COVER STORY 50 Taking Back Sunday have figure out what happiness is
MUSI C 4 Plug In Stereo talks new audience 8 Rapper T.Mills gets candid about All I Wanna Do 32 We Came As Romans on developing their sound 38 Los Angeles band Artist Vs. Poet on high hopes and big plans 40 Country stars Dan + Shay are all about the songs
FI LM 16 Cameron Monaghan on Shameless and more 20 From Disney Channel to MTV, Shane Harper talks transition 24 Pretty Little Liarsâ€™ Brant Daugherty is back with secrets 62 Brandi Cyrus opens up all her passions, big and small 68 Disney Channelâ€™s Kelli Berglund on how she made her dreams come true
EDITORIAL 14 Artist Write-In: Growing out of music 31 New Music in May 46 Live Photos: Pentatonix + The Wanted 48 The Insider host, Keltie Knight, shares her story 60 Live Photos: The Greatest Generation Tour + 5 Seconds Of Summer
TEAM NKD Editors: Jordan Melendrez Catherine Powell Jenna Ross Noah Tavlin
Photographer: Writers: Catherine Powell Jackie Bui Susan Cheng Designer: Tara DeVincenzo Catherine Powell Alex Lane
Stacy Magallon Shina Patel Stephanie Petit Catherine Powell Tanya Traner
plug in stereo Words by STEPHANIE PETIT Photos by CATHERINE POWELL
After dropping out of high school and pursuing music full time for years, Portland, Oregon native Trevor Dahl needed a break. Known to fans as Plug In Stereo, Trevor found some success with songs such as “Oh Darling,” which reached number 17 on the iTunes Alternative Charts. He even toured with major acts such as Dashboard Confessional. Despite all of this, Trevor felt himself burning out. “I was touring all the time — probably touring too much,” Trevor says. “I took most of 2013 off which was really nice. I got to rethink things a little bit.” Even during the break, which he says was more “chilling out” than a hiatus, Trevor constantly thought about music and writing new material. He has reemerged with a new EP called A Little Peace, released in January 2014 with the single “To Be Wanted” featuring Megan and Liz, that has received some radio play. He has co-written a song for One Direction. He now plays for larger crowds than ever before. Trevor didn’t feel pressure to try to come back as a new artist or win people over. After his break, he made a transition into more popular, mainstream music. Trevor insists he would never change his style simply to get more radio play, but he feels that his music has evolved as he has grown. Now his music simply fits better in the pop world — and Trevor is reaping the rewards. “I want as many people to listen to my music as much as possible,” Trevor says. “That usually means going mainstream — whatever that means. If that means touring with certain people or being on certain radio stations, that’s okay with me as long as I’m staying true to my artistic integrity and writing the things I like to write.” While some fans might call an artist a sell-out when they gain popularity, Trevor says he hasn’t received any backlash. His loyal fans have continued to support him in concert. While he has previously toured with alternative and punk-rock bands and performed at the Bamboozle Music Festival, this year Trevor began tour6
ing with artists who made sense for his new style and can give him greater exposure to new listeners. One of those artists was his Atlantic Records label mate, Australian singer Cody Simpson. The sold out acoustic shows on their Paradise Tour allowed Trevor to play for new audiences in intimate settings. After the Paradise Tour wrapped up, Trevor switched gears from acoustic sets to a full band for his tour with pop-rockers Before You Exit. Whether he appears solo or with a band, Trevor goes by the moniker Plug In Stereo. He began calling himself that very early in his career, inspired by artists he was listening to at the time who went by stage names. He liked the idea and the name has stuck. “If I were to start now I might go by my name, but I’ve been doing it for five or six years so there’s no point for me to change it,” he says. “Your name is your name — it doesn’t matter so much. It’s all about the music.” Trevor says he enjoys playing for the younger crowds attracted by the artists he now tours with because of their enthusiasm. “[These crowds] react better than anything we’ve ever done,” he says. “Whenever they give us energy, we all want to put more energy out to them.” He may soon find young fans screaming and fawning over him like they do for stars like Cody Simpson even more than they do already. After Trevor’s sets, girls line up to meet him, get autographs and touch his curly hair. It comes with the popularity. These young fans may have also heard of Trevor from his work on a One Direction song called “Truly, Madly, Deeply.” Although he initially wrote the song for himself, he later decided not to use it. “It sat around for a few months,” he says. “Then I got an email saying One Direction wanted to use it and I was like, ‘Absolutely! That would be awesome.’” Before that happy accident, Trevor had never thought of writing songs for other artists. Now when he writes a song that doesn’t quite fit his style, he is happy to see if anyone else wants
to use it. Although he can’t give any specific names, he is currently working on material for other artists and says he is excited to see the results. Trevor writes new material constantly. When he feels a personal connection to a song in progress, he becomes defensive of it, not showing it to anyone else until it’s completely finished. When he wrote “To Be Wanted,” Trevor knew he couldn’t give it away, but it needed something extra. “It was one of those songs I had been rewriting for a couple years actually,” he says. “I had it all done, but the producers and I had been discussing how it would be cool to have someone else sing on it and try to give a dynamic, different feel from what it has.” The perfect pair for the job were singers Megan and Liz, who Trevor played a show with a year prior. The girls heard the song and jumped on board. Trevor flew out to Nashville and recorded with them in just a few hours. Trevor calls Megan and Liz “the sweetest girls [he’s] ever met.” Their upbeat attitude blended perfectly with the song’s lyrics about wanting to feel happy and accepted for who you are. The single appears on A Little Peace after two years of songwriting and recording. While he has enough songs written for a whole album, he decided to hold off on a bigger release until he writes songs he feels create a smooth progression from A Little Peace. Though the songs on the EP maintain Trevor’s singer-songwriter vibe, they also have an anthem quality, with more elaborate productions than his previous work. He feels the songs on the EP are cohesive and make sense together. “It’s all just whatever feels right,” Trevor says. “As long as it makes sense in my head, I’m happy with it.” With the success of “To Be Wanted,” Trevor knows his next single has to find a balance between taking risks and still sounding like himself. He isn’t worried though. He finds the challenge to produce something different fun. “I just try to put out the songs I like putting out and if people like to listen to it, sounds cool to me.” NKD
T.MILLS Words by JACKIE BUI Photos by CATHERINE POWELL
Travis Tatum Mills, known to his fans by his stage name T. Mills, feels he has changed a great deal since first entering the hip-hop scene. His songs, once raunchy and full of obscenities, have now become more clever and creative â€” reflecting his newfound maturity. Travis grew up in Riverside, Calif. and became interested in music at an early age, having been given a guitar by his grandfather when he was 5 years old. In high school, he started a pop-punk band with his friends. Their sound was reminiscent of early 2000s groups such as Taking Back Sunday. The band broke up shortly, but not before Travis realized he was inspired by groups like Bone Thugs-n-Harmony. Needless to say, Travis transitioned from singing to rapping and thus, T. Mills was born. 8
T. Mills began recording demos on Garage Band and posted his recordings on MySpace. He quickly generated a fan base, and booked his own tours online. “I kept making music and putting it out there,” he says. “I started touring in 2010 and I never stopped.” Since diving into hip-hop, T. Mills has released three EP’s and was signed to Columbia Records. Starting off independently made T. Mills driven and goal-oriented — he has never known a life where he didn’t have to work hard for his music career. As far as the drastic shift in genres and types of music, T. Mills says the transition felt more gradual than it sounds. “Rapping is just something I always did. I feel like I’m still learning,” he says. “I submerged myself into music and learning. I just feel like it’s just been a huge growing experience.” T. Mills has maintained his interest in blending genres, incorporating singing and rapping into his music. Because his musical journey has been well-documented on the internet, T. Mills takes advantage of being able to compare his early work to his current music. “It’s cool to see how far I’ve come from the first song I put out on the internet ‘til now,” says T. Mills. “My evolution as not only an artist but as a human being is pretty cool.” He says that there are times when he listens to some of his early tracks and cringes. For the most part, however, he looks back fondly on his career and appreciates how much he’s grown. When he started his rapping, T. Mills was known for his explicit lyrics about sex and drinking. A song on his first EP, titled “Girls Gone Wild,” has lyrics “I need a girl who knows how to party hard / takin’ off her pants rackin’ lines with her credit card / off with the top getting’ down on some shots / she’s screamin’ every evening begging me don’t stop.” Five years after releasing his first EP, T. Mills says he’s found a more tasteful approach to writing music. His lyrical maturation came when he began putting more thought into his work and looking at the overall picture of the song. When he first stepped into the hip-hop scene, he didn’t have a method to his song writing. “I just did whatever I thought was cool,” says T. Mills. “Now NKDMAG.COM
