Artist Spotlight: Kalie Shorr
Kalie Shorr is a splash of red in an all grey painting. She’s bold, colorful, and innovative, and just like the iconic women in country that have come before her, she’s created her own brand of crossover country music that is no doubt going to pave an easier road for aspiring young female artists to follow. Unapologetically true to herself, Shorr wears her unique sense of individuality proudly for everyone to see. In fact, it’s something that’s laid out quite clearly and articulately across the 23-year-old singer-songwriter’s latest project. From start to finish, the new EP is filled with one dynamic track after another, each one hitting harder than the last, and all with one very clear statement to make. With its crisp, clean production, and Shorr’s strong vocals that are equal parts sweet and energetic, Awake is loudly shouting for everyone to hear that Kalie Shorr is a force of nature not to be underestimated.
“Everything in my life so far has lead to this record: the sounds, the lyrics, the vibe. This is the first time I can say with 100% confidence what my sound is. It feels amazing.”
Though Shorr’s second EP, Slingshot, was just released last year, she knew she wanted to release new music either at the end of 2017 or the beginning of 2018. The singer-songwriter explained to me in an email interview that the creative period that came with this new project was both exciting and unanticipated.
“I started connecting the dots between my sound and my visuals and my words, and it all just started to click for me,” Shorr said. “The vision for this project became the middle ground between two parts of myself that I felt had been split down the middle: my edgier rocker side (who likes to take tequila shots and stay up too late) and softer country side (who loves animals and being a role model for young girls). I’m learning that you can be all these things, and you can do it at the same time. I feel like everything about this project encompasses both sides.”
Filled with seven songs that reveal another chapter of the singer’s story, Awake is like a window into Shorr’s soul, each song shedding more light on what’s made her the fierce, independent powerhouse she is today. Though she’s proud of all the EPs she’s released so far, Shorr said that this new project in particular is who she is and everything she’s been trying to say for the past four years that she’s been in Nashville.
“I think I’ve just learned so much about myself since releasing my first song – from being on the road, to succeeding, to failing – Awake is the big sister who knows what’s she’s talking about, ya know?”
While her previous releases (2016’s Y2K Mixtape and 2017’s Slingshot) highlighted her pop, R&B, pop country and singer-songwriter influences with tracks like the nostalgia driven “Class of 2000,” “Outta My Mind,” “Break the Breakup,” “Rearview,” “Nothin’ New,” “He’s Just Not that Into You,” and her fresh take on Barenaked Ladies’ “Odds Are,” it’s the Awake EP that really encompasses all of Shorr’s artistic elements in a way that doesn’t overshadow one more than the other. Shorr explained that this time around she was finally able to “tune everything else out” and go with her gut.
“I am SUCH a team player. Everyone I work with is so talented at what they do – from session musicians to management. But this was the first time I really started to form these opinions for myself and not just “go with the flow.” I started being more picky about visuals, the notes being played in the studio, etc. I had a vision and I just let that be the driving force instead of my desire to be agreeable. And everyone took it so well!”
From the very first note of the title track on Awake, it’s obvious that this is the side of Shorr that we’ve been waiting for. With its dream-like aesthetics and confessional lyrics, “Awake” is the perfect song to kickstart the album and is a shining example of the singer-songwriter’s ability to write lyrics that are both relatable and relevant to her listener demographic.
“Awake” is 100% a true story, and the song is everything I wish I had said to him on the phone that night,” Shorr told me in our interview. “It’s hard when someone expects you to be there for them 24/7 after they’re no longer in your life. It makes you feel a bit used. So, this song was sort of my epiphany of not letting him have that emotional power over me anymore.”
The second track on Awake is the 23-year old’s love letter of sorts and finds Shorr fully aware that she’s hard to handle, but also grateful to the guy who accepts and loves her, flaws and all. It’s on this song, “Two Hands,” where we hear her sound shift, and it’s suddenly very evident that the singer’s current single is the beginning of a more refined and evolutionary sound.
“I was really adamant about “Two Hands” being the first thing people heard from Awake. It feels like it bridges the gap between Slingshot and Awake perfectly. It builds off my past sound, but still feels very much like a new chapter,” Shorr explained to me. Co-written with fellow female singer-songwriters and Song Suffragettes members Lena Stone and Emily Reid, “Two Hands” was according to Shorr, written in a way that felt true to how she falls in love, which she says is “always a little bit complicated.” The song was inspired by a conversation while on the set for the girls’ (Shorr, Stone and Reid) music video for “He’s Just Not That Into You” with the singer’s stylist about her latest breakup. As Shorr told me, her stylist said to her, “Well, he told me I was too much of a handful,” to which the singer responded by exclaiming, “Honey, that’s why you’ve got two hands!” From there, the girls knew they had a song to write.
