She entered Valley Idol on a whim four years ago, now Keisja Cox is touring schools and festivals and co-writing songs with the likes of Ryan Guldemond of the Indie rock band Mother Mother.
Although Cox’s parents suspected their daughter would be involved with singing, dancing or theatre when she grew up, Keisja never had any singing lessons until after she made Round One of Valley Idol.
“When I was little I was always singing nursery rhymes and putting my own spin on them,” says the 14-year-old. “I entered Valley Idol on a whim and found my passion.”
Now Cox, as a singer/songwriter who accompanies herself on guitar, works closely with Susie McGregor, who along with husband Andy Lorimer, own and operate Highland Music Multimedia Productions. As well as being vocal and music coach, McGregor is also Cox’s manager.
“I’m really fortunate to have been able to work with so many people in the music industry,” says Cox. “Susie and Andy have done a lot for me and the Comox Valley is so supportive of the arts — it’s a real hub of music activity.”
Cox gained some media attention for her music when she had to deal with a personal problem.
“I was in Grade 7 and was being bullied,” she explains. “So I wrote a song about it to perform at school. When the principal heard it, he suggested I write something about the W.I.T.S. program model on how to deal with conflict.”
Cox took the idea to McGregor who co-wrote You Can’t Change Me with her. To date Cox has toured the song to more than 30 schools and worked with the RCMP on bullying programs.
So how does a 14-year old juggle school, friends, a growing music career and touring?
“My parents said if I wanted to do this I had to be proactive and show that I could organize touring and still keep up with schoolwork,” Cox says. “Sometimes it’s stressful. To be honest, I’d rather practise my guitar than do my math homework but I’m still on the Silver Honour Roll at Mark Isfeld Secondary.”
“And I have time to hang out with my friends,” she adds. “But for me, practising my music isn’t something I have to do; it’s something I want to do. It’s fun.”
In addition to being talented and committed, some of Cox’s success is due to the connections she’s made. Many of these have happened through the Vancouver Island Music Business Conference, an annual event that Highland Music Multimedia Productions holds every spring.
“You get to meet and work with amazing people from the music industry all across Canada,” says Cox who will be attending her fifth VIMBC this May. “I’ve learned so much.”
One aspect of the conference she particularly enjoys is the Great Canadian Song Race.
“You’re grouped by genre and spend about five hours in a hotel room with musicians and producers and come out with a song that you perform in the showcase afterwards,” Cox says. “It’s intense but a lot of fun. I’ve met a lot of professionals in the music industry and am so grateful for all the mentoring I’ve received.
“It’s been incredible to work with musicians older than me and with so much more experience,” she admits. “It can be intimidating at times but some really good things have come out of it, not a lot of people my age are getting offers to co-write songs with established musicians.”
Cox, who falls under the genre of indie pop/rock, writes most of her own material and released her first CD last fall. Take Me Away last fall is available through her website and Facebook page, as well as Jack’d Clothing in downtown Courtenay.
Cox has gained the attention and encouragement of some big names in the music industry. And, although her number one dream is to make music her career path, she’s also interested in joining the RCMP.
But right now, she’s focusing on the last weekend in April when she has three days of events scheduled.
On April 26, Cox will perform at a Youth Supporting Youth: Anti-Bullying Awareness Concert and presentation at Millstream Elementary School in Victoria.
She’ll spend all day Saturday at Canada’s first Teen Expo in Victoria. As one of two special guests, Cox will give morning and afternoon presentations that include music and a talk on finding your passion and following your dream.
And Sunday evening she’ll attend the Vancouver Island Music Awards in downtown Victoria, where she’s in the running for Island Youth Artist of the Year.
But there’s one thing Cox really wants. And that’s a band. So if you’re a drummer or play bass and are interested, contact her through her Facebook page.
Paula Wild is a published author and regular contributor to the Comox Valley Record’s arts and entertainment section.