Kalie Shorr’s perspective is needed in today’s country music. With a sound that’s equal parts Haim and Shania Twain, her music is a daring reflection of today’s world as well as a dreamy escape from it. The rising artist and a member of the CMT Next Women of Country program is just as inspired by American protest songs from the ’60s as she is hardcore country and alternative rock. Articulate and fearless, she’s unafraid to express exactly what’s her mind in everyday conversation or in her songs.
“You don’t get a song like ‘You Oughta Know’ by Alanis Morissette without going out on a limb and saying some inappropriate things,” Shorr tells CMT.com. “That line, ‘Every time I scratch my nails on someone else’s back I hope you feel it,’ you feel it. In order to say things like that, you need to go out on a limb to make people feel something.”
Shorr, 23, was a few days away from her first birthday when Morissette released her breakout anthem from Jagged Little Pill. But she heard Morissette’s message loud and clear. And it shows on Shorr’s latest EP, Awake. Produced by hitmaker Skip Black, the seven-song collection has Shorr mixing her vivid country storytelling with alternative rock influences for a more evolved brand of country music that’s exclusively authentic to her.
In “Cool Kids” she sings of not checking off boxes she doesn’t fit into, while in “Damn Sky,” her lyrics portray a self-made woman living in a world where there are no glass ceilings. The hooks in her love song “Candy” are as playful as they are addicting. No one should settle for anything less than the love in the lead single “Two Hands.” It’s about a couple who accepts one another as they are flaws and all.
“I feel like with this project particularly, I’ve been in a new creative phase,” Shorr says. “I’ve stopped caring what other people think, which is a lovely thing to do in life. I recommend it to everyone. But also what brought me to country music was the fact that it was honest and uncomfortable at times and just raw. All the country songs I grew up loving were the ‘Whiskey Lullaby,’ Johnny Cash’s cover of ‘Hurt’ and just those really uncomfortably honest songs — any Dixie Chicks song ever … I want to say it and if I relate to it, someone out there probably needs it.”
The most vulnerable song on the EP is “Backseat.” Inspired by Shorr’s childhood growing up in a separated family, the song takes the listener back to the moment when she first fell in love with music. When she was less than six months old her father and her mother split, beginning a childhood that was always on the road between their respective family homes.
“I remember feeling so out of control in my own life as you do when you’re a kid,” Shorr recalled. “Everyone is making decisions for you, and sometimes those decisions have consequences. And you’re the only one who feels them. So I couldn’t do normal kid things like play on a sports team or go see my friend’s birthday party because I was at my dad’s house on the weekend or at my mom’s. I just remember just hating every second of that, and the only thing I felt like I had control over was music. I had my little Walkman, and I’d listen to it the whole drive.”
She has grit, too. The Portland, Maine native was raised as the youngest of seven children, and she moved to Nashville in 2013 when she was 18. At the time, the country music industry wasn’t what she thought it was going to be.
“I was watching movies like the Coal Miner’s Daughter, and I thought that’s how it would be when I got here,” she says. “Not only are you competing against all these great artists, but they also have $10,000 to drop on a project anytime they want and you have $10, which I think it builds character 100 percent. But it was really hard when I first moved here because so many of my girlfriends didn’t have to work, and I was working at a hotdog stand.”
Then she noticed that there was a lack of female-led hits on mainstream country radio. In Shorr’s first year in town, six country female acts hit No. 1 on Billboard‘s Country Airplay chart, and they were each part of a group or a collaboration. They were Lady Antebellum’s Hillary Scott with “Downtown,” the Band Perry’s Kimberly Perry with “Better Dig Two,” Miranda Lambert on the Keith Urban collaboration “We Were Us,” and RaeLynn, Gwen Sebastian and the Pistol Annies’ Lambert, Angaleena Presley and Ashley Monroe guest on Blake Shelton’s “Boys ‘Round Here.” Two Carrie Underwood hits “Two Black Cadillacs” and “See You Again” peaked at No. 2.
“I didn’t know there was a problem with women in country music before I moved here because I heard Carrie Underwood, Miranda Lambert and Taylor Swift on my radio, and I thought, ‘It’s fine,'” she said. “And also that was the music I was seeking out and listening to. I would listen to the radio but nothing would get played as much as Carrie Underwood’s ‘Blown Away’ record. So that was what I thought was at the forefront. I was just really caught off guard.”
Then eight months into her Nashville life, Schorr joined a local coalition for rising female singer-songwriters called Song Suffragettes. Since its 2014 inception, its weekly songwriter round at the Listening Room Café has become one of Nashville’s most popular live music events with sellouts every Monday.
“I found so many girls I could relate to and they had all very different life experiences, but we came together over the fact that we were women who wanted to support each other,” she said. “It opened my eyes to feminism not being a dirty word.”
Through Song Suffragettes, Shorr also accomplished something that every touring Nashville act dreams of — perform for audiences from around the world while still being able to go home and sleep under your own roof at the end of the night. The forthcoming Next Women of Country Tour with Sara Evans and RaeLynn marks Shorr’s first time touring nationally.
“I’ve gone and seen the CMT Next Women tour with Kelsea Ballerini and Jana Kramer, and I remember thinking that is so cool to have a three-month-long wine night,” she said. “But this would be my dream tour. I’ve always adored Sara Evans. I think she’s so outspoken and such a bad ass. And her vocal is golden. RaeLynn has always been so supportive of my music. I’ve always been a fan of her.”
The CMT Next Women of Country Tour launches Feb. 12 in New York City.