening. When he was 2-years-old, he plopped himself down on the side of the stage at a restaurant during dinner with his family, and was invited up by the bandleader to sing. Hunter had picked up one song from the radio at the time and eagerly took his moment to shine. From that moment on, his entire life has been music. “It wasn’t really a decision I had to make, which was a blessing,” Hunter says. Hunter started performing with various bands in Louisiana and traveling with them to state fairs and festivals on weekends. At only 5-years-old he would be the bands’ frontman and loved it. “I lived for it,” he says. He spent years performing at 30-60 fairs and festivals a year, but still attended normal school during the week. “Mom and Dad, I think the only thing they tried not to do was get me out of school too much,” Hunter says, “But obviously, I really liked that.” During this time, he was also getting his hands on every instrument he could, and was gifted a drum kit when he was 5. “The only rule was I couldn’t play after the sun went down, so Daylight Savings Time really sucked,” he jokes. When he

was 6, he got his first guitar and now at 25, it’s rare to see him without one in his hands. What Hunter feels is the next important chapter in his musical journey is his introduction to the studio. When he was 6, he went into the studio with the band he was playing live with at the time to record some tracks. “It was tape, so I can say, ‘I remember back in the day when we used to record on tape’,” he laughs. He became fascinated by the studio, and began writing his own songs shortly after. His first one was delightfully titled “6-Years-Old”. “It wasn’t fresh,” he admits. Because he spent most of his time playing songs that were over 60 years old, the ability to create something new is what drove Hunter – even at a young age. Even now, almost 20 years after penning his first song, Hunter has writing credits on every song he’s released to date. “It was really safe,” Hunter says of his introduction to the music industry. Recording and performing at such a young age gave him the ability to test out his talent with very little consequence. “The courage to do what I really loved to


“THE COURAGE TO DO WHAT I REALLY LOVED TO DO WASN’T WEIGHING ON ME. I DIDN’T HAVE TO MAKE DECISIONS.”


do wasn’t weighing on me. I didn’t have to make decisions,” he says, “Everything I was doing was completely fresh to me.” Every step of the way was very exciting for Hunter and his family – none of whom would consider themselves musical people. As a kid, Hunter was playing a lot of Cajon music, as per his Louisiana roots. But as much he loves that style of music, it’s not entirely conductive to writing new material. “That’s a very traditional, heritage-based genre of music. You can’t really mess with it, and you shouldn’t,” he says. His parents listened to country music in the car, which is why Hunter decided to follow that path with his original songs – but he stresses that there was still a lot of Cajon influence coming in, as well as blues and swamp pop. When he was 12, Hunter received his first Stratocaster guitar, and “that’s when it got real”. He became truly obsessed with the instrument and made a point to practice it as much as he possibly could. A friend gave him a Stevie Ray Vaughan record and an Allman Brothers record to study. “I found that I listened to the Allman Brothers record more, but I

wanted to play like Stevie Ray Vaughan tone wise,” he recalls. But he also delved into records like MercyMe’s Coming Up to Breathe and John Mayer’s Continuum, as well as various Keith Urban and Rascal Flatts records, and anything with producer Dan Huff ’s name on it. “When I started making demos, it was based around that, and the swamp pop and Cajon stuff I grew up with,” he says, “It was a really interesting jumble of things.” When he was 14, his friend and frequent collaborator Rick Lagneaux introduced him to a producer who had a studio an hour from where Hunter lived in Louisiana and would drive him up on weekends to work on demos. At this point, Hunter had been making frequent trips to Nashville and had also recently received a MySpace message from Cindy Forman at Universal Music Group Publishing asking Hunter about the songs on his page, which Hunter assumed was fake. But soon enough all these moving pieces came together and Hunter signed a publishing deal with UMG and eventually a record deal with Atlantic Records/ Warner Music Group. His self-titled, debut record came out in 2011, followed

by Storyline in 2014. Prior to his self-titled album being released, Hunter joined Taylor Swift on her Speak Now Tour, and then essentially didn’t stop touring for over four years. When he first moved from Louisiana to Nashville, Hunter’s performance schedule was cut from his usual 30-60 shows a year, to 10-20 – which he was not thrilled about. But once the album came out, the pace picked up and Hunter and his band were playing over 100 shows – sometimes over 200 shows – a year. “I’d be happy with that pace again,” he admits. When that first album cycle came to a close, Hunter was ready to get back into the studio and create. In his mind, “I Want Crazy” was the start of the second record, but the snog – along with four others – ended up on the Encore edition of his self-titled instead. “But when we really sat down and settled on the dates for Storyline… that’s a whole different world from the first record,” he says. The first record was recorded in a rather secluded state, in a studio where no one else was working, and Hunter spent seven months straight just working on NKDMAG.COM

