Recently, I had the pleasure of speaking with queer singer/songwriter Kenyth Mogan about his recent music video “Unlock Your Heart,” his upcoming album “Neverland,” and his experience as a queer artist.
Q: Your music video for the song “Unlock Your Heart” came out earlier this year. What inspired the song?
Kenyth Mogan: Well that one actually was not written by me. It was written by a friend of mine Matthew Hayes and his writing partner Aaron Harris, uhm, so that, he had a demo he was doing with Jive Records, and I discovered it originally because the original demo had the singer Tiffany on it, and she’s been hugely supportive and just been a wonderful wonderful wonderful person, so that’s how I found it. So when I was looking for a single I was desperately trying to find songs and I was like, I don’t want to do another cover, I don’t want to do another cover, and uhm, I just kind of hit shuffle on my iPod and it came up and I was like ah, it’s perfect! So Matt gave me the permission and I recorded it and that’s just kind of how it turned out!
Q: Did you always intend to have a Wizard of Oz theme for the video?
KM: No, I actually had this whole Bewitched idea in my head, and uhm, I was so adamant that I was gonna be doing Bewitched I was like that’s it, that’s what I’m doing, and my manager was like, “uhm… that doesn’t really fit, let me think on it, let me see what I can come up with”… and then he came up about 15 minutes later and he called me and said “ok I’ve been thinking, I have this idea” and then he just pitched everything. He wasn’t very descriptive until he said, “and then you open it up and there’s the ruby slippers” and then I was like ahhh perfect!
Q: What did you want to do with Bewitched?
KM: Well I had this whole, I’m just, I’m a huge fan of the show, and I actually got to meet Erin Murphy recently who was Tabitha, so I had this whole idea that I would have her be Tabitha and I would be her kid and I would be casting spells on this person and he was like, Bewitched, they’re already in love, you can’t use that. So hopefully one day we’ll have that one.
Q: Did you cast for Ronnie Kroell’s part? Or did one of you approach the other?
KM: I did, I did it. I reached out to him kind of on a whim, I was like, you know what, I’m just gonna see what will happen if I reach out to this person and it was almost immediately that he responded, he was like, “yes.” Yea, it was pretty cool.
Q: What do you hope people will see as the message of this video?
KM: Well a lot of people are tying it into the books, which I found fascinating. I didn’t think as many people would get the book references, uhm, because in the original story his limbs were cut off and so he was made of tin and in our version the tin is cut off to return him to, to return him to being a real boy. But I hope that they’ll take away that it’s something fun and that, you know, that no matter how… I’m trying to get the right words to say it… if you just work at it a little bit you can open up your heart and find that special someone that might be right there, you just don’t know it yet.
Q: Have you had any concerns about the chainsaw portion of the video? It’s obviously very lighthearted, but has anyone seen it as a little coercive?
KM: We were worried, we were really worried about that, because there was this whole extra scene where we had shown this picture of us at like, a Pride festival, so you knew he was already gay, and it just never got put in the video. And no one thought about it and one person was like, wait a minute, so there’s a magic chainsaw that turned him gay, and I was like, oh no this is going to be a nightmare, and then the guy was like, I want one! So that was really the only thing that was slightly about that, but we were worried, but luckily most people figured that it was… because we have the hearts and everything comes out of it… but yea, that definitely was a concern.
Q: Are there any artists that have particularly affected or inspired you as your career has started to take off?
KM: Uhm, yes many. I’m a huge fan of Tiffany, uhm, I’ve gotten to meet her a couple times, and I’ve done little things throughout the business, and I’ve always been able to kind of, when I was doing press I’d be like, hey I want to do an interview that I can send to this magazine, and you know, things like that, and she’s always been really really really supportive. Both Samantha Newark and Britta Phillips, who were both the speaking voice and the singing voice of Jem, the animated cartoon, have been incredibly supportive. I’ve absolutely loved them. As far as inspiration, I absolutely adore Steve Grand, I love his voice and his music, uhm, who else…. I’ve gotten really into Taylor Swift and Carly Rae Jepsen recently. And I’m actually working on writing a new song, just started actually this morning, after listening to a Carly Rae Jepsen song. She’s kind of inspiring because she’s relatively new and she’s my age, so that gives me hope, I’m like ok, she’s not like, she’s not some little fifteen year old, she’s a grown-up, so that makes me happy.
Q: Have you faced different challenges as a queer artist than others in the artistic community?
KM: Do you know, I don’t know. I don’t really look at it like that. I think if anything, uhm, if anything it’s helped me. The video kind of, we weren’t really expecting much. And it was funny because Ronnie threw this big premiere party for the video, and then afterward my manager and I were involved in this really horrific car accident. I was in the front car and this guy hit us from behind, threw us out into oncoming traffic, we hit two other cars, it was a nightmare. So on the way home from this amazing event, it was like the greatest night of my life and then it was the worst five hours later, and uhm, and so I didn’t really get to know, I didn’t realize everything that was going on with video because I was like, thank god my agent’s daughter, who’s a good good friend of mine came and got us, and then we were kind of there for the next day just recuperating, and I didn’t really know about everything that went on. Then when I got home it was on Out and the Huffington Post and I was like oh my goodness, so I think being the gay artist has helped me more than any real kind of challenge. I had one producer a long time ago say that I was too alternative and they didn’t want to work with me, and that was the one and only time that I’ve kind of been like oh… okay… but other than that I think it’s been amazing.