I’m more mindful about it. I think a lot more about what I want my main goal to be, how I want people to perceive my music, how I want them to feel when they listen to it.” When he goes into writing a song now, T. Mills looks at the overarching theme of the song and what he wants his fans to take out of it. He is reminded of the women in his life, including his mom and sister, and says that he doesn’t want them to hear his lyrics that express negative or irresponsible aspects of his lifestyle. Though T. Mills says that his lyrics are now more mature, he insists they do not lose sight of the kind of music he started with from the beginning. A song off his latest EP, All I Wanna Do, that was released in February, has lyrics that certainly depict his musical growth. “I don’t wanna be okay, I just need to hear you say it’s alright / When nothing really goes your way, tomorrow is a brand new day, it’s alright / Let me help you ease your mind, I’mma make you realize / That tonight’s your night, so baby let’s go for it all.” Aside from growing in his writing process, T. Mills says his recording process has changed as well. T. Mills says while he records a song, he focuses on doing the best take he can. When he records, he gives as much effort as he would if he had only one-take to lay down the track. When he listens over the recordings he’s done, he does so with a fine-toothed comb. It’s during the second and third listens that he makes adjustments, takes note of what needs changing and decides how to improve the song, but the downside of that is that he’s discovered he’s hard on himself. “That’s a big thing I’ve been focusing on too — not being so hard on myself cause I am my own worst critic,” he says. The four-track All I Wanna Do EP shows a more mature side of T. Mills, as the songs display stronger lyrics and themes. He’s had the tracks for a while now, but wanted to wait until just the right time to release them — right before he embarked on a mini-tour in Texas in April. All of the songs will be re-released on a full-length album. Yet T. Mills cannot wait that long: “I just wanted them out now. I just feel like EPs are the shit to 12
do now,” he says. The approach for releasing the EP was making it less about loud promotions and more about telling his fans first hand when the music was coming. Instead of taking pre-orders for the EP, he announced it a week prior to its release. “The reception of the EP has been incredible. This is a great way to start 2014 — people get a taste of what’s to come on the album,” he says. When it comes to his maturation, T. Mills says that he is still in the process of learning how to make his songs sound more adult-like, without sacrificing his vision. “I’m learning how to write great music in a more tasteful way. I don’t want to scare anyone away with my lyrics. I don’t want to alienate myself,” he says. “But at the same time, I don’t want to sacrifice myself and what I want to say.” He says that now he has found a more tasteful way to incorporate making music that touches upon the subjects of drinking and sex. The road to get to where T. Mills is now has been about learning how to hone in on his creativity. “I always have to find new ways to be creative. I don’t ever want to write the same song twice,” he says. “I’m finding new ways to express myself. It is so easy to be wild and crazy and fuck you and up in everyone’s face, but it takes a lot more class and talent and skill to be respected, put together and intact and still have that effect on people. I love being raunchy more than anyone else — I have songs about sex. But I’m learning not to be so immature about it. It’s becoming a little more clever. I like that.” It was a personal decision for T. Mills to access a different type of creativity for his lyric writing to clean up his music. “No one in my life told me to stop [being immature]. It all comes from within,” says T. Mills. As he grows into his adulthood, T. Mills wants to develop a more respectable persona. “I feel like I’m projecting what I want in my life. If I sing about just fucking shit and ass, then what am I going to attract into my life?” It’s sometimes difficult for him knowing that when people look at his older lyrics, they think he has a negative persona. “People think I’m gonna show up and be on mad
drugs and an alcoholic. That’s not me. I always carry myself with dignity.” Being signed to a label has its perks, but he says he sometimes feels frustrated by the pressure. “It’s learning to tell them no and what’s not necessarily right for you. In the past they’ve wanted to go with one song, and I wanted to go with another song. You have to know what’s right for you,” he says. Learning to stand his ground and work with his label to propel his career further has helped him along this journey of growth in to a different, more tasteful sound. Because career longevity is important to him, T. Mills has made sure he is constantly dedicating time to his music and prioritizing this time. “I’m not trying to cash out on one song. I want to make music 20 years from now. I don’t ever want to alienate my fans. These are the people that are feeding me and supporting me and allowing me to do this right here and now.” Along with having a more mature sound, T. Mills is constantly writing and creating music with the hopes that this will ensure longevity in his career. On the road to becoming a wellrespected rapper, T. Mills wants to keep pushing in his sound forward, in his lyrics and in his career. “I don’t want to get comfortable. I feel like when you get comfortable you get lazy. When you get lazy is when you lose. Just staying hungry and focused, just taking care of myself on the road and making sure that everyone around me is working as hard as I am.” T. Mills says he’s continuing to reinvent himself as he grows into adulthood. Yet while doing so, he keeps his fans at the forefront of his mind. “I just want to really take care of my fans and make sure that everyone I meet, every picture I take, every autograph I sign and everyone I talk to, that I leave them with the best impression I can,” he says. “Even if I’m having a bad day, I remember they saved up for this show and it might be the highlight of their week or year, and I don’t ever want to ruin that experience for somebody.” He is going to continue to grow into his own and work on being the best possible version of himself. “I just want to become the best possible version of myself and play the best music I can.” NKD
ASK THE ARTIST IS RADIO STILL RELEVANT? WHY OR WHY NOT?
BEN ESKIN (THE RASIED BY WOLVES)
Yes, absolutely!! Since we live in such a digital age we tend to focus on this platform more than the older forms of music consumption. But we can’t forget that there are still millions of people worldwide that listen to the radio and that one fact makes radio extremely relevant! I don’t believe there is an artist alive that can say that they wouldn’t like to have each of those millions of listeners.
I think radio is still relevant. People still tune in to find new songs to listen to and it’s a cultural pastime to drive in your car and pop it on. The difference between now and 10 or 20 years ago is that now there are so many different mediums to discover music through. Because of that, artists can be popular and successful without ever being on the airwaves.
LOST IN LOS ANGELES
LINDSAY WHITE (THE LOVEBIRDS)
We definitely think radio is still relevant. Here’s why:
As a listener, my love/hate relationship with technology affects my love/hate relationship with the way radio has evolved. On one hand, I really miss the feeling of waiting desperately near the radio for the DJ to “play my song” and then jumping for joy when it finally came on. But over the last couple years, I have relied on internet radio platforms like Spotify to introduce me to new artisits, and I am in love with the idea that I now have the ability to be the listener and the DJ. These new platforms are completely relevant because they are evolving with the personalized, customized way we consume entertainment now. As an independent artist, it’s always frustrating to hear traditional radio stations that just rotate the same handful of songs until you end up wishing you never have to hear those songs again. That’s such a shame when you think about how many talented artists there are out there, and how radio could play such an influential roll in connecting those artists to new listeners. We’re lucky in San Diego that some of the bigger stations still devote weekly segments to local artists (KPRI has the Homegrown Hour, 94/9 has The Local Pyle, and 91x has Loudspeaker). Our friend Mookie at Laguna Beach’s KX93.5 is a huge supporter of indie artists - we really appreciate when these stations make a commitment to independent music. When it comes to traditional radio, I suppose relevancy is directly related to content and purpose.
1. DJ’s. Though there are a lot of online streaming stations and some terrestrial stations that have automated DJ’s, or no DJ’s at all, there are still tons of stations where real humans are curating playlists and aren’t bound to playing the same twenty tracks. We think this is awesome because it shakes things up and creates diversity on the airwaves. It’s also cool to hear a DJ speak passionately about a band or a track because it gives another perspective for the listener to grab onto. 2. Spontaneity. You never know what you’re going to hear next. 3. Another Medium. Radios aren’t iPhones/iPods. And yes, there are tons of streaming stations on iPods and other devices, but there’s something cool about actually changing the station on your car stereo or radio at home. It’s nice to be reminded that there’s at least one thing left in the world that isn’t necessarily attached to your phone. 4. Locality. Many radio stations still represent an actual city. This is cool because they reflect the local sound and vibe. When we are on tour we love listing to the radio because the music is always changing. It’s a great way to see the country as you roll through it. Radio is also a great way to give local bands a chance to be heard. Most every big band was first spun by a local DJ in their hometown. 5. Reaching Fans. One of our favorite things to do on tour is to stop into a station for a live on-air performance or interview. Fans really feel like you are speaking directly to them when you come to their town. When we rolled up in our van to play an iHeartRadio session at 104.5 WRFF Philly last December, an 8 year old fan and his mom were waiting for us in the parking lot in the rain. They had taken a train and a bus, followed by a long walk to get to the radio station. That pretty much says it all!
RYAN GOSE (THIS CENTURY) I think the volume of listeners that still tune into FM stations while driving or at work are still pretty substantial. Even online players like Spotify offer a radio listening mode. I use it often, and as a result I am exposed to artists new &andold that I may not have been otherwise. So in my opinion, yes, radio is still relevant.
CHRIS O’BRIEN (TRANSITSHOP) Yes, but now radio is not the only source of relevance. Right now there are tons of different ways for bands to get heard and get exposure and develop huge fanbases without any help from radio. There are plenty of acts that have launched huge careers that have never been, or never will be played on the radio. The cool part about the music industry today is that its gives the acts more of a fair chance to be heard. A completely unknown band can record a song and start spreading it around the Internet, and its possible that the track can reach millions of people without any help from radio. Before if you weren’t signed to large label and getting played on the radio, you weren’t going anywhere. Getting your song spun regularly on a large radio station is probably still the quickest way grow your awareness and to reach a large number of people, but its not the only way. FM radio stations now compete for listeners attention with many other outlets like internet radio, streaming sites, satellite radio, YouTube etc, but yes, radio is still very relevant.
