Posted January 2020
I’m the father of a beautiful, thirty-five-year-old daughter. She has had to endure a lot of things in her life. Those trials have made her strong and smart. So, when I hear of someone her age or younger prevailing over the ugly hand life deals them, I take special notice.
Such is the case with an exciting, new, up-and-coming country artist, Kalie Shorr. Die-hard country music fans have likely heard of her. For those of you who haven’t, I’ll tell you a little bit about this remarkable, new country artist.
Kalie is a tough girl with a sweet voice and strong work ethic who took the rocky road to country stardom. Born and raised in Portland, Maine, Shorr moved to Nashville as a teenager, working at a hot dog stand as she set her eyes on country music stardom.
Self-taught on guitar, she played in bands in Portland, playing Nirvana and Pink Floyd tunes while her real passion was country music. Driven to pursue her passion, she took extra classes so she could graduate from high school early. She also worked two jobs so she could raise the money to finance her move to Music City, which she did by the time she was 19.
She teamed up with a couple of other young women who wrote songs and, together, they wrote an anthem – a battle cry for young women – titled, “Fight Like A Girl” and independently released it four years ago. It received excellent buzz and airplay on digital radio. She was also named a “Highway Find” on SiriusXM’s The Highway channel as well as was part of CMT’s “Artist Discovery” program.
In 2017, a second single, “He’s Just Not That Into You” as well as her next EP, Slingshot, garnered a ton of incredibly positive press from the likes of CMT, Whiskey Riff, Country Music Chat, Morning Hangover, Sounds Like Nashville, Taste of Country’s “2017’s Hottest Artists Under 25”, and Rolling Stone Country’s “Artist You Need To Know”.
As the old Ronco commercials used to say: But wait! There’s more!
In this past year, Kalie was named a “Top 10 Country Artists to Watch In 2018” by the Huffington Post and a CMT Next Women of Country. Additionally, Shorr released her last EP, Awake, to even more positive buzz as well as toured with Sara Evans and RaeLynn on the CMT Next Women of Country Tour.
Early last year, Kalie fulfilled a life-long dream when she made her Grand Ole Opry debut. She called it “one of the most emotional experiences of my life” and has since gone on to play the Opry many times. Late in the year, she headlined the Walmart/Pepsi “Road to the CMA Awards” Tour as well as launched a daily radio series called “Let the Girls Play” hosted by Kalie and fellow Song Suffragette Savannah Keyes, on Radio Disney Country.
Through her lyrics and onstage banter with her audience, Kalie’s message of female empowerment has led to praise for her social advocacy from NPR Radio and let to features on PBS NewsHour, NPR’s “Morning Edition” and “On Point” in addition to ELLE Magazine. Open Book is Kalie’s first full-fledged CD that came out in September about which Rolling Stone Magazine said that it “showcases the alchemy that Shorr concocts…which manage[s] to conjure both Shania Twain, Red-era Taylor Swift, Dashboard Confessional, and Alanis Morissette all at once.”
As a father, all of this hit me where I love to be hit. I knew that I had to talk to her to hear more so I reached out to her while she was on the road. After introductions and small talk, Kalie shared with me her story about her new album.
“The album is my first ever full-length album. I wrote every song on there and I co-produced eleven out of the 13 songs with my producer, Skip Black. I'd been working towards an album ever since I released my last EP in January of 2018 called, 'Awake', and I had the vision to potentially start doing a full-length album. I thought I knew where it was headed. Then I got hit back-to-back-to-back-to-back with some of the hardest things I've ever gone through. It was all in a one-year period I went through. I had to deal with losing friendships and all that. Then, also, six months later, my sister passed away from a drug overdose.
“It was just like stuff all at once. It sent me catapulting back to how I wrote when I first fell in love with songs, which was we me sitting on my bedroom floor, processing the world around me by making it rhyme. And I kind of I stopped writing for any purpose other than myself and working through it. That really birthed these incredibly vulnerable songs. It's a level of vulnerability and emotional exposure that I never thought I would do. But it happened and releasing it out into the world and having it be received well has been the best experience. It's just so nice to know that you can you can bear that much of your soul and strangers will like be kind to you about it; find some sort of common thread and that we're not all so different after all.”
