CMA Fest: Kalie Shorr on transitioning to country music and female empowerment

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Like many other young artists, Kalie Shorr came to Nashville to pursue her dream in music. Her self-penned hit, “Fight Like A Girl” in 2016 was a breakout song and Shorr was becoming known as an artist to be reckoned with. Hailing from Portland, Maine, life wasn’t always easy for Shorr telling us, “I had a pretty colorful upbringing, and saw a lot of stuff.” Music was an outlet for her to deal with these emotions.  “I felt so lucky to be able to turn that into music and have that outlet to process those emotions,” says Shorr.

Shorr became a Sirius XM “Highway Find” and has been praised by many music and media outlets including Spotify, CMT, Radio Disney Country, Taste of Country, and even Billboard magazine. In 2017, Rolling Stone name Shoor as a “New Artist You Need to Know” for her EP Slingshot EP. Teen Vogue has recognized her as  “The New Nashville” and Taste of Country says she one of “2017’s Hottest Artists Under 25. Quite an impressive list! And if that’s not enough, she was inducted into CMT’s Next Women of Country Class of 2018. A dream almost all country artists aspire to is performing at the Grand Old Opry which Shorr fulfilled in March of this year.

Besides playing and performing, Shorr is doing her part in empowering young girls and women to pursue a career in music. She has been called the “next ‘Women of Country’ generation” [CMChat] and a “modern country woman [who will] continue to inspire in 2018” []. She was part of the CMT Next Women of Country Presents Sara Evans All The Love Tour alongside RaeLynn.

Her new EP, Awake, was released earlier this year to rave reviews and is made up of seven songs, including the single “Two Hands” and follows 2017’s Slingshot EP and 2016’s Y2k Mixtape, the latter of which included her break out anthem “Fight Like a Girl.”

“This project is the first time I’ve tuned everything else out but my own gut feeling on who I am and what makes me unique,” she said in a release. “This past summer, I bought a new electric guitar, met an amazing producer, and fell back in love with the records that made me want to write songs in the first place. Before I knew it, the Awake EP was born. I couldn’t be more excited for its release. This record feels like the most authentic introduction to me I could give anyone.”

Shorr sat down with us at this year’s CMA Fest to talk about her move to Nashville, transitioning from rock to country, guitars, and women in country music.

We’re here on the first day of CMA Fest!

Yes, I’m so excited to be here. It’s, I think, my fourth CMA Fest. It’s one of my favorite parts of the year because you get to meet so many fans and do so much, but still sleep in your own bed!

So, you live here in Nashville?

Yes, I do live here. Been here for almost four years now – five years? Oh my gosh, five years!

Where did you live before?

I’m from Portland, Maine. I moved here right after high school.

You’re the youngest of how many children?

Youngest of seven, yeah.

And you worked to save your own money to come here? Did you move here by yourself?

Yeah, I moved here by myself.

Wow. You’re brave.

It was kind of a scary time to jump in. But I’m really glad that 18-year-old Kalie did that, so 23-year-old Kalie gets to do stuff like this. I came here right out of high school. I finished high school early and worked two jobs to save up to do it. And then when I got here, my first job was at a hot dog stand on Broadway which is now closed. I went back the other day after I played at the Opry, just to be dramatic, and they had closed down, so I was like, “I was gonna get a hot dog!  But I guess not.”

You’ve received so many accolades by outlets like Taste Of Country’s “2018’s Hottest Artists Under 25” and Teen Vogue’s “Ten Female Artists Who Are Changing the Music Game” and others. I could go through the extensive list which is quite impressive.

It’s been exciting. I’m very thankful because sometimes you can lose perspective because you’re so close to it. You’re just trying to hit the ground running, and stay focused, and kind of have tunnel vision, and then it’s like, “Oh, wow. Someone’s noticing that I’m working hard.” That’s so nice, and it gives you the energy to make that your quest.

How old were you when you started playing guitar and getting into music?

I wrote my first song when I was six. It was a really bad one. I wrote a lot of bad songs. But I was so thankful that I discovered that creative outlet so early on in life. I had a pretty colorful upbringing, and saw a lot of stuff, and had to grow up kind of fast because of that, but I felt so lucky to be able to turn that into music and have that outlet to process those emotions. Then I think I was about 11 or 12 when I was at summer camp, and they had a week-long guitar class that I took it. I just fell in love with it and started playing in rock bands where I picked up an electric guitar.

