On her first full-length album, Open Book, which released Sept. 27, Kalie Shorr sprinkles in song titles such as “Gatsby” and “Alice in Wonderland.”
A self-professed “literary nerd,” Shorr co-wrote each of the album’s 13 tracks (and co-produced the project, alongside Skip Black). Like her literary heroes, Shorr digs deep on her new project, all forward, fiery, and transparently frank, as she accepts her own foibles and complicated relationships, whether they be familial, romantic, or with herself.
I’m an open book with an opening ending, she sings on the album’s introduction, “Too Much To Say.”
“That song is like me saying, ‘Ok, here’s what you are in for, here’s what you are going to get and if you are not emotionally ready to process, you don’t have to listen and this is your warning.
“I definitely thought about the album like an essay of what my last year was like,” she says. “I thought well if I was writing this like an essay of what my last year was like, ‘Too much to say’ is the thesis statement, ‘Escape’ is my background and my childhood and then the breakup happens and you see how that all plays out, and then ‘The World Keeps Spinning” brings me back into the family stuff and ‘Angry Butterfly’ is like the concluding paragraph.”
She penned “Too Much To Say” after doggedly attempting—and finally failing—to keep up appearances in the wake of the loss of her older half-sister Ashley, who died from a heroin overdose in January.
“I was at the Red Door in Nashville. It was right after my sister had passed away, which was in all the tabloids, and Nashville’s a small town. There were a lot of well-intentioned people coming up to me to talk about it at 3 a.m. when I was drunk and didn’t want to talk about it. I don’t fault anyone for that—it’s always tricky knowing how to navigate those things, but I had an acquaintance come up and ask ‘How are you feeling?’ I was so tired of saying ‘good’ because I wasn’t, and that’s ok to not be good. I was like, ‘I’m pretty f*ckin’ awful, how are you?’ I didn’t have the energy to keep up this pretense that I had it all together.
“I had to talk to my family about it because it’s a really personal song. It’s my story of what happened, but it’s other people’s story, too—and my dad said, ‘You know Kalie, it’s what happened. It’s absolutely true and if it helps someone else, then I want it to be out there.’ Him having that perspective on everything, it’s been nice to have that support.”
The unflinchingly transparent tune was a turning point in the album’s creation; she wrote the rest of the album in two weeks, through intense writing sessions with close friends and co-writers, including Savannah Keyes, Carpenter, and Robyn Collins.
“I’m so proud that song suffragettes has brought me that. It’s changed my life and it’s made me a better artist and woman,” Shorr says.
In “Escape,” which she co-wrote with fellow Song Suffragette member Candi Carpenter, she delves further into her childhood, outlining her family’s various coping mechanisms, from religion to smoking and alcohol, before turning the light on herself, claiming that escaping was her way of coping.
“I grew up surrounded by a lot of addiction and there are a lot of things people use to escape in healthy ways and I wanted to break that cycle. Me getting to Nashville—I needed to change my life in so many ways but that was me actively choosing not to fall into the patterns I’ve seen and grown up watching.”
The specificity in her writing, and her airy, frothy vocals are reminiscent of the blend of pop-country that Taylor Swift crafted during her earlier Nashville days—if she’d embraced an emo or punk ethos, as Shorr does on “Vices,” the on-the-nose “F U Forever,” and album closer “Angry Butterfly” revel in a devil-may-care attitude.
“I’m a big ‘90s rock person and the people who pioneered pop-punk like The Cure and Third Eye Blind, and Lit. I ended up writing with them and that was so cool. Alanis Morissette and Jagged Little Pill, I just wore that out. It got me through my first high school breakup and I love how outspoken women can be at such a young age and you see it in people like Alanis and Billie Eilish, and Avril [Lavigne]. It’s so unfiltered and I think it’s because they don’t know how to be anything other than who they are yet. I wanted to kind of reclaim some of that youthful angst in a way because it’s who you are before the world tells you who to be. I try to go back to my younger self. I still run around acting like an emo kid so it’s not that hard.”
But she also finds room on Open Book for a song like “Big Houses,” penned with Keyes and Skip Black, which tributes her champions, like her mother, who would drive from their lower-class neighborhood to look at homes in higher-income neighborhoods, as a way of showing her daughter there was a world outside of the life they were living.
Though the album’s 13 tracks plumb the emotional wreckage Shorr has survived over the past few years, there has also been some moves toward healing. On “Gatsby,” she ponders her seemingly effortless ability to mask her true emotional pain, and her penchant for dating unworthy suitors because of a dysfunctional relationship with her father. Shorr says there have been some steps toward mending the paternal relationship.
“When I went home for the funeral, I hadn’t seen my dad in six years, since my high school graduation. We talked a little bit, like Christmas and birthdays, but we hadn’t really worked on our relationship. Something like that will really bring you back together. It’s bittersweet, I really wish he had been there for me through my teenage years, but reconnecting with him has been really healing. I’ll probably get into that on the next album.”
In November, Shorr will showcase some of her music as an opener for LeAnn Rimes’ You And Me And Christmas Tour, which launches in Waterloo, New York, and wraps Dec. 15 in Jacksonville, Florida.
“She is lovely and her whole team is amazing. I look up to her so much. Her audience really understands me in a way I wasn’t expecting, but it makes sense. She’s such an incredible vocalist—there’s this calm, soulful energy about her and I’m so happy to get to tour with her.”
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