Updated: Oct 15, 2021
With the resources of today, young new artists blow up every day. Shawn Mendes wrote Life of the Party at 15. Billie Eilish was 14 when she uploaded her debut hit, Ocean Eyes, to SoundCloud one night. The ability to show the world your talent with the click of a button means that younger voices are being heard now more than ever. Kjersti Long is joining this new wave of talent, but she’s bringing back old-school rock in the process.
With a powerful voice that’s never overwhelmed by intense backup guitar or violin in her songs, the energy channeled in Kjersti Long’s music exists on and off stage. Said stage is usually in venues like The Stone Pony in New Jersey—which doubles as the singer’s home state—but Long found her love of performance through theatre. “My dad's side of the family is very musical theater involved. So I was always cast as the younger version of the main character in what they did. That's when I really got into being on stage; I thought it was amazing. And then, my grandma had a birthday party where she wanted me to sing one of her favorite rock songs. My dad played the guitar, and we recorded Alone by Heart. That's when I was like, ‘Oh, my gosh, I love rock music.’ And then I just smushed the two together. That's how I became a rock artist!”
While theatre to rock and roll may not be thought of as a common transition in the music industry, her experiences on stage, starting at age eight, helped to enhance her presence that stuns audiences today. But Kjersti confesses that stage fright is still something she has to overcome. “I’ve gotten a lot better, but it’s still a switch right before I get on stage. There’s a promo video for The Velour [a music venue in Utah], and in it, you can see me backstage shaking my hands and trembling. But as soon as I step on stage, it’s that switch; I can’t really get nervous in the moment,” she tells us. Kjersti has some methods to maintain that confidence while performing, “One of my first vocal teachers was very big on using your hands to express yourself. I had a rule that the mic stand was poisoned, and I couldn’t touch it. That’s how I express myself when I sing.”
Long has recently released an incredibly powerful cover of The Beatles’ Eleanor Rigby that’s currently streaming in 20 different countries. Kjersti even says that the top country streaming being her ancestral home, Norway, is one of her proudest moments. While it may not be an original, the singer adds her rock flair to an iconic song and puts the isolated feeling shared by all of us right now in the spotlight with her music video. She manages to make a 55-year-old song’s message relevant to a completely modernized world. “We had a big storyboard with all these ideas. Since it was during COVID, none of them were going to work. Then my dad was like, ‘We should put everyone in rooms alone. Just isolate them because the whole song is about lonely people! We found this really cool, old Presbyterian church. It was obviously haunted,” she adds. “It was super creepy and cool. It had a bunch of different rooms because it was where the priests would stay after their sermons. We rented it out for a day, and we recorded everything. It was amazing. Such a cool experience filming.”
While covers are often on her setlist, Kjersti also writes her own music, like her recent song Not Your Princess. “There are two ways you can go about it. You can write the lyrics, and then add a tune,” she explains, “Or you can have a cool tune and then add lyrics to it. I find it easier to have a tune, and my dad usually comes to me with something cool he figured out on the guitar. I'll bring him a cool chord progression I found on the piano and be like, ‘Oh, we should write this about so and so.’ Then once we have the topic, we start writing little couplets based on the topic. When I was little, I wasn't really good at rhyming. I would just write down paragraphs of what I thought of the topic, and for Not Your Princess, that's what I did. I took Not Your Princess, and I just wrote paragraphs on female empowerment, how it's not fair that we're put in these boxes, and how we have to be princesses and pretty. My dad took those, he rhymed them together, and we made a song!” Kjersti draws inspiration from anything, recalling her first experience writing. “This is gonna sound funny, but I was outside in the rain with my cats when I wrote my first song. It was super random. I was just like, ‘Bam, song idea!’ So I ran upstairs and wrote it down. My dad came home from work, and I ran out to him when he was sitting in the car. He took out his guitar, and we found a tune for it.” Whatever strikes inspiration!
Living the life of a rockstar at such a young age would be more believable as a movie plot, but Kjersti Long’s career has come with unique hurdles because of her age. “A lot of the time, places you perform are bars, but I can’t get into bars being underage. It was super weird trying to find places where I could perform. But there were a lot of bars that liked my music so much they still allowed me to play. So being a 14-year-old girl, I’ve already seen a lot of bars and that environment.” Even when she finds places to play, Kjersti still has problems getting taken seriously, “A lot of times with adults you can tell by their attitude they are thinking, ‘Why is this 14-year-old girl performing for me?’ But one of my favorite things as a singer is seeing their reactions change when they hear my voice. It’s hard being misunderstood, but I’ve met a lot of people in the industry who know how to deal with young voices.”
Her life is envious: a young star on the rise, traveling across the country doing what she loves. But Kjersti is happy to help other young artists achieve the success she has, advising, “You need to be pushing yourself. It shouldn't be your parents because I know a lot of times, it's just your parents. But if you want to be in the music industry, you need to also be able to practice piano and get all your music stuff done and vocal warm-ups without having everybody pushing on you to do it. My dad has a quote he’s been telling us since we were younger, ‘Hard work beats talent if talent doesn’t work hard.’” Kjersti also says that reaching out to people is the key to making it big, “I think a big thing about the music industry is being connected. If you know one person, that person will send you another person, and that person sends you to another person. It's cool because if I look back on my music career, I can connect all of the dots to where I am. There's a couple of people at the beginning of my career that led to all of the new people that I know now. There are performing arts schools all around the world. They teach you how to dance, sing, and perform.” She adds, “My manager actually owns one, and so I feel like that's a good way if you want to get into acting and singing. Just in my community and in my neighborhood, we've got people who play the piano or people who sing; you can actually ask them or hire them to teach you lessons. My pianist for my band is my best friend's dad. He's also my piano teacher, and he's the organist for our church. So it's super cool. Just find people in your community that you can trust, and it’ll lead you to some fun things!”
Talent doesn’t discriminate, and teens are now holding their own in the music industry. Kjersti Long takes part in this change and brings her personal music style with her, setting herself apart from the rest. The talented artist is only just starting, with a long road full of even more success ahead of her. While she’s experiencing many changes in her life, Kjersti’s message remains constant, “As a young artist, my scope is a bunch of younger people as well. People misunderstand that younger kids are smart, and we're put into boxes. We often get the typical, ‘Oh, you’re a kid, you wouldn't understand this. You can't talk about that because you're not old enough.’ Through my music, I want to help people in the younger generations that are misunderstood express themselves.”