Kimberly Kelly is quickly emerging as one of the most talented traditional-leaning country singer-songwriters. Hailing from Lorena, Texas, she has been splitting time between the Lone Star State and Nashville to pursue her career in country music. Now, Kelly is celebrating the release of her debut album entitled, I’ll Tell You What’s Gonna Happen, out via Toby Keith’s Show Dog Nashville label in partnership with Thirty Tigers.
The album title is taken from a quote from Kelly’s good friend and late mentor, Billy Joe Shaver. The meaning behind I’ll Tell You What’s Gonna Happen goes back to when Shaver once crashed a Waylon Jennings recording session to tell him to either listen to his songs or get his a** kicked. Jennings agreed to listen to one song and became hooked. That moment sparked the beginning of what would become Jennings’ 1973 Honky Tonk Heroes album.
On her debut album, Kelly pays another tribute to Shaver with a female spin on the legendary country outlaw’s “Black Rose,” as well as a voicemail Shaver left for Kelly before his passing in 2020. But, Kelly’s album isn’t only a tribute offering, fans also get a dose of Kelly’s clear country vocals and sheer authenticity in songs like the statement-making opener, “Honky Tonk Town,” the Steve Wariner collaboration, “Blue Jean Country Queen,” the 90s country, nostalgia track “Summers Like That” and more.
Before the release of her debut album, produced by her husband, songwriter Brett Tyler (a co-writer of “Cold Beer Calling My Name”), Kelly cut her teeth in Texas, where she grew an organic fan base and garnered regional success with album releases and radio tours. She took a minor detour, earning a Master’s degree in speech therapy before returning to her first passion, country music, full-time.
“This is not my first rodeo,” Kelly shared in a recent press release. “I worked really hard in Texas before I came to Nashville. I wrote songs, put out records, did a radio tour, and played every weekend while going to school and working full-time.”
In 2021, all of Kelly’s hard work and dedication earned her a long-awaited record deal with Show Dog Nashville. Now Kelly’s debut project is giving fans the first taste of what this country spitfire is all about.
Country Now recently caught up with Kelly to talk about her debut collection.
Keep reading to find out more information about Kimberly Kelly’s album, I’ll Tell You What’s Gonna Happen, in this exclusive Q&A below.
Congratulations on your debut album! How does it feel to have a new collection of music out?
It’s honestly been a roller coaster of emotions. It feels like I have been working on this album for forever. I told some people on my team that it feels like it’s out, but you still have this fear of like, ‘It’s over.’ But I have never put anything out with a team behind me, so I am so excited for fans to hear it! I am cautiously optimistic.
Tell me a little bit about your journey so far. What led you to get to this point?
Well. I am from Texas, which gives us a unique opportunity. It’s like a whole different industry out there, so it is a good training opportunity. I’ve put out records, done radio tours, and played all the time. My sister did as well, and she got a record deal a while ago. That is what finally brought me up to Nashville. I sang background harmony on the road with her and spent time writing and trying to get a publishing and record deal. That did not happen. So, I put out an EP as a last-ditch effort to otherwise maybe hang it up and focus on something else. Then, David Macias at Thirty Tigers happened upon it and pitched me to Show Dog. I feel like having done it all this time – it’s not that you don’t have a team because you have family, fans, and people that support you, but it’s different being signed to a place because there is a promotions team. They help you make all of the decisions you were making individually, but having done it myself up to this point – I have had time to hone in on who I am as an artist. I think those are the tools I have acquired. I think we make decisions a lot faster than maybe a newbie artist. I know I’m new in the grand scheme of things, but I know who I am and what I want, and it helps them to have a clear direction on how to promote me as well.
Is it easy to know whether or not your label home will be a good fit?
Meeting David was the “work hard, and you’ll get lucky” sort of thing. Him pitching me to Show Dog, you know, it’s a major label, but also it’s independent. Years ago, it was only major labels like SONY and Universal. But then there was this turn of independents becoming majors. I just looked at it like, it is a smaller roster, and they love what I was doing. They didn’t want me to change who I was, and I wouldn’t have to wait in line. I’m a bigger fish in the small town where I am. It felt right for me because the music I am making is not like what anyone else is doing as far as a female. So I thought, ‘I am going to go with a label that not everyone is at either.’ I had already had a good relationship with my manager before signing, and he would show up at my gigs. So, I realized it’s like, go with the people who already believe in you. So, I was going with those people who were showing up.
Tell me about the new album I’ll Tell You What’s Gonna Happen? Did you have a lot of input on it?
Yes. I did. We brought over three songs from the EP I did before this that got me signed. Then, it was me, my husband, who is my producer, my manager, and then David. We A&R’ed my project, and we’re all fans of country music. So we threw a bunch of songs in a hat and let the best ones win. We did have a lot of freedom in that. Of course, Toby [Keith] and TK [Kimbrell] had to sign off on it, but we all are song people and chose great songs. So, I think that made it very easy for them to say ‘Yes. We love this. Run with it.’
