Chaz McKinney’s vision for the next two years will introduce his music to thousands of new fans, come Hell or high water, because unlike some of today’s biggest stars he has the talent to make it happen.
Following last summer’s release of his debut album Aquarius, the 20-year-old sat down for an interview with POPULOVE to tell us about life as a self-made indie artist, how he accidentally won the hearts of countless Lady Gaga fans, and the motivation behind his music.
Chaz has written and recorded music from a young age. Aquarius was released when the singer was 19 years old, and the title track was written at 17. Like any true artist, Chaz McKinney has a passion for his work and credits music with providing him at a young age with an incomparable release from the problems that plagued him.
“I make music because it is a biological compulsion. I could not not make music. I had a lot of anger issues as a kid, but as soon as I understood how to take this noise in my head and channel it through lyrics or guitar, piano, whatever, life became a lot simpler. I became a lot calmer of a person,” he said.
The Tennessee talent says he’s witnessed the career paths of mainstream performers, some genuine artists and others not, and isn’t interested in following pre-determined footsteps.
“The label system is hard to break into. There are so many politics in actually getting a record deal. People think it’s such an easy process, but it’s not based on talent or ability,” Chaz said. “My focus has shifted. It is so easy with the right amount of work and the right people around you to make it as an indie artist now. Macklemore, on the business end of things, is a great example of an indie project that worked.”
Aquarius is an electronic, well-developed collection of unique songs that make the listener feel something unexpected. Chaz writes lyrics with the emotion of a country star, sings with the intensity of a rockstar, and produces electronic music with an intricacy that denies any man’s claim that pop music is not “real” music.
Chaz McKinney stands out from the musical crowd not by any manufactured means or good planning. He stands out by accident. While he spoke to me about his music, I noticed that every song had a story and a different level of importance to him. When Chaz writes, he naturally converts his feelings into music. Some might argue that all artists do the same, but there is a noticeable difference between songs that carry a feeling and songs that merely paint a picture of a feeling.
“‘Aquarius’ (the song) perfectly expresses the sound of what a two- to- three year period of my life felt like. It perfectly expresses it sonically through different movements, and I think that’s the most technically impressive thing I put out on that record,” Chaz said.
For our interview, we thought Chaz should include a free song for POPULOVE readers to download, and he happily agreed. Click here to listen to Chaz McKinney cover “Feel Good Inc.” by the Gorillaz. Click here for a free download.
“I love the Gorillaz,” Chaz said when asked why he chose this specific song to cover. “I remember in fourth and fifth grade, you learned all the words to ‘Feel Good Inc.,’ and you came to school, and whoever could rap the verse the best was the coolest kid for a few hours.”
Strangely enough, the most recognition Chaz has received to date has not been for his own music. Instead, he’s recognized online by Lady Gaga fans for a cover he did of the singer’s unreleased track “Princess Die.” Listen here.
“It sat in internet purgatory for a year before people finally heard it,” he said. “All of a sudden, in July of 2013, it started showing up all over the place online. They pitched my voice, and people were posting it saying ‘Lady Gaga plays new demo of ‘Princess Die’ in her car.'”
“Princess Die” was performed during Gaga’s Born This Way Ball tour and was intended for release on ARTPOP before the star broke her hip in February 2013. Chaz’s version is the only professionally-produced electronic version of the song that fans have.
“I was bored one day and went to get a burrito, and I randomly — everybody Googles themselves — anyways, I get 15 pages of ‘Princess Die’ related things. I did not expect the amount of dedication people would have for that song. I didn’t expect my cover would become like a culturally known thing within the Little Monster fanbase,” Chaz said.
As for future releases, Chaz is planning a new EP for release this year followed by his second album in 2016, which he says will take a new direction from Aquarius that is both more pop and more acoustic. To find the new direction, the singer spent months without listening to the radio or any music he didn’t hear by accident.
“I’m making a record with a lot more organic instruments. It doesn’t have the same degree of programming as Aquarius did,” he said. “It’s a lot more pop, like commercially easy to digest, but on another hand it is way more avant-garde and experimental. There are a lot more Eastern influences on this one.”
Chaz is collaborating with friends on his next album, which will add an additional element to his already one-of-a-kind sound. Whether you’re a fan of Aquarius or only just now falling in love with Chaz McKinney, the artist promises this: his music will always be honest.
“I’m going to keep doing my own thing and hope people like it. Whatever the music sounds like, however odd or out of place it may seem, however digestible or not digestible it is, it’s completely authentic,” Chaz said. “For a lot of years when I was in development deals, I had a problem that I was always doing what people wanted me to do. My music is more important to me now, and everyone on my team has my best interest as a person and an artist in mind. I am only going to do what I want to do, and it will be completely honest to me.”
You can listen to all of Aquarius online here, as well as purchase the album if you’d like to add it to your offline collection. Check out Chaz’s official website here, and add him on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, YouTube or Instagram for updates on new music. Don’t forget to download his cover of “Feel Good Inc.” here.
Want more free music? Neon Hitch just released a new EP for free! Get it here.