Jo MacKenzie Explores the Full Range of Being a 'Tourist' [Q&A]


Once in a while we stumble across something from our inbox that stalls our purge-like behavior (insert your favorite overwhelmed meme here; also why is everyone still dressed as the Tiger King in promo shots?) and puts our tired ears on notice. Jo MacKenzie, has done that not once but twice, first with her work in Baby and the Brain and now again with her latest EP. Wanting to know more about this mysterious prodigy of both electronic communication and music, we reached out to dig into her latest EP,  Tourist.

Ones to Watch: Who is Jo MacKenzie?

Jo MacKenzie:  Jo MacKenzie is an 18-year-old self-produced AAPI indie-pop artist, who creates relatable tunes in her bedroom studio in Kansas. Her music has been featured on Live Nation’s Ones To Watch, BMI’s official #MusicMonday playlist, The CW drama Batwoman, and the theme of Amazon-charting podcast, “Don't Tell My Mother.” She was selected as a 2022 YoungArts Voice Winner and a nominee for the 2022 U.S. Presidential Scholars in the Arts Program.  

What is this lovely Tourist EP all about?

The new collection of songs provides a fresh perspective on familiar topics, all loosely connected by the theme of "tourism" - whether that be as a literal tourist in a new city (e.g. "Tourist") or metaphorically touring a new identity (e.g. "Strange Babies").

"Afterparty" explores the internal struggles of teenagers on the outside of the high-school party scene, grappling with feelings of loneliness. "Arcade Song" is about the regret of going out. "Kinda Wrong Kinda Right" is a love story about finding a balance between rebellion and safety. "Strange Babies" explores teenage insecurity, and "Tourist" is about the disillusionment of big-city promises and the realization that everyone is a tourist.

What made you settle on this sound for the EP?

A lot of the sounds on this EP feel dark and moody with the exception of "Kinda Wrong Kinda Right," but even that has a tinge of angst. I think this has to do with a lot of the stories. For me, the vignettes of going to parties, getting stuck on the subway, and leaving home feel dark and dramatic. This is demonstrated by the filtered drums of "Afterparty," acoustic guitars of "Arcade Song," and room-y piano of "Strange Babies."

Any collaborators? Who produced the EP?

I got to write with some wonderful people for this EP! "Kinda Wrong Kinda Right" was written by me and my friends Aimee Felise and Hayes Kramer. We started the tune in LA, and then I finished it back in Kansas. "Arcade Song," "Tourist," and "Afterparty" were all co-written in New York with my friend Josie Carmichael. I wrote "Strange Babies" all by myself.

I largely produced this EP by myself in my bedroom using Ableton Live. However, I did collaborate with the wonderful Harper James of the indie-pop band Eighty Ninety on the productions of "Kinda Wrong Kinda Right," "Tourist," and "Strange Babies." After lots of remote sessions, we actually finally got to meet up in person (for the second time ever) in Brooklyn for the release of Tourist!


We loved your work in Baby and the Brain, how's this different?

Thanks so much! Making BrainBaby was a blast and taught me a lot about producing, mixing, writing, and engineering. Both are similar in that I produced both of them largely when I was 17, so there are similar sonic and emotional inspirations. However, I think the Jo MacKenzie project is different because I'm singing all the songs, and the songs are slightly more personal - a scary endeavor but definitely exciting and worth it!

Can we expect more of this style in the future, potentially on an upcoming album?

Yes, definitely! Especially the pop sounds of "Kinda Wrong Kinda Right." There may be a new collection coming soon that is reminiscent of those sounds…. :)

Besides this excellent EP, what else should we be on the lookout for?

New music (see previous question)! Also, I have merchandise for sale! Fans can buy them here. There are pins and stickers right now and hopefully there'll be t-shirts soon. (I get to make all my merch at my school. It's really cool, and I'm super grateful!)

What's inspiring you right now outside of music?

The natural world and airports. I love to take walks to just think about things (usually song lyrics crop up during these times). Regarding the airports, I've been traveling a lot and have had some long layovers - luckily conducive to people watching and lyrical sparks.

Its Women's History Month, what's that mean to you?

It means shining a spotlight on the women that are doing amazing things and keeping up with them for the other 11 months. I am so inspired by the other amazing women in the industry: songwriters like Maude Latour, the women of HAIM, and my dear friend Sadie Duca; producers like Alex Hope; music industry superstars like Roxy King and Barbara Cane.

Who are your Ones To Watch?

Right now, I am digging the bands Sawyer and Eighty Ninety and artists Maude Latour and Sadie. And…Taylor Swift. Does that count? :)

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