Releasing an EP — or even being a musician — isn’t quite how it used to be. Country singer-songwriter Kären McCormick has to interact with fans, take interviews and launch new music all from home. In an interview with The Michigan Daily, McCormick unpacked her new EP Retro, country music and what it’s like to be an artist in 2020.
McCormick describes this current moment as “bittersweet.” She’s spent a lot of time with family, but has struggled because of COVID-19’s direct impact on independent artists.
“As an independent artist, it definitely stopped things for me,” McCormick said. She recalls that in March and April, every artist, well-established or just starting out, was feeling lost.
“Everyone was kind of like, ‘What in the heck do we do?’” McCormick said. This newfound sentiment created a “level playing field,” she explained, which induced a sense of empathy in the music community. Since then, McCormick said she and her peers have had to figure out “other ways to be creative and connect with people.”
Like many artists, one thing McCormick did was take advantage of social media. Not only has McCormick been going live on Facebook and Instagram more than ever before, she sees these platforms as a way to display her personality, an opportunity she used to have when concerts were still a possibility.
“One of my goals that I have in quarantine and moving forward is to show who I am as a person,” McCormick said. “It’s fun to show people my family and what I like to do when I’m not doing music and that other side of me.”
Another COVID-related choice she made was to push back her EP release date. Originally due in July, Retro was released Sept. 25 after McCormick swapped out a few of the songs she had planned. McCormick ended up with five autobiographical tracks and an EP that she described as having “something for everyone.” Between the melancholic “Heartbroken Girls” and the fun but reflective “If This Bar Could Talk,” the production combines atmospheric country and pop instrumentation and showcases her silky vocals.
Retro has a sound and style that fit the increasingly common, albeit controversial, description of contemporary country music as “genre-bending.” McCormick weighed in on the evergreen authenticity debate herself.
“As far as production goes, I don’t think that we should limit creative people to meet certain specifications on what is and isn’t country as long as it makes people feel something,” she said.
McCormick was exposed to country music at an early age through her mom’s Faith Hill CDs, but when her dad would turn on country radio in the car, McCormick remembers groaning at first. “‘Can we listen to something else?’” she would think.
It wasn’t until McCormick was 11 years old, when Carrie Underwood and Taylor Swift became popular, that she started to realize what country music was really about: storytelling.
“I love storytelling. I love music,” McCormick gushed. So a career in country music just made sense. After she got a guitar, she knew that her next step was Nashville and moved there in 2018.
McCormick cites Taylor Swift in particular as someone who has guided her journey to becoming an artist. She credits Swift for introducing scores of young women to the genre.
“I don’t think she gets enough credit in that aspect,” McCormick said. “She definitely opened the door for an entire new audience for country music.” McCormick specifically points to the moment she saw Swift win the Horizon Award at the Country Music Association Awards in 2007 as the moment she knew her own country music dream was possible.
For others, that moment might have come a few weeks ago when Mickey Guyton became the first Black woman to perform solo at the Academy of Country Music Awards. Black country stars Jimmie Allen and Kane Brown performed as well.
“There is a young girl, a young boy, who looks like them who’s watching that and is thinking, ‘Oh my God, maybe I can do that,’” McCormick said, referencing their performances.
McCormick herself is biracial and recognizes the need for more diversity in all aspects of country music.
“It’s not just the artists,” she said. “It’s the musicians, it’s the crew, it’s the presenters.” McCormick also emphasized that it’s the people behind the scenes making those decisions, like offering Mickey Guyton the opportunity to perform. Country music has the potential to be diverse and reach new audiences; it’s up to industry executives to embrace that.
McCormick also joked that she hadn’t quite achieved one of her quarantine pursuits (learning how to bake well), but her music-related quarantine goals have panned out. Figuring out how to release music and interact with fans under entirely new conditions is no small feat. And while McCormick hasn’t started writing for any new projects that we know of, she is sure that 2020 is going to inspire quite a bit of songwriting material when the time comes.
Daily Arts Writer Katie Beekman can be reached at email@example.com.
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