Though she only had one solo release to her credit prior to a few weeks ago, Kelley Mickwee has been far from dormant musically. She has two albums with Jed and Kelley under her belt, she’s recorded and performed with Texas country quarter The Trishas, and she recently joined Kevin Russell’s Shinyribs as well. In between them, however, sits her first solo album, You Used to Live Here, released in 2014.
As she set her sights on 2021, Mickwee also shifted some of her focus towards original music. With two new singles, the uber-traditional “Boomtown to Bust” and the musically diverse “Let’s Just Pretend (We’re Holding Hands),” Mickwee is proving to be back in a big way, already landing on a Spotify curated playlist and getting her name and music back into the eyes and ears of listeners clamoring for new music since falling in love with Mickwee’s breakthrough single, “River Girl,” in 2014.
We chatted with Mickwee about the success of “River Girl,” making her return with her two newest singles, how she spent her time away from the stage in 2020, her plans for the rest of the year and more!
Pro Country: You released your debut album, You Used to Live Here, in 2014, which featured the song “River Girl,” which has earned over 700,000 Spotify streams since its release. What do you think it was about the song that connected with listeners? What did it mean to you to see that success on your debut release?
Kelley Mickwee: You know, that song was something special to me from the very beginning. I remember tears streaming down my face when I wrote the chorus, and I’ve only had that experience while writing a few times. I think the raw emotion I was feeling when it was written really did come across in the recording. That can be really hard to do, and my studio band on that record just nailed it. That’s a live vocal too, so it is very present and in the moment. Not to mention the “Memphis” treatment those guys gave the song. And Kevin Welch’s guitar solo is just perfect for the track. He is also my co-writer on that one, and is an absolute master of his craft.
It meant the world to me! Folks from all over immediately connected with that song and I really think it helped open a lot of doors for me. Now, if I could just write another one like it!
PC: Though you are a member of several musical projects in a group or duo setting, your two newest singles, “Boomtown to Bust” and “Let’s Just Pretend (We’re Holding Hands)” are your first solo releases since You Used to Live Here. What emotions were you feeling as you were preparing to release solo music for the first time after such a long hiatus?
KM: I was definitely feeling ALL the emotions. But really, just that overall excited kind of nervousness that comes when you release anything that’s original and all your own. It has been years since my debut, like you say, so I was really just curious if anyone would be interested in hearing new music from me. So far, so good.
PC: In less than two weeks since its release, “Boomtown to Bust” has earned nearly 7,000 Spotify and landed on their “Texas Music Now” curated playlist. How encouraging has the response been in the first two weeks since the song’s release?
KM: Is 7,000 good??! [laughs]. Hard to know these days if listens and plays actually translate to record and ticket sales. But I sure do appreciate every single play, share and ticket bought to one of my shows. And yes, how cool that “Boomtown to Bust” landed on a Spotify curated playlist?! I am in very good company on that one. It’s very encouraging. And I love Country Music 🙂
PC: As was “Boomtown to Bust,” “Let’s Just Pretend (We’re Holding Hands) was written with Ben Jones. Can you take us in the room and talk about the inspiration behind this tune?
KM: Ben and I were in lockdown together, so it was only natural that we sat down and wrote a few songs. I’m sure he would have written every day with me if I asked him to. He is a very gifted musician and a great co-writer. “Let’s Just Pretend” was one that I had started with just a little humming of the chorus, and he picked up on it immediately and helped me write it just the way I heard it in my head. It was meant to be a bit of a nod to a romance in pandemic times without being super obvious. I do think the “ six feet away” line gives it away though 🙂
PC: In differing ways, both of your newest singles deal with loss of love. Was that a topic you wanted to hit intentionally, or something that happened naturally as the songs came together?
KM: Definitely was not intentional. For some reason, a lot of my songs tend to be about loss of love, even when I am completely happy and in a relationship. Not exactly sure why, other than the notion that tapping into that emotion is something we can all relate to, and it’s also where a lot of the really juicy stuff lives. Don’t worry, the next two singles have nothing to do with loss of love [laughs].
PC: You’re releasing your two newest singles to vinyl. Can you talk about making that decision and why it was important to you to do that?
KM: I have always wanted to press up some of my own 7-inch vinyl records, but up to this point, I hadn’t recorded and released two singles at a time to warrant using the format. I just love the good old fashioned singles release, with an A and a B side. A taste of what the artist is currently creating without ingesting an entire album. And also, these two songs just felt old-fashioned to me. Both when we wrote them and once they were recorded. Perfect opportunity to create something different like a 45.
PC: For well over a decade, you have had quite a full slate of musical projects, including being a member of The Trishas, Jed and Kelley and Kevin Russell’s Shinyribs. With the musical world largely being put on hold over the last year and a half-plus, what was it like for you to be off of the road more and have more free time? How were you able to adapt and stay busy?
KM: Oh goodness, I always feel so guilty when I answer this question. But, honestly, I really enjoyed my time at home in 2020. I appreciated the forced “slow down,” and I really just focused on other things that make me happy, like gardening, grilling, walking my dog, watching movies, etc. And I learned a few new things as well. I did have a very sick family member for the first half of the lockdown, so my time and energy was largely focused on that person. But, after that was all over, I came home and just enjoyed…being me. Wearing my jammies every day and never putting on a lick of makeup was nice too.
That said, a year was long enough. I’m grateful to be back in front of an audience and am enjoying the camaraderie I have and missed with my fellow musicians.
PC: Of the things you can control, what are your plans for the rest of the year and going into 2022 with your various musical projects?
KM: That’s a good point! Seems there are so many variables currently and we are still living in a worldwide pandemic, so it is hard to say what is to come. But, I plan on continuing to fill my shoes as a Shiny Soul Sister, while also making time to play solo/duo shows and continue to write, record and release new music. I have two new singles coming out later this year, so be on the lookout for those! I also have my heart set on a solo European tour for 2022. Fingers crossed!
*All photos by Taylor Prinsen*
**”Boomtown to Bust” and “Let’s Just Pretend (We’re Holding Hands)” are featured on The Best of Pro Country playlist!**