I first learned of Kari Arnett through the Belles and Gals partnership with The Midwest CMA, a regional organization dedicated to promoting country music artists from my area of the United States. As far back as 2016, I had added her two releases (Midwestern Skyline, 2015 and When the Dust Settles, 2018) to my playlists and an occasional song would cycle through every so often. My playlists consist of, literally, hundreds of artists, so there simply isn’t time for me to truly LISTEN to all of the songs. Instead, they provide background music as I go about my day, and I watch for opportunities to see the artists live. In January, that opportunity arrived.
To say I was completely taken by her performance would be an understatement – she absolutely brought the house down. Vocally, she shifted effortlessly between powerful, electric country anthems and quiet ballads, showcasing the full breadth of her repertoire. This, coupled with a stage presence that was both dominant yet intimate, I came away even more impressed with her as a complete artist and was finally able to arrange some time to ask her about her work.
B&G: You’ve announced your plans to make the big move to Nashville. Is there a date for this, yet?
Kari: No official date is set as of yet. I currently am roaming around East Nashville searching for places and a job to settle into. I believe in the “trust the timing of your life” mindset. My goal is to be there before Summer starts.
B&G: Are you able to share any of your plans related to the move?
Kari: I’ve found Nashville to be a very supportive community and have met many awesome people who really cheerlead for you, so my plan is to immerse myself into that community of folks.
B&G: I saw in an article for City Pages (http://www.citypages.com/music/kari-arnett-pours-a-lifetime-of-pain-into-when-the-dust-settles/493642101) that you have struggled with depression and anxiety, and I think a lot of listeners hear that in your music. How do you feel this affects your career, both as a performer and a writer?
Kari: According to a recent study, around 70 percent of musicians say they struggle with depression/anxiety. It’s not always easy to vocalize that. Not every musician does. I think a lot of variables contribute to it and I have felt such a connection to my fans to be honest with them about my struggle. I want to say, “Hey, I am human, I struggle too.” And if I can convey that through my music and connect with someone who is going through a rough time and help them through that, then I think that work is important. Anxiety always lingers before a performance. I want to perform well, I want the truth to come through in my lyrics and performances. If I can reach just one person who suffers also, then I feel I’m doing what I’m meant to do. I want to let people know that it’s ok to not always be ok, and that you are not alone.
B&G: You have said the songs on When the Dust Settles were written before some of the personal challenges you experienced over the past several years, yet listening to Midwest Skyline followed by When the Dust Settles, the themes, at least generally, seem to follow some of your personal experiences. Specifically, I hear a longing and wistfulness in the first album, but determination and a drive to move forward in the second. Was that intentional, or just coincidence?
Kari: I tend to write from my personal perspective. When recording When the Dust Settles, I went through all my songs and selected them carefully to tell the most honest story I could. A lot of them were prophetic in a way relating to my life and where I was at, at the time.
B&G: Do you have a personal “line” that you don’t cross when it comes to what you include in your songs?
Kari: Every song has to feel real to me. I can’t wander into a room and pick a topic to write about. I have to have an honest connection to the song. If I don’t feel it, I don’t write it.
B&G: Do you have an artist or two who you consider to be a role model or even an “idol?”
Kari: I get asked this question a lot. There are so many artists that I admire and respect immensely. I would have to say Brandi Carlile, Margo Price, and Kacey Musgraves come to mind. Real, authentic artists, who are always themselves. Love that.
B&G: Name a favorite artist that we likely haven’t heard of.
Kari: One artist everyone should add to their musical rotation is Mary Bragg. She has a flawless voice, amazing work ethic, and one of the best songwriters out there right now.
B&G: Finally, if you had to choose, who are one or two songwriters you would most like to work with?
Kari: Lori McKenna and Caitlyn Smith.
B&G: Two of our favorites at Belles and Gals!
With a Carrie Underwood style voice and lyrics reminiscent of Brandy Clark, Kari has become a staple of my daily playlists. You can learn more on her website (https://www.kariarnett.com/) and stream her songs on Spotify below:
Interview conducted by Mike Ross (twitter.com/rossmike15)