CAMERON MONAGHAN Words by STEPHANIE PETIT Photos by CATHERINE POWELL
Ever since The Giver was published in 1993, it has been a must-read for youth and adults alike. The long-awaited film adaptation, hitting theaters in Aug. 2015, attracted stars such as Jeff Bridges and Meryl Steep to bring the well-known characters to life. While many actors are intimidated by the thought of bringing such a classic book to the big screen, Cameron Monaghan is no stranger to living up to expectations and working with A-list actors. “I had a ton of energy when I was a kid,” Cameron says. “I had to stand up in the back of the class because I couldn’t sit in my seat for more than a few minutes at a time. I was always a creative kid, and at the time, I guess I was a little bit of a class clown.” Cameron’s mother involved him in the community theater to channel his energy and he found an immediate love for entertainment. At 8 years old, he went to Toronto to shoot his first movie, a television adaptation of the classic musical The Music Man with Kristin Chenoweth and Matthew Broderick. Cameron says the movie was the perfect fit, as he came from a musical
theater background and the role allowed him to sing and dance. “I bonded with the other actors,” he says. “I’ve always really gotten along well with adults. When I was younger, I don’t think I saw a distinction between ages. Everybody was just another kid.” After that experience, Cameron’s mother knew acting was something he should continue. A few years later, they moved from Florida to Los Angeles and have lived there for almost a decade now. Cameron has been acclaimed for his work on Showtime’s Shameless, an American adaptation of an awardwinning British series. He plays Ian Gallagher, a gay teenager in a large, dysfunctional Chicago family that includes characters played by heavyweights like William H. Macy and Emmy Rossum. After shooting the pilot for Shameless, the cast and crew waited nine months to get picked up before continuing to film the rest of the first season. “We knew when we were shooting it that people were either going to
absolutely love this or hate it,” he says. “Thankfully, it went the way of people liking it. We really had no idea if we were going to get picked up. Every year is still nerve racking, waiting to find out if we’re going to get picked up for the next year because we all like our job and we want to keep doing it.” Shameless is currently in its fourth season and was recently renewed for a fifth. This season has been a big change for Cameron’s character, Ian. While Ian has always been the most stable person in his crazy family, in recent episodes he has been struggling with bipolar disorder and an addiction to drugs. In fact, Cameron says it is almost difficult to describe the character because he is now such a different, erratic person compared to when the show began To prepare for the role, Cameron studied bipolar disorder by watching documentaries and reading about the illness. He also says he has personal experiences with the disorder in his family, so portraying it correctly is very important to him. Playing a character that is goNKDMAG.COM
ing through such a difficult time is a challenge for Cameron. He is trying to balance the extreme change while retaining his core personality. “I think that’s what we all hope for as an actor — to take these characters to interesting and unexpected places, and being able to launch yourself off the deep end and knowing that people will care about that,” he says. While the first three seasons of Shameless were about the characters trying to find stability, this season is about how that base is swept from under them and how they are trying to find their footing again. “Having those first three seasons of stability and finding some status quo has lulled the audience into a false sense of security,” Cameron says. “That’s when the real fun starts happening, when you can play with expectations and turn the show on its head.” When isn’t shooting for television shows, Cameron uses the breaks to do film work. He has appeared in Click with Adam Sandler and Disney’s Prom. Most recently he appeared as Mason Ashford in Vampire Academy, based on the best-selling novel. The movie also had a built-in audience from fans of the book. Cameron admits he had no prior knowledge of the series, but he knew the book’s fans would have high expectations. When the public became aware that Cameron landed his role, he said he saw an influx of tweets coming in from all over the world. “I actually ended up really liking the character as well,” he says. “He’s a smart ass and really funny and likable and a good friend. I tried to retain that as much as possible. I wanted to make fans happy and live up to the expectation.” It seems to have worked, as Cameron says fans have praised his performance and enjoyed his portrayal of Mason. Movies allow Cameron to spread his wings and to do some things differently than on Shameless. He enjoyed Vampire Academy because it had more action than other work he’s done, and it also allowed him to improvise a little bit. He says he would try a couple takes completely on script and then play around and ad-lib a bit. Cameron 18
explains there’s less room to go off script with a television show because of tight schedules and deviating from the overall storyline. “I think it may be my favorite part of acting — once you feel comfortable enough in a character that you start thinking like them and expressing like them as well,” he says. While The Giver also has a huge literary fan base, Cameron admits he had not read the book prior to receiving a role in the upcoming movie because he switched schools into a class that had already covered the book. But he read it when he got the role of Asher, main character Jonas’s best friend. The book is only 180 pages, so more content was added for the movie adaptation, expanding the story for Asher. “It was really cool to act in scenes that are going to be a little bit of a surprise to the audience,” Cameron says. “But they did an amazing job retaining the spirit and heart of the original book.” Cameron was able to work with megastars like Meryl Streep and Jeff Bridges, who he says were masters of their craft. “There’s so much to be said about their focus and their ability to perform at the absolute highest level consistently,” he says. “You watch these guys and every take was perfect. Everyone was brilliant from the very first time they walk on the set and say these lines. It could be shot right there and put on screen.” Although he has no plans to stop acting anytime soon, Cameron hopes to do some behind-the- scenes work in the future. Besides writing some screenplays, short stories and poetry, he’s also interested in directing and producing. “I just love all aspects of film,” Cameron says. “I’d love to be able to contribute in as many ways as possible. I see the prop guys and what they do, and I find it really interesting. I wouldn’t mind being in the art department and painting sets just for fun.” For someone who recalls learning to read from the captions on his television set, it seems fitting that he will continue to gravitate towards anything and everything film- or televisionrelated. NKD
SHANE HARPER Words by SUSAN CHENG Photos by CATHERINE POWELL
It was by chance that Shane Harper found his calling in life at age 9. Best known for his role on Disney Channel’s Good Luck Charlie, Shane first dabbled in performing after he found himself bored one day while waiting for his sister to finish her dance class at her studio. With some encouragement from his mother, he decided to enroll in a class and try his hand at dancing. “It was like I saw the light,” the 21-year-old singer-actor says. What began as dance lessons has since expanded into a full-time show business career. Born in La Jolla, Calif., Shane has lived on the West Coast his entire life, moving from one city to another with his younger brother and older sister. As a child, he was home-schooled and practiced martial arts from age 4 to 13. After obtaining a black belt, he quit learning self-defense to focus on performing. “When I told my instructor I wanted to dance and do theater, he thought that was strange,” Shane says, chuckling. After he made the choice to study performance and joined his dance school’s theater program, his career seemed to propel itself forward. The same year
Shane stopped practicing martial arts, he entered a regional dance competition and met his first agent — one of the judges on the panel. “It all happened really, really fast,” he says. “And I got into it really, really deep.” He went on to become one of the youngest dancers on Nickelodeon’s Dance on Sunset, in which Shane and five other participants mastered and demonstrated dance routines for 12 weeks. It was Shane’s first big break, having only held minor roles in shows and films such as High School Music 2, Cartoon Network’s Reanimated, and CBS’ Dance Revolution. Despite performing in plays and reenactments of Disney’s musical film Newsies, Shane never thought he’d see himself on the big screen, let alone television. “I remember doing Newsies the play. I got the role of Jack Kelley, and it was my life’s dream,” he says. “I was probably 12 and it was the biggest deal ever for me. I loved it, but I didn’t think I could do in the capacity of film and television.” In fact, becoming a full-time actor didn’t occur to Shane until he had worked for a few years in the entertainment industry. Soon after his time on Dance on SunNKDMAG.COM
set, Shane decided to pursue acting and signed with a theatrical agent at age 15. “Sometimes if you do too much dance, people have a hard time letting you take on the acting world,” he says. “But I was young enough that it wasn’t a big deal.” After his time on Dance on Sunset, the young entertainer moved to Los Angeles at age seventeen. There he auditioned for more TV gigs, including his role as Spencer Walsh, the love interest of the main character on Good Luck Charlie. As a member of the recurring cast, Shane starred in 28 episodes from 2010 until this year. “In the months prior to that audition I had been going on quite a few reads, so I was just getting used to auditioning,” Shane says. “Sometimes the more simple and naive you are, the easier auditioning can be. You’re not so in your head … but I just kind of went in wide-eyed and excited, and it just kind of worked.” Although the process of trying out for new roles one after another can become redundant, Shane says he’s able to find joy in reading the script and getting in character for each part. In fact, the writers of Good Luck Charlie even wrote episodes and scenes inspired by Shane himself and real-life moments on-set, when he would sing, play guitar and dance backstage alongside his co-star and girlfriend Bridgit Mendler and cast mate Micah Williams. Specifically, in the fifth-ever episode of the Disney sitcom: “Micah and I were dancing on the set, and [the writers] said, ‘Alright, that’s an episode.’” “The writing staff would come back and ask us what we like to do in our free time to get ideas,” Shane says. Naturally, his musical talent and background in dancing provided the writers with material to incorporate into the series. After a four-year run of 100 episodes, Good Luck Charlie concluded in February. It was an end that came too soon, Shane says. “It was really hard to have the show go away. To see the last episode air was very emotional for everybody because it was a special set … it felt premature. We could have gone another couple of years, so that’s the sad part about it, but everyone’s really proud of the work.” Although Shane is best known as an actor, he has played the guitar since he was seven, has sang in church and began 22
writing his own music at 15. “Even earlier, I had won a Fisher Price mini guitar, so I would bang around a lot when I was a kid,” he recalls. Fast-forward a few years and Shane has not only taken his vocal abilities to shows like Good Luck Charlie, but he’s released multiple singles, an EP, and a full-length album. But just like his acting, Shane never expected his music to take off into a career. “I mean I wasn’t learning guitar as a kid to be a rock star — that wasn’t what I was thinking about,” he says. “I just was learning to sing and write music for fun.” As both an actor and a singer, Shane has to manage a full schedule, which sometimes requires him to sacrifice his time for one profession. “Doing the TV, film and music stuff — juggling the schedule can be hard, but I have a ton of new songs that I’ve been writing over the past two years,” he says. “It’s so sad to have songs and not have a release date. This year, the idea is to release something new so my fans can listen to new music. ‘Cause it feels like it’s been a while.” Indeed, it has been two years since he dropped his self-titled album. “Even I’m kind of antsy,” he adds. It seems like Shane will be a lot busier in the coming months. After a brief stint playing Austin on MTV’s Awkward, Shane has decided to take a break from one MTV series to star in another. MTV’s Happyland explores the underbelly of a fictional theme park and its employees. “If there were a reality show about a real theme park — this is the scripted version of that. It’s really intriguing, funny, and ironic. There’s lots of very interesting plotlines that take twists and turns. It’s a rollercoaster, if I may,” he jokes. On Happyland Shane plays Ian Chandler, the privileged son of Happyland’s president. Since it’s still early in the show’s development, Shane does not yet know what will happen to his character. From an initial table read of the first few episodes, it seems Ian Chandler is a wealthy, “slightly troubled teen with a good heart,” Shane says. “He’s obviously got a lot of money to his name, and I think he kind of struggles with that, but [he’s] a great character and I’m really excited to see where it goes.” Besides its strong characters, Shane felt drawn to Happyland because of its unique storyline and tone. “It was just
kind of ironic and funny and a little bit dark,” he says of his latest project’s script. “I didn’t feel like I was reading a sitcom per se. It feels kind of nuanced, and the storyline is really unique. In pilot season, you get a lot of scripts, and I did not get one script like this.” Directed by Ben Epstein, Happyland joins MTV’s recent pick-ups Faking It, Awkward and Teen Wolf in the network’s push for more scripted programming. “I think it’s awesome for people to be able to turn on MTV and not just see reality shows,” Shane says. “Reality is definitely cool and has its place, but it’s fun to know that people are watching MTV as a network for scripted programming.” More and more, it seems television, rather than film, offers the most promising careers for young actors and actresses. “I think actors are crossing over. Big film actors are doing television series,” he says, citing Zooey Deschanel as an example. “Those kinds of situations have caused that bridge to close.” Shane has noticed a common thread among television and films of late, too. “Some of these TV shows are film-oriented in the way that they’re shot and the way that they feel,” he says referencing shows like Breaking Bad. “It feels like a cinematic experience in your living room, which is really cool. It’s so heavy and dramatic.” Although Shane says he would love to make movies and star in TV shows at the same time, right now he is dedicated to TV. “I think getting to do a big run on a TV show is awesome because you learn about your character. You can kind of grow with your character,” Shane says, recalling his own experiences on set. “It’s amazing because your character’s evolving and changing, and you as a person are changing.” Although the roles he plays are distinct from the person he is, Shane still finds and makes connections between his characters’ lives and his own. While Shane’s older sister may have sparked his interest in dance, perhaps it is the special relationship between an actor and role that pushed Shane to segue from dancing to acting. “You have to find those connections in your life where you can kind of understand what your characters are feeling,” Shane says. “That’s what really keeps you hungry as an actor.” NKD