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the album. But with Storyline, Hunter followed the more traditional Nashville approach to record-making, which involved a lot of scattered tracking sessions and spending two days in one studio – as opposed to locking himself a way for an extended period of time. “I’m thinking, ‘Maybe if I follow the way that the system works here in town, maybe that’s the way it’s supposed to be done.’ Whatever that means,” he admits. Going into this upcoming third album – which is due out later this year – Hunter knew it “needed to be a bit of a reset”. Hunter’s process isn’t as simple as writing on Monday and tracking vocals on Tuesday; he takes a much more jumbled approach. “I knew that I wanted to go closer to the first record’s energy. And by energy I mean myself, personally, just internally,” he says, “I needed a lot of things. I needed space, I needed to clear my head of a lot of things – I’m still working on that. And just in general, as a human being, I needed to really work on the human element. Which I hadn’t really taken a lot of time for.” Hunter was barely 20 when his first album came out, and a lot has happened between then and 25, and he needed to take a moment to reflect on those things. “A lot of happens regardless of what you’re doing [professionally], and you throw all this other stuff on top of it and it’s like, you should probably really look in the mirror and ask questions and figure it out,” he says. Taking a moment to learn about himself outside of the music was equally as important to him as figuring out his next steps musically. “You only have the music if your heart’s healthy, and I think I didn’t know that was what I was doing at the time, but I can now kind of see that was my priority,” he says. This past September, Hunter released the first few teasers from his upcoming album – “Amen”, “Young Blood” and his current single, “Yesterday’s Song”. As the record has come together and is nearing completion, Hunter feels that as a whole, it will absolutely serve as a reflection on his time of discovery. “’Yesterday’s Song’ was very much written from a personal place. When I say it’s about letting things go and moving on, for me, I remember walking into that room and I remember that feeling that I had, and I remember how important it was to really have an 42

attitude in the song,” he says, “And I kind of had forgotten about that over the year and a half of working on other music.” “Amen” was written for his longtime girlfriend, hair and make-up artist Libby Barnes. “Libby has been watching me go through this whole process, and that just needs to be said. The struggle and the consistency of someone being a glue for you when they didn’t have to be was important for me to talk about,” he says. “Young Blood” stemmed from the need to just let loose, have an attitude and have fun – things that Hunter sometimes forgets to do. While there is no official release date for the still-untitled third album, Hunter has a fairly good idea of what songs will be making it on it, at this point. “Sing About You” was the result of being stuck in traffic on the highway and feeling the need to write a love song. He was overthinking the concept for a while and trying to come up with clever hooks and titles, but eventually decided to just keep it simple. The final product is an upbeat, melody-heavy song that will definitely end up being a live-show staple come next tour. Another song, “Tell Me” serves as the oddball of the record, because lyrically it is the farthest from where he is personally. “But that’s a song I’ve never let myself sing,” he admits, “It’s kind of like going into therapy and talking about something you’ve never really talked about and never realized was an issue.” Stylistically, the ballad is reminiscent of his most successful song, “Wanted”, but concept wise is quite opposite. Expect a lot of iPhone flashlights going up if this song makes it to the stage. Over the course of this record-making process, the question Hunter has been consistently asking himself is, “Does it matter to me?” He stopped asking, “Is it well written?” “Can it be this or that, or is it this or that?” and “Can it measure up to this?” Hunter wants to be able to stand up on stage and sing these songs, knowing that they’re about something he went through and that he can sing them honestly. And if it’s up to him, he’ll be up on that stage with a brand new show sooner than later – he’s already started planning. “The funny thing is there’s no consistency to the project,” Hunter says,” “Which I like.” NKD


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jerrod niemann Words by AUTUMN HAILE Photos by CATHERINE POWELL

Jerrod Niemann’s love affair with music was fate working its magic. Though he was always influenced by the country music that infiltrated the airwaves in his hometown of Liberal, Kansas, performing and writing songs wasn’t always the first thing on his mind. It was one fated night when Tracy Lawrence came sweeping into town that changed everything. Banned from attending the show by his baseball coach, Jerrod found himself devastated to be missing one of the best concerts to come through town that year. In an effort to cheer him up, his mother entered a radio contest giving away a signed guitar, promising that if she won it, she’d give it to Jerrod with one stipulation. “She said if she won the guitar, I had to learn how to play it,” Jerrod said. “Of course, I thought there was no way it was going to happen. I’m sitting in the parking lot for a while listening to the show, I come home, and a few hours later my mom comes in with this signed guitar. I couldn’t believe it.” 44