Regarding the new album, I asked Shorr if there was a particular song that she would point to as a calling card, so to speak, for the entire album.
“Well, I think that the lone of my favorites on there is, probably, 'Gatsby' or 'Vices' because I think that they like have a level of . . . . they're both songs where I'm admitting that I am part of the problem, too. Like when you're going through something really tough, it's up to you to not make it harder on yourself. I really like that perspective because the album, as much as it's about like a really painful period in my life, it's not a ‘let's play the victim’ all the time on the record. I really didn't want to do that.
“But I think, as far as a song that encapsulates the record, it would be, 'Too Much to Say'. I put that as the first track on there. Probably about an hour into writing the song - I was writing it with two really talented writers in Nashville and we were working on it - and I realized, ‘Oh, I think this is the first track on the album.’ And I thought 'Too Much to Say' was a great way to start. It's like, ‘Hey, buddy, you're in for quite the ride.’ And the first line of the song is, ‘I've never been worse. Thanks for asking.’ It does really encapsulates the whole record. It's almost like a laundry list. It checks out all of the different things you're going to hear on the record; the different stories that really give you like a peek into what you're getting. And, so, I kind of started calling it the thesis statement for the album.
When I asked if writing and performing the songs heals more than it hurts, Kalie replied:
“Yeah, I absolutely think so. I would say the two hardest songs to write were 'Escape' and 'The World Keeps Spinning'. But after I wrote them, it felt like a weight was lifted off my chest. And now performing them every night, even though it's hard to go back and think about those stories, I'm hearing from people in the audience who relate to them. I've been on tour with LeAnn Rimes. We just finished our Christmas tour and I've been playing, ‘The World Keeps Spinning’. Even though it's a really sad song about the day I found out my sister passed away, I think that it's the story that has kept me playing it because. Christmas, in particular, there's so many emotions surrounding it. And if you've lost somebody or even gone through something as simple as a breakup, it's so bittersweet because the holidays are so fun and beautiful and sparkly and you want to celebrate. But it's also a reminder of everything that happened that year and everything you've lost and what your expectations were. Holidays that might not have actually come to fruition.
Does Kalie hear stories about how the songs relate to some of her fans?
“Yeah. I mean, people have already gotten lyrics the week that it came out. A girl got a ‘World Keeps Spinning’ tattoo and another girl got ‘Too Much to Say’. Really interesting because the songs that were the hardest for me to write, they're the ones that have been resonating with people for them to want to put the lyrics on their bodies for their whole life. I think a story that's really resonated with me is I really talk really openly about my family on the album. It's not always positive because nobody is always positive. I mean, I'm sure we all dealt with things in a way we're not proud of. I cover that and talk about how it's affected me as a person - especially in 'Escape'. My siblings all heard the record and they have found so much comfort in it because it's all things they've experienced, too. Like, ‘The World Keeps Spinning’ - having that song written and it's exactly from their point of view. It is really interesting to see how much comfort they've been able to find in it. Even though it's really raw and not always pretty, they've been so supportive. I think that they needed these songs as much as a stranger would need them. Even more.”
In listening to Kalie talk, I couldn’t help but ask her if she felt that there’s an invisible hand guiding her along.
“Yeah, I really do. I'm a very, very spiritual person and I do a lot of prayer and meditation when preparing to do this record. I also have gotten a lot closer to my family after my sister passed away because it really made me rethink my priorities. I go home ten times as much now. I think that God and my family - and even my fans - gosh, they pulled me through so much when things are really tough. And the thing about my sister passing away, it made it even harder, which I didn't know anything could make it harder, but it's tougher. I'm just successful enough as a musician to make a headline when something like that happens and that was so difficult. So, everybody knew and my family and I had to talk about it like, ‘OK, well, how are we going to handle this now that it's out? What do we do?’ And we're like, ‘Well, we're just going to own it and be honest about how she passed away and not try to cover it up and make it pretty. Because that doesn't help anybody. And drug addiction, that's a problem right now. So, let's be open about it.’
“I think that being able to hear - when . . . I first talked about it on Twitter in the days after it happened, after the article came out, I was like, ‘Hey, yeah, my sister passed away and blah blah blah blah blah’. And I got so many responses from fans. Hearing from my fans - how many people shared that common tragedy made me feel so much less alone on something that has that much stigma on it.
