Rising country music star Kalie Shorr recently released her debut album, Open Book, which she co-produced with Skip Black in a little one-room studio in Nashville. The 13 songs on the album are an “open book” into Shorr’s life. She collaborated with songwriters from her band, friends, and fellow members of the all-female Nashville songwriting showcase group Song Suffragettes. Shorr is an outspoken advocate for female empowerment and promoting women in country music. She hosts a Radio Disney show with fellow co-host Savannah Keyes called “Let The Girls Play.” She has also been part of the Song Suffragettes weekly showcase since its inception and been featured on PBS and NPR on gaining more radio airplay, as well as many other initiatives. #letthegirlsplay
Shorr’s first major hit was her 2016 self-penned single “Fight Like A Girl.” Originally from Portland, Maine, the young singer-songwriter, like many others before her, moved to Music City to pursue a career in country music. She released her first EP Slingshot in 2017, followed by Awake in 2018. She has been named “New Artist You Need to Know” by Rolling Stone, “The New Nashville” by Teen Vogue, one of “2017’s Hottest Artists Under 25” by Taste of Country, and “Top 10 Country Artists To Watch In 2018” by the Huffington Post.
Fulfilling a lifelong dream, Shorr has performed at the Grand Ole Opry 14 times. She was planning on performing the weekend we chatted with her in Nashville, “It’s always magical, but performing on the same weekend of the album release will be special.”
We talked about her new album, Open Book, co-producing with Skip Black, co-writing, and advice for her younger self.
We basically locked ourselves
in a little one-room studio
and laid down the tracks.
It’s so nice to be here with you again, Kalie. Your new album Open Book is out, and it is quite different than some of your previous work. Tell us a little about the new album and how it differs from your last EP Awake.
It definitely still brings in the rock influences of Awake, and Skip produced that one, but this was my first time co-producing a song of mine. I co-produced “Time’s Up” for Song Suffragettes, and that was my first time doing that, but this was a whole different experience. I had a crazy whirlwind year where a lot of personal stuff happened —it’s all documented on the project.
But as I started to consider how I was going to record it and go about that whole process, it felt like it wasn’t right to do it in an environment with people I didn’t know and wasn’t necessarily close to would be involved. So it started to organically evolve to where my co-producer Skip Black and I were building out these tracks, and I was like, “Well, what if we just did it, the two of us?” He was really encouraging, and it was really nice to have someone say, “I know it’s unfamiliar territory, but we can do this.” We basically locked ourselves in a little one-room studio and laid down the tracks. We spent two weeks there every day laying down the foundations for the songs.
I feel like the passion and emotion really comes
across from the people
who are a part of it.
I remember from our last interview at CMA Fest where you mentioned about you and Skip getting back to basics. You said you’ve made the big shiny, polished, grandiose music, but you wanted something more raw and real.
Definitely back to basics. I played a lot of the guitars on the record, and then when we needed more, other people would come in. I played guitar on “F U Forever” and “World Keeps Spinning,” and I think one or two others. Skip was really encouraging in that, too, because it was my first time playing the guitar on one of my projects as well. Then he played a lot of the other instruments and then for the supplemental ones, his sons played and my live band filled in the blanks. One of my good friends, Annie Wildgen, who co-wrote “F U Forever” with me, she did background vocals. Natalie Stovall played fiddle on “Gatsby” and Stevie Woodward, who is, well, they’re all members of Song Suffragettes, but she played harmonica on “Too Much to Say.” Also, Candi Carpenter, Savannah Keyes, and Robyn Collins. So it was such a friend group situation where I was close to everyone, and they understood the story behind the songs — they knew exactly what inspired them. So I feel like the passion and emotion really comes across from the people who are a part of it. And it made for a very fun environment to make this album.
How long have you been working on this album?
The oldest song on there, I think, was “Big Houses,” which we ended up finishing last summer, but we started it a few months before. But most of the album was written in February. “Escape,” “Too Much to Say,” “Gatsby,” and at least four or five of them, and “F U Forever,” were all written in like two weeks. So once I knew how I wanted the album to be, everything just fell into place from there. It was just a really cool project and, we had such a fun time.
Who is Jonny Shorr? Any relation?
It’s so funny because everyone thinks that because it’s such an uncommon name. I met him through Katie Stump from Honey County. We wrote this song called “Messy,” which is on the album, and he played piano on that. I have people all the time tell me they’ve written with my brother, and I’m like, “No, he’s a rapper, he lives in Maine.” We jokingly call ourselves The Shorr Family Band, but no relation at all.
it was definitely a
huge learning experience . . .
How was your experience co-producing with Skip, and what did you learn from the process?
Skip really encouraged me. I learned a lot about my influences and how those bleed over into the Sonic side of things. I learned a lot about the technical side of things, and I had so much fun playing and just being more involved in the sounds — make that sound smoother and especially with the utility instruments like mandolin, banjo, and all that. Skip has so many incredible ideas, too, so it was very much so back and forth. But I co-produced 10 out of the 13 songs because there were three that he was like, “I have a vision.” And I said, “Go for it.” So it was definitely a huge learning experience, and now I don’t think I’ll ever not do it because it was so incredible.