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It was the beginning of what would become a truly phenomenal career in country music. Jerrod begin practicing, and when it came down to looking at local colleges, he found a small school in Levelland, Tex. that offered a music program. “I honestly wasn’t even thinking about college, and then I found this school that had songwriting classes, theory classes,” Jerrod continues. “I was lucky enough to get a scholarship.” Not long after finishing school, Jerrod made his way to Music City, otherwise known as Nashville, Tenn. This was long before the big boom in country music, when he was just 21 years old and the city was beginning to grow. Like most musicians that come to Nashville, he pounded the pavement performing in local bars and songwriter rounds, eventually writing with a friend he’d gone to college with. Then came another fated night. This time, in the middle of a date. “I’d been trying to get this girl’s attention for a while, and here she was, finally giving me the time of day and my songwriting partner comes banging on my door while we’re sitting in my living room,” Jerrod laughs. “He starts telling me how he can’t believe it, but he just ran into Garth Brooks at a bar, and he wants to hear some of our songs!” The meeting turned into radio gold. Jerrod co-wrote “Good Ride Cowboy” with Garth, a song that turned out to be Jerrod’s very first No. 1 hit single on country radio. From there, he continued turning out songs for Garth, including “Midnight Sun” and “That Girl Is A Cowboy”. “For me, I’m just constantly inspired by music. I never go into writing with the intention of being a song for me or for someone else, what I want is for it to connect with someone,” Jerrod says of the difference between writing for his own records and writing for other people. “I also love the art of songwriting. If I hear a really great song, but someone else wrote it, I’m interested in finding ways to take that art and

make it my own.” However, having a No. 1 single didn’t make it a fairytale climb to the top. After signing a development deal with Mercury Records that ended up going nowhere, Jerrod fell into another deal with a smaller label. “It was frustrating. It was one of those situations where someone with a lot of money wanted to open a label but had no clue how to run one,” he says. “And wouldn’t listen to anyone that did know what they were doing. I came into a really dark place after that.” Jerrod spent a lot of time with a creative block, feeling despondent and lost, unsure what to do after what appeared to be two failed deals. “I was really down for a long time and then suddenly all I wanted to do was make a record,” he says. “I went to a friend who had a small recording studio and just told him that I didn’t have much money, but I had a concept in mind. He made a deal with me, that we’d work in the studio after hours when his major projects were done for the day.” It was working on this project that eventually got some major label attention. One day, Jerrod went from working on an independent release, to having two major labels bidding over him. Sony’s Arista Nashville ended up winning out, and Jerrod released his concept project, Judge Jerrod & The Hung Jury, an album that turned out the Gold-certified “What Do You Want” and Platinum-certified No. 1 single, “Lover, Lover.” Never one to rest due to a little success, Jerrod released his 2013 album, High Noon to even more critical success. It gave him yet another No. 1 single in the form of “Drink to That All Night”, as well as the opportunity to hit the road for Keith Urban’s Raise ‘Em Up tour and garnered nominations for the CMA Awards and the American Country Music Awards. But it’s the journey that remains the most important. “I look back on all these great accomplishments, and I’m really most proud of just being part of country music. Part of this

creative life in Nashville, a place where I’m making music with my friends, surrounded by great music all the time,” he says. His recent signing to Curb Records turned that love of writing with his friends into a family affair. He joins good friend, Lee Brice, on the label, and the two co-wrote and recorded his last single, “A Little More Love” together. Of Lee, he says, “we both moved to Nashville around the same time and have watched each other do some amazing things. He’s a talented guy, I love working with him.” When it comes to singing praises, Jerrod has nothing but amazing things to say about his newest single, “God Made A Woman.” It was another moment in his career that seemed to be fated. What started as just another songwriter’s round in Nashville turned into the discovery of a song he couldn’t get out of his head. “They have a lot of these rounds that they invite artists to, and I don’t really enjoy them. I don’t like the idea of walking in and saying ‘no, thank you’ to someone’s art,” Jerrod says. “So here I was, sitting in this room, when I hear ‘God Made A Woman’ for the first time. I’m immediately blown away, looking around to see everyone on their phones not even paying attention, and I’m just like ‘how are y’all not hearing this right now’.” The song made an impact, becoming the second single off his first Curb Records release, due out later this year. An album he promises will be a departure from his previous projects. “With each project I find myself growing more and more, there are elements on this record I’ve never experimented with musically, and I’m really excited to get it out there.” For now, Jerrod is finishing work his third record and gearing up to hit the road, where he’ll be giving audiences snippets of what’s to come. But given the way things have turned out so far, another spectacular fated moment is just on the horizon. NKD NKDMAG.COM

