Life Without Music? I Don’t Recall…
I don’t remember a time when I was ever not completely immersed in music. From even before I was born (my parents stretched headphones over my mom’s pregnant belly so that I could have a prenatal listening party), I was always surrounded by music. My dad is a drummer, and there is a long line of artistic people in my family, going all the way back to my great-great-grandfather and great-grandmother.
I grew up attending my dad’s gigs, helping him lug bags of drumming equipment into various venues all around and outside my hometown of Jacksonville, Florida. After my parents got divorced and I started spending more one-on-one time with my dad, we began listening to heavy metal and rap together, and bonded over the fact that my mom never let us play our “head banger music” in the house. I was lucky to get a father with a cool taste in music, because he’s exposed me to so many different genres.
Because every musician gets asked this a million times... my dad was probably my first inspiration. He has always had a career outside of music, but is dedicated to both.
The artists and styles that have influenced my music are all very different. I try to broaden my musical horizons as much as possible, and find inspiration in everything I hear and experience. Of course, my taste (and ability to recognize what works for me and what doesn’t) has evolved over time and there are many wannabe Nirvana-ish songs that will never see the light of day again. A band that I really look up to is The Neighbourhood. I'm impressed with how versatile they are, and i feel like they do a great job of balancing emotional lyrics with technical music.
To me, lyrical content is one of, if not the most, important characteristics of a song (unless, of course, the song is instrumental). It’s quite a long story about how I got into writing songs, but I guess it all started with journaling, making entries when I was upset or afraid. This began when I was only five or six. Predictably, there wasn’t much deep, introspective content created around this time as the only thing I was worried about was who was taking me to Build-A-Bear and if I was going to get eaten by a shark when I went swimming. Plus, the majority of my journals from this time were filled with illegible scribbles and are now somewhere near the bottom of a landfill.
My writing took a darker, more personal turn when my parents got divorced. By then, I was nine years old and beginning to realize that life wasn’t just about watching The Parent Trap and eating Oreos with peanut butter like Hallie and Annie did (though I still desperately wished it was). For the next few years, I struggled immensely with severe separation anxiety and depression. I’m not going to go into details, that’s another story for a different day (and I’m sure you can gather a generous amount of information purely by listening to my music), but to sum it all up, I suffered eminently due to lack of coping mechanisms. I was only able to find two that worked for me, out of the hundreds recommended. They were things I had been doing all along, without any guidance—writing and drawing. Only now, instead of scribbling down measly little diary entries once or twice a week, I was writing down everything, and instead of mindless doodles on the side of my homework sheets, I was drawing out all of the things I couldn’t articulate with words.
I had taken piano and vocal lessons in the past, which provided me with a very basic understanding of those things, and I was able to write a song, using my emerging guitar skills to compose the music. I always aspired to write songs, but never knew what to say, or how to say it. I’m hesitant to even include this detail but… my first song was about a boyband that I liked. There’s no shame in liking boybands AT ALL, but it’s humiliating for me to admit because I no longer like this band in the slightest.
Fortunately, that was just a jumping-off point, because when that one was finished, more and more kept coming, and now I have several albums worth of original songs ready to be produced and recorded.
My Message…from the heart
Music is one of the few things in my life that I’m motivated to put my heart and soul into. I want to use music as an outlet and as a way to deliver important messages. There are several causes I’m passionate about, and my ultimate goal is to contribute to those causes by spreading awareness through my songwriting. Alaskan Native rights are near and dear to my heart as I am part Inupiaq and have relatives who live in Alaska. My grandfather was a prominent Alaskan politician and was instrumental in getting the Alaskan Native Lands Claim Act signed into law. I decided to honor him and his work by performing as “Hensley”, since his name is William Iggiagruk Hensley. He and my aunt continue to work tirelessly on behalf of Alaskan Natives. Other causes I’m striving to support are body positivity and racial/gender equality.
I am lucky to be surrounded by extremely talented professional musicians and to have ongoing opportunities to perform live in venues all around Northeast Florida. I went from sitting in on gigs with my dad’s musician friends to winning local, singer-songwriter contests and performing live on television. Thanks to my mom’s willingness to travel long distances for me, I have performed in Nashville and am a member of the International Songwriter’s Association, which is based there. I’ve also been fortunate enough to have the support of my extended family and my musical mentor, Mike Shackleford, who I met at an open-mic show. Without the encouragement and unconditional love and support they provide me, I would be nowhere (actually, I’d probably be in my room, writing more tragic, wannabe Nirvana-like songs). My parents and grandparents jump through hoops to get me to gigs and shows, where I’ve been able to interact with professional musicians and showcase my art, as well as receive feedback that has enabled me to improve what I do. I’ve also been lucky enough to visit places like Alaska, Belize, Costa Rica, Hawaii, and the Bahamas, which have also inspired my writing. I’m truly thankful for everybody who’s helped me get this far as they’ve allowed me to grow into who I am today.