Born in the rural community of Monkey’s Eyebrow, Kentucky (yes, that name’s for real!) Kelsey Waldon grew up listening to classic country music. Artists such as Loretta Lynn and George Jones alongside the bluegrass sounds of the likes of Ricky Scaggs and the songwriting of Guy Clark have all played a part in making her the artist she is today. She turned to music to help her cope with the pain of her parent’s split when she was aged 13, and by the time she graduated she knew she wanted to make music her career. She enrolled at Nashville’s Belmont University to study songwriting and music business, releasing her first EP IN 2007 followed by an album in 2010. Two more EP’s followed but it was her 2014 album “The Goldmine” that was to be her commercial breakthrough. Her 2016 release “I’ve Got A Way” caught the attention of John Prine, who signed her to his label Oh Boy (its first signing in 15 years) and last year saw Kelsey’s first release on the label, the album “White Noise/White Lines which was included in NPR Music’s Best of 2019 round up among numerous best of/year end lists. “Kentucky, 1988”, one of the album’s singles, was named by Rolling Stone as their number 1 Country and Americana songs of last year. Here’s Kelsey telling us a bit behind the song’s inspiration
Having been fortunate enough to catch Kelsey’s London headline show earlier this year where I was enthralled by her music and delivery, and approached her manager afterwards to pitch the idea of an email interview for the site.
Her’s the outcome….hope you enjoy the read!
1.LH Hi Kelsey, thanks for your time…..
KW Thanks for having me!
2. LH You’ve recently been touring UK and mainland Europe for the first time, did you have any preconceived notions of what the audiences would be like, and if so were you correct?
KW Everyone had told me how gracious, respectful and engaging the crowds were in Europe and it exceeded every expectation. It was wonderful.
3.LH I was fortunate enough to catch your headline show at London’s Slaughtered Lamb which was packed to the rafters! Such an amazingly intimate show, do you like that type of a venue where you can really connect with an audience…even though you told us you don’t normally chat much during your sets which was a rule you seemed to break that evening!
KW Thanks so much, that show was really encouraging for me. I had never played in London, and for my first time to be packed like that, it meant a lot. I love different types of venues for different reasons, but there is definitely something special about an intimate show where you can really connect with people.
4.LH I loved that you opened there with not one of your own songs but with the classic country song ” Tennessee Blues” which you told us the great Keith Whitley introduced you to, and you included Neil Young and John Prine covers as well… all male artists, as are the cover on your last two albums. Is that coincidence, or do you specifically steer away from reinterpretation songs made famous by female artists for any reason?
KW I actually cover Ola Belle Reed on my latest record, a female singer from North Carolina who is one of my heroes. I cover songs because they are good, because they have meant something to me, or because I believe I can make them my own. I also never want to do something too typical. It has nothing to do with the gender of anyone, it’s just based on songs I love.
5. LH Your love of traditional country music stems from your upbringing in Kentucky which of course is also known as the ” Bluegrass State”. But your musical influences are pretty varied I gather. What are your earliest memories of the music you were exposed to while growing up?
KW My earliest memories of music was listening to my great-grandmother and grandmother play songs they wrote for fun on the piano. Also hearing so many stories about music in my family. The first time I touched an instrument, it was a piano and my nanny (the lady that kept me while I was young) taught me how to play it. I also remember seeing my first concert, which was Patty Loveless at the Executive Inn in Paducah, KY. Lots of classic rock on the radio. My granny always played Conway, Loretta, Freddy Hart and Elvis from the 8-track console in her sun room.
6. LH Both your family and your home state seem to inspire a lot of your writing, ” Anyhow”, ” Kentucky 1988″ , ” Black Patch” and the title track from your latest album ” White Noise/White Lines ” being just a few examples. Was moving to Nashville a wrench and a culture shock?
KW Nashville was the only other place I had lived besides home, and it still is. It’s not that far away from where I’m from, but it’s definitely a huge city compared to where I grew up. Not much of a culture shock, as Nashville is kind of a big city with small town feel. We used to travel to Nashville to come a lot to concerts when I was young. I was more excited about all the possibilities in the music scene than anything else.
7.LH It’s an album you co-produced I notice, sadly not an area that females tend to get involved in. What did the process teach you, was it something you enjoyed and would it tackle again, either for yourself or another artist?
KW I love the thought of producing for another artist, but not sure if I’m there yet. Dan (Knobler) was there to help me guide and steer the ship for this last one. Naming me as a co-producer just seemed natural because at the end of the day, it was my vision with Dan and myself at the helm.
8.LH And of course it was your first release on the afore mentioned John Prine’s ” Oh Boy ” label, you are their first new signing in many years I understand, belated congratulations! What difference does having label backing make as oppose to self-releasing music… especially a label run by someone who’s music has inspired you so much ?
KW Thank you! I am honored to be on Oh Boy, and I am honored to be associated with John Prine and to be a small part of that legacy in some way. Oh Boy’s overall vision is something I can get behind and clearly I am behind. Being on a label, I have marketing, distribution and just overall organization help which is huge. I had never had my record in any independent stores before Oh Boy, and now they ship out all my merchandise was has also helped tremendously (I did it by myself before). Just the chance to make more records because of a label is huge in itself.
9. LH You now live just outside Nashville, a city renown ( among other things!) for being one where co-writing is the name of he game. Yet you choose to solo write don’t you, can you tell me a bit more about your songwriting process if you have one, or is it different all the time?
KW I did not mean to chose to write solo, I just always have, ever since I was a kid. I co-wrote some while I was in songwriting program in college. I think the “Nashville way” of co-writing works for some people, and for others it doesn’t. It can be a great challenge and can be fruitful I think if you get with someone you really respect. I am open to writing with people that I respect as songwriters. Otherwise, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. You just got to do what’s comfortable for you. I have inspiration that hits me from everywhere. Sometimes it takes 3 minutes, sometimes it takes 3 months, 3 years. Most of the time, you just have to be open to it and discipline your mind.
10. LH What does the rest of 2020 have in store for you?
KW Well, right now we are dealing with a global pandemic. We were touring heavy in Spring, but obviously all that is postponed now. We are trying to get back on the road by June or May if we’re lucky! There is some uncertainty about 2020 I think for everyone at this moment but if all goes well, we’ll be back on the road heavily in fall, and I plan to hopefully track a new album this year. We are going to keep chopping away out there when allowed.
11. And hopefully you will be returning to this side of the pond in the not too distant future?
KW Yes, end of year it’s looking like. I hope everything is back to normal by then.
LH Amen to that!
Keep up to date with all Kelsey’s news at kelseywaldon.com
Interview conducted by Lesley Hastings (twitter.com/lesleyhastings)