BRANT DAUGHERTY Words by STACY MAGALLON Photos by CATHERINE POWELL
Inside the warmly-lit lobby of the Trump SoHo Hotel in New York City, actor Brant Daugherty sits comfortably, skimming through his Twitter feed on his phone. When I approach Brant, his over six-foot frame stands to greet me. He’s dressed in dark gray skinny jeans, sandy brown combat boots and a leather jacket. We move over to a couch in another corner of the lobby, dodging distracted incoming guests with luggage and cell phones in their hands. “In Los Angeles, everyone texts and drives but everyone in New York City just texts and walks,” Brant says while observing the people arriving and leaving the hotel lobby. He starts fidgeting his thumbs, pretending to type on an invisible keypad. Brant’s in town for the premiere of the season four finale reading of the hit ABC Family teen thriller Pretty Little Liars — a network favorite since it aired in 2010. Despite a role on a hit television show, Brant’s beginnings were small, but his dreams were bigger. Brant was born in Mason, O.H., a town he describes as “a small Friday Night Lights kind of town.” Mason passionately supports his alma mater William Mason High School, and its football team, which Brant played on for three years. Halfway through one season he, while starting to get pretty good, realized football wasn’t for him. Brant knew deep down he was a theater nerd at heart. “I wasn’t happy, so I wanted to change that,” he says. “So I went and acted in Romeo and Juliet instead.” He played Juliet’s betrothed husband, Prince Paris. Brant’s supporting role inspired him to pursue acting in college. His parents, the ones funding his education, wanted him to have a backup plan. He settled on studying film at Columba College in Chicago. “I found the loophole,” Brant says. “I could still learn the craft of acting while taking care of my future.” After graduating from Columbia College with a degree in film, he moved to 26
California. Arriving in Los Angeles at age 22 ended up being a poorly-timed decision for Brant. The move happened to coincide with the 2008 writer’s strike that brought most production schedules to a screeching halt. But Brant didn’t let that deter him from moving his career forward. He began working as a production assistant on shows unaffected by the strike, in order to better position himself for acting work once the dispute was resolved. “Props to anyone who can make a production assistant job work long term,” Brant says, laughing. “That is a back-breaking job.” His occupation required him to bring in trailers to set and prepare actors in the morning for their shoots, making sure their hair and make-up were done, among countless other tedious tasks. Brant recalls waking up at 2 a.m. to arrive on set at 4 a.m. to work 18-hour long shifts. “The whole time I was working as a production assistant, I’d always ask myself, ‘How can I parlay this into something better?’” he says. One year later, Brant ended up working on the set of Bring It On: Fight to the Finish starring Christina Milian. While working on the set of the fifth installment of the Bring It On series, Brant befriended Teen Wolf star Holland Roden, who starred as Christina Milian’s step-sister in Bring It On. Holland would occasionally bring her agent to set. “I would always try to buddy up with her agent,” Brant laughs. “I would be like, ‘Hey, can I get you anything? I’m super helpful!’” After helping the actors run lines off stage, Holland’s agent booked a meeting for Brant and the other entertainment managers at her agency — everything Brant had wanted since his move to California. “That girl single-handedly made my career,” he says. “If it weren’t for her, I’d still be a production assistant.” A few weeks later, Brant found himself on a set — only this time, as an actor. Brant landed a role on
the web series Private, based on the novels by Kate Brian, playing Thomas Pearson, a drug-addled teenager. “I was still in production assistant mode,” he says. “I was like, ‘What can I do?’ And the producers were like, ‘Just act.’” However, his gig on Private lasted two weeks and didn’t pay much. Just as quickly as he landed the role, he found himself looking for a new one. “I didn’t work for six or seven months and I was beginning to get antsy about my career,” he says. Another opportunity came up for Brant, but this time it involved spandex. “It was awkward and horribly uncomfortable,” Brant says of his role on Super Sportlets. The actors worked long hours wearing spandex, leaving them sweaty and smelly after each day. The kid’s show premiered on the Nickelodeon International network, targeting 5 to 7 year olds. “Instead of fighting evil, we’d preach about nutrition and teamwork for three hours,” Brant says, his eyes widening when recalling the memory. This was Brant’s life for the next three months. After dealing with the downsides of a non-union job, he grew disillusioned with the entertainment industry. The production company’s main concern was getting the show done at all costs. Brant inches closer to me on the couch we’re sitting on and whispers, “Have you ever had a cast taken off ?” I nod my head. “That’s what we smelled like. I wanted to burn the spandex.” Super Sportlets may have left Brant with a stench on his body and a bad impression of Hollywood, but he also left the show with a new manager who promised to find him more comfortable work. Two weeks later, he booked a role as bad boy Noel Kahn on ABC Family’s Pretty Little Liars. Noel is a good-looking, arrogant jock at Rosewood High School. He briefly dates Aria Montgomery (Lucy Hale) though her three best friends have suspicions about him possibly mur-
dering Alison DiLaurentis. “I think I’m a friendly guy so it’s liberating to tell someone off as Noel,” Brant says of his character. “I’m too nonconfrontational to do that in real life. Like I said, I’m socially awkward.” Brant compares Pretty Little Liars to a game of chess — thinking ahead is necessary in order to understate how it will end. The producers and writers remain the better chess players. They keep multiple steps ahead of both the actors and the audience, who are left hanging at the edge of their seat week after week. “They only tell you as much as you need to know in order to perform the scene,” he says. “It’s brilliant.” Brant’s character has made recurring appearances throughout the first three seasons and is now filming the fifth. As a supporting character, however, he still has to find work in other places. When Noel took a brief leave of absence on the show, Brant was off acting in Army Wives on the Lifetime network. Brant portrayed Lieutenant Patrick Clarke on the seventh season of Army Wives. His character is the polar opposite of Noel — a golden age Superman who tried to be the best person he could at the risk of his own happiness. “It’s important to draw from your own history and experiences,” Brant says of getting into his new character. He never considered becoming a soldier, on or offscreen, and found the role intimidating at first. “It was so difficult to see these people from a different walk of life and try to honor their story with justice,” Brant says. The producers of Army Wives hired an Iraqi soldier who suffered from PTSD as an on-set resource for the cast. “He was there to provide us with anything we needed to know about the army — emotionally or logistically,” Brant says. After Lifetime cancelled Army Wives after its seventh season, the producers of Pretty Little Liars snatched Brant 28
right back. In the narrow window between, however, Brant participated in a season of Dancing with the Stars. “I have never once considered myself a celebrity or a star,” he says, looking me in the eyes. “I just wanted to be a working actor.” When his manager David called him on the set of his latest PixL TV movie The Michaels to talk about doing Dancing with the Stars, Brant thought the producers were interested in celebrity attendees. The producers were, in fact, interested in seeing Brant’s dance moves. “That was the moment where I was like, ‘David, am I a star?’” Brant says, laughing. For three months, Brant danced with professional dancer Peta Murgatroyd. The first two days of training were the most awkward of his life. “We started with the cha-cha,” Brant recalls, “But I’m good at the robot and can milk a beer while bobbing up and down as long as nobody’s looking at me.” He placed seventh on DWTS and jokingly blames his lack of poise. “I walk into walls, trip against table legs,” Brant says, shaking his head. “I’m that guy.” Up next for Brant is the release of his television movie, The Michaels, co-starring Larissa Oleynik. Upon approaching the topic of the movie, Brant moves closer towards me and explains that Larissa had been his childhood crush. Though he was freaking out about the role, Brant kept his cool externally. “I never mentioned it to her,” Brant says. He leans toward my tape recorder and says “Larissa, I’m sorry. I love you.” He may have already tackled his 11-year-old dreams by kissing his celebrity crush, but there’s still a bit more on his to-do list. “I’m just looking forward to my celebrity meltdown,” Brant says, grinning from ear to ear. He wants his breakdown to be super bizarre — drugs are too obvious. “But before all of that, I want to be Superman.” NKD
MUSIC OUT THIS MAY
Words by ALEX LANE Photos by CATHERINE POWELL
WE CAME AS ROMANS
We Came As Romans has been spreading the power of love and positivity through metalcore since they formed in 2008. Through lineup changes and multiple albums that message has remained their motivation. Dave Stephens (vocals), Kyle Pavone (vocals), Joshua Moore (guitar), Andy Glass (bass), Lou Cotton (guitar) and Eric Choi (drums) met in high school. They got into music for a lot of reasons, but they started playing heavier music for the energy. “The energy from the crowd, the energy I felt from the bands playing… I just loved how much people were pitting - how nuts it was,” Dave says, “I remember being scared actually. I thought that was the coolest thing.” When they decided to start We Came As Romans, they realized it was going to take some work if they were going to turn their dream of being professional musicians into a reality. Kyle says they needed to start with one thing: commitment. For many of the guys, commitment was hard to make when their family and friends were doubtful and angry about their decisions to put school on hold and pursue music. “We all had to make that jump, and put it aside. My mom was mad. She was like, ‘alright you can try it for a year, I guess.’ My dad was like, ‘yeah give it a year,’” Dave says. So the guys took a chance, used Eric’s graduation money for studio time and committed. “We established that it was something that we really wanted to work for – no more joking around. We wanted to make it a professional band,” Kyle says. The first step was achieving a more proficient sound, so they went to producer Joey Sturgis to record an EP. Sturgis, who has worked with bands like Asking Alexandria, The Devil Wears Prada and Attack! Attack!, helped develop the initial sound of WCAR for their debut EP Dreams (2008). Sturgis would go on to produce the band’s debut full-length To Plant A Seed (2009), as well as their second stu34
dio album Understanding What We’ve Grown to Be (2011). For their third record, the band enlisted John Feldmann, who is well known for producing albums for bands like Panic! At the Disco, Megan & Liz and The Used. And so a team was born for Tracing Back Roots (2013). If their album titles are indicative of anything, it is the band’s growth over the past six years. “With [Tracing Back Roots] you can tell how we have grown as a band, and how our music isn’t all over the place anymore, as much as it was the first two records,” Kyle says. “I think the most obvious thing is how much more melodic our third record is compared to the first two,” Dave adds. The melodic sound is due in large part to Feldmann’s hand in production. The band had become familiar with Feldmann’s style of production through the experience of recording their single “Hope.” The guys sought out a similar, catchier sound on their latest release. “All of us really believed that John could figure out the best way to put our band into a more melodic feel,” Kyle says about the band’s decision to return to Feldmann for production of Tracing Back Roots. They went into the studio with a handful of songs written and quickly realized recording Tracing Back Roots would be a collaborative experience between musicians and producer. Normally, the songwriting process entails Josh writing songs, the rest of the guys straightening them out and then recording 10 or so once they enter the studio. For this album, they approached writing in a much different way. “With John, we would write a hook and a chorus, and then we would sing nonsense to it. Then add lyrics to the nonsense, and then we would build the rest of the song around that,” Dave explains. “We wound up writing close to 20 songs.” The process with Feldmann, they say, was really positive and allowed them to continue to evolve. “In the end, it was just the seven of us all working together. Whenever he had an opinion
about something, usually we’d agree with him,” Dave says. “And whenever we had an opinion about something, usually he’d agree with us. It was such an easy process. Like I said, we wrote a ton of material, and we finished two weeks earlier than we were supposed to.” That’s not to say that there weren’t difficulties along the way. With so many song options, narrowing down the tracks that would eventually make the album proved to be challenging. Dave sums it up in one word: arguing. “We are always split down the middle,” he says. “It’s hard because different members fell in love with different songs. There were songs that I wanted to keep, that other guys in the band didn’t want to keep.” In the end, the band feels they made the right choices on all the tracks they picked for the record. From beginning to end, Dave and Kyle say that the guys devoted everything to this album, and they are really pleased with the outcome. As for the differences that their older fans might hear on Tracing Back Roots compared their earlier albums, the guys say the evolution is to be expected, and they are glad for it. “We really respect [our fans] opinions, and we have to listen to them at some point because they are the ones that keep the band going,” Dave says. “But we have always been the type of band that writes what we like, and we like the music that we write. So far, it seems like our fans like it, too.” Not only are old fans enjoying the progress that WCAR has made, but the band is also attracting the attention of another audience. While they appreciate all their old fans and the support that they have shown over the years, they are excited about the recent development of their widening fan base. “We are always trying to grow. We are never a content kind of band,” Dave says about catering to a more mainstream audience. “We always enjoy where we are at the moment, like, stop and smell the roses. But at the same time, we’re
“WE ARE ALWAYS TRYING TO GROW. WE ARE NEVER A CONTENT KIND OF BAND.”
