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Independent Artist Alexandra Kay Refuses to Skimp on Authenticity

Photo Credit: TuneCore

In an industry weighed down by manufactured personas and premature record deals primed to ruin futures, authenticity can be hard to find. And while the country music genre has made a name for itself by staying firmly rooted and cowboy-booted, it’s not immune to what fuels almost every big biz: money and power. But, for Waterloo, Illinois native Alexandra Kay, there’s only one option: keeping it real…no matter what. 

On the heels of her debut LP release and ahead of The Beautifully Broken tour alongside Jelly Roll, Kay discusses what it really means to be an independent artist, why she won’t compromise, and how she moved beyond fear to find that she’d inadvertently created a community where rawness reigns supreme. 

This is Alexandra Kay, the TuneCore/SPIN Artist of the Month:

SPIN: What’s the most annoying misconception about country music? What’s the most inspiring thing about the genre? Why is it your chosen genre?

Alexandra Kay: The most inspiring thing about the genre would definitely be the storytelling. It’s what made me fall in love with Country Music at such a young age. Some of the best storytellers in the world are in Nashville, TN; it’s such an inspiring place to live. 

I think a common misconception about country music is that it’s cheesy. Don’t get me wrong, some of my favorite country songs are very cheesy, but I feel when I get the opportunity to turn someone on to country music, I try to show them how incredible the songwriting is and it reels them in almost every time.

As you gear up to tour alongside Jelly Roll, what’s something you hope to take away from the experience or learn from JR?

Jelly is one of my favorite people to talk to in this business. Even at his success level, he has a way of remembering so vividly when he was in my exact position, grinding it out for every opportunity as an independent artist. 

He has given me some of the best advice I have ever received and I carry it into so many scenarios as I continue to climb my way up. I am just so excited to kick it with him and his crew on the off days, to watch his show every night and be inspired, and just experience his wisdom and kindness every day. 

Can you walk us through your song-writing process?

I write a lot from personal experience. The songwriting process for my debut album All I’ve Ever Known was a very back-to-my-roots approach. I sat on the floor in my living room with my co-writing friends in a puddle of tears and my guitar just trying to process the heartbreak I was experiencing. It was such a pure approach and I think that’s why the songs are so relatable. My co-writers and I just led with honesty on every track. 

What else do you think you’d be doing if you weren’t a singer-songwriter? 

Honestly, I would probably still be gigging on the weekends and bartending to get by. I did that for seven years of my life just playing four-hour sets of country cover songs on the weekends at bars and then bartending during the week. It was a really fun time in my life and I’m really grateful for it. 

Regardless of my ticket sales, streams, or just fan engagement, I’ll lose opportunities because they will often go to a signed artist and that is frustrating. That said, there are no hard feelings ever. It’s part of the game; I just have to work harder than everyone else, and that I am willing to do if it means I get to keep my [song] masters. 

I have a small team of three making this whole thing happen. And then my fan base which grows by the thousands every day. I am so grateful for them. Everything I have in my life is because of the fans. I put them first always and give them and God the glory. I just keep pushing every day towards another goal. 

Let’s talk about All I’ve Ever Known. Where did the album’s name come from? Which track was the hardest (emotionally, mentally, and/or physically) to write and record? Which flowed out of you with the most ease?

The album’s name came from the track “All I’ve Ever Known,” which I wrote with Tana Matz and Dakota Striplin. It’s the most autobiographical of the songs. I think that song and its title really summed up the record. 

The hardest to write was certainly “Everleave.” I wrote that one while breaking down on my living room floor to my good friend Lauren Weintraub. It felt like having to relive it all while recording it and the first few times playing it live.

The song that flowed with the most ease was probably “Painted Him Perfect.” It just really felt like we had the magic in the room that day with my co-writers Rocko Beal and Royale Lynn.

What’s something that surprised you or you didn’t expect about the album experience?

Well, I was surprised by the reaction to the music. I was honestly terrified to release some of these songs because they were so personal to me. I mean, I included some very personal details in every track on the record. I was afraid it was too personal and others wouldn’t relate but I was so wrong. The women that just fall into my arms every night at the meet and greet because they are going through a divorce and they relate so deeply to my album just makes me feel like I have really done it right with this record. 

You’re no stranger to touring and traveling. Which countries and/or states have been your favorite to visit and perform in?

I love being on the road so much. I have really enjoyed everywhere but I do have favorites. I love the UK. We just played our first headlining shows in London and Glasgow, and we sold them out. The energy in London is wild, and I truly love that city. 

As an independent artist, how do you make it all happen? What is the most recurring struggle?

I think the most recurring struggle is just getting the country music industry to consider me a real player in this game. There is just so much noise in Nashville. It has definitely been a struggle trying to fight for opportunity when it all goes to major-label artists. 

What is the most rewarding aspect of being an independent artist? Would you encourage other aspiring (or even established) artists to do the same?

The most rewarding aspect of being an independent artist is being able to keep creative control. No one knows my fans like I do, and no one will listen to them or care for them like I do. I feel like there are a lot of artists that run to a record label before they even know who they are, or what they are capable of on their own. 

I would encourage aspiring artists to be independent until they know what they’re looking for and until they have built a fan base of their own. There are just so many other ways to go about it these days if the artist is willing to do the work. 

What’s your ultimate goal, both in music and in general?

My ultimate goal is to make people feel seen, understood, and that they are not alone. I write music from my heart, my experiences, and those of the people around me. I want to forever be the most authentic version of myself – what you see is what you get. Human connection is the goal through it all, it’s my favorite part of all of this.