Country Next: Shaylen

We take pride in introducing fans to country music’s brightest new stars through our Country Next series. Here, we chat with Shaylen.

By

Lexi Liby

| Posted on

February 23, 2024

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Shaylen; Photo Courtesy of Be Good Creators

Former pop artist and Tennessee Native, Shaylen (Carroll) has returned to her roots to embark on a soul-searching journey leading her back to one of her first loves: country music.

After a decade of chasing her pop aspirations, Shaylen knew something was missing. Last August, she took a leap of faith, making the official move to Nashville, Tennessee, and she couldn’t be happier.

“I just decided to go chase something that was more me after 10 years of doing something that wasn’t truly me. I came back to exactly what I knew and that was how to write country music. I’m so freaking glad I did it,” Shaylen told Country Now.

Shaylen recently caught up with us to discuss her musical background, her shift from pop to country, her recent releases, and more. Read on to find out more about Shaylen in this exclusive Q&A below.

How did you begin a career in country music?

When I was super young I pretty much learned how to sing through country music and in church. When I was turning 18, life took me a different route to LA for pop music. I stayed there for a good amount of time and probably now a year and a half ago, I came out here to Nashville really just to write for other people. I kind of fell out of love with pop music and fell out of love with LA. So I came out here to write and I wrote my first song called ‘What If I Don’t?’ Once I wrote it, I was kind of like, wait a second, I can’t give this away. It became kind of a wake-up call for me that I’ve always wanted to come back here. The timeline never felt right and I don’t think there ever really is a right time to entirely shift your life and just pack up your bags after 10 years somewhere and go back. I grew up in Chattanooga, probably two hours outside of Nashville, and then the rest of the time in Dallas. So, I’ve always been a southern girl and when I came back I was like, yeah, this is home. I decided to put the song out and oddly enough, after doing this for so long, it’s the first song that’s ever changed my life. I was like this might be the right path and this is probably the lane I’m supposed to go. It’s the happiest I’ve ever been as far as I just love country music. I love the fact that you can just sing and you can tell a story. It’s all about the music for people and they love it.

Shaylen; What If I Don't
Shaylen; What If I Don’t

Can you talk a little bit more about your transition from pop to country?

I was still signed to a label in LA at the time that I recognized I wanted to pursue Nashville. I had hit a wall, basically, with the team I was with. Nothing seemed to be working and I truly, just as far as where pop was going, and the idea of becoming more of a character online than it being about the music for me at that point just felt like this isn’t what I fell in love with. It was super disheartening, but I crossed paths with my now manager and he was like, ‘Everything you’re doing and writing is pop lyrics with country melodies.’ He was ‘You should really give this a try.’ So I was like, okay. Well, the team that I was with was like, you are under the terms of going to write for other people. You’re done as an artist. No one knows what to do with you. So I was like, okay, if that’s what I got to do, at least it’s something to do with music. I chased the artist thing for so long that it just felt wrong to give it up, but I was being told by people that I was done. Honestly though, even I was lost. I didn’t even know who I was as an artist anymore. I was being told so many things and the pop songs that I was turning in were just so far left of what I would actually be singing or telling about. It just didn’t feel authentic to me anymore. So I decided to come out to Nashville and the first day when I wrote ‘What If I Don’t,’ it was exactly what was going on in my life. I got to sing it exactly how I would want to sing it and it just kind of woke this part up of me where I was just like, ‘what am I doing? I should have been doing this the entire time.’

Timing is a whole big part of it too. Like maybe if I came out here sooner that song would’ve never happened. I always believe in God’s timing more than anything. So yeah, when I did first come out here, I think I got to take a step back. I got to take a step back and really just write it from a place that I was truly going through and when I stepped away that day, I cried in the car, I listened to the demo and I was like, I don’t care if one person heard this. I don’t care what I have to do to change my life, but I’m coming here to Nashville and I’m putting this song out and I didn’t know what that looked like. I was like, I don’t know how I’m going to ask to get off of a label that I’m with, for a different genre. I didn’t know how I was going to be welcomed into the space because I could see people thinking ‘oh, this girl from LA thinks she’s coming here.’ I’m like, no, this is how I basically grew up and this is all I’ve ever known. It’s all I’ve ever known and I absolutely love it. 

Many of your songs carry a theme of heartbreak and navigate common breakup scenarios. Do you pride yourself on being the heartbreak anthem girl?

