Imagine being pitched a song that moves you to your core. A song that you know you’re going to record; a song that quickly builds excitement. Now imagine being told that not only is another artist about to release it, but that it wasn’t just any artist, that artist is Cody Johnson.
Such was the case for Caitlin Quisenberry, so she did what may have felt impossible at the time: she waited. She waited to release her new single, “I Always Wanted To,” for several months following Johnson’s release. Not only is Quisenberry’s version out into the world, she’s turned in what we feel is her best vocal performance of her career. She made the song her own, and proves herself to be an expert storyteller as she delivers a song written from the perspective of a 95 year-old man reminiscing on his life and regrets that he may have from it.
We caught up with Quisenberry all about “I Always Wanted To,” as well as a recent award nomination, her big 2021, new music, and more!
Pro Country: You opened the year by releasing a three song acoustic EP, Nashville Stripped. What went into the decision to record three of your latest singles acoustically and present them that way to start 2022?
Caitlin Quisenberry: That decision came directly from my listeners. When I go live and sing online or sing at venues, I’m not singing with a full band; just a guitar. I began receiving comments that they really enjoyed the acoustic versions and would like to have those to listen to as well. So, I took three of my most popular songs and stripped them down to acoustic versions and released them as another representation of my artistry; more simple and raw.
PC: You’ve released a cover of Cody Johnson’s “I Always Wanted To,” a song you were pitched before Cody released it. Can you talk about how you heard the song and what your initial impressions were of it?
CQ: My producer, Sal Oliveri pitched it to me. He is actually the one who recorded the demo, so he was very familiar with it. When I heard it, it brought tears to my eyes and my mind immediately went to my grandparents. I thought of how hard the aging process has been on them, and I had just lost my grandma to a stroke that took away her ability to swallow and eat, so I was immediately connected to it and felt called to record it. Unfortunately, the news then came that another artist had taken it. Sal knew how disappointed I was, so he told me we would need to wait for the artist to release it, then if I still felt the same way, I could record it as a cover. At the time, I didn’t know who the artist was.
PC: You’ve mentioned that hearing Cody Johnson’s version of “I Always Wanted To” jumpstarted your desire to record the song. What did you like about Cody’s version of the song and how did his version put your recording in motion?
CQ: I was really excited when Cody Johnson came out with the song, as he is one of my favorite artists! I love the style Cody did the song in; his voice is full of emotion as he delivers the words of the old man. His vocals have such a deep rich tone, so masculine; it was hard to take him off of repeat! As I was driving and singing along to his song, my connection to the lyrics and desire to record it grew even more intense. A duet with Cody was what I was really fantasizing about in my car, but in the meantime, I knew I wanted to be part of this song in some way, so recording the female version was put into motion.
PC: While there are similarities between your version of “I Always Wanted To” and Cody’s, there are also some distinct differences as well. Was it at all a challenge to make the song your own, and how much did you enjoy that process?
CQ: It helps that I have an incredible producer, Sal Oliveri. I was able to tell him what I wanted the song to feel like and how I wanted it to have a female flair. Then he was able to construct the instrumentation to showcase that. When I heard what he had put together, it sounded like a soundtrack out of a motion picture. I hadn’t even laid down my vocals yet, and the musical instruments were already telling the story on their own. The process was so much fun! Making it my own was easy because I had already been singing it for over a year. After recording the song, I thought, “I hope Cody Johnson hears this song, and if does, I hope he likes it!”
PC: “I Always Wanted To” is written from the perspective of a 95 year-old man reminiscing on his life. How important is it for you to be seen as a storyteller as well as an artist, and what do you think the overarching message is of “I Always Wanted To” that listeners can take away from the song?
CQ: It’s a huge priority for me to be seen as a storyteller and an artist. They go hand in hand in country music. To me, singing a song is taking someone on a three-minute journey that impacts them as if they just lived through something that took years. When I record a song, I become that character. My acting background really helps me with this. I’m never just singing words; I’m in the moment feeling every emotion of where the lyrics are carrying me. That’s why I didn’t hesitate to sing the words of a 95-year old man. I became him. I saw everything through his eyes. That’s the artistry and the only way it will connect with your audience.
The overreaching message of this song is to live your life to its fullest, check off those bucket list items, so you don’t look back with regrets of “I never did all I wanted to do, but I always wanted to”.
PC: When we talked late last year, you mentioned that you have new music planned through at least the first half of the year. What information, if any, can you give about your forthcoming releases? What can listeners expect to hear?
CQ: I’ve been very methodical in my planning to keep my listeners on their toes, throwing in some unexpected vibes I think they will really like. Doing this allows me to showcase other dimensions of my artistry. I’ll be sharing BTS footage of writing sessions as well as when I’m in the recording studio, so you’ll be able to see what coming!
PC: You’re currently nominated for “New Artist of the Year 2022” at the Rocky Mountain Country Music Awards. What does that kind of nomination and distinction mean to you, especially when being the only female artist nominated in that category?
CQ: The nominations come from those in the music industry, so it is truly an honor to be chosen out of the sea, or should I say mountains, of talent. I’m nominated with the most incredible artists, but I am the only female artist in that category, which somehow makes it even more special that I’m representing all the new/up and coming female artists. I’m helping pave the way for them as so many female artists are doing for me right now. Although I live in Nashville now, I’m a fourth generation Colorado native, born and raised in Denver, and it’s where I launched my country music career. It’s also recognition to me that the industry professionals see/hear what I’m doing and like it. So, this nomination is special and monumental to me for many reasons.
PC: In about a year’s time, you’ve gone from under 100 monthly listeners on Spotify to nearly 70,000 today. Can you quantify what that drastic increase has meant to you both personally and professionally?
CQ: Those numbers are the truest way I can gauge how many people are listening to my music and I have to say, I am in awe of my numbers. I exceeded the goals I set for myself and feel so blessed that that many people are listening. The height of my monthly listeners so far was on January 1st at 166,943! After my first releases, I didn’t release any music for a year. During that year, I focused on my sound and writing. I didn’t want to overthink every song, but instead give my listeners what comes from my heart.
PC: Is there anything you’d like to add?
CQ: I’d love for everyone to know that I put out a weekly CQ newsletter; it comes out every Monday morning at 8:00am. I’ve been doing it for a year now and haven’t missed a week! It’s motivational and inspires creativity. It also discusses what’s going on with my music and what’s next. You can sign up for the newsletters on my website. It’s free to sign up! You can read all past newsletters on my website to see if it’s something you’re interested in.
I sell CQ merch and design all of it myself. Each song that drops has its own merch.
I also have a CQ Club! When you sign up, you get a CQ package sent to you, discounts off all merch, BTS footage, first looks at everything, handwritten letters from me during the year, and giveaways. All of this is also found on my website.
Lastly, but most importantly, I want to thank you for this interview, Justin. You have been so supportive of me and my music from the very beginning. Pro Country has given me a place to have my voice heard and my music promoted. Your questions are always so thought provoking and I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your efforts for me and other independent artists. Everyone please go follow Pro Country if you aren’t already!
*”I Always Wanted To” is featured on The Best of Pro Country playlist!*