Meet This Girl Ocean Pleasant

 
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On who she is

I am a 21-year-old singer/songwriter. I have been making music since I was 14, but life kind of took me on a roundabout path to get to where I am today. I used to work in media. I created a national magazine called Real. I had a startup. I was a Thiel fellow. I went down a lot of different paths and used to be part of a very different world. This past year I took a leap of faith and decided it was time for me to commit to my passion and see my dream of being a singer through. I packed up my life in New York, spent the summer abroad and booked a one-way ticket to Los Angeles to focus on music full time.

On her nomadic upbringing  

This might sound a little silly, but I don't really have what most people would call a home base just because we moved around so often. I was born in Houston, Texas, but I was really everywhere. I had a very nomadic upbringing - I grew up in about 12 different countries. So for me, home has just always been where the people I love are.

On marching to the beat of her own drum

I was never in an environment that encouraged me to be anything other than myself. I think that was a double-edged sword because I had so much freedom to construct my own narrative and figure out who I wanted to be without a ton of social influence, which was great. But there was this other part of me that I think was jealous of those who had a more traditional upbringing, especially when I was younger. I grew up traveling through jungles and learning how to spin fire. My babysitter was a shaman with a rain stick. My upbringing was some sort of weird combination of Mowgli and Lindsay Lohan’s character from Mean Girls.

Now that I’ve grown up and have a strong sense of self, I'm so grateful for my childhood experiences. I think my unique upbringing is the reason why I never really struggled with a lot of things people my age are currently going through. I was raised to have an absolute trust and confidence in who I was. My mom made sure that I didn't subscribe to any sort of social norms. I had a lot of freedom to be exactly who I was.

On finding her people

I have friends from literally across the globe, which is really special. A lot of people assume that because of my upbringing, I may have been a bit isolated since I was constantly moving around. I was lucky that I found a unique set of opportunities where I got to connect with really incredible people. I went to the Global Youth of Peace summit, starting when I was 14 until I was 16 or 17. It’s an event that brings kids together from 70 countries around the world to promote healing and compassion for kids from war-torn countries (it sounds super hippie when I say it like that!) It was through gatherings and events like the Peace summit that I met amazing people I’m still in touch with today.  

On her unique relationship with her mother

My mom and I had a really unique relationship. It was a bond that was obviously mother/daughter, but there was also a sense of sisterhood. It was sort of “us against the world” for most of my childhood. And I loved that. I thought that was really special. My mom was always like “we’re on the same team and in order for this to get done, we both have to give it everything.” I think that's where a lot of my work ethic comes from. I’m always just doing what needs to be done and stepping up to the plate even if it’s something I’ve never done before.

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On how she got started in the magazine world

I was raised by a single mom who was also an accomplished journalist. When my mom decided to exit traditional journalism, where we were traveling and covering events in real time, she wanted to find a way to bring the communities she cared most about together (yoga, art, and social activism). We were living in Austin at the time and she started a local magazine - it was free and distributed only in Texas. We would drop off magazine copies in the free bins at Whole Foods in the parking garage. We built this insanely engaged community of people that were so supportive and would go out and look for this magazine. So my mom and I just kept growing the magazine locally in Texas and then one day, we were approached by the distributor that Whole Foods works with and they told us that they wanted to take the magazine national.

As far back as I can remember, starting and creating magazines was a huge part of my life. The best part was that my mom and I got to do this all on our own terms. We got to decide what issues to spotlight. We weren’t beholden to boards and investors. We were literally two girls doing whatever we wanted.

My mom is still very transient. She now runs a publishing house, which affords her the flexibility to travel the world. She started this national magazine called Origin, which I was actually the Creative Director of starting when I was 14. Then, when I was 17, I started my own magazine called Real. Real used celebrity voices to spotlight social activism events and occurrences that we felt weren't getting the attention they deserved on a national level. I ran Real for about two years and that's when I got the Thiel fellowship, which gave me the opportunity to grow the platform and engage with more people.

On why she started Real Magazine

By the time I was 17, I had already been in the magazine space for a few years working with my mom on these more adult publications. I realized that all the magazines that targeted my demographic were all about sex tips and prom dresses and how to get your crush to like you. There’s nothing wrong with any of those things, but I knew that there were other girls out there who were interested in so much more. And now, fast forward five years or so from the time I started Real and there are so many more resources (both online and in print) that are more conscious and better capture a young woman’s wide set of interests than what was available back when I was a teenager.

Real was all about creating content that could be easily condensed into a package young women were familiar with. When girls would open a Real magazine, they’d read about their favorite celebrity crush, but two pages later would learn about social activism and how they could become more engaged in their community.

It definitely helped to have a foot in the door with publishing. I was able to formulate the look of the magazine and build a media kit that we sent to a publisher my mom and I had already been working with.

On a rule she lives by

Something I always live by is to trust my gut feeling. Your mind can often deceive you and speculate and not always be the most trustworthy, but your intuition, that gut feeling whenever you first meet someone or there's an opportunity or a deal on the table, whatever you first feel like, trust that. And I think socially in society we're taught to distrust our feelings, but I think people and women in particular who stand in their power and stand in their truth and listen to their intuition as a force are unstoppable.