How did you transition from rock to country?

I’d always known I wanted to do country, but living in Portland, Maine there were no country bands to play with. I have always loved rock music and loved the guitars and lyrics and all that. I was very into it, but I was like, “I want to play country music,” and I remember trying to beg the guys to cover “Jolene.” I was like, “Well, I know Dolly Parton sings it, but the White Stripes did it, too,” and they’re like, “Okay, I guess we’ll try.” But I always loved the space between rock and country, like Johnny Cash covering Nine Inch Nails and the White Stripes covering Dolly Parton and Loretta Lynn. There’s so much space between the two. It’s really cool.

And blend the two …

Yes. And I try to do that. I feel like on my last project, I felt like for the first time I found the space that I wanted to occupy. I picked up the electric guitar at around 13, and then put it down and got an acoustic, which I’m thankful for; but over the past year and a half, I picked my electric back up and really started focusing on that, both for live performances and in the writing room. I feel like it just opened up all these creative floodgates for me. I feel a little bit like a 13-year-old girl in a rock band again, which is good and fun. And I’m just having so much fun playing with that, learning more about guitars. They’re my favorite thing in the world.

What guitars do you play?

I’m endorsed by Taylor and Fender. I play a Taylor 716ce acoustic with dark mahogany wood, and it is a beautiful, beautiful acoustic with the sunburst and has the cutaway because I play high up on the neck. Then for my Fender electric that I just took on tour, I play a Tele Deluxe with double humbuckers. It’s absolutely beautiful with a Strat neck, so it’s easier to play with tiny hands. I feel like that guitar was built for me, and her name’s Mary Ann. Then my pedal board’s name is Wanda, because in the Dixie Chicks’ song, “Goodbye Earl,” it says, ‘Mary Ann and Wanda were the best of friends.’ That was really fun to bring on tour.

What pedals do you use?

For pedals, I use a combination, but my two favorites that I use the most are the Electro-Harmonix MEL9 pedal. I’ve heard some people call it a Beatles band in a pedal. It’s got strings and a high chorus and a low chorus, and cello and clarinet. It’s really cool, so I layer that when I’m playing shows, just to put in the cello and it gives you kind of a bassy part, especially when I’m playing the electric. And then I play a J. Rockett Guthrie Trapp Overdrive that I’m a huge fan of, and then I use the Pigtronix Class A Boost a lot. Those are my three main ones. But I think I’m about to get the Electro-Harmonix SYNTH9, which is similar to the MEL9 but has all these synth sounds, which will be good for the spacier stuff.

Do you play with a backup band?

I do, yeah. A lot of times, for me being a new artist, you want an opportunity to go out by yourself just from a functioning standpoint. It’s just cheaper to go on the road that way. That’s why I started leaning into the electric guitar because I think it is more engaging onstage. I think it’s more engaging onstage for me personally, but I also love going out with the band, too, they’re just rock stars. We’re playing a bunch of shows this week together, and we’re having so much fun.

Is it an all-female band?

No, but I have a female guitar player in my band, which is really awesome. She’s a rock star. She just built me a custom pedal board, and she painted it purple sparkles. She works at a vintage guitar store, so she always keeps an eye out for cool pedals for me and stuff. It’s so cool to see her, and just women supporting other women. We’re also taking on a female drummer. I love the boys in my band, but it is nice to have a little bit more estrogen on the road sometimes.

I wish that more girls knew growing up that – I’m so happy when any girl picks up an instrument, but I wish more girls would pick up the boy instruments. And I think that’s a thing in production, too. A lot of girls don’t see female producers, so they don’t even really consider it as an option. Do you know what I mean?

I think so much of that is hopefully changing now. With all these organizations empowering and promoting women in music, like the Women’s International Music Network, Women in Music, and There are more, and they’re doing a lot. There are all these panels at music conferences and women are talking about it. And some women are doing it; it’s just not noticed as much. They just don’t get the recognition.

You have to work twice as hard. I never want anyone to think I’m whining about it, because I’m thankful, but I have to work twice as hard because I’m twice as confident and I feel twice as capable as the boys.

Tell us about Song Suffragettes.

I’m playing later today with several writers from Song Suffragettes. It’s similar to what you’re talking about, but it’s an all-female writer’s round that we do. I was one of the founders, and we had four girls in the group, and we played the first show for 15 people. Now, we’re having our fourth anniversary next week, and we’re having a show at the Analog. It’s just this all-female writer’s group about building community and support and giving girls a way to meet each other and write together and just dispelling stereotypes that are put on women.

