5 Questions with Singer/Songwriter and Fiber Artist, Jocelyn MacKenzie

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To many, Jocelyn MacKenzie is one third of the indie-pop band Pearl and the Beard.  And that’s true.  But, that’s just one piece of this versatile artist’s story.  When we recently spoke, Jocelyn and I were musing about the many lives that one lives while on this planet. Some pieces of our past selves feel so distant, while others feel like they were just yesterday.  For a storyteller like Jocelyn, finding newfangled ways to express herself never stops.  Her fiber arts and styling speak to the wearer or viewer in a complete and wonderfully fresh way.  Her music, whether utilizing words or not, always feels like a complete narrative.  She has a new EP which will be released tomorrow and some fantastic new projects in the pipeline. Where does her endless inspiration come from? Let’s find out, with these “5 Questions”…

JMK: Jocelyn, as we all know, girls are sorely robbed of proper educations worldwide.  In this country the education gap is slowly decreasing.  (And if we didn’t know this, we should educate ourselves about the disparity).  You teach music to young girls.  Would you please share a bit about this experience?

JM: Volunteering at the Willie Mae Rock Camp for Girls has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my career. I’m not able to do it every year, but when I can’t be there in person I try to raise money or awareness for their organization. They give girls a voice, and seeing it happen in real time is the root of why I make music. I believe that music, especially singing and songwriting, is a language, a birth right for all people. It’s part of how we process intense emotions, including trauma and joy, and it’s part of how we relate to one another as fellow humans. Without relating to each other, we don’t have a society, and without music, our society lacks humanity. Yet with arts education dwindling, and the gender gap widening in terms of expectations of what it means to be a “proper boy” or a “proper girl,” it’s harder and harder to provide a platform where students of any gender can feel that connection to their deeper human selves, their raw animalness that needs to howl when it can’t describe what it’s feeling in mere words. Giving these young musicians space and tools to express themselves through writing and performing original music is something I hope gives them agency, autonomy, and freedom into their adulthood. We play music. Play is the operative word here. And it is important that young girls know they are valuable, able, and capable at this act of self-love at a young age so that they carry the strength of that practice with them as they grow. It helps everyone when one person learns they are free to sing.

JMK: Publicly, you are known as a musician and a fiber artist, which I love!  You are clearly called to the work that you do.  It feels so authentic.  If you weren’t answering that call, what other career do you think you might find fulfilling, and why?

JM: Thank you for noticing that! I am called to make music and to work with my hands, and that’s a great question that I do think about sometimes! I’ve always been fascinated with languages and how people communicate, so in another life, I might become a linguist and try to learn as many languages as possible. I’m especially interested in tonal languages like Japanese, or sound-based languages such as the whistling language of Northern Turkey. Alternately, I am obsessed with the deep sea and with deep space, so perhaps a marine biologist or an astrologer. That said, I am a mermaid, so I’d probably explore the ocean before outer space, but both feel appealing.

JMK: What does the phrase “you’re enough” mean to you?

JM: Isn’t it funny how something that sounds so simple can be so thick? “You’re enough” means you don’t have to try to be yourself, you already are. You don’t have to try to be loved, you already are. I think we face a huge challenge today with so many outlandish expectations on what it means to do things “properly” in society (be female, be successful, be American…). My work is to strip away which messages are being spoken from my own inner voice and which ones are not. The voices that say, “You would be more attractive if you lost some weight… you’re not as talented as this other musician so why don’t you just make music your hobby… one day you’ll give up this dream of being an artist and get a real job… you’re not successful unless you’re earning a certain amount of money… you’re too loud / outgoing / sexual / colorful / confident / excitable / sensitive…” These are not my voices. These are all statements I have actually heard directly from other people in my life, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. This doesn’t even include all of the passive messages we receive every day from countless sources. And I don’t believe any of that. None of it resonates with the core of my being. And yet, I’m human, so I’m permeable. It’s very easy for me to absorb these messages, and when that happens my brain can lose track of the source material and begins to believe that these ideas are true, and are mine. Imagine saying all of that to a newborn infant? No one would do such a thing. “You are enough” means my body is already perfect, my passions are part of me, my whole self is already a perfectly imperfect whole. My worth is not definable or quantifiable. I don’t have to try to be better, I have to try to do less work to impress everyone who thinks their opinion of me matters more than my inner sense of self. “You’re enough” reminds me to separate the truth from the noise, separate my self love from others’ fears. I was born enough, and so were you.

JMK: (Wipes tears from her eyes…) As someone who omits a spunky sense of calm, what do you do to center yourself?

JM: For the last four years I’ve had a daily morning meditation practice that is invaluable to me. I change it up, and am pretty casual about it, but without it my default state of nervous energy comes back very quickly. In the last two years I’ve also incorporated a process of daily journaling called Morning Pages as outlined in Julie Cameron’s “The Artist’s Way” which has been a life enhancing practice for me. It’s three pages of stream of consciousness writing every morning, which allows me to clear away the noise and the nonsense and get down to the brass tacks of my emotional state. Music and singing also center me throughout the day… I often sing what I would say. It lifts my spirits, tunes me into my inner core, and gives me a laugh. I also try not to take myself too seriously. It’s work, but it’s worthwhile work! Even in the darkest times I try to find humor and humility in my situation, and in the face of adversity for others I try my best to see and feel all sides of the story. That work helps me break down barriers and come back to where I truly stand on any issue, rather than allowing intense anger, grief, elation, or joy to pull me in any particular direction. Also, I am putting “spunky sense of calm” on my business card now.

JMK: How does your favorite color make you feel and why?

JM: My favorite color is Robin’s Egg Blue or Sea Foam Green, depending on who you ask, and the closes paint swatch to match is Martha Stewart’s Batter Bowl Green. I have loved this color since childhood when Crayola introduced new shades into their box and had a “Name that Color” contest. I submitted the name “Mermaid Blue,” and it was not accepted. That color brings me home, as I am a mermaid and it returns me back to the sea. It gives me a spunky sense of calm I suppose! Guess I know what color to make those business cards now.

Website:  http://www.jocelynmackenzie.com/

Instagram: @jocelynmcknz

Photo credit:  Ester Segretto

Jocelyn Mackenzie is a Brooklyn-based singer, songwriter, percussionist, stylist, artist, and songwriting coach. Best known as the singing drummer from indie-pop trio Pearl and the Beard, she has a rich national and international touring history and has written for film, television, and theater. She is also a devising member of Trusty Sidekick Theater Company, Music Curator of Puppet Playlist Cabaret, and contributing member of freak folk band The Peggy’s and sock puppet rock band Uncle Monsterface. 

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