In 2015, Berkeley songwriter Kyle Terrizzi walked into an unfamiliar used bookstore. A lifelong skeptic, he nevertheless found himself standing with his palms turned upwards, meditating, aware in his bones that he had tuned into something important. He closed his eyes, and – as if pulled by unseen forces – walked without hesitation until he was standing in front of the I Ching, an ancient Chinese book of divination and philosophy. He opened it, and read from the first page, thunderstruck.
He didn’t have a choice. He bought it.
“It was like a key turning in my brain,” says Terrizzi. “Finding that book felt like encountering my true self for the first time.”
Terrizzi, who had been writing and performing music in the Bay Area as The Plastic Arts since 2009, immersed himself in the I Ching. The spiritual awakening that followed inspired him to abandon his previous work and launch an entirely new creative life as M. the Heir Apparent.
In the two years since, Terrizzi has been on a journey, and he’d like to take you on one too.
With the release of his debut EP as M. the Heir Apparent, Be Free, in 2016, Terrizzi began making the music and videos he felt compelled to create by something the songwriter can’t quite name. Call it mysticism, call it fate. Terrizzi knows this much: the calling is an urgent one, and -- not unlike an ancient touchstone of Eastern philosophy -- it’s much, much bigger than him.
Now, with his new EP, Save Yourself, Terrizzi reflects this renewed sense of purpose through another age-old, sacred object: the pop song. Recorded and produced by frequent collaborator Gawain Mathews, Save Yourself is a self-revelatory record, packed with confessional lyrics; bright, plaintive vocals; and melodies that curl up inside your head and stay for days. But it’s also a manifesto of sorts -- both a look at where Terrizzi has been, and a clear-eyed glimpse into the future.
As for where he’s been: Terrizzi spent his childhood studying theater and training professionally for a life on stage as an actor. Still, when Terrizzi left his hometown of Tucson, Arizona for Berkeley in 2007 with nothing but a guitar and whatever else he could fit in his truck, he chose to pursue music. The then-22-year-old slowly established himself as a fixture on the local music scene, eventually performing at storied Bay Area venues like the Great American Music Hall, Slim’s, and Bottom of the Hill alongside artists as dynamic and diverse as Jon Bellion, Tennis, and Laura Gibson.
And yet, it’s only recently, as M. the Heir Apparent, that Terrizzi says he’s finally found a way to reconcile both his early love of theater and his later love of songwriting into a holistic form of self-expression.
“I chose to focus on writing songs at one point, but now the finished video is the full creative statement to me,” says Terrizzi. “At this point, it’s almost as if the songs are a vehicle for the videos as opposed to the other way around.”
It’s a revelation Terrizzi says he should have seen coming considering his earliest musical influence: what he describes as an “almost monomaniacal obsession” with Michael Jackson as a child. Terrizzi found himself transfixed by the cinematic quality of his work -- and the way he used videos as a dialogue between himself and his own artistic heroes.
Terrizzi sets out to do the same. To date, his music videos include a Houdini-inspired straitjacket escape (“Be Free”), a tribute to the 80's fantasy film The NeverEnding Story (“Tell Her”), a dramatization of one of chess champion Bobby Fischer's most famous games ("I'm a Pawn"), and an homage to the classic -- and controversial -- horror film, The Exorcist ("Heaven Help Me").
But to what, exactly, is Terrizzi an “heir”? That’s up to the listener, says Terrizzi. For now, he’s just following the path that appeared to him through a series of flubbed lines and fated findings; breakups and breakdowns of both the romantic and emotional variety. If the persona of M. the Heir Apparent is a work in progress, a canvas of sorts, Terrizzi’s hope is that his newfound creative freedom will become contagious -- that, if nothing else, his work might stand as a testament to the power of vulnerability: of raw honesty at all costs.
“It may sound grandiose,” he says, “but what I’m honestly striving to do is take the pop song and raise it to the level of high art.”