How Singer-Songwriter Mackenzie Shivers Makes Her Own Music And Her Own Magic
The Singer-songwriter opens up about the birth of her new album, the Unkindness, and how music makes her believe in something greater than this life on earth.
Occupations, affiliations, and projects.
I’m a singer-songwriter releasing my sophomore album The Unkindness on February 8th 2019. I’m a pianist, and I also play accordion, bodhrán (an Irish frame drum), and harmonium.
I’m a member of SAG/AFTRA, the Apartment Sessions, the Recording Academy, and (according to Pottermore) I’m a Hufflepuff. Even though I asked the sorting hat to put me in Gryffindor.
People Who Do focuses on those who take action to pursue meaningful life passionS. why is it important to you to “do”?
For a long time I thought songwriting would be something I kept private—something therapeutic just for me. But people would tell me how my songs made them feel; it was as cathartic for them to listen as it was for me to write. So it felt selfish to keep them private. Music is much bigger and more important than I am. I’m just the vehicle—the messenger, so to speak. My “doing” is putting my music out into the world.
To date, what accomplishments are you most proud of?
I’m the most proud of my new album, The Unkindness. I had a really clear image of what I wanted the album to be, and I was really proud of being a producer on it. It’s quite surreal that it’s come to life. For a year and a half, the idea of this album was all-consuming. I thought about it constantly, and I felt like I couldn’t move forward creatively until I made it. So I went into the studio nine months ago, and now it’s being born. It’s my baby.
How does music change the way you approach different challenges in life?
It’s taught me the importance of listening and learning when to follow or when to lead. Life is a dance in that way.
How do you know that music is your passion?
Music is what makes me believe in something greater than this life of ours on earth. I feel like music transcends space and time and is, in that way, a religious experience. Whatever drives me to write music—whatever that muse is—I don’t know where it comes from, but it’s something that simultaneously feels a part of me and something that feels much bigger than I am.
Florence Welch calls songwriting “useless magic” and I relate to that so much. Sometimes I write about things in my life that haven’t even happened yet—events that are about to occur, but I don’t know that’s what I’m writing about at the time. It’s hard to explain. Again, it’s bigger than I am!
#1 motivating mantra to get through tough moments.
I have two: “this too shall pass” and “just keep swimming".
What’s your favorite thing you’ve learned so far this year?
It’s early in the year, but I’ve learned a few phrases in Japanese. I’m going on tour to Tokyo at the end of February!
What’s your favorite lesson you’ve ever learned?
Perfect is the enemy of the good. Perfection doesn’t exist, and if it did, I think it would be boring and scrubbed of character. I don’t want that in my music or in the way I live my life. Perfection is a buzz kill.
What's the best piece of advice you have for someone starting out as a musician?
It’s great to have role models and look to other artists for advice and guidance. Definitely pay attention to what worked for them, but remember that no one is you, and your path is never going to look exactly the same as someone else’s. Sometimes you’ll have to veer off the path you think you’ve set for yourself. That can be scary, but it can also be incredibly freeing. If there were only one formula, we’d all be using it! Work hard. Get to know yourself. Listen. Absorb. Live. Rinse. Repeat.
Favorite method for logging any kind of inspiration.
My iPhone. The voice memo and notepad apps are what keep me from throwing my phone out the window some days—I hate how addicted I am to it. But it’s incredible to have a notepad and voice recorder that both fit in the palm of my hand and are with me wherever I go.
Who are your heroes?
Anyone who chooses what is right over what is easy.
What’s the best piece of advice that you can give anyone right now?
Stop caring what other people think. How much time and energy do we spend dissecting other people’s perceptions of us? I’m a bit of a people pleaser, so I’m not saying it’s easy. But I’m learning to care less about the judgement and opinions of others. It comes easier with age.
What’s the next goal?
I’d like to do a European tour. And host a podcast that focuses on women musicians and their recording processes in the studio. And record a Christmas EP. And film a new music video. I always have a list of things I want to accomplish. The hardest part is knowing when to give myself a break or to slow down a bit.
By "do-ing", you create your own unique legacy. How do you want your legacy to look?
A marriage of strength and kindness.