On how she got into music

I did not grow up in a musical family or around music at all. I actually ended up discovering it while I was at the Peace summit. My camp counselor would sing us to sleep every night with her ukulele. At that Peace summit, I took a workshop on poetry and had written a poem about self-love because that past year had been a really difficult one for me. I wrote this poem to remind myself of that self-reliance and sense of self I had before I tried to integrate into the world of 13-year-old girl politics.

I asked my camp counselor if she could teach me a couple of chords so that I could turn this poem into a song, and by the end of that week I ended up performing that song in front of the whole camp.

I found music through poetry and through a desire to share something deeply personal with others.

Oddly enough, that song that I wrote at camp is still my most popular song to date. 340,000 plays on Spotify. I think it's really symbolic that the first song I ever wrote, which is Love Letter to Myself is the one that resonates with people the most.

A few years later, through the magazines, we ended up sponsoring this national tour with artists like Michael Franti, Brett Dennen, Trevor Hall and this incredible group  SOJA - a Grammy-nominated band. We were a month into the tour and I hadn't played music the entire time and I just felt like I needed to play, so I went outside and started singing and playing my guitar.

I noticed that this woman walked by me, listened for a moment and then disappeared. About five minutes later, I hear someone slow clapping behind me. I turned around and saw that standing next to that woman was the lead singer of SOJA, Jacob Hemphill. On the spot, he asked me to sing with him the next night. So I played that next show with him - it was literally my first time singing into a mic. It was such a surreal experience. After that show, Jacob said, “why don't you just sing with me for the rest of the tour?” So I did. I got to perform at Bonnaroo for 80,000 people on the main stage. I got to perform at the Cali Roots Fest and at the Hollywood Palladium. SOJA brought me into the music community.

On jumping from magazines to music

I’m not gonna lie -  it was a terrifying jump. I mean I've been working on magazines since I was 14. People would literally call me “the magazine girl.” It was such a part of my identity and I think it's really scary when something you do becomes who you are.

And that was the position I was in. It was a majorly transitional time for me. I went from being someone who was known for doing one specific thing to then pivoting and heading in a completely different direction, in a totally different industry. I was so nervous that people were going to think I was crazy leaving all this behind, but I felt like I was living in someone else's skin. I felt like I had no other choice than to go and pursue my passion.

On being fearful over criticisms that were never voiced

My biggest fear was that people would think that my choice to pursue music was a huge mistake and that they would try to persuade me to stay doing what I was doing with Real. But honestly, I can't recall a single person who told me “that's a mistake.” And maybe that’s just a testament to how supportive the people I surrounded myself with are.

Or maybe, everyone was thinking I was making a huge mistake, but just didn't tell me, which was very nice of them. Even my partner at the time was like, I think that you should go for it. And he was also in the startup space and we had gone through similar routes. So if anyone was going to be like, “you should stick with this”, it would have probably been him. And he was one of the first people who really encouraged me to commit to trying music full-time.

On where she finds inspiration

Lately, I’ve been finding inspiration from moments that are so emotionally raw that there's no other way to communicate them then through some form of art, whether it be getting rejected or taking a huge risk or changing course in life. I'm only able to create when I'm pushing myself to be outside my comfort zone.

On a recent accomplishment

It has been a dream of mine since I started making music to end up on a curated Spotify playlist. Recently, my latest song ended up on Fresh Finds, which is a Spotify playlist for up and coming independent artists and it has over 600,000 followers.

On the three traits she’s most proud to possess

I'm very honest with myself and with other people. I see a lot of people who lead lives that maybe weren't meant for them and I truly believe my honesty is what has enabled me to do what I love right now.

The second and third traits I’m most proud to possess are my tenacity and courage.

On what she wants to be known for

On a career level, I want to be known as someone who writes their own music and is very involved in the entire process. On a broader level, I’d like to be known for taking huge risks and doing what I love.

On the best piece of advice she ever received

Follow your fear. I think about that all the time. I do this thing I call the “regret test.” I ask myself, when I wake up tomorrow morning, will I have regretted not doing something and if the answer is yes, then I force myself to do it. I'm like if you are going to regret this when you walk out of this building or when you wake up tomorrow morning, then you are going to step outside your comfort zone right now and just go for it.

On the biggest challenge women face today

I think the biggest challenge women face is having to overcome this idea that we have to compete with one another for love, for success, for resources and for opportunities. I think we're building this new generation of camaraderie and sisterhood that we've never really had before. This generation of women wants to support other women. They know that there is enough to go around and that there is enough room at the top for everybody.

Her advice to a girl on her way

This is the advice that I would tell myself maybe a year or two ago. It's okay to change your mind and it's okay to follow your growth, whatever direction you end up growing in. Just because you have people telling you that success looks one particular way or just because you are really good at something, it doesn't necessarily mean that’s what you should be doing with your life. Trust your process even if your process isn't what you thought it would look like.

Photographed by Sasha Reiss in Los Angeles, August 2018.

More: Meet This Girl, Los Angeles, Music

 
Kyle MichelMeet This Girl