Q: From your strong affiliation with pride festivals, and very open identity as a queer artist, it seems that it is important as a part of your work and image. Some prefer that to be tied to their work or feel that it is inextricable, while others try to distance themselves. What is important to you, as an artist?
KM: Yea, and see I, I grew up in Montana, which you would not think would be the most open and accepting place, but I have a cousin and a grandmother who fought very very hard for me, so I will always be true, you will never see a female love interest in a video, and I will never sing about a female love interest, because if I did it, I feel like that would be disrespecting everyone who kind of stood up for me, so I’m very much wanting to be honest with what I am and who I am with the music, because I want, you know, a little boy or girl in Montana to be like, well he did it, and he’s ok, so maybe there really is something better in all of that. So that’s, that’s really important to me.
Q: Do you have any message for queer youths who might be struggling with bullying, or their sense of identity?
Yea, it just, everyone’s really quick to say it gets better, and it does, but you have to remember that in the moment, it’s going to be dark, it’s going to be awful, but as long as you are happy with who you are, you’re going to hit a point where the people who are against you, where their acceptance isn’t going to bother you anymore. You’re going to realize that you are so much more than what they see, and so that’s what I hope is that people, that they realize, I want a little kid… well not just a little kid, you know what I mean, to be like just to see that as long as you’re happy with who you are, you’re the only one who has to live your life. Their opinions don’t really matter.
Q: Yea, absolutely. So where did you head after Montana?
KM: I moved right out to LA. It was a HUGE culture shock. I moved out here, literally, I think I had 50 cents in my bank account and I was like, peace out, and I left. Nottttt, if I had to do it over again, I would maybe have a little bit more money. But I was like, whatever, I don’t care, I’m gonna do it, sayonara.
Well, it looks like long run it’s worked out.
KM: Yea, it’s starting to, which is cool. The video has like, it’s this little tiny thing and it’s gotten a massive response and you know, it’s still, I haven’t hit millions of likes or anything like that, but the response I’ve gotten has been incredible. Carnie Wilson tweeted about it, uhm, all these people who I admired, and so for me just seeing what, you know, and because you know, in the queer community it’s not, I’m not the typical pop star there either. You know I don’t have the eight pack and all that stuff, and so that was another concern, I was like, I dunno, are they gonna like it, are they gonna be evil, what’s going to happen? And people have loved it. That’s what they like about it, that it’s different, and I’m like yes, this is amazing!
Q: So what’s coming up after this for you? Do you have anything currently in the works?
KM: I do. I’m actually almost done with my second EP, I just have two more songs to kind of tweak and then once that’s done we’re going to start filming the next video, and I’m really excited, uhm, I’ve got Nicholas Downs from the movie, uhm, ah, he’s gonna kill me, I do not remember the name of the movie… Maybe It’s Just Me or Maybe It’s Me*… and uhm, he was another one I kind of reached out to just like, hey, I like your stuff, I’d like to work with you, and he agreed, so we’re gonna hopefully do that. Write now the EP is entitled It was Neverland, I’m reaallllyyy excited about it. We might shorten it to just Neverland, which is probably what’s going to happen, but I’ve written or co-written on all of the songs except one, which was really really important to me, I really wanted to step up as a songwriter because the first EP, which was called Fall Apart, I co-wrote one song and then everything else was written for me or was a cover, and i really wanted to step up and do that, really work on writing. And I’m really really proud, I wrote a song called “It Was Love” which will be one of the singles and I wrote the lyrics and then my co-writer Phil Evans, who is in the band The Roads Below, and his partner Gabby Mooney wrote the melody, and it is my absolute most favorite thing I’ve ever written. Is it the perfect song? No, but I’m super super proud of it. It was the first one that I really really wrote the lyrics on my own, you know, 100% on my own, so I’m really proud of it.
Q: That’s fantastic. Do you have a projected release date?
KM: Not yet. I keep pushing it back because the one thing that hurt the Fall Apart EP was that I did it and put it out and it’s kind of jumbled and everything kind of sounds the same, and there’s no arc, and so I keep pushing it back because I keep wanting to change this and that, I want it to be at least what I feel is perfect before I release it. So hopefully, I’m thinking next January, maybe February, I am gonna put “Unlock Your Heart” on there, either come up with maybe a remix or something, just to have it on there, just because people love that song and it’s amazing, just like, you like me! It makes me really happy.
*The name of Nicholas Downs’s film is It’s Just Me.