So the title of the album is a quote from Billy Joe Shaver. What does that quote mean to you, and did you plan on making this a tribute album?
I did not plan on making this a tribute to him. I got nervous about it when we landed on it because I thought, ‘He had passed. I don’t want anybody to think I’m exploiting this or anything.’ But my people were like, ‘If people like you stop talking about people like him, there’s a chance that people will forget about him.’ So that changed my whole perspective. I was like, ‘No. People need to know about him.’ We didn’t have a title, but recently there was an exhibit in a Hall of Fame called Outlaws & Armadillos, and I saw the picture of the ‘l tell you what’s gonna happen quote,’ and I sent it to David. I said, “This is going to be my mantra going about this record. You know, like, ‘I’m proud of these songs. This is country music. You need to listen to it, or I’m going to whoop your a**.’ And, he dared me. He said, ‘I dare you to name your album that,’ and I said, ‘Okay.’ I thought about it, but I have been doing this for a while. I have a silly personality. So, I thought, ‘I don’t care.’ But also, it eventually grew to me being able to tell my story of knowing him and the connection I have with him.
You pay tribute to Billy Joe Shaver with a cover of “Black Rose.” How did you choose that track?
My husband picked it. We went through all of his songs, and bless his heart, a lot of them are about women (laughs). So, we didn’t know or have the liberty to change a line. We did say on this one, ‘The first time that Billy felt lighting.’ So, we took a little liberty. But we didn’t take too much. I don’t think he would have cared. It felt like his life story anyway, you know, he was a believer. But he would always joke about how he raises hell and stuff. But it was one of the songs I could sing, and it worked in that perspective.
Your husband produced I’ll Tell You What’s Gonna Happen. What was it like working alongside him in the studio and on the project?
I like to joke that he was the cheapest producer I could find or the most expensive – however you want to look at it (laughs). It was fine. He’s a songwriter who had his first number one in the fall. But we didn’t meet each other through writing. He produced my project because I reached a point in town where I trusted him the most. I knew what I wanted, and we knew that he would support me in that. Then we started writing together more during the pandemic. So a couple of the songs that we wrote made the album. But we have been together for so long that it naturally happened. I don’t know if it would’ve worked as well if it was in the beginning of our relationship. We came up in Nashville in two different crowds, and they naturally morphed together. So, it’s been neat because, through me, he’s gotten to write with Lori McKenna. He’s getting pitched a few other production projects from David. It’s just a natural dynamic.
On the album, you co-wrote “Person That You Marry.” Can you tell me the inspiration behind that song?
Yes. That was an idea where a friend of mine had gotten together with someone going through a divorce. They said that to her. So, I said, ‘Girl. If you don’t write that, then I’m going to.’ So, Brett and I had our first writing session with Lori McKenna. I wanted to think of something that would impress her. So, I had that title. Then I started reading a book, The Nightingale, about a woman. Her husband goes to war. She says, ‘I’ve known my husband in love, but I’ve never been married to him while he’s been off at war.’ I thought, ‘Oh my gosh!’ That’s what happens in a divorce. Like, ‘I knew you in love, but this is war / You know the person that you marry / But not the one you divorce.’ There’s been a lot of divorce in my family. So, it came out. I have not been divorced myself, but I did experience it. So, we told Lori, and she loved it. So, we ran with it. I didn’t write anything on the record, but if anyone is worried if I can write a song, I’m just going to point them to that one.
My other favorite song on the album is ‘I Remember That Woman’ because I will remember that woman. Most women have experienced something like that. I had been pitched that song for the EP I made before this record, and it didn’t fit. But I held onto it, and it felt right for this record. That’s how it was for the rest of the songs too. It was either an emotion that I connected with or the language I speak in my daily life, like ‘Some Things Have A Name.’ I respond to things that way, where I’m like, ‘Oh. That’s called cheating. Let me make it clear.’ So, it felt like something I would say or something I felt or experienced.
What do you want fans to take away from this album?
I want them to learn and recognize that there are a million different ways to do this. I recently quit my job as a speech therapist. So, if you have a plan B, it doesn’t mean that you don’t want plan A any less. And if you keep going, then there’s a chance that you might get lucky. But you’ve got to keep going. That’s what I want them to learn about me. Then I hope it reminds them of the albums I grew up listening to, or if they’re younger than me, songs that make you feel things and tell stories. I hope they are reminded of the instrumentation and melodies that match the songs. I hope that it makes them feel something.
What’s next for you?
Well. I just got signed to Wasserman Music, and I feel like it’s wild to look at the people on that roster, like Kacey Musgraves and George Strait. It blows my mind! As far as shows go, I will be playing a lot of one-offs, going back to my hometown in Texas, and playing some shows here in town. I want to play the Grand Ole Opry. I have about three goals here. My first was for this record to come out. Then I want to play the Opry, and I would love to do a radio tour, which I feel like it is going to happen!
Fans can keep up with Kimberly Kelly on Instagram.