always trying to get to that next level and continue to push. I think that’s a big part of our success so far. And so the next level would be a more mainstream audience.” So when talking about a fourth record, a discussion of the type of sound they are seeking to achieve that next level is crucial. And yes, a fourth record should be expected. Aside from Josh’s writings while on the road, the guys haven’t written anything solid just yet. But that doesn’t mean they haven’t already set goals, such as more radio plays to attract a wider audience. “A lot of radio stations are starting to realize that this music is pretty popular, actually,” Dave says. “I think that’s the goal, you know? Chart a little higher, have a bigger first week, and maybe grab some new people.” With even radio jumping on board and heavier bands like Asking Alexandria receiving more airtime, it’s a no brainer for WCAR to try and capitalize on their newfound success. Airtime for WCAR would be ideal, Dave says. “I mean, we aren’t going to write a pop-rock record,” he explains. “I think with the kind of tracks that we put out on Tracing Back Roots, a mainstream crowd would enjoy the record if they heard it.” In upcoming albums, listeners should expect a sound that leans towards the harmonious, catchy beats and lyrics that are heard on Tracing Back Roots. “I love Tracing Back Roots, it’s my favorite record,” Kyle adds. “But I know that now that that door has opened, for Dave to be singing and screaming at the same time, that once we get seasoned into it, we are just going to write better songs.” So far, that approach has worked for the band. But the guys really just want to keep going. Dave says the guys are prepared to do “whatever it takes,” but as for right now the band is pleased with their accomplishments. “I mean, we are in a pretty sweet spot as it is,” Dave says. “Not all bands get to retire off their music, and that’s kind of the dream.” NKD 36
artist poet vs.
Words by TARA DEVINCENZO Photos by CATHERINE POWELL
Artist Vs. Poet is a Los Angelesbased band made up of Jason Dean, Joe Kirkland and Dylan Stevens. In the earliest stages of the band, a flock of other musicians under the direction and support of Fearless Records joined Joe and Jason. After one album, the band split from Fearless and lost several members. Jason and Joe were the last men standing and decided they wouldn’t let the band’s opportunity and work go to waste. “We wanted to carry the project and finish and have it like it’s supposed to be,” Joe says. With a fresh start and an independent opportunity, the pair decided to go back to basics. In their own apartments, they were writing and recording their own material. “Any band that is coming up nowadays, if they don’t know how to support themselves, is at a severe disadvantage,” Joe says. They were getting closer to where they wanted to be as a pair, but found the missing link when they added Dylan to the mix. Introduced through another artist at Fearless, Dylan flew from Oklahoma to meet the band and test the waters. His musical style was something that immediately clicked, and in the fall of 2010, they decided to have him join the band and get their project back in motion. Although they considered their band to be a completely new project, they kept the name: Artist Vs. Poet. “A name is just a name in our opinion,” Joe explains. As they worked toward finding how they wanted their personal sound to be, they spent a majority of their time recording covers, experimenting with recognizable artists like Jason Derulo and Nicki Minaj. “We definitely wanted to expand the fan base, and covers are a good way to do that,” Joe says. “But it was just something fun that we did.” They had their catalog of personal songs, but they still worked to throw themselves into the spotlight with covers. Joe appeared in the 2012 season of The Voice, and was chosen to be on Adam Levine’s team, by singing the All-American Rejects’ song “Gives You Hell.” He made it to the second round before getting knocked off, but was still grateful for the opportunity. On their Facebook page, the band collectively
thanked the fans for their support and assured them that this was never their “last shot” and that they would be back for more. For the resilient AVP, covers were never meant to be the main event. They didn’t want to be considered a cover band, and they continued to write their own music while sharing covers with the fans. When they released “Where I’m Gonna Be” for their EP Sleep, it was clear their efforts went much deeper than just singing along to other artists’ radio hits. Each of them confess on this track, “I want my song on the radio, face on a billboard in the sky.” Their personal power-pop sound and lyrics come together as a team effort. They wrote about places they’ve been and where they wanted to go. “Every song we have is about something that happened in our lives or some feeling we’ve experienced,” Joe explains. The first major stop on their road to reimagining the band was their acoustic self-released album, Remember This, in April 2012. A year later, the album was re-released as an anniversary edition with two additional tracks and a collaboration with artist and friend, Blackbear. “We love to recycle songs, not because we don’t have any other songs, just because we enjoy it,” Joe says. While they were preparing to re-release Remember This, they were also working on the album, Keep Your Secrets. The eight-track album featured the energetic title track that paved the way for their most inspired and anticipated moment yet. Releasing their album Sake of Love, was a pivotal moment in terms of their career in music; it was the moment they had been climbing to on their journey of reinvention. “This record is exactly how we wanted to sound since we became our own band,” Joe says. “Two and a half years of blood sweat and tears, we’ve finally done it.” The sound they created on this album veers from the sound they started with two years prior, but is the one they find to be the most true to who they want to be as a band. The positive reception they’ve received for this record is a relief and an inspiration. Over the course of the band’s career, between
regrouping and revamping their sound independently, they have depended on fans to keep listening and supporting. “We were really humble to see the fans stuck around like they did,” Joe says. The AVP Army, as fans call themselves, motivates the band. Since Artist Vs. Poet is independent; they have no label to answer to, leaving all of their feedback to fans. “We really like to get music out to the fans as soon as possible,” Joe says. AVP’s songwriting has been a process of maturing their sound for the past two years, and they’ve been testing some of the changes they have made. Some of these changes were welcomed, and some of it was met with negative feedback. Overall, they continue making music for their army. “In reality, it’s us three making music,” Joe says. “And the people that stuck and wanted to have faith in us did.” Sending music to their fans through YouTube and posting to their personal Twitter accounts isn’t all AVP want to do, but it’s the best they can until they can begin touring again. “I hope the fans understand that it’s not a choice,” Joe says. “I’ve been waiting to get back on the road since the day I got off.” Although they haven’t been technically touring, they’ve been working and traveling, making every step a part of their music. In February, Kick Rock Invasion Records invited the trio to Japan. They performed a show that for their fans in Japan, but every show to every fan or listener is one that moves the band forward. As for any upcoming tour dates in the United States, they don’t have a set time frame. “We’ll get there when we get there,” Joe says. “Right now we want to make as much music as possible.” They love the music-making process, but above all they love their fans for letting them do it. “We just want to say, ‘thank you.’” Since the release of Sake of Love, their immediate plans include another acoustic album, just to complete the pattern they’ve been subscribing to in terms of their records. Now that the album has been released, Joe says he does not know what will happen next, but he was certain of one thing. “We’re going to keep growing,” he says. “And we hope people want to grow with us.”NKD NKDMAG.COM
DAN + SHAY Words and Photos by CATHERINE POWELL
Dan Smyers and Shay Mooney met at a party at Dan’s house in Nashville at the end of 2012. In true Nashville fashion, various partygoers — including Shay — picked up the guitars scattered around Dan’s living room and starting jamming. The two vibed well and began writing songs together the next day. The very first song they wrote was put on hold for Rascal Flatts to record. “After that we thought ‘maybe this could work,’” Dan says. They began writing 2-3 songs a day and ended up with over 90 songs. They signed a publishing deal with Warner/ Chappell Music, followed by a record deal with Warner Music Nashville — which resulted in “19 You + Me” being added to Country radio. The success of the song earned them a nomination for “Vocal Duo of The Year” at the Academy of Country Music Awards, even before they released their debut record, Where It All Began — which hit shelves April 1st. And that is all in year one. NKDMAG.COM
Dan and Shay had both moved to Nashville separately to pursue careers in songwriting. Shay was also trying to make it work as a solo act. It wasn’t until the two found each other that their careers started to really progress. The chemistry between the two when they started writing was undeniable. “The music we were writing together was the kind of music I had wanted to write for a long time,” Shay recalls. People gravitated to the fresh, new sound coming out of Dan + Shay and they had 10 publishing offers on the table within a month. “We had never had that sort of reaction to anything we had done individually,” Shay says. While writing songs, the duo recorded their own demos on their laptops. This eventually led to Dan and Shay producing their own album. “With all the songs we were writing, we were creating our own sound. So the best way to present these songs to people was to play and sing everything ourselves,” Dan explains. Those who heard the demos loved the sound and the duo played their first show together at the South by Southwest Festival in 2013. The two felt a rush after stepping off stage. They agreed it was more enjoyable to play their songs themselves, than to sell their songs to others. Thus, Dan + Shay was officially formed. Though Dan and Shay made their way to Nashville separately, it wasn’t until they began working together than things really took off for either of them. Both were drawn to country music because of its penchant for storytelling. However, their songs are more than a good story with some banjos. Coming from very different backgrounds, they were able to mesh their influences into something completely unique. Dan’s roots are in rock music, whereas Shay had immersed himself in R&B. When it came time to record Where It All Began, they wanted to make sure it