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clayton anderson Words by VANESSA SALLES Photos by CATHERINE POWELL

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If Clayton Anderson isn’t on your radar, it won’t be long until he is. The Bedford, Indiana native has been making waves in the country music scene with his Only to Borrow EP, a six-track release that’s made him a name to watch. Having grown up around music, Clayton’s love for the craft wasn’t hard to stumble upon. “Music was always a part of my time at parties and hanging out by the lake,” he says. “It became a huge influence on my life. It was easy to fall in love with music and songs because they were associated with such great memories.” Although Clayton’s music takes center stage now, that wasn’t always the case. “My parents bought me my first guitar when I was really young but I didn’t have much of an interest until much later,” he says. “I was involved with sports so I didn’t pick up the guitar until my senior year of high school.” His newfound love for music was shared by his friends who served as his unofficial teachers. “I’d sit around campfires and just learn from all of them,” Clayton adds. “We’d jam together but no one ever wanted to sing. So, I decided I had to. That’s how things started for me.” After performing for the first time, Clayton knew immediately that music was something he wanted to pursue. “We were a last minute call,” he laughs. “Someone had canceled their gig and so we got a phone call to go play a live show at a bar. We ran over there and played the same six or seven songs over and

over again. I was hooked after that.” Recalling his big break, Clayton claims a frat party is what helped grow his audience. “We created our band and played one of the biggest frat parties at Indiana University,” he says. “Our crowds went from 20 people to 100 people; it was crazy. Things just started getting bigger and bigger from there.” Though he’s been on the road for the past few months on a promo tour, you can always find Clayton in the middle of creating. “I’m constantly working on new material,” he shares. “It usually goes through phases. I’ll stock pile a bunch of ideas, lyrics, hooks and melodies and then just take it from there. Some of the best songwriters are here in Nashville so I usually round up my friends and get we get together and knock out some tunes.” With the release of his Only to Borrow EP, Clayton’s found new fans in country music-lovers and in CMT themselves. “We’ve been getting a lot more press attention,” he says. “CMT just recently premiered our ‘In The Dark’ video which was a dream come true for me.” When explaining the inspiration behind the hit single, Clayton says: “The song is about a girl who wants to keep things low-key; she wants to stay away from the guys who kiss-and-tell. It’s a really fun song and has a really fun video to go with it. We had such a great crew and cast of people who made it all come together.” Of no surprise, the catchy tune also happens to be a crowd fa-

vorite when Clayton’s out performing. “’In The Dark’ and ‘Only to Borrow’ have really stuck out to the fans,” he shares. “The reaction has been incredible. I think the EP is the best collection of songs that I’ve put out. Being an independent act, we don’t have a big label pushing us so being out and playing live shows is really our thing. Seeing fans singing the songs back to us is priceless.” The country star, who’s a lover of all genres, credits major names as being his biggest inspirations. “Bruce Springsteen is definitely a big influence when it comes to performing,” he says. “He’s such a great entertainer. Another musician whose stage presence is unmatched is Justin Timberlake. His level of entertainment and attention to detail is second to none and I think that’s what makes him one of the biggest stars in the world.” With massive careers like that to aspire to, Clayton’s road to success gets clearer and clearer with each musical release. “It’s definitely been a busy time but I never stop working or sorting out new ideas,” he says. “I hope to be back in the studio soon to lay down some new tracks.” As for what he’s got coming up, Clayton’s set to have a pretty busy summer ahead of him. “We’re getting ready for a monstrous show at the Indy 500,” he says. “It’s with Keith Urban and it’s going to be awesome. After that, we’ll be hitting the road again promoting our music and trying to win over some new fans.” NKD NKDMAG.COM

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NKD Mag - Issue #70 (April 2017)  

Featuring: Hunter Hayes, Lacy Cavalier, The Cadillac Three, Carter Jenkins, Jace Norman, Charlotte OC, Kayla Brianna, Drake Milligan, Ryan L...

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