KRISTINE ELEZAJ TALKS “OVER & OVER” & LOOKING TO THE FUTURE 0 253

Having first been noticed while performing at the Sugar Bar in New York, Kristine Elezaj has grown considerably both personally and professionally over the last couple of years, with such growth being displayed most evidently through her music. The video for her new track “Over & Over” has already amassed hundreds of thousands of views, and she chatted to ThisIsTheLatest about artistic inspiration, her dreams of playing MSG and her excitement about the future.

TITL: For those who have yet to discover you and your music, who is Kristine Elazaj in a few words?

Kristine Elezaj: I’m a passionate and curious person who has never stopped dreaming. I never stopped wanting to soak in everything life has to show me and put it into my art.

TITL: Which artists have you been most inspired by throughout your life and how do those inspirations filter through to the music you make?

KE: When you love music, you are inspired by every artist in some way. Growing up and with my dance background, Janet Jackson was always one of my idols. I love to be able to create music but also have the ability to bring it to life through dance. Through movement, I’m able to add another layer to the story, and that is very inspiring to me.

TITL: You first started out at the Sugar Bar in NYC, where you were discovered by hit song-writing duo Ashford and Simpson as you performed Aretha Franklin’s “Respect.” Looking back on that time from where you are now, did you ever imagine a single performance like that could change your life so drastically?

KE: At the time, I didn’t know when I started that performance that night that Nick and Valerie were actually in the audience. Not knowing that they were there helped my performance because my stage fright might have kicked in. I would have felt the weight of the performance even more. Looking back on it and just some other things that have happened, it’s really important to live in the present moment and to realize how precious each moment is. You never know what’s around the corner for you. It was a small intimate venue, performing that evening, started one of the greatest ripple effects of my life and I’m forever grateful.

TITL: You then came to more public attention in 2016 when you placed within the top 20 of Macy’s iHeart Radio Rising Star contest. How much of a boost in confidence, and also in your audience/fan base, did your involvement in that contest give you?

KE: The Macy’s iHeart contest was a huge boost in confidence for me! I was coming out of a place where my career had tested my soul. It was reassuring to know that I was still on the right path and have people appreciate the art I was making. It wasn’t about winning; just being noticed was a win enough. I had another chance to be on a platform to do what I love and hopefully inspire others a little. Even more special, it inspired me all over again!

TITL: You’ve been referred to by Billboard as a cross between Britney and Rihanna. Would you say that’s a fair comment, or would you like to be seen more as an artist in your own right?

KE: Of course you want to be seen as an artist in your own right. I have my own life experiences and point of views that I want to give to the world, and I didn’t take that article in a bad light. They are two of the most successful female artists and I saw it as a compliment to be thought of as being able to be at the same level.

TITL: Who or what is your biggest inspiration when it comes to music and song-writing?

KE: It might sound simple but for me, just really living my life, and trying to be as much in the moment is the biggest inspiration for writing. Even if I’m going through a hard time, it’s a blessing to be able to try to witness all of my emotions and feel them completely. I’ve loved that my sessions have become a safe place for me and my team. All of them start out as just conversations with a core group that I trust. It has been the best environment for creating music because it’s pure raw emotion.

TITL: The video for your new single “Over and Over” has already had close to half million views since its release. What do you think it is about the visuals in particular that have drawn people in to watch it?

KE: I’m so excited about this video; it’s been the first one in my career to be growing in the way that it has. I think it has a lot to do with the energy and space that I’m in. I have such a great relationship with my team, I’m able to just be myself and create authentically. I have a team that supports my visions and that’s so inspiring for me! I believe my fans can sense that with my music this time around. I’m not trying to create a character, I’m just being myself, showing people what I think is beautiful. In the pop culture world, especially today, I think that is hugely important and is what’s making the difference for me.

TITL: The director of the video, Jose Omar Hernandez, is perhaps best known for his work with Justin Bieber on the likes of “Purpose”, so how did the two of you come together? How did you find collaborating with him to shoot the clip?

KE: I’ve known Jose for years, actually back to the start of my career. Jose wasn’t even directing then. He’s an incredible dancer and has worked with all of the top artists. He’s been a part of many live stage and music video performances. I later found out that he had a passion for directing and was shooting things on the side. Jose’s background and knowledge of dance plays a major role in how he shoots and edits his videos. His style of shooting inspired me to want to work with him. We first collaborated on my song, “Echo” and creatively fed off of each other. From then on, I knew I wanted to grow with him when it came down to all my visual content. Since then, we’ve done four videos together. Every time it gives me the same feeling I had when I was a little girl just having fun with the arts. I’m so grateful for him as a collaborator and more importantly as a dear friend.

TITL: Do you have any upcoming performances you can tell me about and are there any plans for you to head across the water to Europe?

