Photo courtesy of Kylie Frey Facebook
I’ll be honest, I first became acquainted with Kylie Frey via the USA Network’s televised singing competition show, Real Country. Frey was one of the show’s finalists and I was fortunate enough to attend the taping of the season finale, and that’s where I first saw and heard her. I’ll go into that more in a bit, but I will say I was impressed with her during that taping.
My next encounter came several months later at Analog in the Hutton Hotel in downtown Nashville. She was opening for Radio Romance, and this time, she played a full set of her own material. If I merely took notice of her on the Real Country set, I was completely blown away by what she had to offer at Analog.
Frey is real country, no doubt about it. Trust me when I say she’s no hayseed, she’s got style. Her songs are pure country, but they won’t put today’s listeners to sleep. Her music fits that often elusive slot where country music traditionalists and more modern lovers of the genre can meet in the middle and actually agree on something. That’s when I knew I wanted to talk with her. I asked if she’d be interested in doing an interview, she said yes, and that’s how we ended up in a coffee shop in Nashville.
We began that interview by going back to Opelousas, Louisiana. We didn’t actually go there, of course, we talked about it. That’s Kylie Frey’s hometown. It’s part of the St. Landry Parish, with Lafayette being the closest major metropolitan city. What’s happening over there in Opelousas? Well, there’s boudin. There’s what? Boudin, if you’re unfamiliar, as I was, is basically, pork, rice, spices, bell peppers and onions in a sausage casing. Frey’s family makes boudin for a living. If you should find yourself in Opelousas, do be sure to find some of this local cuisine.
Image courtesy of TownMapsUSA.com
Photo courtesy of boudinlink.com
Before Frey became serious about music, she was heavily into something else. Having family members who were involved with the rodeo, it wasn’t surprising that Frey caught the bug to join in as well. Although her Dad didn’t want Frey to get into rodeo, she and her sister both wanted horses and eventually one thing led to another and rodeo it was. Riding, competing and being good at both could have made Frey a career rodeo star, but sometimes life takes us in other directions, which we’ll find out about shortly.
Photo courtesy of Kylie Frey Facebook
Life at home during childhood could often be described as “chaos”, says Frey. “I have a sister and a brother and also a half-brother. We grew up in a single-wide trailer and three kids sharing one bathroom wasn’t always the best situation. We were always running around, and we would play rodeo in the house when we weren’t outside doing it. So, yeah, it was chaos.”
As for early musical tastes, Frey’s list reads like your typical “Hot 90’s” playlist. “Shania Twain, Dixie Chicks, *NSYNC, Britney Spears…” A transition period happened when she was about 16, however, and she attended the Pensacola Beach Songwriters Festival. “I had written some songs before attending that festival, but they were terrible”, admits Frey. Many songwriters tell me that their early songs were awful, and I always wonder how bad they really were. Frey made sure I understood by saying it again. “They were pretty terrible”, but that’s alright because something important happened at that festival.
“Writing songs was just my outlet at that point, and I was just a bottled up little kid then. Writing songs was how I got it all out, but even then, it was just playing guitar on the back of a tailgate after a rodeo. When I was at that festival though, I heard the songwriters and I was hooked.” I was curious if there was a specific songwriter that drew her in or if it was all of them as a whole that she connected with, so I asked.
She answered so fast. “Lisa Carver.” Was it her style or her personality or what was it about Lisa Carver that was so appealing? “It was her style, her personality and just that there are songwriters, and then there’s Lisa Carver, in the sense that, even me, I’ll just write your typical three-minute song, and she takes it to the next level and writes a murder ballad. It just blew me away that she could sing a song that’s 10 minutes long and you could be there the whole time and keep your attention.”
I guess we can mostly thank Lisa Carver for taking a young rodeo star and turning her into a serious songwriter, because Kylie Frey said it was after that festival that she kept working at writing songs. Frey’s vocal coach/mentor at that time not only helped her in learning to write songs, but also co-wrote with her as well, so she was also instrumental in getting her started. The next step for Frey was trips to Nashville to meet people and write for a week at a time here and there. She did that up until she graduated from high school.
