Kenny Zhao

Exclusive: Interview With Rising Artist Zhao

Rising LA based pop artist Zhao is gearing up for the release of his new EP ‘Ride’ which will be released on the 27th October.

And he recently released his brand new single ‘Lifetime’ which is the first track off the EP.


Here we speak exclusively to the rising artist as we introduce you to Zhao;

Growing up who inspired you to get into music?

I played piano originally, but my greatest idols were guitarists. I admired how free they were onstage, how much presence they commanded with their solos. My holy trinity was Jimi Hendrix, John Frusciante, and Jack White – those three were masters of musical expression with their instrument, at a time when I was playing music very much by-the-books. In terms of people I actually knew, probably my piano teacher. He was the one who told me I could go to Juilliard if I really applied myself (up until then piano was just a way to spruce up a college application), and started me on the path to expressing myself as an artist. It wasn’t until a few years ago that I really grasped the importance of that early encouragement. 

How old were you when you wrote your first song?

Older, for sure. Maybe when I was 19? Up to that point I’d never finished a song, but this time I was writing music for film, and the deadline pushed me to finally get it done. It was a Simon and Garfunkel-style song called ‘Stubborn Girl’.  

Who are your musical icons?

Before I decided to become an artist I already knew I wanted to have creative range, an ability to switch gears whenever necessary. So my icons are typically very fluid creatively – not to mention people with their sanity intact (as far as I can tell). Beck comes to mind. Rick Rubin. Jon Brion, who wrote the soundtrack for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, but also produced for Kanye [West] and Fiona Apple. I’ve also been going to a lot of shows lately, in preparation for my own performance. So I’ve picked up some heroes there for sure – Father John Misty, Frank Ocean, Washed Out, Nicolas Jaar. People who have found a way to distill themselves to an audience, and typically in exciting ways.  

Can you remember the first time you performed live?

Well. Depends on what you call “live.” I played piano recitals and competitions from age 12. My first show in front of an audience was around then as well – I played Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Flight of the Bumblebee” at the middle school talent show. My first personal idea of a proper live show was with my high school band, The Declarations. We played on a stage in the local park…I switched off on bass, guitar, lead and backup vocals. We played mostly covers – “Snow (Hey Oh)” by RHCP, “Wake Up” by Arcade Fire, “Plug In Baby,” by Muse. I remember being so proud of being able to play lead guitar and hit the falsetto on “Plug In Baby,” haha! 

What inspires you when writing new music?

First and foremost, my own life – my own perspective. It’s not always where I start with my music, but ten times out of ten it ends up in a very personal place. Musically, I tend to be inspired by things I haven’t heard before – sonic configurations, melodic choices. And these can come from all kinds of places, but I try to bring them back somewhere closer to pop. Though my foundation was in classical music, I was always obsessed with the access pop music enjoyed in people’s lives. Fundamentally pop music is easy to read emotionally, so I think it opens people up to more complexity in lyrics or arrangement.  

What do you hope to achieve over the next ten years?

Growing up I had no artists to look up to, who looked like me. Even now, the music landscape is remotely devoid of Asian artists – especially when you consider a fifth of the world is Chinese. After twenty years of playing music, writing about music, and making music for other projects, I realized that if I made any mark at all as an artist, it could potentially change the lives of kids across the country, growing up as I did. So my goal is pretty simple – find out what happens when someone like me becomes an artist, and share that story the best I can. Of course, I have creative goals as well – I’d like to work with other artists on ambitious projects, and I want to grow creatively. But I’ve already spent a long time alone with music, and nowadays I see the greatest growth when I’m reaching out to people. As a performer my dream is to play FYF LA. In the last two years it’s come to represent the best of what music can offer, and it’s a milestone I happily work toward. 

Make sure you follow Zhao on Twitter @ZhaoMusic to keep up to date with all his latest music and tour news!

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Written by Laura Klonowski

Qualified music journalist! Writing single/album/live reviews, feature articles, interviews, and news pieces.
Twitter: @cherylssoldier1
Instagram: @musicandtournews