KE: There are not hard dates set right now for performances but that is definitely on the agenda for the near future! My focus has been to engage more with my fans outside of the states. Some of my most loyal fans who have been with me since the beginning are overseas. I’d like to go out there and give back all the love they have shown me over the years. There are some remixes in the works as we speak which I’m really excited about.

TITL: Which one venue, anywhere in the world, would you most like to play and why?

KE: I think every artist dreams of performing at Madison Square Garden. I’m a native New Yorker so that would be incredible. I’m not greedy though. Just being able to perform anywhere someone cares enough to go see you is a blessing, especially considering how hard this business is.

TITL: With the year inching ever nearer to a close, what have been your biggest highlight so far, and what are you still hoping to achieve in the remaining 3 months?

KE: I’ve learned a lot this year. The biggest highlight for me has been how amazing my team is. I just feel that for the first, time I’m in a really good and safe place. I’m watching that result in how my work is being received. I’m excited to see how that energy keeps me growing artistically. In the next three months, I’m looking to have more new music finished and release new singles as well as show dates to share.

TITL: Looking further ahead, what are your artistic and personal goals? What one or two things would you have to achieve for you to look in the mirror and say ‘I’ve made it?’ or do you already feel that way?

KE: The biggest thing for me as an artist is being able to voice my opinion without being scared when it comes to my career. I feel like I have that now. It sounds easy but that is a big hurtle. Now that those doors are open, I’m excited to see where that takes me and how far I can really push myself now. Whatever comes from that space comes and that’s what I’m most excited about because I’m at peace.

Check out the video for “Over & Over” below and for more information on Kristine Elezaj, visit her website, give her page a like on Facebook or follow her on Twitter.

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DOREEN TAYLOR TELLS ALL ABOUT HER OFF-BROADWAY SHOW “SINCERELY, OSCAR” & LOOKS TOWARDS A VERY BRIGHT FUTURE 0 161

Doreen Taylor is no stranger to dreaming big. With two music and performance related degrees under her belt, an array of theatre production credits to her name and a successful career as a solo artist, she’s ambitious and not afraid of people knowing it. After her production “Sincerely, Oscar”, which she created and produced herself, had a successful run in Philadelphia last year, the show has now moved to New York and is currently undertaking a 14 week run at Theatre Row, Off-Broadway. In between shows, Doreen kindly took the time to chat to ThisIsTheLatest about the creative process behind the show, her memories of opening night and where Sincerely, Oscar might go in the future.

TITL: First of all, for those unfamiliar with you and your background, can you just give a little insight into your music and performing career? 

Doreen Taylor: I’ve been performing for many years now, and having earned myself degrees in both opera and voice performance, I consider myself very fortunate to have been a part of some fantastic theatre productions including Robert Ward’s The Crucible, in which I played Abigail Williams, and Christine in Phantom Of The Opera. In terms of my music, I released my first album Magic back in 2012 while my latest album Happily Ever After has received great reviews and is to hopefully become an Off-Broadway musical in the next couple of years.

TITL: You’ve been pretty busy lately with your off Broadway show, Sincerely, Oscar, after a successful run in Philadelphia last year. How does it feel to know you’re working on the same streets and around the same venues as some of the biggest and most popular musicals and shows in the world? 

DT: It is pretty surreal. One of the very first musicals I starred in when I was just a kid was “42nd Street” and now here I am all these years later starring in my very first show I have written in an iconic theater on 42nd STREET! It is pretty amazing how life can just come around full circle and give affirmations that I have been on the right path all along. I guess the most amazing part is that the shows that we are honoring by the great Oscar Hammerstein all opened on Broadway within one mile of where we are performing “Sincerely, Oscar” now. That is a pretty humbling feeling!

TITL: You created and produced the show yourself – what is it about this particular show that made you want to bring it to life in the way that you have?

DT: It’s weird… I was busy working on my mainstream Adult Contemporary music career writing, producing and performing my own music and this opportunity came out of nowhere at a music video premiere that I was hosting. I was lucky enough to meet the grandson of Oscar Hammerstein and his lovely family at this event and we instantly hit it off. I felt a strong calling to use my talents to bring recognition to Oscar and help honor this iconic Broadway legend. I created the previous iteration of the show and debuted it in Philadelphia and we did so well that I wanted to bring it to the heart of Broadway. I worked for over a year and a half developing “Sincerely, Oscar” and am so proud at the finished product. It is truly like my child and I feel as though I have nurtured and loved it every step of the way.

TITL: Did you have any prior creative/production experience prior to this or was this project something you felt so passionately about you just had to give it a first time try? 

DT: I always have had a hand in producing my solo mainstream concerts that we have toured around the US, and even some of my music videos, but this is the first time I have written and produced something of this colossal size and importance on the theatrical stage. I feel so lucky that I have been given such a great opportunity right out of the gate!