Like most artists that first come to Nashville, Frey paid her dues playing three and four hour sets in bars, three or four days a week. One might snicker and say those sound like banker’s hours, but when you’re a singer, those hours are rough. Singing for four hours straight wreaks havoc on a person’s voice. Do that four days a week and it can put a career in jeopardy. Although she was not yet a permanent resident of Nashville, Frey certainly got a taste of what it was like to play in the trenches.
While back home in Louisiana, and attending LSUE, a community college, she developed what she thought was strep throat. Strep throat would have been easily treatable compared to the polyp on her vocal chords that she was diagnosed with. On the advice of her doctor, she stopped singing for six months to see if that remedied the situation. During that six month period, she began working in her aunt’s western store while finishing up the semester at college. Once the six months was over, Frey quit college life, made a few trips to Nashville and recorded an EP in her garage. She took her music to Texas and ended up getting a hit on Texas radio. While working the Texas market at that time, she met her producer, Paul Worley, who told her, “If you want to play with the big guys, you have to be in the ballpark”, so she made the permanent move to Nashville.
In some cases, people are watching what you’re doing when you’re not aware of it. That was how Frey ended up getting on Real Country. Someone submitted her name to the show without her knowledge. That “someone” is now her manager. Apparently, he saw something in her back then, and strange as it sounds, once she was contacted to audition for the show, she didn’t take it too seriously. She went in, sang her songs and as she puts it, “kinda killed it”, then went back and did some more interviews. Frey said it was actually a long process, but once she landed a spot as a contestant things moved quickly. “It was like, ‘drop your life, we’ve got you for two months’, and that was it”, she explained.
For those that didn’t watch the show, the basic premise was there were three celebrity judges, Shania Twain, Jake Owen and Travis Tritt. While they were “judges”, they didn’t ultimately make any decisions as to which contestants moved on or left the competition, the studio audience did all the voting. The judges each “brought on” artists of their choice who they felt deserved a chance to win it all. The judges would tell the studio audience and viewers at home why they thought their contestants were worthy of a shot at the grand prize, and overall, all three judges were mainly encouraging to all the contestants. There was very little negativity, unlike other singing competitions. The talent was also quite good to start with, which made harsh criticism unnecessary.
Photo courtesy of Kylie Frey Facebook
Shania Twain was the judge who brought on Kylie Frey. I’m sure Twain believed wholeheartedly in Frey’s abilities as a singer/songwriter, but there was a little something extra that may have pushed her over the edge. When Frey was in kindergarten, she dressed up as Shania Twain for Career Day. Yes, Kylie Frey wanted to be Shania Twain when she grew up. Chances are she won’t ever become Shania Twain, but she did a better job than most at coming close to something that resembles what Twain does, even having her kindergarten idol mentor her on a TV show.
Frey did not win the grand prize, but making it to the finale is certainly something to be proud of. Did being on the show help her career? “I think it did help in the long run. It was definitely mentally challenging. It was long and it was hard, and having to get up and sing in front of that panel was very nerve wracking. I feel like it built up my confidence for sure. I feel like it was an overall good experience.”
I wondered if it was exhausting, only because I felt exhausted just being an audience member. I’d attended a regular taping, which was quite long, and the finale taping was extremely long, and I was just sitting in the audience. “There were times where it was exhausting”, Frey admitted. “There was one time where they had us there until 2 AM and we had to be back at 7 AM. Then there was the finale week where they needed a lot of extra stuff and some of it never got used, but they needed it anyway. That kind of thing. It was a lot.” She did say it helped her social media numbers and it also helped push some things forward that she had been working on, such as a management deal and a booking agent deal.
The contestants were able to meet the judges afterward and Frey said they hung out with Jake Owen a lot, as he made himself the most accessible. Twain “was very nice, but kept to herself most of the time”, and Tritt was “also really nice.”