Yes, because it’s truly the only thing I’ve ever really been good at writing. I think I’ve had my heart broken so many times, which is a curse and a blessing. I think that when I wrote, ‘What If I Don’t,’ I thought I was marrying this man. It was probably the biggest heartbreak I’ve ever experienced or understood. It was like a pain I’ve never felt and I didn’t even really know how to convey it in words. I just remember bringing it into the session that day. I was with Seth Ennis, Phil Barton, and Lindsay Rimes and I remember that being the molding of this whole breakup anthem era. I couldn’t stop buying waterproof mascara and I was literally somehow tearing up every two seconds. In the song ‘What If I Don’t,’ I say, ‘What if in two years I still can’t sleep’ and I genuinely meant it. It took two years and It was awful. So I got the material from that. I was like, if you want a breakup song, I got you. Now I am entering an era where she’s over it and she’s in her ‘bad b’ era, so now I have those songs for you. We finally wrote one love song and I was like, ‘Who is she? Is hell freezing over?’ because I’ve never written a love song before. So we’ll see. Maybe that’ll be the next project or whatever but there is one love song in there.

Does it ever get overwhelming to write these deep, intense, and emotional breakup ballads?  

It is the best thing that could ever happen to me because if not, I don’t know where I would be mentally. It’s thousands of dollars worth of therapy for me to go in there and be with creatives who also help convey those messages from pages in my journal. It was so crazy because I wanted the concept to be waterproof mascara, and Seth was like, ‘What if they move on? What if you don’t?’ I was just like, wait, that’s what I think everybody feels. I truly was expecting nothing when I put that out. It was the first time in my life that I’d done anything independently. I was just beginning the process of moving here, so I didn’t know if there would be more people listening to it than just my mom. I’ve been doing this for 15 years and it was the first time that anybody even remotely besides my mom heard it. It was kind of terrifying because, of course, the guy you write it about is going to hear it. The vulnerability of it is so beautiful because there are so many people that also come out and say, ‘You don’t realize, but this song relates to me because my husband or my wife has passed and I can’t move on.’ You don’t even think how a song could resonate in an entirely different way. I literally cry every time I get one of those messages like, ‘Man, your heartbreak can turn into something really cool for other people.’ I think that’s the coolest part about songwriting.

Did songwriting come naturally to you?

I’ve always sat there and written on the piano for what I thought were okay songs. I don’t know if I’d ever let anybody besides my mother hear those though. I do think when I was turning 18 or 19, I learned a lot. I was in a pop group and we were in a deal that blessed me with the opportunity to be around such amazing pop writers at the time. There was RedOne, Jimmy Joker, all these different guys. I only knew how to roughly write, so I basically locked myself in a closet for six months and studied everybody I possibly could. I studied the structures of Max Martin’s melodies, Benny Blanco, and different people like that. Then I would also study lyrics of the Nashville Lyricism on the side because it’s such a story. In pop music in LA, you don’t get to use the storylines that much. It’s more about a weird concept that you make melodically sound great, which is amazing. I’ve learned so much from over there. It took three or four years of being in everyday sessions to really figure it out and then all of a sudden you gain an intuition on the melody of what it should sound like. I probably have on a hard drive a thousand songs that no one will ever hear because they’re so bad. Now, Nashville’s wild. Every creative you work with is so freaking talented. It’s mind-blowing to me every day. You feel so challenged in a room, which is so dope. Just when you think, ‘Yeah, I’ve got a cool lyric’ and somebody spits something out and you’re like, ‘How did you think to say it that way?’ It is forever a mystery to me how they’re so talented here. Honestly, I have so much respect for this community. It truly is a different level of songwriting. 

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How did it feel to immerse yourself back into the mindset and emotions of your 20s while working on the song “Been There Before”?

That day was so funny because we were writing at the end of the year and we were all so tired.  It was probably the second to last song I wrote for the year.  Michael Whitworth and I were talking about something because he was like, ‘Let’s reminisce on F Boys today’. I played along and we started going back and forth. I was like, ‘Yeah, the bone-dry bottles of Jack and the knuckle tattoos, we’ve all been there before.’ Michael had said it and I was like, ‘is that the vibe?’ We started and it literally spilled out. I was just literally talking about every man I’ve ever dated in my early twenties. Looking back now I’m like, ‘Thank God we have healed.’ We do still like some men with live-fast knuckle tattoos because they are great but I’m just in a healed girl era where I know what to look for. We love a healing girly, but oh my god, those are all very true stories. Every detail in that lyric is about a guy that I have probably had an encounter with.

As a former pop artist, what was it like to team up with Hinder’s former lead singer Austin John Winkler for a country-infused rendition of “Lips Of An Angel.”