What has been the biggest surprise to Ms. Shorr so far since began pursuing her career in country music?
“Well, I mean, I think a real rude awakening I had when I moved to Nashville was that I moved to Nashville at a time when women weren't getting played on the radio, and they still aren't. But the problem with starting right when I moved to town, I thought because all I was listening to was Carrie Underwood and Miranda Lambert and Taylor Swift. I didn't know that the radio didn't play - I moved to town and women were making up less than 10 percent of country radio. Then, once people started noticing, they were like, ‘Oh, my God.’ And then I was like, ‘I love being a woman and I love being a woman in Country and now it's like a strike against me.’ There are times I went into record labels and I'd have them say, 'Sorry, we can't sign you because we can't sign another girl right now.' It's unreal. And I'm just like, 'What? This sounds fake.' Unfortunately, it still happens. It doesn't slow me down or stop me at all. But that was definitely a surprise to move to town and be like, ‘I'm going to be a female country singer and then have Nashville be like, 'Ummmm no.’”
Because Kalie is mature well beyond her years, I asked her the question I typically ask legacy artists: How do you want to be remembered and what do you hope your legacy will be?
“I mean, I think that I'm very proud of the person I am at twenty-five and I try to always have the perspective as I am. I think that the term role model is a little bit convoluted these days because it's like it's not about being a teenage pageant princess. It's not about never drinking tequila or, you know, saying gosh darn instead of damn. It's about being someone who is strong and set the standard for themselves and achieve that and treat people kindly, but also to let people walk all over them.
“And so, when it comes to being a role model, I try to think about how would an eleven, twelve, thirteen-year-old Kalie, dreaming of moving to Nashville, how would she think of me and this decision I make? And it's almost like I'm trying to be a role model for my past self. And, you know, I have nieces and nephews, so that factors in.
“But I think that I just try to always have that perspective. I'm like, ‘Okay, where I'm at right now and the decisions I'm making, would little me be proud?’ And so, I think that it's just staying true to that because, like as a child, that's the core of who you are. That's like your purest part and that's the part of you that's just all light and all love and directly from God and everything else is just the world, making everything blurry.
“But if I stay true to that, that light in me, then I think that I'll live a life that I'm proud of. But I think that, for me, that's just continuing to be honest with my music. I care about my fans so much. I mean - and especially putting out a record like this one - it gets really personal at the meet and greet lines and it's something I have had to prepare myself for. Because if I'm going to play a song like, The World Keeps Spinning, I'm probably going to hear a very tragic story from someone at the end of the night.
“I just recently I had a woman tell me about how her mother had committed suicide when she was 21 and she found her and that was something I had to be prepared to hear. But all you can do in that moment is just recognize how similar we all are, like I said, and just hug her and just try to give as much love as I can to this person that I don't know in a really small interaction. But I think stuff like that makes such a big difference. And I just want to keep treating people like that. “LeAnn Rimes says a quote on stage every night. We been joined together and it really stuck with me. It says, ‘Love is making loving choices in fearless moments.’ I really love that. I think, even just showing love at any chance I get is a really, really long way of saying that simple thing.”
As for what is on Ms. Shorr’s radar for the next year or two, she said:
“Well, touring. Lots of touring. I'm excited because the album has been out for three months and that's been exciting. But all the year-end lists that we've been getting on The New York Times said it was the number seven best album of the year. It was, like, in the real New York Times that I can hold in my hands, which is crazy! Things like that, those bring my album to a whole new audience. I got on so many 'best of' lists and I just was not seeing it coming. It just totally baffled me. So that is definitely creating a lot of different opportunities that I wouldn't have had two weeks ago.
“There's a lot more cool stuff coming but, definitely, I'm going to be playing the album top to bottom and re-imagining some of my older songs and taking that on the road. And then, you know, we have another music video that will be out at some point in the beginning of the year. I'm just really excited to keep both of those moving.”
And moving she is and Boomerocity will continue to track her progress in the male-dominated Country music business and look forward to watching her star rise ever higher. You can do the same thing, in part, by connecting with her website, KalieShorr.com.