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Cenza - Voices Interview


Born and raised in Red Bank, NJ, Cenza (chen-za) is an NYC pop singer with an edge inspired by classic divas like Cher, Lady Gaga, and Judy Garland. Cenza writes music and lyrics and co-produces all of her music. She is a classically trained piano player and is self taught on guitar. Cenza is the alias of critically acclaimed actress Emily Keefe. What inspires you to write music?

It's so odd, I go through months when I don't write anything, and then the inspiration just hits me out of nowhere and I'll crank out 5 tracks in a week. It truly is out of nowhere, I'll hear a melody or a phrase and then go, well, here we go, and hop on the freight train until it's fully sequenced. It usually only takes me about 2hr to fully write and sequence a song on Logic. I'm always shocked the next day when there's just this new song that exists because writing music is almost a black out experience for me. The music that I write is always very personal to me. I don't write music unless it comes from something I'm experiencing or have experienced. If I'm not in tune with my honest self, the songs really aren't good.

What is your favorite movie? This is a hard question! I'm such a movie person. I usually attach myself to an actor and watch their entire filmography. I think my favorite film as a whole is Opening Night (1977). I would give anything to be in a John Cassevetes film. I love the improvisatory feel of the scenes, I love how the scenes aren't afraid to be long and explore characters spending time with themselves, and I love how theatrical that feels. Gena Rowlands is also one of my favorite actors, and I continually go back to her performance in this film when I need to remind myself what good acting is.

Where did you get the name "Cenza?" My Pop-Pop's name was Vincent, and he was often referred to as "Vincenzo" and "Cenzo." He was a very special person to me. He became very ill with Alzheimer's when I was 11, and then passed when I was 15, and there is still not a day that goes by when I don't think of him. He's my fellow Aries, and he taught me so much about good work ethic, taking care of business (which he called TCB), and just generally getting my s*** together. He made me believe that I could do anything if I wanted to, and that's the mentality I've always had. If I want to do something, I will do it, it will get done, and no one will stop me. That came from him. One day, I was just like oh, I'm little Cenza. And then I said, huh, I kind of like that. I was considering releasing my new music under a different name, and the second I thought that I thought, well, that's the name. I'm Cenza. Little Vinny forever. Where did the wig come from? I was Natalie Portman's character from Closer for this past Halloween, and my friends and I went out and my boyfriend brought his film camera and took a bunch of black and whites. Those photos just sort of ended up being Cenza, and I just went with it. Something happens when I put on that wig. I'll do a photoshoot with the wig on, say okay let me do some with my natural hair, and my confidence goes from a 10 to about a 6. That wig just makes me feel totally invincible. It's pretty funny. It accesses the part of me that is incredibly sure of myself. It's so interesting to me how clothes, wigs, shoes, and things like this affect how we feel on the inside. That's something I'm interested in as a performer in general. This outside in approach I think is sometimes frowned upon but I think it's an easy and often very creative and expressive way to access certain parts of yourself. I can't wait for the day when I can create my own live show because this is an element I'm really interested in exploring further with my music. If you could have dinner with 5 performers, living or dead, who would they be? Okay. Judy Garland, Cher, Whitney Houston, Madeline Kahn, and Jessica Lange. Honorable mentions Liza Minnelli, Lady GaGa, and Ariana Grande. What is it like working on music with your partner? You know, you find your rhythm, you find what works for the collab. He's really good at producing for my voice, and helped me find my recorded voice. I started out as a live performer, so finding out how to really use the studio microphone was challenging and he helped so much with that. A lot of who Cenza is is thanks to him. I think with music in general, something that Jean-Luc has taught me is that the song will be ready when it's meant to be ready. Sometimes you need space from a track you're working on. 

What are you currently binging on Netflix?

Okay so during the day I'll watch the really embarrassing ones -- like Selling Sunset and well, Keeping Up with the Kardashians. I'm sorry I just need to turn my brain off sometimes! I'm also really into Dynasty but that's not as embarrassing to admit. I love Liz Gillies. The night's when I try to watch some quality TV. I've been watching Bloodline which is a really good show with amazing actors -- Sissy Spacek, Sam Shepard, Ben Mendlesohn, Linda Cardinelli. I also watched Ozark, Dead to Me, and The Politician during quarantine. And I'm also rewatching Glee. I will watch anything created by Ryan Murphy. I um. Watch a lot of television. Connect on Instagram.

For more information on Cenza, please visit her website.

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