UC Berkeley student pops up on Jingle Ball radar

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This December, New Yorkers will be flocking to Madison Square Garden for one of Manhattan’s biggest pop festivals of the year, the Z100 Jingle Ball. Alongside teen pop sensations such as Miley Cyrus, Ariana Grande and Macklemore, one lucky fan-selected contestant of the Hometown Hero Contest will have the chance to perform at one of America’s most iconic venues.

This year, among the top five is Colt Kucker, a 19-year-old guitarist at UC Berkeley. His songwriting resembles Justin Bieber’s Top 40 hits, but he seems to have won over enough fans to stand a chance. We caught up with Kucker to talk about New York City, haters and his adoration of Miley Cyrus.

The Daily Californian: How was growing up in New York City influential on your songwriting?

Colt Kucker: Most of my songwriting is done in New York City. They’re based around relationships and things I’ve experienced there. Some of my more recent songs have been written in California because I’ve been here for a year or two now, but, you know, friends and family from back home play a huge role in my songs.

DC: Did your family listen to anything growing up that shaped your musical interests?

CK: Nothing in particular. It’s just the mentality of family (that) raised me. My family was well off, and they always encouraged me to explore my passions. They’re also the reason I’ve gotten so far in gymnastics, which is also a big part of my life. Someone who’s inspired me is my grandfather. He encouraged me to get out there and sing in front of people. I guess without him, I don’t think I’d have ever sang in front of people.

One of my cousins is actually in the music industry, and he’s also someone who inspired me to join music a couple years back. So now I’ve been putting myself out there, playing a couple of shows and doing things like this Jingle Ball contest, which is really exciting.

DC: Have you gotten any flak for being “well off”?

CK: Of course, there have definitely been some haters. For every fan you get on Facebook, there will always be a hater out there. Some people will say that you can’t be a musician unless you go through a struggle in life. If you’re a true musician and you’re not in it for the money, then I don’t think there’s any problem. I think you should want to tell a story — you want to influence people. That’s all there is to being a true musician.

DC: Following up on growing up in New York, has moving to California for college changed your perspectives?

CK: Going to California definitely opened my eyes to a more liberal view. New York is stuffy sometimes, and there’s a more liberal view on music (in California). The people around you in Berkeley are more chill. Everyone back in the East Coast is running around trying to get to their job, trying to get stuff done, but people here are more laid back.

DC: How about gymnastics? Does it play a part in your music?

CK: Gymnastics has actually had a lot of influence. I’m learning this song about someone going through hard times, and I think my sport has taught me how to deal with that. It’s taught me to struggle until you make it. There’s always going to be haters, however you make it in life. Whether you’re Steve Jobs or Miley Cyrus, you’ve got to ignore those haters and just do what the fans want. That’s what’s important to me. Gymnastics has taught me to overcome those kinds of obstacles.

DC: Do you feel more an athlete or musician at heart?

CK: I honestly would have to say that it’s 50-50, in the middle. I’ve been doing gym since (age) 3 and music since 10. If I could pursue a career in both, that’d be awesome. I mean, realistically, if I had to give up one, I’d pick up music over gymnastics. With gymnastics, you get old, and it becomes hard to compete with the younger, more talented athletes out there. You have to retire really early. However, with music, even when I’m 30 or 40, I can still perform, sing, play guitar and do all of that.

On the other hand, I don’t think I have to make that hard decision just yet. I’m practicing to be on the Israeli gymnastics team for the 2016 Olympics, and I’m also pursuing this whole Jingle Ball thing, so I feel that my ambitions are very possible. So definitely 50-50.

DC: How far do you want to go with your songwriting career?

CK: I want to be a known name like Miley Cyrus. Get signed on a record label. Get radio play. Actually, I’ve had radio play in Japan, the United Kingdom and, of course, America.

I’ve gotten some letters you couldn’t even read, actually. Gotten letters from everywhere. Denmark. Sweden. Even with this whole entire Jingle Ball, I’ve been exposed to a whole new experience. A lot more fan mail especially. Some people in New York will recognize me. I’ve walked down the street, and some people have been like, “You’re in that Jingle Ball contest!” So I’ve got that part down about radio play and getting my name out. But right now, I’m talking with a record label about getting signed, so that’s the next step for me.

DC: Tell me about one crazy fan mail you’ve gotten.

CK: Well, there’s this one girl I know, and she’s written me a couple times. She keeps telling me about how she wants to fly me to the UK, marry me and have me hold all these personal concerts for her. It’s a bit weird but endearing, I guess.

DC: Have you dealt with any challenges going through the Z100 Jingle Ball contest?

CK: Been trying to promote myself and get the most fans as possible. I have about 60,000 fans, almost 14,000 Facebook likes. Tweeting is a powerful source to use while you’re trying to promote yourself, so I’ve been trying my best to engage more with my fans. I guess you can say that answering fan mail is my biggest priority. Of course, these days, it’s not necessarily physical mail but Facebook posts, tweets, emails, etc. Also, collaborating with other musicians is great, because not only do you learn from their style, but you expose yourself to their fan base and vice versa.

DC: Who would you be most excited to play with?

CK: Miley Cyrus. Definitely. She’s a big influence. She really doesn’t care; she just does stuff, you know? She doesn’t worry about the haters out there. I love the (“YOLO”) mentality she has.

DC: If Miley wanted to twerk on you at the Jingle Ball, would you let her do it?

CK: I would! I think she’s pretty good-looking.

Contact Jason Chen at [email protected].