Artist Interview: “Florist By Day” by Mackenzie Leighton

Q: The story behind your new EP “Fleuriste” is about a florist’s life
during the day, and her musician life by night. Is that inspired by a
true story, or an imaginative concept?

MACKENZIE: The EP was inspired by a true story based upon my life this year! When the pandemic hit in France in spring of 2020, I was about to release my second EP and try to develop my career as a musician. Seeing as all the shows were being cancelled and we were confined, I decided to make a plan for the future, unsure of my fate as a musician and being able to financially support myself without live shows. I signed up for a year-long florist program, working at a boutique at the flower market and studying at the École des Fleuristes de Paris at the same time. Learning this new job was in a way a back up plan, but also gave me the opportunity to be creative, close to nature while in a big city, and get a diploma recognized by France! I studied social justice and arts activism at New York University before coming to France but my diploma doesn’t mean much here. So this year I worked full time as a florist and wrote the songs for the EP when I’d get home at night.

Q: What is your favorite song off of the EP?

MACKENZIE: It’s hard to choose because they all are so dear to me, but I guess I’d pick the last track “Je ne suis pas poète”. This is the song that has moved people the most and has made a lot of my friends cry! It’s a powerful feeling to know that your music can move people that much and that they can relate to what you’re saying. My guitarist Guillaume sent me the instrumental of this song and I found melodies and lyrics to sing over it. I wanted to write a song in French about how intimidating it is to write a song in French! And more specifically, I wanted to write a song for my partner in his language that he enjoyed. The title and lyrics “Je ne suis pas poète” (“I am not a poet”) is me trying to find my place as an American singer-songwriter writing songs in a language that is not my own. Even though my minor in college is in Poetry and Creative Writing, when it comes to the french language, I’ve been told there are unsaid rules when writing lyrics so that it sounds sophisticated and poetic. In this track, I tried to be as honest and simple as I could, as if I were speaking directly to my partner. “Et pour toi, tu sais que je t’aime, et je ne peux pas me cacher derrière les mots qui sont les tiens” (“And for you, you know that I love you, and I cannot hide behind the words that are yours.”)

Q: The song “Florist by Day” is such a gem because it gives off a
positive, retro, relaxing feel. What was your creative process behind
the song?

MACKENZIE: At the time I wrote this song, I was listening to a lot of music by Benny Sings and Sunni Colon. My guitarist Guillaume and I worked on building the instrumental together and we knew we wanted something a bit more uptempo with a groovy bass line- feel good music. I knew there had to be a song  on the EP that referenced the title “Fleuriste” and that expressed my feelings towards being this “Florist by Day” and musician by night during a complicated year. These lyrics were the hardest to write on the EP because I had a lot of mixed emotions at the time about my identity as a musician and an artist. I missed singing and playing live shows, and the refrain of the song reflects that: “Oh and wouldn’t it be nice to be singing all the time.” The lyrics also explore the reality of surviving this strange year, adapting, and sticking up for yourself. It’s funny because a lot of people have told me that the song is super positive and upbeat, but at the time I wrote it I was extremely frustrated and tired of balancing my day job and trying to make music during a pandemic. At the same time, I didn’t want to write a depressing song talking about this, because we were honestly all sick and tired of being sick and tired. So I just threw my energy into writing melodies that were a bit more complicated and intense than usual and tried to write the lyrics with optimism, as if I were giving myself a pep-talk. It’s the only song I’ve ever written in the third-person but talking to myself! I needed a song to reassure myself that I was “doing just fine”.  

Q: Did the pandemic and other worldly events have an influence on your
music and creative process during the making of this EP?

MACKENZIE: Yes, absolutely! We were confined three different times in France so it was really hard to get together with my musicians and producers. We would send demos back and forth and work from a distance, but it was complicated because I was also working full time as a florist. We had to push back the release date multiple times because we couldn’t get everything done in time, but it somehow all came together! The circumstances this year made this project the most diverse I’ve done thus far, because there were also more people involved, whether in production or for the various music videos we filmed. Because we were all so isolated, I wanted to collaborate with others and I depended on a lot of different people for this project to be brought to life. Everyone I reached out to was super open and willing to help out in any way, maybe also because we all were trapped inside and wanted any excuse to be creative! I’m super grateful for everyone that contributed to the project and can’t wait to see what I can do now that we are coming out of the pandemic.

Q: In 2017, you left the United States to start your solo music career
in Paris, France. In what ways has your music career changed from 2017
up to the making of this EP?

MACKENZIE: When I first came to France, I started my solo music career almost by accident. I was playing in bands in New York before during my studies and when I arrived in Paris I started playing at open mics as a way to meet French people. I didn’t know anyone here and thought music would be a good way to find some sort of community. I’ve always had many interests and didn’t plan on “making it”as a musician, especially so far away from home. But I released a solo EP in 2017 that I recorded with a friend in his chambre de bonne and started playing more and more shows. People took a liking to my songs and that gave me the motivation to see how far I could take it! I was invited to play a tour in Italy in 2018 off of this first EP and this was the experience that changed everything. I felt like I had a purpose and that my music moved people I didn’t know, in these little restaurants and social clubs in the Italian countryside. It was this beautiful experience of meeting new people and seeing new places, and when I came back to Paris I started working on the second EP with some french musicians and producers I’d met. I was determined to see how far the project could go! After this third EP and a year without concerts, I’m sure that I want to pursue music full time. I’ve done so many unrelated things since I’ve lived in Paris- worked as an au pair, for a tourist company running murder mystery scavenger hunts & petanque tournaments, as an editorial writer for an art gallery, as a florist. I feel the most fulfilled and that I’m right where I need to be when I’m on stage. So in 4 years, I’ve gone from not knowing what I wanna do with music, to being determined that this is what I was made to do.

Q: What do you want to say to your fans out there?

MACKENZIE: First off, thank you for listening! I hope that my music can comfort and move you. Make sure to find the time for those creative things that nourish you, without fear of failing or not “making it”. Be brave and go forward even when you don’t know exactly where you’re headed. Everyone can change, adapt, try something new- we are not made to fit into boxes. 

Interviewed by Voncia Molock





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