Inspired by her parents’ divorce and a break-up she didn’t want, “Backseat” is lyrically the most insightful song on Awake. The desperation in Shorr’s vocals is compelling as she vividly describes viewing her life from a position in which control is completely out of her hands. Emotions bounce around like a ping pong ball as Shorr sings the lyrics, “I just want to take the wheel/see how heaven in my hands feels/make mistakes that all are mine/because at least it was my choice this time.” When I asked, the 23 year old explained what it was like growing up being shuffled back and forth between her parents houses, as described in the first verse of “Backseat.”
“I hated it. My dad lived two hours away and sometimes I’d even have to take the bus to get there. I couldn’t hang out with my friends on the weekends or do sports or anything, and I just felt so out of control of my own life.” Shorr went on to tell me, “The second verse talks about my first breakup, and how none of it was my choice either, and I just had to sit there and deal with consequences. The one constant through all of that, though, was music, and that’s what the line about the headphones means. No matter how out of control of my own life I felt like I was, I could always pick the songs. And now, I write the songs. It definitely has a happy ending in real life, but it was really cathartic to get that one out. And Skip Black and Savannah Keyes were so incredible to help me tell my story that honestly.”
Shorr’s most inspiring moment, though, comes from track five on the new project, and will no doubt be the song that launches her into official crossover territory. “Damn Sky” packs an emotional punch with its pop punk inspired instrumentation and confrontational lyrics as Shorr channels her inner Hayley Williams throughout what’s easily a strong contender for the best song on Awake. As Shorr reflects on a past relationship that ended, she compares the aftermath to being lost in space and left alone in the dark. Inspiration swoops in, though, as she finds the strength to “hang the stars in her own damn sky” when she realizes she doesn’t need anyone else to do it for her. Empowerment is at the core of this song as the singer-songwriter sings with such conviction, “I never knew how strong I was until I found me and I gave you up,” and “I’ve got the nails/I’ve got the hammer/if I’ve got myself/I’ve got the answers.”
“When he left, I really did fall apart for a good period of time. It felt like the world ended. And I just kept waiting for him to come back and fix me. Then slowly, I started to fix myself. It didn’t happen anywhere near overnight and it wasn’t easy, but looking back I’m like, “Wow, I did that by myself.” I wanted to write a song about it because I think if I had heard a song like “Damn Sky” when I was crying on the kitchen floor, I might have even started to heal sooner,” Shorr admitted.
Awake closes out with what is essentially Shorr’s anthem for the underdogs, as it conveys a valuable message about accepting one’s individuality and saying, “screw you” to anybody who doesn’t understand. In true Kalie Shorr fashion, “Cool Kids” provides comfort and a sense of security for anyone struggling with feeling rejected by the moral majority, while managing to play on the nostalgia of her own coming of age story. Anyone who follows Shorr on social media might find it hard to believe that this pastel and glitter loving badass with an angelic voice could have ever been anything but popular, but the 23-year-old insists that she was “never one of the cool kids.”
“I always spoke my mind too much to be one,” Shorr admitted. “I had crazy phases – I’d wear red eyeliner to private school and break dress code and get detention, or I’d wear the same pair of cowboy boots for a month straight. I was just trying to find myself, but in the process definitely looked really weird. Now that I do feel like I’ve “found myself,” I very much have this “Oh wow, you don’t like me? Good for you!” attitude. I guess this song is also sort of about the music industry – they might not get my holographic shoes and big guitars, but I don’t care because it’s who I am.”
Kalie Shorr has come a long way since the beginning of her musical endeavors. From a young girl with big dreams who wrote her first song at age six, to learning to play guitar and posting videos on YouTube at 13, to being an ambitious and determined 19 year old who found a way to move to Nashville on her own in order to turn her dream of pursuing a career in music a reality. Discovering one’s passion and determining long-term goals at such a young age may seem bizarre and incomprehensible to some, but for this Portland, Maine native, music was the natural path to follow.
“I really feel like I’ve always known. From the minute I wrote my first song, I got really obsessed with the whole thing. The rest of time between then and moving to Nashville, was just me figuring out how to do it. I think it’s just about having a story to tell – everything else comes after,” Shorr explained to me.
Since moving to Music City, the now 23-year-old singer-songwriter has achieved a number of accomplishments along the way that are not only impressive, but also speak to her incredible work ethic and her determination to succeed in an industry where it’s easy enough for young artists to slip through the cracks or be swallowed whole entirely. Among those accomplishments, Shorr has been named 2016’s second best-selling debut country female, one of only 7 Risers for 2017, Rolling Stone Country’s Artist You Need to Know in 2017, one of Teen Vogue’s 10 Female Artists Who Are Changing the Music Game, and one of 2017’s Hottest Artists Under 25 by Taste of Country. Recently though, the singer’s latest accomplishment comes from being named one of CMT’s Next Women of Country in 2018. As she prepares to hit the road and open for Sara Evans with RaeLynn on the NWOC tour, Shorr expressed her excitement over the opportunity.
“I am so excited – I’ve followed the NWOC franchise for a while, so to finally be a part of it myself feels incredible. I’d gone to the CMA week event they hold in Nashville four years in a row, and the fourth year was when I got to open the show with Kelleigh Bannen and Lindsay Ell. It just felt so full circle for me and the tour – wow. I can’t even tell you.”
