If you’re a fan of country music, Kären McCormick is a name you’ll want to make yourself familiar with. In her new single, “We Were On Fire,” you can hear the emotion and passion in each word she sings. I got the chance to talk to Kären about how she first got started in music, what it has been like to be an African American female breaking into country music, the impact her move to Nashville has had on her career and so much more. Keep reading to see what she had to say!
I should thank my father. When I was 7, he noticed I would sing around the house and he encouraged me to join the choir at church because he thought I would “really enjoy it.” I did — he was right. I also really liked to write, so I would write stories and skits and perform them around the house. It wasn’t until I was 16 that I started asking my dad to take me to Nashville, TN — this magical place where country music dreams came true.
Was there a specific moment or person that made you realize you wanted to start pursuing music as a career?
When I was 11, I was in the car with my father, who had turned the radio to the country station and “Tim McGraw” by Taylor Swift came on and I fell in love with it. The idea of combining music and writing hadn’t occurred to me until that exact moment. I begged my father for a guitar for an entire year and finally got one when I was 13 and I wrote my first song that night — and haven’t stopped since.
I know you very recently moved to Nashville to start your music career, so it might be a little premature to ask this but what have you learned about being an artist since moving there?
I’ve learned, and I’m working on — not comparing myself. It’s painfully easy to compare myself to the writer next to me and think, “Wow, they’re a better writer than me.” But I’m learning that just because someone else is a great writer, it doesn’t take away from my writing. If someone is great at writing a more traditional, George Strait-kind of country sound, that’s GOOD! Because that’s not my strong suit. I can learn from them in a writing session. It’s all about being willing to learn and being eager to grow as both a writer and a performer.
How has being surrounded by so much diverse music in Nashville impacted the music you’re creating?
It gives me ease. I remember when I released my first single, ‘Just a Song’, I was worried it wouldn’t be considered “country enough”. I played it for people in Nashville prior to the release and ironically enough, the people in Nashville were the ones who identified it as country! Being in Nashville has opened my mind and ears to the different subgenres of country music and I’m so happy about that.
Today’s country music, or at least mainstream country music, has always been seen as a very white space. What has your experience been like trying to break into this industry as an African American female artist where Darius Rucker is the standard and there’s not much after him?
That’s a great question. Regardless of gender or race, breaking into the music industry is difficult. I’ve been very fortunate that it has never been an issue, and I hope it continues to be that way. I don’t want being an African American female to define me as an artist; I want my music to define me. But I do think representation and diversity are important. When I started listening to country music, there was no one who looked like me and let’s be honest, there still isn’t. I would love to be a representation of that in the sense that young African American female/male artists can listen to my music or see me perform and remember that their race doesn’t hold them back from a certain genre.
I know your music blends the country and pop genres, but how would you describe it without using genre names?
I hope that someone [who] listens to my music, they would define it as relatable and authentic. As a songwriter, it is the most wonderful feeling when someone says they can relate to your songs because that’s why you wrote them.
Talk a little bit about your latest single, “We Were On Fire.” What’s the story behind that song?
I wrote “We Were on Fire” in March earlier this year, not too long after the release of my first single, “Just a Song”. I knew I wanted to write something upbeat and happy, yet nostalgic — but in a satisfied way. “Just a Song” was reflective as well, but a little bit on the sad side. It’s completely possible to look back on a relationship or an experience with an “even though it’s over, I’m still so glad it happened” mentality. That is what I wanted to capture with “We Were on Fire”, and with the help of my producers, Lucas Hathaway and Caleb Lovely, I feel we did just that.
What was your songwriting process like for this song specifically? Did you write it by yourself or did you collaborate with other writers?
Being new to Nashville, I’m still new to the co-writing game. I’ve never been the kind of songwriter who is able to go into a room, sit down and write a full song in one day — that’s something I’m working on as a writer. The concept usually comes first, then maybe a lyric or two, and then it comes together all at once. With WWOF, this was an unusual case in that I knew exactly what I wanted to write, and I was able to do it in one sitting in one day in my bedroom.
Musically, what can people expect from you for the rest of 2018? More singles? Any plans for an EP or full-length album to be released anytime soon?
I want to release one more single this year, and then focus on releasing an EP in 2019. I don’t know exactly when or how many songs yet, but I know I’m so excited to be working on a bigger project and a larger body of work. I’m always in competition with myself. With each project, I want it to be better than the last.
You’re still very new to the music game. What are some music industry-related goals or benchmarks that you’re aiming to reach in the next couple of years?
There are so many! I actually made a vision board for my goals at the beginning of this year, and I’ve been fortunate to see some of them come true. Some of my smaller goals include releasing an EP, while some of the larger goals are to have a song on the radio one day and to open for one of my inspirations on a tour. Touring is a huge goal of mine.
Last question — we’re called Talk Nerdy With Us because we all have an inner-nerd. What is something that you nerd out about?
I’m a massive chart nerd. I love watching the charts and seeing who is about to get a No. 1 hit or who is staying at the top for multiple weeks at a time. I love predicting where someone is going to debut or if someone is about to break a record — I always feel pretty nerdy talking about it!