Three weeks ago, Kalie Shorr released “My Voice,” an anthemic middle finger to the country radio system that will “probably never play me ‘cause I’m not a boy.” As bold as it is, “My Voice” falls in line with Shorr’s other aptly-titled projects — her debut record Open Book from 2019 and newly-minted iHeartRadio podcast “Too Much to Say” both cast Shorr as someone who speaks her mind.
“I hate the notion of shut up and sing,” Shorr said in a Zoom interview with The Michigan Daily. “Just because I have more followers than someone else going off on Facebook doesn’t mean I don’t have the right to my opinion,” Shorr continued. “And I have a lot of them these days.”
Not only has sharing her opinions paid off by producing clever and stinging dollops of truth in songs like “My Voice,” but Shorr’s confessional songwriting and sharp eye for everyday spools of tension landed Open Book on New York Times’ Best Albums of 2019. Open Book compellingly weaves Shorr’s disclosures into a cohesive storyline.
“I always wanted to make that album chronological for sure,” Shorr said. “‘Alice in Wonderland’ has the literary theme, so does ‘Gatsby.’ But with ‘Too Much to Say’ about halfway through writing it, I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is going to be the intro track.’ So as soon as we realized that we were able to write the rest of the song with that in mind. And as soon as I wrote that song and while I was writing it, I kind of saw everything happen.”
“Too Much to Say,” which inspired the title of Shorr’s podcast, warns “Oh honey, I’m not trying to shock you, I don’t want to freak you out / I’m just talking about the things that we don’t talk about” atop harmonica and rollicking electric guitar riffs. Across various episodes of her podcast, Shorr explains the events that “Too Much to Say” (the record’s thesis statement) hints at. Losing people to “heroin and cheating” is expanded as her (now) ex-boyfriend’s infidelity and her sister’s death.
“The reason I did it was because that year was so crazy and the album ended up being very topical, just because of the gravity of the situations that inspired it,” Shorr said of the album’s structure. “You know, there wasn’t a lot else for me to think about. I wasn’t going to put a song about like, going out with the girls, that wasn’t really the nature of that year.”
Having signed a record deal with tmwrk records this October, Shorr has the opportunity to fill in more details of the story on Open Book: Unabridged coming out Dec. 4.
“So what was really cool about the album is that we put all the bonus tracks dispersed throughout it as opposed to just all at the end, because they really do fit into the story,” Shorr said of the new record. “All they’re doing is elaborating on what was mentioned in other songs and making a whole song out of it.”
The latest piece of elaboration “Lying to Myself” came out last week.
“That song is really cool sonically and I had a really great time producing it. It kind of feels a little bit like ‘Bitter Sweet Symphony’ by The Verve, but it’s also got some really cool country instruments in it,” Shorr explained. “I said everything in the song that I wanted to text to this person, but I didn’t, and it just came out really stream of consciousness.”
In the song, she traces the breakdown of what was always a fragile relationship. Shorr admits in the lyrics: “I picked out all my favorite things you said, then like a delusional architect / I built you up like a house of cards.”
“I feel like that’s something that, you know, we all wonder, especially at the end of a relationship, you’re like, did you promise me too much and then not follow through? Or did I just literally invent this person in my head and then try to make you that person?” she said.
A lot of Shorr’s lyrics are rooted in disarming honesty and wit. Take this line from “Gatsby” for example: “Is that all there is to a broken heart? Lean Cuisines in my shopping cart.”
“That one in particular was such a fun song to write. I wrote it with (singer-songwriter) Candi Carpenter, who’s my best friend on the planet, and she really pushes me to just be as honest as possible in songs. And so when we wrote that we were just sitting on my living room floor, drinking wine, just talking and lines like that just fell out because she was making fun of me because my fridge only had Lean Cuisines in it,” Shorr laughed. “You can always tell how well I’m doing mentally based on how many Lean Cuisines are in my refrigerator.”
The first part of the lyric is also a kind of inside joke between Shorr and Carpenter.
“No one’s ever asked this,” she said, “but that’s a reference to this song that Candi and I love called, ‘Is That All There Is?’ by Peggy Lee and it’s this really weird nihilistic pop song from the sixties, but we always joke about it.”
As for her current refrigerator status?
“I’m very proud to say there’s only two (Lean Cuisines) and they’re the Amy’s vegetarian ones now,” she added, “which makes me feel a little bit better.”
Daily Arts Writer Katie Beekman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.