When Kalie Shorr’s Awake EP dropped last January, she had no idea that the 12 months that followed would bring the biggest opportunities of her career thus far.
The young singer-songwriter saw her Grand Ole Opry debut in March, and finished the year with eight appearances total; a run as the opener on the 2018 edition of the annual CMT Next Women of Country national tour; and a headlining gig on the Pepsi/Walmart-sponsored, 25-date “Road to the CMA Awards” tour created to raise awareness for the 52nd annual CMA Awards telecast also raised Shorr’s profile.
Shorr, who is a founding member of Nashville’s female songwriting collective Song Suffragettes, is ready to capitalize on a tour schedule that took her to over 100 markets last year — as well as a new gig as the cohost of daily segments on Radio Disney Country called “Let the Girls Play” — with a release strategy that will deliver new music to her fans, no matter what their preferred genre.
On Thursday (Jan. 31), Radio Disney Country premiered a re-imagined version of the title track from the EP as “Awake (Country Mix),” while Radio Disney showcased “Awake (Pop Mix),” which features former The Voice and American Idol contestant Jonny Brenns. Both went into regular rotation on their respective channels, and also hit streaming services at midnight.
Shorr talked to Billboard about her new EP, and the reasoning behind the country and pop mixes. “My generation came up listening to a lot of different genres of music, thanks to Spotify playlists and our iPods,” she explains. “The people shaking their fists at the sky…at the end of the day, I listen to music with great lyrics. You can take some of my favorite songs that are outside of the country genre… and it all boils down to ‘three chords and the truth,’ because that’s not just confined to country music.”
Read our conversation with her below.
Why release two versions of “Awake”?
It’s one of my favorite songs that I’ve ever written, and it opened my mind and helped me discover my sound. The day I recorded it was the day after Chris Cornell passed away, which sucked because I am a really big Soundgarden fan, and was just a really heavy day. I wanted to channel a Foo Fighters energy, but still make it country, and this is exactly the sound I was searching for.
I’m thankful that we’re able to end this project with a pop single. I’m happy that I get to try something different, which is scary, but I’m still really excited. I have always had that idea in the back of my mind, during the course of this project, that “Awake” could be remixed; the song has this really ethereal vibe to it, and everything really came together in the studio once we decided the direction we were going to take with it.
After a year of success behind the self-released Awake EP, are Nashville record labels paying more attention to you?
We’ve reached a point where someone at a label will look [me] in the eye and say, “I’d sign you in a minute, if you weren’t female.” That’s just where we’re at, and I don’t fault them. It’s a business, and it’s not all warm and fuzzy, with everyone getting a ribbon for participation at the end of the day. Everyone is trying to make money, and they look and see that female artists aren’t getting played on the radio, so they’re not going to sign many female artists.
It’s still frustrating, because I do still consider it sexism — but at the same time I have found a lot of good in not having a record label. I feel really empowered by not having someone else control my narrative, and I’m able to be really outspoken about these issues to the press, and I’m not having to play a part in some kind of game.
How is the cohosting job on “Let the Girls Play” going so far?
It’s going really great. Savannah [Keyes, Shorr’s cohost] and I are really close friends, so getting to work together is super exciting. We put together the talking points every week, we get to curate some of the new playlists; it’s a really good gig, because we also get to help our friends receive opportunities at Radio Disney.
Radio Disney Country’s playlists on any given week is usually 50 percent female, if not a little more. Phil [Guerini, General Manager, Radio Disney Networks] is very outspoken about the need for women in country music, and just fixing that problem. Not only is he willing to have a conversation about it, but he’s also ready to find a solution, and always looking for one.
How are you using the platform that Radio Disney Country is giving you?
We appeal to a younger market, but we’re able to talk about real issues at the same time. One of my favorite things that we’ve covered recently was when Carly Pearce posted a screenshot of a message she received of someone directly body shaming her, after they had taken pictures of her at an angle and then said she looked pregnant, and Carly couldn’t weigh more than 120 pounds soaking wet. I mean, it was so ridiculous, but I loved that she addressed it and said that it was f’d up. We were able to talk about it on the “Let the Girls Play” show, and I thought it was so cool that we had a platform to talk about it, because these are the things that a 12-year-old girl needs to hear about.
What did you gain as an artist from touring so much in 2018?
Being on the road was absolutely eye-opening for me. I had one girl come up to me during a stop and say, “I am a gay, black woman, and I want to sing country music,” and I told her that we need her perspective in country music. It was such a diverse crowd that showed up to our shows every night, and I talked to so many people after each stop, and I hate that the music business pigeonholes what a country music fan is supposed to look like.
Do you see the country music industry changing anytime soon regarding its relationship with female artists?
I’m a positive person, but no. What has gotten better is women supporting each other. The difference between the day I moved to Nashville and five years in is definitely the way girls treat each other, and the way we look at each other in a truly supportive way, and not as competition. It’s not like we’re all doing the same thing; just because we all sing and are holding guitars doesn’t mean that our music sounds the same.
For the first time in history, we’re seeing top 20 [country] charts in Billboard with no women in them, and that’s even worse than it was five years ago when we all started talking about these issues. I don’t know what it’ll take to change things, but I love how outspoken women are about it.