On the night of Monday, Oct. 3, Danville-born singer-songwriter Kylie Rothfield made it through a blind audition for the NBC show, The Voice. Guitar in hand, the 23-year-old sang a soul-infused version of One Republic’s upbeat pop song, “Wherever I Go,” and, in turn, stole the hearts of two of the show’s judges (Alicia Keys and Blake Shelton). Rothfield, who chose Keys as her coach, will be competing in the show’s upcoming Battle Rounds on Monday, Oct. 10.
We spoke with the burgeoning artist about her musical origins, suffering from a vocal hemorrhage, and why she decided to audition for The Voice in the first place.
SF Weekly: When you were 12 you wrote and performed your first song. What was the song called? Is it still available online?
Kylie Rothfield: The first song I wrote was called “Tuesday Morning.” It was sort of about the struggles of growing up and going to school every day, having trouble making friends, and not knowing exactly who you are. Pretty dramatic for a 12-year-old! Although it was the first time I realized you can turn sadness/pain into art, and that was a beautiful thing. You MAY be able to find it online somewhere, but I think I’m too embarrassed about it to look.
SFW: A producer heard the track and helped you put together your first EP. What was it called? What were the songs about?
KR: The EP was called Nothing Without Love, and it actually only contained three songs! There was one song about love, one about loss, and one about self-discovery. You can hear my love of melodic pop music on that EP, but you can also hear how young I am and how much room I have to grow. It took about six months to complete the project. I was lucky enough to work with Elvin Reyes, a local producer who has immense talent and a very kind heart.
SFW: What did you learn while in college? How did you grow and expand as a singer/artist?
KR: College was a SERIOUS eye opening experience for me. I attended Berklee College of Music, which is comprised of one of the most diverse and insanely talented groups of people I’ve ever come across. It was incredibly intimidating in the beginning. I didn’t know anything about music theory and I’m positive that almost every person there was WAY more talented than I was. But that is what pushed me to work really really hard to improve and learn more about myself as an artist. Berklee is where I found my soulful sound and learned how to write pop music and play blues and jazz on the guitar. It also gave me confidence in myself as an artist and challenged my work ethic on a daily basis. I wouldn’t trade my time there for anything.
SFW: What did the vocal hemorrhage feel like? How did you heal it? What do you have to do now to avoid having it happen again?
KR: The vocal hemorrhage was one of the weirdest, scariest things I’ve ever experienced. I was performing a show and I felt like everything was fine and then suddenly….I couldn’t recognize my own voice. I went to hit a note and it was almost as if I no longer had any control over pitch or tone or volume. I could barely even speak into the microphone. The healing process was long and strenuous — but more emotionally difficult than physically. I went on complete vocal rest for a month (no talking, singing, or even whispering). Then I slowly started to talk and eventually sing softly. It took almost seven months to play a full band show again, and I had to learn how to sing in the correct way, which felt like starting from scratch. Now I’m very serious about taking care of my voice. No alcohol, dairy, or super spicy foods within 24 hours of a performance. Doing a FULL warm-up before every single performance, even if it’s just a rehearsal. Making sure I keep healthy throughout the year and not pushing myself when I’m not. Vocal health is something most singers will be worried about for the remainder of our lives. It’s just part of the job.
SFW: What motivated you to audition for The Voice? How did you hear of the auditions?
KR: Honestly, I was a bit skeptical about being on The Voice. I didn’t know a whole lot about the audition process, and it was a bit intimidating. I also thought there was very little chance I’d make it through. But one of the casting agents found my music online and told me a bit about what the audition would be like, and I thought, ‘Why the heck not?’ I’ve been wanting to sing for people and make records and play on big stages my entire life. I had also been focusing more and more on songwriting and less on performing as an artist, so I wanted to remind myself of what my biggest dreams are and how they were still achievable. I know rejection is tough and putting yourself out there can be scary, but I knew that I had to take this chance and go with my gut, and I’m ridiculously glad I went for it.
SFW: You performed One Republic’s “Wherever I Go” in your audition. Why did you choose that song?
KR: It’s a super modern pop song, so it was a bit of a risk for me, but I wanted to show that I could make it my own and create a completely new arrangement. I’ve always believed that when you are singing a cover of someone else’s song, you need to make it your own. Perform it as if you wrote it.
SFW: Both Blake Shelton and Alicia Keys volunteered to be your coach, but you chose Keys. Why?
KR: I love Blake and would’ve loved to work with him, but I’ve looked up to Alicia Keys my entire life. She’s an incredible singer, songwriter, producer, and multi-instrumentalist, so I felt that we could connect and that I would have a lot to learn from her. But even more than that, she is just this insanely phenomenal human being. Her soul and energy and spirit are otherworldly. I feel so grateful to be working with her.
SFW: What do you hope to achieve from being on The Voice?
KR: As much as gaining fans and selling music and getting validation from my musical heroes are great things to get from this experience, I think my number one goal and dream would just be to become the best artist I can possibly be. I want to learn and grow and take as much away from this experience as possible, because this is truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Being able to connect with millions of people and make them feel something when I perform would just be the cherry on top.