Portland native Kalie Shorr has always been eager to get on with her life in music.

She sang the “Star-Spangled Banner” at the Portland Expo, with confidence and charisma, at the age of 2. She began writing songs when she was 6 or 7. While at Deering High School, she made a YouTube video that prompted celebrity blogger Perez Hilton to fly her to a bash he was throwing. She devised a plan with the help of teachers and school officials to graduate from Deering a semester early – so she could work at the Portland House of Pizza and earn enough money to move herself to Nashville.

Shorr, 23, has been in the Music City for four years now. She’s sold hot dogs, sung in hotel lobbies, made videos and recorded songs that get steady airplay on satellite radio stations. In November, she was named one of the “Next Women of Country” for 2018 by the cable country music network CMT, and in February, she begins her first national tour – as a supporting act for country star Sara Evans.

And, as always, she’s eager to get on with it, something music industry insiders say is one of Shorr’s great strengths.

“It’s tough for women in country (music), it takes a lot of work and a lot of focus, and Kalie is always working and moving forward,” said Leslie Fram, senior vice president of music and talent for CMT, which is presenting the tour. “I admire her artistry, her songwriting, and I love the fact that she’s doing all this independently. She’s not sitting around waiting for a record label to sign her.”

FIGHT LIKE A GIRL

Shorr has also made a name for herself as someone who speaks out on women’s issues, especially about empowerment in the country music industry. When she heard a country music executive say fans prefer male singers to female ones, she wrote the defiant “Fight Like a Girl.” Shorr wrote the song with two other women in Nashville, then recorded it as a single in 2016.

“I grew up listening to Dolly Parton and the Dixie Chicks, and to hear someone take your sound and your artistry and break it down to nothing but your gender, it was a pretty crazy thing to hear,” said Shorr. “We were outraged, so writing that was cathartic.”

Like many of Shorr’s songs, “Fight Like a Girl” shows off her accessible pop-country sound and a voice that can range from soft whispers to loud growls. She begins in a ballad tempo, with a softly twangy guitar backing, then gains vocal power at the chorus:

“I got my high heels on with my boxing gloves, I can knock you out with a one-two punch. I’m perfume sweet and whiskey strong, I damn sure ain’t no underdog. I might fall down, but I get back up, I shine brightest when the going’s tough. You say I can’t, well, darling, watch me. You can’t stop me ’cause I fight like a girl.”

Shorr doesn’t necessarily sound like a traditional country artist, though there’s a definite twang to the guitars in many of her songs. Some, like “He’s Just Not That Into You,” seem well-suited to pop radio. It has a catchy hook and some fun vocal gymnastics: “He’s just not that into you, hoo hoo hoo-oo.”

Shorr met her manager, country music veteran Todd Cassetty, in 2010 when he was in Kennebunkport to film a Taylor Swift video. Shorr was there working as a stand-in for Swift. Cassetty does not remember Shorr from that meeting. But when she moved to Nashville, she called him, convinced him to meet with her and won him over.

“I heard the songs she was putting out and realized she was something special. I had friends here, writers, who listened to some songs she wrote when she was 19 and said they definitely were not writing that well at 19,” said Cassetty. “She has a very distinct sound and shows a hell of a lot of promise.”

She’s also not afraid to have herself compared with anyone musically. Soon after Swift released her hit song “Look What You Made Me Do” last year, Shorr recorded her own slower acoustic version of the song and put it on YouTube. Her version was one of things that attracted the attention of CMT.

“The fact that she even thought about doing that shows she’s willing to take chances,” said Fram, from CMT. “And she did it about 24 hours after the original came out.”

ALWAYS SINGING

Shorr’s mother, Cathie Ledue Shorr, is a former Miss Maine USA who has always sung. When Shorr was a toddler, her mother worked for the short-lived Portland Wave basketball franchise, doing a little of everything, including singing the national anthem before games. When her schedule started to get too hectic, she turned to her 2-year-old daughter and had her sing for the crowd before some games.

Shorr remembers at age 6 or so, standing on a coffee table to sing for her family in their North Deering home, with the Disney Channel on for musical backing. She began writing songs around the age of 6 – and not typical kid stuff. Shorr said she wrote about things she saw on a daily basis, like her mother raising her as a single parent, and the fact that her father didn’t live with the family.

“It was a way I processed emotions, writing songs,” said Shorr.

Shorr remembers being a fan of all kinds of music. There was a lot of music in her house. One of her older brothers, Ben Shorr, is a hip-hop artist who performs around Portland. But she fell in love with contemporary country, especially the music of the Dixie Chicks. She got a guitar for a present when she was in middle school and taught herself to play a song in about 10 minutes, her mother said. A family member gave her an old keyboard, and she taught herself to play that too. The night she got it, she recorded herself playing Lady Gaga songs and put the video on YouTube, her mother said.

When Shorr was 16, she made another YouTube video, a parody of a viral video hit called “Friday” by Rebecca Black, about the busy life of a teenager and the crucial need to “kick” back on Friday. The original got a lot of publicity for its over-produced sound, robotic-sounding vocals and general lack of musical quality. But Shorr, sitting in her home in 2011, played a soft, acoustic version on her guitar and sang it in perfect pitch. The video has been viewed more than 600,000 times.

Shorr’s parody and other YouTube videos got a lot of attention, including from celebrity blogger Perez Hilton. He contacted Shorr and her family and invited her to play his birthday party in Los Angeles. Shorr and her mother flew out.

“I’m her older brother, so I was a little nervous that my baby sister was putting videos on the internet, a little protective,” said Ben Shorr, 32. “But those videos really took off.”

NASHVILLE BOUND

Shorr took a guitar class at Deering High School, when she already knew how to play and credits teachers there with giving her creative freedom to play and write what she wanted.

Teachers and staff also knew she was anxious to earn money and move to Nashville, so they helped her plan her course load so she could graduate early. At the same time, she was playing shows around Portland, often doing her country-tinged songs as an opener for rock bands like Sparks the Rescue or Paranoid Social Club.

When she moved to Nashville, she worked at hotel front desks and clothing stores. She sold hot dogs from a cart. She started singing in hotel lobbies, and with tips from music-loving tourists and music industry executives, she found she didn’t need another day job. She began putting out her songs and getting airplay on satellite radio. People would see her singing in the hotel lobby and say things like “Kalie Shorr?! What are you doing here?”

“I’d tell them I still have to pay the bills,” Shorr said.

But she stopped singing in hotel lobbies a year or so ago. Now she’s focused on touring and recording. She’s been writing and performing with a 23-member, all-women musical collective in Nashville called Song Suffragettes. She helped write a song with for the group called “Time’s Up,” a protest against mistreatment of women in the workplace.

Her new EP, “Awake,” came out this month. The infectious single “Two Hands” is being played by satellite radio stations and is being talked about as a potential hit by country music publications, like Taste of Country.

“I’ve really never thought about doing anything else but music, so to be able to make a living at it is amazing,” said Shorr. “I’m really excited to be part of such a cool project (‘The Next Women of Country’ tour) and to be getting this opportunity.”

 

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