TITL: Can you talk me through the creative process for the show? Where did your first ideas come from and how did you expand them over time to the point you realised you could make your thoughts and ideas a reality? 

DT: I think the most incredible achievement in the creative process of this show was the way we created the role of “Oscar Hammerstein” himself. Early on, I got it stuck in my mind that I wanted to do something unique and totally “out of the box” for his character. I had just visited Las Vegas and caught a Michael Jackson tribute show at Mandalay Bay where they had created Michael as a hologram and he interacted with the other performers. It blew me away and never quite left me. I wanted to be the very first to bring this technology to the NY stage and I never really let go of that idea – even when others said I was crazy! And now, here we are, being the very first production ON or OFF Broadway that has used this 3d holographic technology in a theatrical production. It is really quite stunning and impressive and I am so honored to be the one to pave the way for this new technology. Sure, there has been some blow back from purist critics who don’t believe in bringing this kind of technology to the theatrical stage- but I have news from them—like it or not, it’s coming and “Sincerely, Oscar” is living proof of it. You can’t stop progress.

TITL: Were there ever any days or times that you questioned or doubted what you were doing, or were you 100% committed to?

DT: Every. Single. Day. It would be weird if I didn’t occasionally doubt my creative choices- especially when you have to deal with ridiculous opinions from people who are afraid of the technology or of the advancement. But at the end of the day, I wouldn’t have changed anything and I am so proud at what has been created. I sometimes sit back while I am performing in the show and absorb the incredible audience response and feel a huge sense of pride that I am here and I am able to live out this incredible dream!

TITL: How did you bring the production’s cast/crew together? Were/are they friends of yours or did you put out a casting call? When did you know you’d found the right people for each part of the show? 

DT: A little of column A, a little of column B. In the case of my gifted director, Dugg McDonough, we had worked together years ago in several productions at Temple University as well as Des Moines Metro Opera Company. I immediately thought of him when I was creating this show and asked him to return to collaborate on this project. As for the rest of the cast and crew, most were hired from referrals and casting. One of the hardest parts of creating any new production is finding the right people to work on it. I can honestly say that in all my years of performing professionally, I have never worked on a show where I truly like and respect every person that is there. This is the first time I can say that. We have become like a family and we all look out and protect each other. It is a really wonderful thing.

TITL: What can you recall of the infamous opening night? Were you nervous or just buzzing and raring to go? 

DT: It went by SO fast! I can say that I am a little nervous before every show I do. That never really goes away and I am actually glad that those butterflies are there. I never get complacent or “phone in” a performance. Every show is like opening night to me. The party was a blast and we really had one amazing night celebrating this great success together!

TITL: Given that Broadway is typically considered to be more of a man’s world, how proud does it make you feel to know you’re proving yourself to be just as good as your male counterparts when it comes to putting on a successful production? 

DT: To be honest, I still feel there is a lack of support and respect for women creators/producers in this industry. While it is admittedly a lot better, there is still a great deal of work that needs to be done. I am really honored to be a strong woman voice out there creating good, commercial theater in an otherwise male dominated industry. It is so sad that in this #metoo era we don’t embrace more female voices attempting to create on the theatrical stage but I think there are more of us out there that will brave the storm and keep pushing the boundaries, regardless if we are always embraced or not while we do it! However, that being said- women need to start supporting women colleagues in theater more. Sad to say that some of the harshest critical voices out there are from other women. That has always baffled me. Trying to blow out the candle of another does not make theirs burn any brighter.

TITL: What advice would you give to anyone out there who has an idea that they’d love to see brought to life on a stage such as one on or off Broadway? What traits might you say they need in order to keep pursuing that idea/dream until it becomes reality?

DT: I would say that dreams can come true and I am living proof of that. However, set your sights with reasonable goals. Start small. Test the waters. People don’t usually wake up one morning and decide to have a show open on Broadway next week. It takes a long time of work, dedication, financial support and most of all- thick skin, to navigate this industry. There will be enormous sacrifices that will need to be made and there will be a lot more tears than laughs at times. But after all that is said and done, there is no greater joy than to see your creation brought to life by fabulously talented people each and every day and I truly feel blessed to have this opportunity.

TITL: Finally then, now that Sincerely, Oscar is proving to be a hit, have you thought about any other productions you might like to work on, or is all your time and energy focused on this for the time being? 

DT: Right now I am focusing on this limited engagement run at Theatre Row in NYC, but I would be lying if I said I am not looking to the future for what is next. I believe we have even bigger and better things in store for “Sincerely, Oscar” coming in the near future. Maybe it will be a national tour, maybe an international tour, or maybe a residency in Vegas? There has been a lot of buzz as to where this should go next… and right now the sky is the limit! I am just excited to see where this remarkable journey will go!

