Everybody starts somewhere.
Maybe Dallas, maybe Chicago, maybe Chattanooga, maybe Monkey’s Eyebrow, Kentucky. This unincorporated rural community straddling the border of Kentucky and Illinois is where newest breakout country singer Kelsey Waldon spent her formative years.
And by no means is Waldon just your average “country singer”. She possesses a grit and edge in many of her songs, several that bring rock and roll and outlaw elements to her sound. Her range can be delicate, to raucous, to a beautiful amalgam of both. She has poignant lyrics that aren’t cliché and played out. She’s definitely one of the real ones.
For nearly a decade, Waldon worked hard towards a career in music here in Nashville. Upon her initial feelings of saying college be damned, she found herself studying Songwriting and Music Business at Belmont University. While working toward her degree, she played gigs at ‘any bar that would let her in the door and on the stage’ and worked more than 45 hours a week at a minimum wage job to make ends meet.
Well her hard work and dedication paid off. After two albums and working her way up the musical ladder, she found herself playing alongside every songwriter’s hero John Prine at The Grand Ole Opry earlier this year, who introduced her as the newest artist to join Oh Boy Records in 15 years.
Amidst her busy schedule, Waldon was kind enough to chat with us about her upcoming album White Noise/White Lines, touring with Prine, her favorite places to eat in town, and much more.
Music Mecca: So you’re from Monkey’s Eyebrow, Kentucky. Can you tell us a bit about the town, and what you did for fun growing up?
Kelsey Waldon: Monkey’s Eyebrow is a unincorporated community of sorts located in Ballard County, Kentucky. I grew up in a hunting lodge there, on a farm located near the river bottoms of the Ohio. For fun we would go fishing, hunt for arrowheads, play basketball, ride four wheelers, go exploring creeks, go swimming, and stuff like that. Once we were old enough to drive, we mostly tried to stay out of trouble. That was sometimes hard to do. Besides all that, I always played music as well and when I was old enough to drive, I started going to local shows and performing at them myself.
MM: Who or what got you into playing music, and when did you realize it was your calling?
KW: My caretaker growing up, my nanny. I always credit her with teaching me at a very young age how to read music. She taught me some of my first songs on piano. On my mom’s side, we had generational musicians in my family. My granny wrote songs and my great-grandmother played guitar, and my great-great grandaddy played drums and bass fiddle…so I guess you could say it was always inside of me. I realized it was my calling though at age 12. I heard Bob Dylan and The Beatles and I wanted to play the guitar then.
MM: Recently it was announced that you’d be the first artist signed to John Prine’s Oh Boy Records in 15 years. Can you talk about how that night at The Grand Ole Opry transpired, and what it was like playing alongside John?
KW: The night was strategically put together as a way for us to announce the signing, and it was a perfect way to do it. I will never get over playing or singing alongside John anytime that I get to do it. John is an idol of mine. It’s a dream come true. Not to mention, singing at the GRAND OLE OPRY with John Prine…something I will never take for granted nor forget.
MM: White Noise/White Lines is set for release October 4th, with pre-order available now. What will you remember most about writing/recording it ten years from now?
KW: I think I’ll remember our time in the studio the most. It’s my touring band on the record and it truly felt like we were doing something special in there. We have all spent so much time together, and it was almost like we were reading each others minds. It really gave it a special breath and life, at least in my humble opinion.
MM: What song on the album was the most challenging to write and/or record?
KW: The hardest songs to record for me personally were “Kentucky, 1988” and “My Epitaph”. When I am making a record, I get borderline obsessed with the process. I put absolutely every ounce of my soul into it. We had to stop after take 4 of “My Epitaph”, not only because we knew we got the take, but because also it was really emotional for me to sing. Both of those songs were at the time. I just felt the lyrics so strongly that it was hard for me not to cry, to be honest. Which I’m fine with. If I felt nothing, be it laughter, tears, anger or happiness, I wouldn’t be doing it right.
MM: Who plays in your band, and how did y’all get assembled?
KW: My band is consisted of Mike Khalil on Electric guitar, Nate Felty on drums, Alec Newnam on bass, and Brett Resnick on the pedal steel. Brett doesn’t get to tour with us much anymore, but he is the one playing steel on the record (on all my records). Long story short, we all met through the music scene and through mutual friends. I have had a lot of different bands throughout my life. Alec and Brett have been in my band for years, but we went on our first tour together as this combination in late 2016. I knew then that this was the recipe I had been wanting and needing. I’m so proud of them and each one of them are state of the art musicians, each bringing their own character to the mix.
MM: You’ve got a string of shows lined up with John to close out the year. Are there any in particular you look forward to most?
KW: I look forward to all of them, but I’m definitely looking forward to the California dates.
MM: When did you get your “first big break” in Nashville?
KW: I’m not sure. I kind of had to make a lot of things happen for myself. It’s been a long process, and it’s still not finished. So many things led to other things, but I had to show up and be present. When I made my record “The Goldmine”, I will say that is when I met the first 2 members of my team, Maria Ivey from IVPR and Josh Swann from Paradigm. So much grew from there, and that was in 2013 or so.
MM: Do you have a desired atmosphere or pastime that helps aide in your songwriting process, or does it just happen sporadically?
KW: We live in a cabin outside of Nashville, with a pretty great back porch. So, when I’m at home and settled in, that definitely helps clear my mind and get me focused. I have a garden, and that aides a lot in my zen as well. If I need to, sometimes I might take a long drive or even drive back to Kentucky and get lost in the woods somewhere. All these things help in some shape or form. When I’m on the road touring though, I try to use the travel time to write ideas down. I love a good journal, and a fresh piece of paper.
MM: And lastly: friends, family, or visiting musicians ask you the best place/places to eat in Nashville. Where do you send them?
KW: Arnold’s meat and three and Big Al’s Deli in Germantown! Honestly, anywhere in Germantown is usually delicious.
For more info on Kelsey and her music, you can visit her website HERE.