was a dynamic, yet cohesive record. “We wanted to create an honest interpretation of who we were with the intention that people listen to it from Track 1 to Track 12, all the way through,” Dan explains. While there are a lot of feel-good, “car windows-down” songs on the album, they’re scattered between songs about love and heartbreak. The track list was strategic — taking the listener on a “rollercoaster of emotions,” Dan says. They cut up strips of paper, wrote the song titles on them and rearranged them countless times until they felt they got the order right. With over 90 songs to choose from, it was difficult for Dan and Shay to decide which songs would be Dan + Shay songs, and which would be shopped to other artists. Ultimately, they picked songs that fit together as a whole, instead of picking songs that could all potentially succeed as singles. After receiving a positive response to “19 You + Me,” Dan and Shay listened to the feedback and applied the things fans enjoyed to the rest of the record. It’s still hard for Dan and Shay to grasp all the acclaim the single has received. In only six months, the song made its way to #7 on Country radio — an unheard of accomplishment for a new band without an album backing them. Regardless of the success, Dan and Shay feel no pressure to meet any standard with the other 11 songs on Where It All Began. “The rest of the songs definitely compliment ’19 You + Me,’” Dan says. “Everything flows together.” “19 You + Me” introduced Dan + Shay up to a whole new world in Nashville. The artists they looked up to, such as Rascal Flatts and Keith Urban, are now their peers. While they’re honored to receive praise from such respected acts, it’s the recognition from the less-publicly known songwriters that truly NKDMAG.COM
humbles them. “When you move to Nashville you’ll see that it’s a songwriter town,” Shay explains, “The songwriters are the rock stars.” Dan and Shay feel like they’ve made a name for themselves as writers that will outlast their own singing careers if they choose that path. Songwriting has always taken precedence over performing for Dan and Shay. Dan and Shay met as songwriters. Their success as performers has simply been a bonus. “It’s what makes this project so organic,” Dan explains, “We didn’t even have a promo photo when we released ’19 You + Me.’” If one song embodies all of their feelings about songwriting, it’s “I Heard Goodbye” — written as a response to Shay’s breakup. The raw emotions and vulnerability Shay felt at the time shine through the music and lyrics. They stripped down the backing music to just one piano, a single vocal and some strings. “I think that’s the best presentation for the song, especially with the lyrics,” Dan says. While “I Heard Goodbye” certainly stands out in Where It All Began’s otherwise upbeat outlook, it still fits into the story they were trying to tell about themselves. In fewer than 18 months, Dan+Shay have found more success than the duo thought they’d ever find. With two big tours opening for both Hunter Hayes and Blake Shelton booked for the summer, Dan+Shay is focusing on making their live show great every night. It was never about money or fame for Dan and Shay. They’re just thankful for the opportunity to share their songs with as many people as possible. “If you have great songs, the rest will fall into place,” Dan says. He pauses for a moment and laughs, “I feel like I’ve said ‘songs’ 10,000 times in this interview, but really that’s what it’s all about.” “That’s where it all began,” Shay puns. NKD 44
PENTATONIX (APRIL 10 - NEW YORK, NY)
THE WANTED (APRIL 11 - NEW YORK, NY)
keltie knight 48
Words by TANYA TRANER Photos by CATHERINE POWELL
Keltie Knight is a self-proclaimed “fangirl,” and proud of it. The Canadian-born The Insider correspondent, an entertainment and celebrity news source, says the secret to her success is a little mix of her superfan status, positivity, a dedicated celebrity fan base and a lot of luck. Keltie says for the majority of her life, her dream job was not in television. She was a classically trained ballet dancer growing up. “You know that person that always needed to be the center of attention, that always needed to be the lead in the school musical? That’s me.” She says. “I always wanted to be different.” She graduated early from performing arts school in Canada and made the big move to New York City where she danced for 10 years. Her dancing career included performing for the New York Knicks and the Radio City Music Hall Rockettes. She was the publicity dancer for the Rockettes - the one who talked to the press - which is where her taste for TV began. The shelf life of a professional dancer is pretty short, considering the physical strain and nature of the industry. “All of my dreams came true [in New York] and I had this really great run,” Keltie says. “And then I was ready to retire, and I had to sit back and think ‘Well what’s my next dream going to be? I’ve had the same dream since I was four years old.’” She decided to move across the country to Los Angeles. Soon after moving, she saw an open audition for a Live Nation hosting gig. She auditioned and, with no experience at all, was offered the job. Keltie says she loved it so much that she hired a voice coach and began taking classes three times a week to improve her speech. Her big break came at a lunch party where she says she was having a conversation with a friend about music. “I had no idea that the woman standing next to me was an executive at CBS,” she says. “And two weeks later she had gotten my number through a mutual friend and was like, ‘I have a job for you.’” Keltie began hosting an online show, appropriately named Fangirl, where she interviewed musicians. This gig lasted until August 2013 when she was offered a television co-host position. Keltie says the biggest difference between digi-
tal and television is that she had control of her online show. “I could pick the artist,” she explains. “I didn’t have to clear it with anyone. I shot it. I filmed it. I edited it. I wrote the copy. It was all me.” Online media has an endless time limit, but television has a very precise time frame in which to fit celebrity gossip, music and other entertainment news. Keltie says this can be frustrating when she has a piece on an artist she absolutely loves and their three-minute segment gets cut in place of some other breaking news event of the day. She says you need a thicker skin for television also. People pick everything apart — her hair, her voice, her laugh, what she is wearing that day. Image is important for celebrities and musicians, but Keltie says it is equally as important for those who interview them. “Like I don’t know who I am anymore,” she says. “Why am I wearing this dress? Would I really wear this dress in real life?” She rarely watches the shows herself. “I’m so much harder on myself than anyone else could ever be.” Despite the downsides, Keltie says she feels so lucky to be where she is today. “I’m living proof that you can make a career out of being a professional fangirl,” she says. “Everyone else in the media industry tries to act so cool, and I’m just like ‘Holy crap, there’s Jennifer Lawrence I need to take a picture with her.’” She believes this is a big reason why people like her and tune into the show. “Whenever I go into an interview I think, ‘Ok this is what the show would want me to ask,’” she says. “But then I think ‘Ok what would the super fan want to know?’ Those are the questions that really build relationships.” Building relationships with celebrities is extremely important to her, which is why she says she never participates in the smut journalism so often seen in celebrity gossip. She prefers to maintain a positive attitude. “I think I’m the only person in entertainment news that has not bashed Miley Cyrus this year.” She explains that as long as the artist’s oddity is in their art, then the media has no place to judge them. “The only time I will say something negative is for drunk driving or when you’re hurting other people.” She says this attitude, coupled with
her super fan questions is how she gets artists like Jared Leto to go out of their way to approach her at media events. “He’s kind of hard to interview,” she says. “He takes himself very seriously. He’s really a true artist. [There are] no jokes to be had.” Keltie overcame this obstacle by connecting with him on a fan level. She asked him about his documentary Artifact, which he produced under a pseudonym. She says showing him she was a true, knowledgeable fan of his work helped him open up to her. Building relationships with a celebrity’s fan base is also extremely important to Keltie. She says the younger, fan bases fuel her interviews because they know the latest news or gossip and can help her formulate her own questions for celebrities she may interview multiple times per year. “If I researched for two hours I couldn’t get that information. I use them as a tool,” she says. “I’m hoping by including [the fans], I’m kind of inspiring them to chase their dreams.” She says she struggles with whether or not her fan inclusion might be perceived as bragging. She wants to share all of this — the amazing experiences the cool clothes, the pictures with actors and musicians — but she says that she knows if she were on the other side, she would be jealous. However, she explains that she tries to “share it in a really kind, inclusive way.” “I hope that it comes across as ‘Here’s something that you won’t ever get to see, and I want to share it with you if you’re a super fan,’” she says. Keltie’s attitude toward celebrities and their fans, and her great eye for the next breakout star, has certainly paid off in her career. She has hosted the first U.S. interviews for huge acts like Ed Sheeran, Imagine Dragons and A Great Big World. “I like to be that first person that gives them that boost that they need, if it’s good art, you know?” “I really believe that when you find what you are supposed to be doing in your life, the universe is just like, ‘Hooray! You found your path,’” she says. This fan girl has seen her dreams come true, change and come true again. She says she’s making it up as she goes along but she knows the path she is on now is the right path for her. NKD NKDMAG.COM
taking back sunday Words by STACY MAGALLON Photos by CATHERINE POWELL
I like to safely assume most people know of Taking Back Sunday, and I’m going to assume you do, too. In a warmly lit green room at the Best Buy Theater in New York City, the members of rock band Taking Back Sunday are posing in front of a bright strobe light. The room is filled with vibrant red, orange and brown tones. The band members, however, are dressed in shades of charcoal and black. It looks like an angst-driven class photo — appropriate for their angst-driven tunes. Shaun Cooper (bass), Adam Lazzara (vocals) and Eddie Reyes (guitar) are seated across a couch with Mark O’Connell (drums) and John Nolan (lead guitar) positioned in an elevated fashion behind them. Even though the group that has been shredding for well over a decade, Taking Back Sunday are far from exhausted. In fact, with the most recent release of their sixth studio album, they have no intentions of slowing down any time soon. I’m sitting on a couch beside Adam a few hours before they take the stage. “My son is a huge superhero fan,” he says, telling me about their trip to the Marvel Comics building earlier this morning. “He was so stoked, it was great.” Adam sounds fatigued, but is excited to flip through a past issue of the magazine. His placid composure is much unlike the line outside on 44th street. Taking Back Sunday and The Used have sold out multiple dates on their current spring tour, though that isn’t surprising. Both bands were fundamental to the alternative-rock music scene of the 21st century. Eddie Reyes founded Taking Back Sunday in Amityville, N.Y. in 1999. Since they formed, the lineup has changed multiple times. Past members have included Fred Mascherino (The Color Fred), Antonio Longo, Matthew Rubano, Jesse Lacey (Brand New), Steven DeJoseph and Matthew Fazzi. Despite the coming and going of members, Taking Back Sunday’s credibility as a band has remained the same.