For more information on Sincerely, Oscar visit the official website. You can also keep up to date with Doreen via doreentaylormusic.com, or by following her on Twitter and liking her page on Facebook. Her latest album Happily Ever After is available now. Header photo credit: James Jackson.

LX MASON TALKS “DRINK ME GOODBYE” AND FUTURE ASPIRATIONS 0 88

Having earned considerable attention and a strong following on the back of his debut single “I Don’t”, which to date has been streamed more than 35,000 times on Spotify alone, the latest song by Florida born artist Jon Davis, AKA LX Mason, addresses the desperate attempts so many people make to forget long-term relationships. With plans for an EP in the pipeline, LX Mason chatted to ThisIsTheLatest about song-writing inspiration, his thoughts on social media and his long term artistic goals.

TITL: What makes LX Mason different from all the other acts out there? What’s your unique selling point?

LX Mason: I think I’m unique in the sense that I’m an African American pop artist who isn’t doing R’n’B or rap, but I don’t think that defines me. I think we’re all just out here trying to make what’s true to us. So my unique selling point is, I’m me. Get to know me a little.

TITL: Is there a particular story behind your new single “Drink Me Goodbye”?

LXM: Of course! My songs are a way of coping with things that happen in my world, so you can always count on there being some type of story. I had a falling out with a really close friend of mine years back, and it wrecked me for a little bit until I bounced back. However, I saw from a distance how that person was trying so hard to forget me and I’d say that was the part that hurt the most. We eventually mended things but if we’re being honest, a lot happened during that time and it hasn’t been the same. 

TITL: How did you come up with the concept for the video and is being creative in that way something you enjoy? 

LXM: I LOVE directing. For some reason I always have. And since I was a little kid, I’ve always loved music videos. I bounced some ideas off of my mates, and my co-director Jason Denison. We wanted to portray a story of the depths that someone has to go to in order to forget someone and actually recreate these happy memories but without the other person being there. 

TITL: In terms of your lyrics and general song-writing from who or from where do you find most of your inspiration?

LXM: Real life situations inspire me. There are some pop artists whose writing I definitely appreciate – Julia Michaels, Lauv, Lennon Stella to name a few – but I try not to let that influence my writing because I want to be as authentic to the story, and the emotion, as possible. 

TITL: How easy or hard do you find the song-writing process? Can it depend on the subject you’re wanting to write about or your frame of mind at the time? 

LXM: Yeah definitely depends on what song I’m writing. And if my head isn’t in the right place for it, I have to really push past everything that I’m feeling to get a song out. 

TITL: Is there an EP or album in the works?

LXM: I’m working towards an EP! But definitely a couple more singles out first. 

TITL: Do you have any performance or tour plans you can tell me about?

LXM: At the moment, it’s all about the writing and recording. But things could definitely change, and I’m always keen to perform.

TITL: If you could put together your dream show with four bands or artists, living or dead, who would you choose and where would you play? 

LXM: WHOA. Uhm. I would completely disregard genre and just have a really selfish line-up of people I love. 

TITL: Given that your debut single has already achieved in excess of 35,000 streams, what are your thoughts on social media? Are you someone who believes it to be a powerful and necessary tool in your business, and society in general, or can there be/are there downsides to being so “online” all the time? 

LXM: There’s no question that the abuse of social media has had an effect on mental health. We’ve seen it, and Instagram/Facebook has done a little bit of work to improve it for the user, but I don’t think it’s there just yet. I think there is an aspect of it where it is effective for business, and societally it does increase your world a bit – I’ve met some wonderful people through social media. But if -or when – it crashes, it wouldn’t bother me. Half the time whenever I post something I think about my caption for half a second, post it, and throw my phone across the room because I don’t care. 

TITL: What does the rest of the year have in store for you? 

LXM: More music! Releasing some more of my own, as well as writing for other people’s projects and potentially featuring on some tracks as well. 

TITL: Finally then, given how “full” the music industry is now with both new and established talent, how do you plan to make yourself stay current in the years ahead? What are your long-term aspirations as an artist and where do you see the music industry going/ being in terms of its shape and longevity, as time goes on?

LXM: I think, more importantly, I want to stay true to myself. If that’s current, then great. What’s “current” changes so frequently that if I were to base my artistic identity in that, I wouldn’t know who I am anymore. My long term aspirations is to get where I want to go making the music I want to make whenever I want to make it. I think for the music industry, there’s more of an inclination towards independence and honesty in music that can bring people the music they want to connect to. 

Check out the video for “Drink Me Goodbye” below and for more information on LX Mason, visit his website, give his page a like on Facebook or follow him on Twitter.