It’s a very personal piece of work. How did you approach opening up and putting your life into words for the public?
It’s so weird to have these songs in the world because they’re so personal. I went on a date last week, and he was like, “Oh, I heard your song ‘Escape.’ I was like, ‘Oh, so you literally know everything about me now? Cool.’ No, great. What an interesting way to start this? And so, yeah, I mean the songs are just so, so personal, and Skip and I had both lost someone to a heroin overdose. He lost his niece on Halloween of last year, and I lost my sister on January 5th this year, so they were really close together.
That’s what “The World Keeps Spinning” is about. We wrote that together with Robyn Collins, who is kind of like my Nashville mom. She wrote a lot of the songs on the project, as well. It was just really, really from the heart. I cried during the vocals and kept crying, so eventually, we just kept it in there. We also had Annie do background vocals on it, and then Skip wanted to sing backgrounds on it as well. It’s very much so his song too. It’s our story — just a different day. We ended up dedicating the album to Megan and Ashley
Then I went through a breakup after six years. I thought I knew what this album was going to be, and then when that happened, everything got scrapped except for “Big Houses.” My life changed overnight. I’d never been single as an adult; I’d never gone through that level of heartbreak. I thought it was going to be a breakup album, and there’s actually more life songs in there than break up songs. Being forced to confront some family stuff was really hard, too.
I think that’s the biggest difference between Open Book and Awake, which is how much growing up I’ve done in the past year-and-a-half. And you can very much hear that in this album. Every word on there is true, and I sometimes think in songwriting, you fill in the blanks. You might write a song about something and then tweak it a little. But these songs are real stories. They’re exactly what happened, to the point where, as I said, it’s a little uncomfortable because you’re reading my diary out loud.
“Escape” is, in my opinion, one of the best songs I’ve ever written.
Any particular song that stands out to you that you want to reach your fans?
“Escape” is, in my opinion, one of the best songs I’ve ever written. It’s definitely one of the hardest for me to sing. It’s a song about having the choice not to follow the path that everyone you’ve seen before you have taken. It started off as a song called “Break the Cycle,” and then we came up with the line, ‘everybody needs an escape and mine was leaving,’ and we were like, “That’s it.” It’s really sad, but I think that there’s a lot of hope in that song. People already have “Escape” tattoos, which is great. It feels good to have them out in the world and to hear people share their stories because it makes me feel less alone, in the same way, it makes them feel less alone.
You’ve experienced quite a bit so far since your move to Nashville when you were 18. What advice would you offer to a young girl wanting to get into the music industry?
It rarely happens overnight, and if it does, you’ll wish it hadn’t because you need that slow climb. It’s not just paying your dues, but it’s also adjusting to how bizarre all of it is. At the beginning of this year, a lot of things were hitting me in the tabloids about my sister. So having my life feel so visible and just given the fact that I put myself out there for it.
So don’t try to be an overnight success, you’ll hate it. And then also, everyone here is talented, and it’s so easy to feel intimidated by it. Still, I worked really hard to turn that into being inspired by it to get better. I learned from the people who I looked up to. Have your inspirations become your peers. That’s my goal. I want to work with those people that I’ve looked up to. And remember, talent isn’t the only component. You can be insanely talented, but if you don’t work hard and you’re not nice to people, you’ll never make it.
With all you have been through, the challenges you have had to overcome, knowing what you know now, and with this album you have completed, as an “open book,” what would 25-year-old Kalie tell her younger teenage self?
It’s never the end of the world, and trust me, everything’s the end of the world when you’re a teenager. I would just like to tell her, and I wouldn’t want to spoil any surprises, but it all works out.
Open Book Tracklist
- “Too Much to Say” (KalieShorr, Robyn Collins and Ian Christian)
- “Escape” (KalieShorr and Candi Carpenter)
- “Messy” (Kalie Shorr, Jonny Shorr and Katie Stump)
- “The One” (Kalie Shorr, Skip Black and Savannah Keyes)
- “F U Forever” (Kalie Shorr, Candi Carpenter and Annie Wildgen) – explicit
- “Alice in Wonderland” (Kalie Shorr and Candi Carpenter)
- “The World Keeps Spinning” (Kalie Shorr, Skip Black and Robyn Collins)
- “Big Houses” (Kalie Shorr, Skip Black and Savannah Keyes)
- “Gatsby” (Kalie Shorr, Skip Black and Candi Carpenter)
- “Thank God You’re a Man” (Kalie Shorr, John Caldwell and Robyn Collins)
- “Vices” (Kalie Shorr, John Caldwell and Robyn Collins)
- “Lullaby” (Kalie Shorr, Robyn Collins and Will Stone)
- “Angry Butterfly” (Kalie Shorr, Simon Reid and Fred Wilhelm)