McKenzie Van Oss - Pirouetting Into Indie Pop
McKenzie Van Oss is a 24-year-old professional ballerina breaking into the music scene. After dancing to other people’s music for years, she’s decided to take the melody into her own hands and release some original songs. “Nobody’s Winning” is her second single, following “A Pop Song,” which she released on Soundcloud in June. This single is a blend of many different musical and vocal stylings that don’t appear to work on paper, but blend together perfectly in the song. Her vocals are raw and lend authenticity to the song. I got the chance to sit down and chat with her recently about the release, influences and starting out in the industry.
“Nobody’s Winning” seems to combine new styles while mixing some older styles in with it too. Who would you say are your biggest influences for that and how did you draw from them in the song?
A big struggle for me pursuing music and recording and stuff was trying to figure out what my style was and what kind of audience I was going for. Mostly when I write I forget about that kind of stuff and I just write because that’s who I am. I was listening to [“Nobody’s Winning”] and I thought ‘this song combines all of the genres that I’ve been influenced by as a kid up till now.’ I grew up listening to rock n’ roll. My brother plays guitar on the track and he’s basically Eddie Van Halen but Robby Van Oss. So I got to have that in there and that side of me. Recently, I got into R&B type beats and stuff like that. And then admitting that I like pop. I kind of figured out my own style without really trying and I came through in the song. I realized who I was and that was cool for me. My brother’s also a huge influence for me for sure.
What inspired you to start making music?
I was trained in classical piano growing up and I would do competitions in Wisconsin with my brothers. My brothers had drum lessons and guitar lessons so I did drum lessons and guitar lessons. I was in band. Ballet was always my passion. Once I got into a ballet company, every single time something happened that I didn’t feel creatively fulfilled in ballet, I would turn to music and write music. Or whenever something happened in my life I would just find myself turning to music like a therapy type thing like me writing in a journal. And then I had a ukulele and it was easy for me to start with a ukulele and bring it places. For any circumstances in my life I wanted to work out, I'd go to music. Music has always been there for me, which is basically what I was trying to say.
You mentioned you were a professional ballerina. Does your day job have an influence on what you’re creating?
Yes. Because the reason why I love ballet is because I get to become the music I can dance to and now I’m writing the music I dance to. I want to write something I can dance to. I can feel it in my body - you know what I mean? This is weird. It’s weird. I feel music in my body so I consider music like a five senses experience kind of thing.
What’s the story behind your single?
I came back to my hometown for quarantine. I was in a relationship and I don’t want people to think about it necessarily as a relationship, but that was what inspired it. I’m no longer in that relationship. I like the idea that it’s kind of broad and open ended and related to what’s going on in the world now. People can take what they want. Especially right now. Perfect timing.
With this song, I love the funky production with it and everything. I saw your brother was the one who produced it. Did you find it easy to work with him and share your vision with him?
Yes! This is incredible! The fact that I have a producer in my family -- I’m the luckiest person ever. I should be taking advantage of this. We recorded it in the basement. We don’t even have a mic stand or anything. We would just be down there laughing so hard at everything we were trying. When something would work, he’d add this beat that he came up with and we would just blast it and just start dancing around in the basement. If I could do that for life, I’d be so fulfilled and happy. He’s so much fun to work with and he gets me on a level that no one can. We used to play little shows together when we were kids - like variety shows for events and stuff. When we’d play drums and guitar together, we have this connection like we just get each other. And he’ll say something that doesn’t make sense to anyone else and I’ll just get it. Or I’ll be like ‘I really just want it to be’ -- and I’ll say something weird and he’ll be like ‘yes! I got you. I’ll make it happen.’ It’s incredible. I wish everyone had this experience.
That sounds so much fun. How was it starting out in the industry as a new artist and what’s been your biggest challenge so far?
It is hard. Everyone says it’s gonna be hard and it is. I think the biggest challenge is trying to do it without paying someone $600 to promote me. It’s hard to promote yourself with no money. But I’m connecting with people that I never would have expected -- like talking to you is so cool. I’m handing out flyers and stuff in my hometown. And I’m just making connections like that that are little and I think every single one is huge. It makes me feel good that I can connect with someone and they can connect with my music and it’s this little mutually beneficial exchange. Just because I put myself out there. Obviously, there’s people that don’t appreciate it, but I have to remember that the good always outweighs the bad instead of the other way around. It’s a journey. It’s going to be hard. But it’s worth it.
Do you have any advice for other people who want to break in?
Do it! If you want to do it, if it’s something you always wanted to do and you didn’t put your music out there because it wasn’t perfect enough or you didn’t think it was perfect yet - who cares? Just keep making art because that’s what we’re meant to do. That’s what you’re meant to do. And if you don’t put anything out there, then you’re just hurting yourself.
What’s been your favorite moment so far on your journey?
The initial moment when I first released something I cried. I was like ‘oh my god. I did it.’ I figured out I wanted to do this during quarantine, and then found a way to get it done and actually put it out there. That was my goal. I did it. I cried, Hearing it from the speaker, I was like ‘that’s me!’ I got my song played in a bar and I wondered ‘so this is what it’s like.’ Or even today, I was checking people out on Instagram and somebody random messaged me and was like “I don’t know why you followed me, but I’m really glad you did. I really love your music and you inspired me to pick up guitar again.” That is why I’m doing this. Whatever bad things I’ve experienced, that is why. If I could touch one person today, that’s great.
That’s so cool. That must feel amazing knowing that you inspired someone to pick up an instrument again.
Yeah! I just want people to feel what I feel you know? Like that happiness I had in that moment. That’s what I want other people to have.
What’s next for you musically?
Well, right now it’s smart to keep promoting one single but I have been writing so many songs. Sometimes my brother can’t keep up with me at all. I eventually want to do an album. I have a song called “A Pop Song” that’s on Soundcloud that my brother’s remastering right now. We’re going to put it on Spotify. I want to start doing little gigs around my city and creating a little set with just me and one with my brother where we switch around instruments and do different styles, like punk stuff. My goal is to be big enough to create a concert that involves me doing ballet, going around different instruments, my brother doing heavy guitar solos and incorporating everything that I am into this crazy show.
STREAM “NOBODY’S WINNING” HERE