We had the good fortune of connecting with McKenna Alicia and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi McKenna, how do you think about risk?
I think being an artist is all about taking risks. The most impactful experiences in my life thus far have come from a decision that involved me going out on my own and trying something new.
When I was in 7th grade I decided to leave my hometown middle school, and go to an arts school where I knew no one. It was at that arts school that I learned I could be an artist, that being a musician was a path I was capable of doing. It gave me so much experience at a young age, that I would have never got had I not taken that leap. I was in a competitive Acapella group all through high school. With that group I had the opportunity to perform most weekends in crowds ranging from a few hundred to thousands. We were cast on NBC’s “The Sing-Off” where we made it to the finals (I was 16), and we sang backup for a myriad of artists including Cake, Latoya London, Tim McGraw and Pentatonix. These experiences gave me a lot of insight into the music industry from pretty early on, and overall enhanced my abilities musically, giving me a great foundation to build from.
When I was in my last year of high school, I had gotten accepted to both Berklee College of Music as well as the New School in New York, these were my top choice schools. I was really torn at the time because of the cost of these schools and knowing that by going into music I couldn’t be sure I could pay off that kind of debt. I had also been accepted to Loyola University in New Orleans which I had applied to last minute as a kind of backup. I had went to New Orleans on a school trip in high school and had been so enchanted by the city, but hadn’t envisioned myself living there at the time. However, I ended up deciding to move to New Orleans, where once again I knew literally nobody! I even had a teacher say to me something along the lines of “If you want to make it, go to New York. New Orleans is too slow for you”. I think about what would have happened if I listened to them at the time. By taking the risk to move to New Orleans, I met the most incredible people and musicians who have shaped me as an artist in more ways than I can count. I was surrounded by a community who wanted to encourage individual artistry, and I was lucky enough to have people who believed in my music really before I even did. My individual artistry began there, and I am so grateful to be a part of that community. That is where I started my solo project, as well as my band “Tansy” that I co-lead with my musical partner, Will Feinberg!
After college, I was set to move to London to get a masters in recording engineering. But, right as I was finalizing my visa, I decided I didn’t want to pursue another degree at that time. I had been in music school for 9 years, and felt I needed a break from the academic side of music. I was visiting family in the Bay Area, and just suddenly got an opportunity to move to LA, which had never been my plan. This was right before covid too! This was a huge risk and I barely knew anyone at all or in the music world. But, fast forward about 2.5 years and I have now been fully supporting myself in music solely and am still living in LA! In this city, I have learned how to trust myself in the music industry, I have learned the value of my skills which I think I always had some imposter syndrome about. This was growth that I really needed, and the experiences I’ve had here made me develop into a stronger artist. I have had the opportunity to teach and work with so many incredible creators, and each of those experiences has lead me down new paths that I probably wouldn’t have gone down otherwise or that I didn’t even know were possible.
All in all, I think as an artist I crave risk. It is frightening and sometimes I don’t know how it will work out. But, each time I have taken a big risk it has made me a more resilient artist and person. It has made me trust myself on a much deeper level through different circumstances, and I think that is so vital for artists.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
Currently the thing I am most excited/proud about are upcoming projects with my band “Tansy” that I co-lead with my great friend and musical collaborator, Will Feinberg. This group is really special to both Will and I, and has been my main focus musically for the past few years. This group is really where I have found my happy place in music and have discovered my voice from a songwriting perspective. Working with Will has given me a safe space to be unafraid in this process. We released our first album in April of 2020, and have since released two singles with a third upcoming, as well as an EP we are finishing up. We just did our first small west coast tour in early spring of this year, which went great as well and was an amazing experience for us! We have performed a lot together outside of our group, but due to covid we hadn’t actually got to take “Tansy” live, so we had been waiting to make it happen! Will resides in New Orleans still, where we met, so we have been operating the project long distance since 2019.
I think one of the biggest lessons I have learned thus far in music is too take every opportunity that comes your way when you’re still in the beginning stages of your career. The reason that I have the career I do currently, is from saying yes to things I didn’t always know would be a good fit for me. Sometimes it has turned out to not be a good fit, but in turn taught me about other things in this field I love! And from taking those opportunities, I now have the ability to choose the endeavors I want to take on and have learned how to say no to some things which used to be tough for me.
Creating music has been my passion since I was a child. My biggest hope in sharing my art is to bring people a sense of calm and ease, a place where they are allowed to feel whatever they need to and have a safe space that encourages just that. Music has held that space for me my whole life, and is the one place that I learned how to cope with the realities of my world and the world we live in. I think it’s beautiful how music can transport us, I view each song as a time capsule/a chapter of life that hopefully other people can find meaning in for themselves. I hope my songs can bring people into the present moment, to allow them to feel both the beauty and the pain of this world or whatever it is they need to feel. I intend my songs to take on the sonic effect that nature can have, which to me is just that.
I am excited to continuously grow in this craft, to share my music, and to see where that leads me!
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
Places to Visit – Point Dume Beach in Malibu, Eaton Canyon Falls Trail in Angeles National Forest, Silverlake Reservoir for a nice afternoon picnic, Deukmejian Wilderness Park (great hangout and hiking spot), ETA Highland park (great spot for live music)
I am a huge hiker and nature enthusiast, so usually when I have people in town I’m showing them nature spots all over LA!
Food – Pine and Crane (Silverlake), Maurys Bagels (Silverlake), Gracias Madre (West Hollywood), Kitchen Mouse (Highland Park), A bloc (Highland Park), Muddy Paw (Eagle Rock)
These are my favorite food/coffee spots around LA! I have mostly lived near Silverlake/Glendale since moving here so I am more familiar with places on this side of town. I highly recommend all of these spots!.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
Wow, there are so many people who I would want to give a shoutout to! But, I guess above all I would like to dedicate this to my moms. If it had not been for their endless support since I was a child I don’t know where I would be today. When I was 8 years old, I told them I wanted to be a singer. They have supported me tirelessly in this career since I said that. They have always encouraged me to forge my own path, and to not be afraid of the unknown. Their confidence in this life and path for me, showed me that I could pursue a career in the arts, and for that I am so grateful. Both my brother and I have chosen artistic pathways, and I think a lot of people don’t have the gift of having parents who will support you in that. It’s a special gift for sure, they have always taught us to follow our passions and still do.
I would also like to shoutout all the wonderful people who I have crossed musical paths with, you know who you are. Each and everyone one of you: friends, mentors, musical collaborators, students; have incredibly shaped who I am today and my relationship with music. Thank you for believing in me, trusting me, and helping me grow!