They’ve headlined the Vans Warped Tour, gained mainstream exposure on Jimmy Kimmel Live, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and Late Night With Conan O’Brien, and the band was featured on the Spider-Man 2 soundtrack, among other accomplishments. Commercial successes aside, Taking Back Sunday are, and always have been, focused on one thing — winning their fans’ affection time and time again. When Taking Back Sunday released their self-titled fifth album in 2011, fans celebrated the reunion of the band’s original lineup since its 2002 hit record, Tell All Your Friends. The debut album introduced fans to singles such as “Cute Without the ‘E’ (Cut From the Team),” “You’re So Last Summer” and “Great Romances of the 20th Century.” Critics and listeners everywhere praised the album, which has emotion and organic dialogue spilling from each track. “We do understand that the album is a nostalgia trip,” Adam says as he clutches a throw pillow close to his stomach. “The music hit home to certain people during a particular time in their lives.” Since then, the band has questioned whether or not recreating that same feeling of nostalgia for their listeners was possible. Their answer has been ‘no;’ even if they were to attempt the slightest recreation, it wouldn’t be the same. Fans aren’t attached to the album, but rather, the feeling the album gave them 12 years ago. “We’re not all 18 years old, and we’re not in that same place in our lives anymore,” John adds. “So essentially, it would be impossible to write that same record.” Taking Back Sunday approach songwriting with an open mind. Whatever happens, happens. And that mentality works. Taking Back Sunday began writing Happiness Is while still promoting their self-titled release in 2011. The band would tour, visit home for a week, then get together for two or three weeks to write. “We all live in separate places, so we need to maxi-
mize our time together,” Adam says. Half of the record was demoed in Michigan then in New York. It was the first time Taking Back Sunday used two different producers, Mark Hudson and Mike Sapone, for one record. This was all done in between their touring cycle. Collectively, they don’t work on much material while on tour. Space between one another is essential, especially for ideas and concepts to piece themselves together. “Everyone needs some quiet time to process things,” John says. “We’re not good at working while we’re in the middle of things.” Adam turns to John and asks, “So we’re not good at working while we’re working?” John laughs and replies, “Yes, Adam. That.” Taking Back Sunday’s material comes from a mixture of experiences. Not all of the experiences have been theirs, but the roots always stem from raw situations. “Sometimes we look at somebody else and their relationship with another person,” John says. “And then of course there’s some embellishing,” Adam adds. When Taking Back Sunday reformed its 2002 lineup, trusting one another’s instincts became the band’s next experiment when writing their new record. They wanted to ease into a groove and agree on the sound they wanted to create. With the self-titled record and all the promotional touring under their belts, their unit was strengthened. “We needed to see if we could still write together,” Adam says. “It was a gradual process, but everything clicked so quickly and naturally.” From that point on, leaning on one another to produce quality music became easier. The band worked on a batch of rough demos, a number of which didn’t make it past the early phase of recording. “It wasn’t until we did ‘Flicker, Fade’ that everyone knew we were onto something, which set the tone for Happiness Is,” John says. Happiness Is, and 11-track album, was released in March of 2014 through Hopeless Records. Taking NKDMAG.COM
Back Sunday wanted to be proud of their work while simultaneously pleasing the folks who have been listeners for years. But as their tastes in music have developed, so have the musical influences that subconsciously trickle into their lyrics and sound. This time around, the band became a little conscious of what their labeled sound was. “We were worried about what Taking Back Sunday was supposed to sound like,” John says. “But we realized that if it’s the five us playing music together, it’s going to sound like Taking Back Sunday.” There has been a positive reaction to Happiness Is. The album debuted at No. 10 on the Billboard 200 chart within the first week of sales in the United States. Happiness Is will never be Tell All Your Friends. Nor will any of their future releases. However, they want fans to revive the feelings that made their 2002 release as successful as it was. “Maybe our current record or newer record can meet people at that same place in their lives,” Adam says. “It can meet them at a crossroad because it’ll be the same kind of experience for them.” Taking Back Sunday are proud of the record. They just hope new fans or old fans can connect with it on some level — that has always been their goal. While their music typically swims in dark water, Happiness Is presents a happier sound, as the name suggests. For John, he finds his best writing in negative situations, but has yet to write a happy song. “Have you heard ‘Good Day Sunshine’ by The Beatles?” he asks. “It’s so simple, and it’s almost stupid, but it’s so good, and I can’t do that yet.” After John left Taking Back Sunday in 2003 to focus on his solo career, he walked away with valid lessons on songwriting. After recently releasing a solo album, John reached the point of hardly collaborating with anyone. The experience was influential, though he noticed a difference in his songwriting. As a solo artist, John loved creating music in its most raw form rather than eyeing specific NKDMAG.COM
details. The time away was a learning experience. Now he’s ready for a third party to bring influence to his writing. “Working with Taking Back Sunday makes me more focused and analytical,” John says. “Now I always question, ‘Is this as good as it can be, or can it be better?’” John still wants to write a happy song, but Adam believes it’s a thin wire to walk on. “There’s the poetic side of songwriting and then there’s the side that’s so simple that it could be cheesy,” he says. “You just don’t want to get caught up in that.” It’s hard to word things simply while still writing something that enables one to wonder. They agree it’s a specific skill — a skill they hope to hone in the future. If they were to ever write such a positive song, Adam believes it’d be well received as long as it were done right. While John still hasn’t figured out the process to writing a happy song, his hopes are still high. “Maybe in 10 years we’ll put out the happiest record you’ve ever heard,” he says, smiling. The members of Taking Back Sunday have known each other for years, but are still self-conscious about sharing ideas. Adam and John agree that they’re sensitive, as are the other members of the band. “I’ll come to the guys and say, ‘Hey I have this part,’” Adam says, with an eager tone before continuing in a vulnerable volume. “Then I’ll be like, ‘but if you don’t like it, it’s totally cool.’” When opinions clash, Adam and John say the band tries to be as nice as humanly possible. Trust in one another’s opinion is essential. “Sometimes you have to rely on other people to tell you whether or not an idea is good,” John says. Adam nods and adds, “Yeah, you feel a bit naked.” The room falls silent, but then they erupt into laughter at the realization of Adam’s pun on the magazine’s name. Other than being two fundamental members of Taking Back Sunday, Adam and John have another thing
in common — they’re both fathers. Leaving home for long periods of time is now harder than it was a decade ago. Their family lives are slowly and subconsciously creeping into the music as well as their behavior on tour. “We hang out with each other a lot more rather than just going out,” Adam says. “We’ve become our own little support group when we’re feeling lonely.” They’re no longer just role models to fans and aspiring artists, but to their children as well. At first, the idea of being a parent was very abstract. Then it became a reality. After having a son, John went through a period of time where he grew worrisome about the example he wanted to set for him. He thought of all the things he needed to change about himself before arriving at a realization. “I need to be who I am,” John says. “If I’m trying to set an example by being something I’m not, that’s not a positive thing either.” The same can be said about Taking Back Sunday as a whole. They’ve never once encountered an issue about their presentation as artists or people. This is their image. “If you try to act a certain way because it’s the right thing for people to learn from you, no one’s going to learn from you or people will see right through it,” John says. With band members now in their mid-30s and starting families, the question rises — is there a foreseeable end to Taking Back Sunday? “If I think too far into the future, I start getting really scared,” Adam laughs as his fingers fiddle with the pillow on his lap. Taking Back Sunday are good at doing what they do; they bring together people of all ages, from all different walks of life, together for one thing: their music. It’s a formula that has been working for years. John chuckles at Adam before nodding in agreement. “We don’t really know how to do anything else,” he smiles. “No matter how hard it gets to be away from home, it’s what we do. So we’re going to keep doing it.” NKD NKDMAG.COM
THE GREATEST GENERATION TOUR (APRIL 17 - NEW YORK, NY)
5 SECONDS OF SUMMER (APRIL 22 - NEW YORK, NY)
BRANDI CYRUS Words & Photos by CATHERINE POWELL
While her family’s name has been scattered throughout tabloids since she was young, Brandi Cyrus has managed to keep a low profile. The eldest Cyrus girl has spent a great deal of time deciding how she would spend her life. Now 26, Brandi dabbles in music, acting, hosting and fashion. Sometimes she even gets a full night’s sleep.
