Congratulations on the release of your album portraits! For an album based on your transformation from child star to now and the self-discovery you’ve done while taking a
break from music, how has the break helped your artistry?
Thank you so much. I wouldn’t be where I am now had I not taken that break. Going to university for two years helped me to rediscover my purpose as an artist and as a musician. When I had originally left LA at 18, I was content on never returning to music ever again fulltime; it was a decision that I had come to terms with. When I was in college, and when there was subsequently no pressure to create, I found my voice again within that freedom. portraits is a direct result of that.
Your live performances are filled with funny banter with the crowd, honest conversations about your life in between songs, and uplifting songs from your album. What do you hope fans take away from portraits?
My biggest goal is that listeners are able to take the songs and their stories and relate them back to their own life. There is not one specific message behind portraits; rather, it is a collection of torn pages from my journal from 2018. It tells the story of my year, in which I experienced transformation, love, heartbreak, loss, and redemption. It’s an extremely human work, and I hope the listener understands that when they consume it.
Recreating your image as an artist is a huge part of growing up under a spotlight. What kind of image are you trying to portray now?
For the first time in my career, I am finally being myself, in respect to every aspect. I don’t think often about my “image” or what I’m seeking to portray. I just follow my instinct and do things that feel right to me in the moment. My image is who I am: a songwriter from Oklahoma.
What was the songwriting and recording process like for you?
I wish I had a more exciting answer for this question, but the truth is that every song is individualistic in regards to creation. Meaning that there is not necessarily a “process,” rather, I just follow the music. I hear melodies in my head 24/7; I can’t stop it, and I love that I can’t. For portraits, I was traveling a lot throughout the summer we were writing. I was feeling very inspired by the different places I was visiting and the people I was meeting. I always carry a notebook with me, and by the time we reached August of 2018, the pages were full. I also had a large collection of voice memos and piano lines that I knew I was going to use. From then on, the record took shape naturally.
Which song off the album means the most to you and why?
At the moment, “west texas.” I wrote the song about one of my biggest fears in my life: losing my mother. I thought about what she might say to me in her final moments, and I reflected on it for a long time. In a way, the song, after its completion, sort of healed that fear of mine. I was able to sing it to her when the tour hit Tulsa, and I will never forget that moment.
What inspired you to start making music again?
I think I was inspired by two main sources: time and redemption. After I got offered my record deal during my sophomore year, I remember thinking to myself, “You are only going to be 20/21 for so long; take a risk, take this opportunity.” I also knew that I had enough material underneath my belt that was the strongest I had ever written. Regarding the redemptive aspect of it all, I felt a sense of urgency to create and release a body of work that I truly felt proud of on an artistic level. I didn’t want my legacy in music just to be that YouTube video; I think that really influenced me to go back fulltime.
Will you be returning to college?
As long as people still buy tickets to my show, I won’t go back.
Now that you have 100% control on everything that happens with your music, how has that changed how you make decisions or what you decide to actually do?
I just follow my instinct, and I put my foot down when I think it is necessary. I wouldn’t say that I am difficult to work with, but I most definitely know what I want and my team really respects that opinion. For so long I would look to others for artistic advice and direction; I don’t really do that anymore. I look inward and try to let the art and inspiration guide me. I think it’s been working so far.
To me, “lakeshore” is one of the most emotional songs on the album. It reminds me of a couple laying down by a lake, one laying across the other’s chest and you’re singing about your heart not wanting to leave. Your songs give me a huge sense of imagery, what other sort of elements do you try to incorporate into your songs?
As a songwriter, I am most inspired by Joni Mitchell and Brandi Carlile because they are storytellers. That’s what I strive to be as a writer. Joni Mitchell is famous for her work as a painter as well, and I think those two mediums -- painting and songwriting -- make so much sense together, for they are the same. The best music invokes a visual interpretation, and it’s cool to me that you saw that within lakeshore. I just try to tell a story and hope that the listener can apply such story to their own life.
Finally, you’re slowly rising to stardom again, do you feel prepared for what’s to come?
Absolutely. In the most Oklahoma fashion, it’s not my first rodeo.