He’s freaking amazing and one of the best humans I’ve ever met. When we shot the music video and he’s doing the hand stuff, I was like, ‘Oh, you’re actually a rock star. You’re not messing around.’ He is wonderful. That whole situation was just wild to me because I was supposed to only sing a demo for another feature to sing on it. At the time, ‘Lips of an Angel’ was blowing up on TikTok and he and Brian Howes were going back and forth. My day-to-day knows Brian Howes, and they were like, ‘We need a female to demo the call in response to this because it’s resurfacing. I think it’s going to be great to put it out with him again.’ Well, then he came to the studio and I demoed the vocals, which funny enough, I was slightly sick when I demoed the vocals. It had this weird raspy tone to it and he was like, ‘Wait, I just want to leave you on it.’ I was like, ‘Excuse me. What?’ This song was my childhood, but I wasn’t going to actually believe it was happening until it happened because in music you never know. You could be doing something the day before and all of a sudden tomorrow you’re like, okay, well it didn’t happen. So until it’s happening, I never get too excited. But yeah, we ended up hearing it back and he was like, ‘No, I love it. Let’s shoot the video.’ Again,  I was just like, ‘What?’ I don’t really think I realized that ‘Lips of an Angel’ shaped my childhood, but I know that the rock community is very, once you do an iconic song and you change it at all, it can be very opinionated. So when I read some of the comments, I had to stop myself and say, ‘Okay, I’m not going to read those today.’ For the most part though, everyone was so excited about it, they loved it. I don’t think I realized how big that song was until we re-did it. Austin was lovely and the experience was awesome. I still can’t even believe that happened because it was epic. It was so epic. 

Can you talk a little bit more about the creation of the “Lips Of An Angel” video?

We got to work with Sean Hagwell and he’s freaking amazing. His ability to choose locations and stuff is wild to me. We shot the first half of the video in the upstairs of an antique shop. You go upstairs and it’s the attic of the antique shop. Sean made it look like this crazy industrial stage, where we’re really just up above. There were weird little dolls everywhere and I was like, ‘How are they going to make this look like this?’ Sure enough though, Sean made it happen. The lighting and everything else that they chose to do made it look so cinematic. I was like, ‘holy crap.’ Then when they presented the end of the storyline, you realized that they’re actually not on the phone with each other. Instead there’s four different people on separate lines. That was the twist of it, which was really exciting because you think like, ‘oh yeah, it’s both of them on the phone’ and then you realize that it’s not. I think it gave people a bit of an actual look into how it was originally written. A lot of people when Austin first wrote the song with Hinder, were like, ‘oh, it’s the cheating anthem.’ Austin was like, no. It’s literally just you get a call from your ex that you’re like, ‘how have you been? I do miss you. I love you, but we’re going to go back to our separate lives now.’ So it’s an interesting thing to see people’s perception of it. I think the video got to tie that up. Also the female response was exciting. Sean freaking killed it. Everybody killed it on that video. As I said, watching Austin literally morph into a rockstar on camera was amazing. A true legend.

YouTube video

Could you share more about the clarity you’ve found in country music that was perhaps missing in your experience with pop music?

Yes. The storytelling in country music and the fact that it’s truly about the songs is a big part of it. I think my whole life has always been about writing the song and trying to make it convey all these feelings in my head. I freaking love pop music and I always have, it’s just become less and less of what I fell in love with. When I did come out here I was truly challenged to put feelings into words, but the people and the storylines that came together gave me genuine happiness. I’ll never forget that first day when I was just like, ‘what am I doing? I don’t care if I have to sell everything I own tomorrow and I live in a box. I want to be here tomorrow.’ I had to leave and come to Nashville because it was like that spark came back. It was like that feeling that I first felt when I was very little and I got my first solo in church. I just knew I had to do it. If you would’ve asked me if I was going to move my life after 10 years, I don’t know what I would’ve said.  It almost feels like you failed in a sense, but the starting over is the coolest part of it. This last year has been the best I’ve ever had as far as creatively speaking and getting to work with certain people. I can’t say enough about it.

What’s next for you?

Whether it’s an EP or an album, a project is coming very soon. A project and a bunch of different shows. I have a couple of festivals that I’ve posted about and am super excited for. There’s one with Jelly Roll and HARDY, so we’re looking at certain tours coming up. I don’t know if the next release will actually be a project or if it’ll be another single and then a project. There’s just so many good things in the works.

Fans can keep up with Shaylen on Instagram

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Lexi Liby

Written by

Lexi Liby

I am a senior at Kansas State University, where I am majoring in Communication Studies. Throughout my time at college, I’ve had the opportunity to publish a few of my pieces in the University’s newspaper, The Collegian, and I’ve created my own website. I’ve previously interned for Country Insider, an iHeartMedia-owned country music industry newsletter and I am currently interning for CountryNow, a Red Light Management owned publication. I’m very passionate about music and writing, so I hope to find myself in a career that incorporates both of these passions.