Michelle Kazor rattles through her life story almost apologetically. Cleveland, Ohio born... adopted as a baby to blue-collar Polish-Catholic parents... high school maverick... globetrotter... commune-dweller... rock chick. Not to mention environmental scientist.
But when she's not rescuing the planet, she's exorcising her demons in song. The Auckland-based singer-songwriter is well on the way to producing her first album, yet unnamed, plans for which have been kicked along nicely with the award of two new artist recording grants and two video grants from NZ on Air. Her second single and video, 'Crowded Room' has been produced by Chris Van de Geer and Andrew Maclaren of Stellar* fame, was released on NZ On Air Hit Disc #59 in April 2003.
Michelle’s debut single, 'In This Life' was released on NZ On Air Hit Disc #52 in 2002. It reached #7 on the Kiwi radios chart and became the highest ever-charting independant single in NZ Median Strip chart history.
The kiwi of 4 years, has a no-nonsense approach to life and her music. She struggles, however, to define either: the result of genuine modesty, and her quirky melange of a life. Always true to herself, however, this comes through loud and clear in her songs.
She describes her music as a mixture of "sassy pop songs, big on strong melodies and harmonies. Sometimes there is a story to the lyrics, but other times it's more about an idea than just a relationship." There are of course a few "love gone bad" songs but lately more "love gone good", she says optimistically.
Raised on a mixed bag of classic rock, country music and pop, she later discovered Billie Holiday, Bonnie Raitt and more recently the modern pop songstresses such as Sarah McLachlan of the Lilith Fair variety. The girl from the Mid-West has come a long way since then, via the Appalachian mountains and The Big Apple, which has given an urban edge to her folk sensibilities, and a synthetic slant to her acoustic repertoire.
Most of all Kazor's music is about the moment. She passionately describes being captured by the spectre of a song while driving alone on a quiet West Virginia highway late one night - and throwing the car onto the shoulder to get it down on paper. This kind of thing happens a lot, she says, eyes flashing, almost manically. (The ethereal and the mundane can be equally inspiring). "There's all this stuff in my head, and sometimes it clicks into place just the right way." Waking restless, in the middle of the night, to a full moon... queuing at the supermarket checkout. It's all the same. She goes nowhere now without a notebook and a dictaphone. The stuff that comes quickly is the best. And if you're lucky, that moment of seduction - that vibe - is there in the finished song, she says. Contrived doesn't work nearly so well.
Her sweet-sometimes-serrated vocal style sits somewhere between Alanis Morrisette, Jewel and Sheryl Crow. A feisty and eye-catching American gal with a guitar - comparisons are inevitable.
According to her family, Kazor began singing before she could talk. She played flute at school for four years but was kicked out of the band and put into the choir for "humming the songs instead of playing them. Really!" In school she was also heavily involved in musical theatre and dance. Temporarily abandoning dreams of a music career and not sounding "operatic" enough for her university choir, she soon parted company to work on developing her own style.
A move to a bigger city and a new university followed - Columbus, Ohio - where she began singing occasional backing vocals in local bars, and later got a job as lead singer in a cover band. She continued to study on and off, and took a multitude of jobs to get by: everything from furniture refinishing, bartending, counselling battered women and teaching dance. Much of the time she was living in a commune with friends, and it was all very "anti-establishment".
After a fateful move to Iowa with her boyfriend, to build a home on farmland - they split, and shortly after he tragically died of a drug overdose - Kazor moved back to Columbus and decided to go back to school. In Columbus she got back into music, doing more covers work and backing for a variety of acts, before forming the band Headwaters with a musician friend. Later they moved south to Athens, which had a happening music scene and where she developed a wider appreciation of the musical spectrum: rock, blues, folk, bluegrass. She also started playing guitar- within a year she was playing short solo gigs and writing original songs, but was "still a novice".
More solo work followed, a mixture of blues covers and originals, and then came the biggest move yet, to New York, "I was looking for something good to do". After only a month in the Big Apple she got her first paying solo gig and was soon playing at a number of local venues. It was in New York City that Michelle first decided to visit New Zealand after seeing a few episodes of the TV series Xena. “I just decided that New Zealand was this wild untamed place I had to see.” A year after her first New Zealand holiday, Michelle packed up and moved to Auckland at the dawn of the millennium.
In New Zealand she sang backing vocals on five tracks for fellow american-turned-kiwi artist Beau Redding’s debut album 'Dime Box', which was nominated for the 2002 NZ Music Awards. She is again living in a 'commune' - this time in Ponsonby - where her neighbours and flatmates are also musicians in several up and coming bands. She shares two band members with recently signed rock band Op Shop.
'In This Life' was the start of a series of singles and videos for her, and was featured on the TV series Mercy Peak in 2002 and The Strip in 2003. The song was inspired by "people who seem to have everything, yet they are never really satisfied." People need to accept that there are trade-offs that go along with getting what you really want in life, she says.
Her latest single 'Crowded Room' was released in April 2003, “Its about respecting people for their choices and perhaps the song is a bit of a statement about my ideal world. But the video is really wack, which keeps it fun!” The video is scheduled for release in early May.
She says her long-term goal is to write songs that inspire other people to sing, dance and make the most of their lives. She expects to have an album out sometime soon. "If you want something, you've got to let go of your fear and make it happen… “.
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