on music Brandi grew up the stepdaughter of country star Billy Ray Cyrus. She was surrounded by musicians and celebrities but had a very normal childhood. She attended public school in Nashville and took part in various extracurricular activities, such as horseback riding. “Horses were kind of my thing for a very long time, and I still ride to this day,” Brandi says. After high school, Brandi attended one year of college and hated it. Instead of returning back to school after freshman year, she went on the road with Everlife and felt inspired by them to try making music herself. Though her family was always heavily involved in the music and entertainment world, Brandi never felt any pressure to join. “I can see why parents wouldn’t want their kids to become musicians. It’s a very tough, heartbreaking industry,” she explains. Once she decided to pursue music, she began learning to play guitar with the help of her father. “It took me until I was 19 to realize that music was a part of me and just came naturally to me,” Brandi explains. Brandi eventually teamed up with Codi Caraco to form Frank + Derol, an indie-pop band based out of Los Angeles. The two girls were raised on very different styles of music — Codi is classically trained in piano and listens to 70’s rock, whereas Brandi roots are with country and 80’s hair bands, as well as 90’s acts like Matchbox Twenty and Goo Goo Dolls. When the two combined their musical interests, the result was something completely original. When asked if Frank + Derol is still an active project, Brandi thinks for a minute. “I would say it’s inactive but not extinct,” she shares. The band has been on a bit of a break for the past year and a half, partly due to conflict within their label, Interscope Records. “We talk all the time about getting it going again, but we’ve both got a lot of other things going on right now,” she says.
on acting Following her year in college and time on the road with Everlife, Brandi lived in Los Angeles fulltime for five years. “My ‘day job’ if you will was being Rico’s Surf Shop worker on Hannah Montana,” Brandi laughs. Between her dad and younger sister Miley, Brandi has a familiarity with being onset. She understands the work ethic necessary to succeed on one. In the past, Brandi would audition for countless roles, but became discouraged by the auditioning process. “If acting was the one thing I needed to do, I would have endured it, but it’s not,” she says. She sees acting as her hobby, rather than as her career. Not too long ago, Brandi’s publicist approached her with a horror movie script entitled Old 37. As a huge fan of scary movies, Brandi gave it a chance and loved it. Between the script and the crew involved, Brandi was sold and accepted her first lead role. For Brandi, the coolest part about acting in a horror movie was the behind-the-scenes world. The special effects and make-up were especially interesting to her. After spending hours in the make-up chair getting covered with fake blood, she can now see through the make-up and effects, and appreciate the work that went into it. “I’ll go see a horror movie and know exactly how they made it look like that,” Brandi says. As of now, Brandi has no other acting roles on the horizon but is not opposed to exploring her options. “You can’t really be a picky actor, and there are just a lot of things I wouldn’t be comfortable doing,” she explains. Though she may not be taking on any new characters anytime soon, Brandi has been spending quite a lot of time in front of the camera as herself.
on seriously cyrus & fuse With almost all the Cyrus family members in some sort of spotlight, it seemed natural to give fans of the clan one place to access content from everyone. Seriously Cyrus is a YouTube channel that features video uploads from Brandi, her siblings and her parents. “We’re all doing so much all the time that it’s nice to have a place to share all of that,” Brandi says, “Mama Tish always has great ideas.” Brandi’s involvement with the channel is a fashion segment titled Brandiville. She styles specific accessories or items of clothing with the help of other YouTube vloggers. “It’s really cool because usually I’m the one being styled by other people,” she says. She thinks it’s beneficial for fans to see Brandi’s personal style on other people so they can learn how to adapt it to their own style. In addition to playing herself on Seriously Cyrus, Brandi has taken a gig with FUSE. She does on-location fieldwork for them, such as red carpets or one-on-one artist interviews. “On-air hosting is something I’ve always been interested in but never really had the time to pursue until now,” she says, “When the opportunity came about the timing was just absolutely perfect.”
on her personal life Brandi’s professional life exists almost exclusively in the spotlight, and for that reason she tries to keep her personal life out of it as much as possible. After five years in Los Angeles, she has moved back to Nashville to live under the radar. “In L.A., you’re always working and there’s always something to do, but in Nashville I get a chance to relax and live more of a normal life,” she explains. She prides herself on being a hard worker and enjoys the hustle of Los Angeles for small periods of time, but thinks that slowing down and just enjoying life is equally important. Brandi has become a bit of a master at switching herself on and off depending on what city she’s in and doesn’t feel like life is too much to handle right now. Her summer plans include hitting up several music festivals, filming new episodes of Brandiville and catching a few of her sister’s concerts. In general, she just hopes she’ll be able to spend the rest of her life doing things she enjoys — like riding horses and making music. “I just want to make sure I’m always moving forward, but never become too busy that I can’t spend time with my family,” Brandi says. NKD
Words by SHINA PATEL Photos by CATHERINE POWELL
Kelli Berglund fell in love for the first time when she was four years old. She fell in love with dance. “They told me that they could kind of tell I was just a natural from the get-go,” the 18-year-old, California native says. So she continued to pursue her passion. She is skilled in an array of dances ranging from ballet to jazz and hip-hop to tap. While Kelli was in middle school, she also fell in love with singing and joined her school’s choir. Kelli was born and raised and even today still lives in Moorpark, a city in Ventura County in Southern California with her parents and younger sister, Kirra. “I’ve lived in California my whole life, unlike a lot of actors you meet nowadays,” she says. “I’m proud to say I’m a native.” Over time, her singing and dancing raised the curtain for acting. Her
first acting experience was in a school production, and her role allowed her to incorporate singing and dancing. Luckily, there was a very important audience member at this performance. A talent agent watching the show was floored by Kelli’s ability and recommended to her mom to look into a couple of agencies to represent Kelli. So Kelli and her mom took a chance, and it did not take long before an agency picked her up. “Everyone called me this triple threat and that I would book a lot of jobs,” Kelli says. Her first job was a Barbie commercial, and after that she continued to appear in more commercials, which were the perfect introduction into the acting world because Kelli experienced what it was like to actually be on a set. Her first television show was a role on Discovery Kid���s Hip Hop Harry in NKDMAG.COM
2006. The show was basically a remake of Barney & Friends, but Harry was a giant teddy bear rather than a dinosaur. The show featured different kids and together, Harry and the kids would teach important life lessons through song and dance. “That’s where I had my first real experience outside of commercials,” Kelli says. The show also gave Kelli more exposure; people were recognizing her in public. For years, Kelli continued to audition for different roles on Disney, and the network even told her they did not see her as a Disney actress because of her lack of experience with comedy; She had always performed dramatic roles. But Kelli wasn’t going to let that stop her. Their initial rejection only pushed Kelli to try even harder. “I want to book it,” she says. “I want to prove them wrong, and that’s exactly what I did.” In 2012, she showed up to her audition for Lab Rats fully dressed in character and worked hard to perfect her comedy. She tried to bring extra little things to the table that no one else was going to bring. Her hard work paid off because after auditioning and meeting with the executive producer, she landed the role of Bree Davenport. The show is centered on the life of Leo Dooley, whose mother marries billionaire genius Donald Davenport. Leo soon befriends Donald’s “experiments” Adam, Chase and Bree. Bree, the only girl of the group, is a bionic teenager who can move at over 400 miles per hour, create a “sonic-cyclone” by spinning quickly, jump exceptionally high and stick to walls and ceilings. Kelli believes that through the three seasons, Bree has evolved. In the first season she was just this bionic experiment who lived in the lab and whose only purpose was to train for missions. She was very isolated but dreamed about being out in the real world. When she gets the opportunity, she has to adjust to school and meeting new people fairly quickly, which she learns is not as easy as she thought. Viewers
see Bree open up more in season two because she has come out of her shell, and she even takes the lead on a lot of missions. “I’m proud of her and how much she’s grown,” Kelli says of Bree’s dynamic character. Kelli believes that she is perfect for the role for because she is able to translate her athleticism from dance to Bree’s capabilities, which is very important because of the fight choreography that she has to learn. “This whole thing has changed my life. It’s opened the doors to so many other things and meeting new people and auditioning for really big roles,” Kelli says. Her role on Lab Rats paved the way for Kelli to audition for the Disney movie How to Build a Better Boy, set to release in the summer of 2014. Kelli plays Mae Hartley, a very tech savvy sophomore in high school. Kelli describes her character and co-star China Anne McClain’s character Gabby as “adorably geeky.” In the movie, Mae is a dreamer; She dreams of having a perfect boyfriend and having the perfect clothes and vacationing in Paris. Of course she has a crush on the quarterback, who happens to be dating the head cheerleader. In an attempt to thwart accusations of a crush, Mae blurts out that she has the perfect boyfriend. To ensure no one discovers her lie, she and Gabby create a perfect boyfriend on their computers. This will be Kelli’s first time starring in a feature film, and she says she felt a lot more pressure because it was her first Disney movie. She strives to get into character and separate Mae from Bree and have them evolve into their own people. “It was a very different experience, and now I know how that whole scene works now,” she sayd. “So I’m excited that it can open the door for other projects.” Kelli is also scheduled to be part of another movie called Lovin’ Brooklyn, which takes place in the ’70s and features two dancers from completely different background who fall in love. She describes it as, “Dirty Dancing meets
Step Up.” Kelli says working with Disney has been a wonderful experience because she has earned a spot in the Disney family. “You just feel safe and secure being a part of their network,” Kelli says. Disney is very protective of its actors and is always looking to provide them with opportunities to further their career. She loves the cast of her show, but she also expressed how the casts of other Disney shows are warm and friendly. Kelli has always dreamt of appearing on the Disney Channel, and now her dream is a reality. Kelli is currently a senior enrolled in her high school’s independent study program. She completes all of her work on her own time, but she still will graduate with her class and even attend prom. Most kids struggle with their schoolwork without the extra stress of being a celebrity, but Kelli balances school with starring in a TV show. “It’s a lot harder than I thought it would be,” she says. “I’m one of the only kids on set who does school. So I have to stay there extra hours to get all my school work done.” She’s learned to just make a schedule and stick with it and she tries hard not to freak herself out by thinking of everything she has going on. “I have to work hard, and that’s what comes with this job,” Kelli says. A lot of people ask Kelli if college is something she would want to pursue, and she says she has no opposition to attending college. She thinks it would be a very rewarding experience. But with everything she has going on, it’s hard to make long-term plans. After she graduates high school, she will have a diploma and the freedom to choose college in the future if she would like — it will always be an option. But for now, acting is going great for her, and she doesn’t want to cut herself off from any opportunities. “If I want to take a break and go to school I can always do that,” she says. “But as long as acting is successful for me, I want to keep riding this wave.” NKD NKDMAG.COM