“When I talk to people, and I say that I’m a country artist, [they] can be surprised, sometimes,” says Reyna Roberts. It’s early 2021, and the singer has gathered a Zoom call-full of media outlets and music industry insiders to showcase a few of her new songs and talk a little bit about herself and the experiences that led her to where she is in country music today.
Roberts is already gaining traction. During the summer of 2020, Roberts posted her video cover of Carrie Underwood’s “Drinking Alone,” and Mickey Guyton saw and shared it, commenting “Country music also looks like this.” (Underwood herself saw and re-shared the clip, too.)
The young singer’s first big moment of industry recognition came at a powerful, pivotal moment in country music history. As Black Lives Matter protests across the nation called for an end to police violence against Black people, Guyton was releasing song after powerful song about her experience as a Black woman in the country genre. Kane Brown put out his “Worldwide Beautiful” music video, a message of unity and racial equality. Young Black artists like Blanco Brown and Breland were beginning to find mainstream success, or they soon would.
Against the backdrop of a genre going through a growth spurt, rapidly shifting and widening as artists of all stripes sought to broaden the idea of what country music could be, Roberts dropped “Stompin’ Grounds” — a single that boldly claimed her turf as an artist, declaring “These are my stompin’ grounds / And don’t you forget it, yeah / Ain’t a thing in the world that could change it.” No hyphenates about it: “Stompin’ Grounds” is pure, unabashed country, spouted with a vocal confidence that Roberts picked up from influential artists like Gretchen Wilson.
“You can be from anywhere, but country follows you, and country isn’t just one thing,” Roberts sums up. “…Country doesn’t just look this one way. It’s so diverse…you don’t have to be a certain way to be a country artist.”
Read on to get to know a little bit about Roberts’ particular brand of country, and some of the stories that brought her to where she is today.
1. She Was Born in Alaska — and She’s Lived All Over the Place
Roberts moved to Nashville during the COVID-19 pandemic, and it was the latest in a long string of geographic relocations for the singer. The child of a military family, she was born in Alaska.
“My parents are veterans. And then after Alaska, we moved to Alabama, moved to California — and now I live in Nashville,” she explains. “So I’ve kind of been a little bit of everywhere.”
The lyrics of “Stompin’ Grounds” draw on the Alabama part of her life: Roberts sings about “Burnin’ up from the Alabama heat / Roll tide / Whatchu know about that? / Where the backwoods sound gives you life, alright…”
2. Music’s Been a Big Part of Her Life Since She Was a Baby
Roberts was born premature, and doctors told her parents to play music to her in order to help boost her brain development. “All genres, every day. Gospel, country music, classical, everything,” the singer recounts. Country artists like Gretchen Wilson and The Chicks quickly earned a special place in her heart.
“I loved their storytelling. That’s why I love country music so much: The beautiful storytelling,” Roberts adds. “I feel like you don’t hear these kinds of stories in other genres.”
Still, her teachers responded with surprise when, during a talent show performance, she opted to sing Wilson’s 2004 single, “Here For the Party.” “They’d be like, ‘That’s different!’” Roberts recalls with a laugh.
In her songwriting and performances today, Roberts continues to draw inspiration from Wilson. She has another musical hero, too, and though he and Wilson might not have much in common on the surface, they’re both artists who are staunchly, uniquely themselves.
“Chris Stapleton is one of my idols because I have not heard anybody like him,” Roberts explains. “Whenever I hear his voice, he moves me, and I feel like he sounds like home.”
3. Even When Her Family Was Homeless, Her Parents Still Made Sure She Could Practice Piano
Roberts’ first and primary instrument is the piano, and she started learning to play the instrument at just eight years old. Later on, during a period of financial difficulty, her family faced homelessness — but her parents still kept her piano, and encouraged her to continue to play.
“When we had just moved to California, we ended up being homeless because my mom lost her job,” Roberts remembers. “When we lost our home, they decided to put my piano in storage. Which is still amazing to me, because since we didn’t have money, the money we did have went to the storage facility just for my piano.”
For the next three years, Roberts went to her family’s storage facility to practice. In fact, in a way, the unit became one of her first-ever stages. “Whoever was moving their stuff in, would come and hear me sing, sit on the floor or just stand and listen to me play whatever I was playing.
“That was when I was around nine or 10,” she continues. “I hadn’t started writing my own music, but I would sing Evanescence and Gretchen Wilson and so many different other songs. That was kind of the journey for the piano.”
4. She Learned to Sing By Listening to Country’s Best Belters, Like Carrie Underwood
In “Stompin’ Grounds,” Roberts proves that her voice can go full throttle: And that’s a technique she learned by listening to singers she admires, including gospel performers. “I did go to church, but I wouldn’t go every Sunday,” she clarifies, explaining that instead of learning her vocal chops in a church, she learned by listening to her favorite artists.
“I listened to gospel singers. I listened to amazing women like Carrie Underwood. And I’m like, ‘How can I sound like that?’ I would just listen to their songs over and over again until I could hit those notes and belt it and sing like they could,” she says.
“I feel like when you’re listening to gospel music or you’re listening to country music…it comes with a certain feeling that just moves you,” Roberts adds. “I’ve always wanted to have that feeling in my voice that kinda punches you in the chest.”
5. Offstage, She’s Actually Pretty Shy
Between her maraschino-cherry red hair, her bedazzled stage outfits and her loud-and-proud performance persona, most fans assume that Roberts has a big, extroverted personality. When she’s not performing, though, she says she’s actually on the shy side.
“I like to get kinda rowdy onstage, hype everybody up just to have an amazing time,” she says. “But me personally, it’s kinda funny. I’m a huge nerd. I’m into, like, Star Wars and Star Trek, and just chilling out at home watching Netflix. When Reyna the artist is onstage, she’s kinda wild. But me personally, I’m just a shy, quiet introvert.”
In fact, “Reyna Roberts” is a stage name — sort of.
“The way I spell my name, how it’s spelled legally, is R-e-i-g-n-a. The word reign, with an ‘a’ on the end,” she explains. “So that’s me, the little nerd, quiet in the corner. And ‘Reyna’ is the artist, who comes and is like a diva, ready to slay. That’s kind of how I differentiate between the two, because it kinda does feel like I’m a completely different person onstage than offstage.”