The thing I hear all the time is women are pit against each other so much, and I think that’s a big reason why there’s a lack of representation. For a long time, any girl who had an acoustic guitar, other girls would say, “Oh, they’re just like Taylor Swift.” I’m nothing like her. She does Taylor Swift so well; no one else can do it like that. Don’t insult her by comparing either. You know what I mean? So, I think it’s just so important, and the biggest thing that I take away from all the Song Suffragette shows after seeing five girls play, is how different all of us are.

So often you hear, “Well, we can only put one girl on a festival,” or “We can’t play women back to back on radio because they all sound the same and people turn it off,” and “All girls sound the same,” and blah blah blah. You just hear that all the time. And I watch these shows, and literally not one of these girls sounds even anything close to the other.

That’s one of the things I was going to ask you. There’s been a lot in the news about not enough women get recognized at the country music award shows and so on. I hear it all the time, but I see there are a lot of females performing here at the CMA Fest. Maybe things are changing.

Yes, and the CMT awards last night were amazing. I got to go and walk the carpet. It was really fun. I think CMT is such a great example of people in the industry, not just sitting around talking about it, but doing something. They created the CMT Next Women in Country Tour, and they had the RAM stage at the CMT awards where it’s a smaller performance where Lindsey Ell and Carley Pearce got to play. They create these opportunities that don’t exist elsewhere. The biggest thing I would say about the CMT Awards, and I didn’t look at any details, but I would say it seemed to have a very even split of male and female performers and male and female winners – and they’re fan-voted. Why does no one want to give the fans what they want? You know what I mean? So many fans are like, “Why aren’t we (women) on radio? I don’t listen to radio because there are no women on there.” Right? Why is no one listening to that? So, it’s frustrating, but I’m confident things are changing.

Let’s talk about your music. You address issues like gender inequality and female empowerment. What is your message to women in music?

I feel very lucky to have been involved with Song Suffragettes for so long because it really gave me a lot of clarity on what it means to be a woman and what it means to support other women. I think it’s made me a better woman. At the end of the day just talking about it a lot and thinking about it, always having it in the front of my mind with everything I do being like, “How does this represent other women? How does this help other women? How does this inspire other women?”

I don’t think I would have that if I hadn’t been involved in that group, especially just because society doesn’t say it to each other so much. It’s easy to listen to other voices. But just realizing that I am setting an example. I try really hard to be conscious of that, and it’s reflected in my music. My first single was called, “Fight Like A Girl.” I wrote it about the gender inequality problem in country music. It’s directly addressing a radio consultant who said something really wrong about female artists. It’s called “Tomato-gate.” You can look it up.

Oh, yeah. I’m familiar with that.

Yes. It’s all about that. I didn’t think a song I wrote about country radio as being my first song to go to country radio, so it was just amazing. It gave me such an organic way to bring up feminism and girl power and new views without just beating people over the head with it. Because you never want to be that person. They’re like, “So what’s your favorite flavor of ice cream?” You’re like, “Feminism.” If you find a natural segue, the opportunity is within itself. And I felt like talking to people that might not have necessarily identified as a feminist; they get what I’m trying to say. And that’s how you reach across the aisle and do that.

I had a great opportunity with “Fight Like A Girl,” and after that, everything I release I try really hard to think about how it reflects towards me as a feminist. There are some songs I’ve written about girls who stole my boyfriends or girls who are mean to me, and if it comes off catty, I try to write a better song. No one needs one more song about girls not liking each other. And there’s better stuff to write about anyways. Boys, beer, I don’t know. All those things I love.

Releasing my project earlier this year, my EP Awake, was the first time I felt like I found the space I wanted to occupy between rock and country, and as I said, picked up the electric guitar more. I’m very proud of that project; the lyrics, and I wrote a lot of the lead lines on the guitar, and I will continue to do that for the next project I’m working on.

When will the next project be out?

Well, I’m only on the second single from Awake, and I like to think we’ll probably get to three or four. I’m always writing, but this summer I’m definitely going to hit the ground running with writing new material. I always bring new stuff into the live set. Awake has gotten such a great reaction, and I have so many ideas for the visuals. So, I think we’ll still be on it for a minute. It’s my favorite thing I’ve ever done.

I just loved her song “Candy” from the EP, so had to share.


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