Though she’s certainly well-known around Music City now for her remarkable talents, Shorr has no doubt overcome her own share of obstacles while in the process of trying to succeed and establish a reputable name for herself in a genre almost entirely male dominated. In fact, the singer’s first single and the song that started it all for her was inspired by her struggle with the music industry, in which Shorr climbed out on top like the champion she is. Written with Lena Stone and Hailey Steele, and released in January 2016, “Fight Like a Girl” quickly gained traction when SiriusXM’s The Highway featured the song as one of their “Highway Finds” and CMT included Shorr as part of their “Artist Discovery” program. What is quintessentially Shorr’s story and testament about repeatedly being told she couldn’t make it in country music because she’s a female, has since become an anthem and an inspiration for females everywhere who are battling any number of barriers or stumbling blocks in their lives. Shorr expressed how fortunate she feels that “Fight Like a Girl” was the song that introduced her, and that even though she wrote it about the music industry, the stories she’s received from fans have definitely changed the meaning of the song for her.
“Women who had battled breast cancer, ovarian cancer, abuse, infertility – this song is for them now. It’s such a gift. It’s all because of (SiriusXM’s) The Highway – hearing it on there for the first time was amazing, but hearing it now, two years later – that’s the real high. Knowing that my song has continued to impact people for that long and that people keep turning it up. It’s so amazing.”
Among all of her accomplishments and everything she’s achieved since moving to Nashville, though, the most significant and impressive of them all is by far Shorr’s involvement with Song Suffragrettes. Founded by Todd Cassetty and co-anchored by both Shorr and fellow singer-songwriter Lena Stone, Song Suffragettes is a weekly songwriters showcase that highlights only the best and most talented female singer-songwriters in Nashville and subsequently sells out The Listening Room Café practically every Monday night since its inception in March of 2014. Quickly becoming one of the most popular and talked about writers rounds in and outside of Nashville with its fan following that spans across the country and follows along via social media, Song Suffragettes has helped launched the careers of so many amazing and truly gifted female country artists in particular over the last few years. From record and publishing deals to more radio airplay and to simply just being acknowledged in a genre almost entirely dominated by male artists, Song Suffragettes has done nothing short of creating the Country Feminist Movement because of the light it’s shedding on the need for more female voices in country music.
The success of Song Suffragettes is undeniable, and has therefore caught the attention of numerous media outlets including Rolling Stone Country and Billboard, among others, who have all mentioned or featured the showcase in one form or another, which has of course, as a result forced various members of the music industry to also stop and take notice. Recently, though it’s been their cover of Keith Urban’s “Female,” and the release of their own single “Time’s Up,” written by Shorr and featuring the voices of at least 22 members of the Song Suffragettes that has sparked even more awareness among both fans and the media, raising questions that truthfully should have been asked a long time ago. One question that is surely being asked, though, is – what is it going to take in order to see more of a change?
“Radio can create more initiative, the labels can sign and publish more girls, the fans can buy more music – but other artists can girls on the road or feature them on songs. More initiatives like CMT’s Next Women of Country can be created. That’s what it’s going to take. Nashville coming together,” Shorr told me when I posed the question to her.
Everything that’s happening now, though, and has been happening since the start of Song Suffragettes is because of someone who let her passion and dedication for women empowerment be her driving force in order to inspire other females to rally beside her. Shorr’s enthusiasm and ambition to see other females succeed, no matter what they’re doing in their life is indisputably contagious and provokes a feeling inside one’s self that is eerily indescribable.
“I think Song Suffragettes has made me a better performer and songwriter, but also a better woman. Being around all of these incredibly talented girls has inspired me to get better at what I do, and also not be threatened by girls who are better than me. I really believe that we are all in this together and that’s the only way we are going to make things change.”
At only 23 years old, Kalie Shorr has already learned one of the most important and valuable lessons in life, and that is that perseverance and self-worth will take you farther than you can ever imagine. Being strong enough to go on despite seeing nothing but struggles ahead on the horizon, and being smart enough to not let others’ opinions of you dictate how far you go in life, will always pull you through life’s trials and tribulations. While Shorr’s story is motivational and encouraging, it also serves as an excellent reminder and example that a strong support system, one that makes you feel you are 100% capable of achieving whatever you want, is highly underrated. We all need the kind of support that is rooted in a genuine desire to want to help others realize their full potential and ultimately succeed at what matters most to them. For Shorr, the realization that she could handle anything thrown at her stemmed from being raised by a single mother, and then later coming out on top after every knockout she faced in life. It was Shorr’s aspiration, though, to help other women in country music also succeed that led her to discovering her own support system, and ultimately her acknowledgement that without that support, she wouldn’t be the human being she is today, that makes her someone we should all aim to be more like.
“I have so many wonderful female friends, and the fact that I get to to make music with them is so incredible. I feel so lucky. I’ve met almost all of them through Song Suffragettes and I would not be where I am (in music or life) without them!”