Singer-songwriter, actress, and author Kendal Conrad recently released “Come To Your Senses,” a song from her forthcoming EP, produced by Matt McVaney.
She appeared on MTV, singing a duet with Keith Urban during his “Raise ‘Em Up” Tour, and has performed at the White House, Wells Fargo Center, Sands Casino, Six Flags, Hersheypark, the Bitter End, and Musikfest, as well as singing the National Anthem at events for MLB, NBA, MMA, NASCAR, and NBC’s National Dog Show.
Along with sharing the stage with numerous country artists, she made a brief appearance in the Silver Linings Playbook movie and starred as Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany’s.
Because of her deliciously evocative voice, with its polished twang and sumptuous tones, Guitar Girl Magazine caught up with Conrad to discover more about her background, influences, and songwriting process.
How would you describe yourself?
Independent, perfectionist, melodramatic.
How did you get started in music? What’s the backstory there?
When my mom played Whitney Houston on the car radio, that’s probably when I got started in music. I just remember always loving to sing and be on stage since I was really little. As I got older, I taught myself how to play guitar and then began gigging to make money.
What three things can’t you live without?
My parents, my voice, optimism. My parents are selflessly, unfailingly, unflinchingly in my corner and have shown up to support my life since I could breathe. If I lost my voice, I don’t think I could survive in the world. And finally, I think one of the most overlooked but important things is to have something to look forward to.
What’s your favorite song to belt out in the car or the shower?
HOW WILL I KNOW IF HE REALLY LOVES MEEEE. (“How Will I Know” – Whitney Houston)
What musicians influenced you the most?
I taught myself how to play guitar. Watching acoustic performances of Taylor Swift on YouTube really helped that. The camera would zoom in on her hand, and I could see the rhythm, how she palm-muted the strings, how she held her pick. Of course, Whitney Houston. I think her voice is perfect and pure and iconic and so versatile. The voice really is an instrument, but it seems like lately artists aren’t really utilizing all the things you can do with it. Ariana Grande is probably the most recent, but more of a brand-wise influence. She’s sexy, she’s flirty. But she is also silly and quirky (ie: “Boyfriend” video). Finally, Reba McEntire really taught me what a country music star looks like. I watched her big arena shows on YouTube when she had big hair, big boots, and a big smile and then watched every episode of her sitcom. She has a clothing line, she was on Broadway; she did it all. That’s the kind of career I want.
How do your musical influences shape and impact your music?
Taylor Swift showed me how to write songs and play guitar, and Whitney taught me how to sing. Reba taught me about country music. Ariana taught me to step out of gender stereotypes. With my music, I’d like to think you can hear each of these ladies’ influence. Taylor’s sensitive lyrics, Whitney’s strong voice, Reba’s twang, Ariana’s confidence but quirkiness.
What kind of guitar do you play? And why?
I have always played a Martin Guitar. When my Dad told me he would buy me a guitar for my birthday, we went over to Sam Ash, and I played all the different models. The Martin just fit. Visually, it’s classic. Sonically, it’s earthy and warm – words that I would use to describe myself!
Why make music?
Surprisingly, I am shy and reserved, so music is a means for me to talk to people.
What inspired your latest single, “Come To Your Senses?”
To say I’m frustrated with the dating process is an understatement. If there’s a spark, I’m just not sure how to make the guy “come to his senses” and strike up a conversation. And I don’t want to initiate: I want to be that girl that’s worth taking a chance on.
Or, if it’s possible to be bad at flirting, that could just be my problem.
What is your songwriting process?
I’m a hook girl, so 99% I can’t start to write unless I have a title. After I have the title, I need to see the story of the song play out in my mind. Two people glancing at each other at a crowded party. Watching his taillights disappear down the road for the last time. Whatever it is, it needs to be a strong image that conveys a strong emotion, and I usually pull from my own memories and feelings to do that.
Most artists feel their music is constantly evolving. Do you feel this way? If so, is your music becoming more pop-flavored or leaning toward more country influences?
I’m not sure if I would use the word ‘evolve,’ especially because I still have a song in my set that I wrote when I was 17. Changing is probably a better word for it. I think my music changes depending upon how I feel at that point in my life, which doesn’t mean it’s any better or worse than the music I put out previously.
Definitely think I’ve added more pop elements to my music, for sure. I use vocal distortions and effects. I use different sounding synths and hip-hop beats. But I also use fiddle, steel, banjo, mandolin. My songs always tell a story, and I don’t think that will ever change.
What’s next for you musically?
I’ll release the other songs on my EP produced by Matt McVaney first, which I’m really excited about. Still writing, texting myself song ideas when they hit. Not sure what direction the music will go, but it’s fun not knowing.
Where can we see you perform live this year?
I mostly perform solo acoustic gigs back home in PA and writer’s rounds in Nashville. I have a show coming up with Trace Adkins the end of the month, and Phil Vassar in October. Check my Facebook page for dates.