Frey’s latest single, “Ain’t Enough Beer” is currently in the top 15 on the Texas charts and she’s working on three new songs. The game plan for the new songs is up in the air at the moment. She and her team are still uncertain whether the new tunes will be released as singles or put on an EP.
Video courtesy of Kylie Frey and YouTube
As for working the Texas market, Frey puts it plainly. “In Texas, there’s somewhat of an industry going on, so for me, financially, it’s accessible. It’s really all financial. As an independent artist without a label, to try and go national, it would be very hard. It would probably be easier to live in Texas to do this, and who’s to say I won’t end up there, but for me, Nashville has my heart, just because of the songwriters and the people here. It’s easier for me to drive 10 hours (to Texas) to go play a show. For me, personally, the songwriting here is better for the way I work.”
The summer concert season is upon us and it’s upon Kylie Frey too. This weekend coming up she’s playing a couple of festivals and the following week she’s out with Cody Johnson. She has her first headlining festival gig in her home state of Louisiana coming up, and for all of you CMA Fest people, take note, she’ll be playing during that as well. Be sure to check those schedules! Also off the top of Frey’s head, a big festival in Chicago and an Orioles game are two more she’s excited about.
Photo courtesy of Kylie Frey Facebook
All of this coming off shows in California last week, one of which she opened for Aaron Watson. “It was probably the best crowd I ever played for. It was great.” She also played Stagecoach Music Festival in Indio, California. That gig was part of the prize package for winning her Real Country episode.
Buying stuff. Now there’s something just about any woman loves to do, so we talked about that next. When it comes to music gear, Kylie Frey loves TELEFUNKEN wireless microphones. She is also partial to Martin Guitars.
What about those beautiful hats Frey is known for wearing? She wasn’t wearing one the day we met, which is actually funny because I didn’t recognize her when I walked into Starbucks because I was looking for a hat which wasn’t there. “Warbonnet Hatworks. Love, love, love them! You didn’t even recognize me without it! It’s an identity for me, nobody recognizes me without it.”
Nashville artists love to play music, but they also love to go see and hear other people play it. They also usually have favorite haunts to go do that. For Kylie Frey, it’s The Basement and The Local.
I told you earlier that Frey has style, and it starts with those Warbonnet Hatworks hats and it goes right down to her feet. Where does she like to shop for clothes in town? “Probably REVV in Hillsboro Village”, reveals Frey. Now you can be as stylish as she is. Her secrets are out.
The best advice Frey ever got about the music business? “ To show up, and it’s been my motto ever since. No matter how hungover you are, or tired, you just show up.” The worst advice about the music business she ever got and she took it? “To write with tracks, but in my own way. I made the track guys not write to track. It was more in the sense of, ‘You should be more pop’, that sort of thing. There’s nothing wrong with track guys, but it’s not my style. I’m very lyrically-driven and the music sort of comes second to that, whereas when you’re writing to a track you’re boxed into something, for me, anyway.” Frey said the track songs never went anywhere in the end, so don’t go looking around for them anywhere, there’s none to be found.
To any artists that are just starting out or thinking about giving Nashville a shot, Frey offers up advice based on her experience in the music business so far. “Just try and believe in yourself a little more every day and show up. Just show up.”
I tried a new question this time. If Kylie Frey were to write a song based on our interview, what would the working title be? “Wow, that’s a really good question”, thought Frey, “Patti and the Hills” (which made perfect sense because we met in the Green Hills section of Nashville). She came up with that rather quickly. I don’t expect there will ever actually be a song like that, but stranger things have happened in my life.
Photo courtesy of Patti McClintic and Think Country
When Kylie Frey “Thinks Country” what does she think? “I think cowboy country immediately.” I told her I had never heard that before so she absolutely gets an A for originality, but then again, what else would I expect from a girl that could probably still handle herself like a boss at any rodeo?
Photo courtesy of Kylie Frey Instagram. Edited by Patti McClintic.
Kylie Frey can be found: