The thing we love most about country music is that it hits its listeners directly where they are in life. From love and love lost to good-timing tunes, country music has a song to hit everybody at home.
Kayleigh Mathews has spent countless miles on the road both bringing her music to the country music base and hearing their stories and injecting them into the songs she writes and records. Add in a healthy dose of bending steel guitar and twanging Telecaster and you’ve found Mathews newest EP, Turn Out the Lights; a four song journey through stone-cold country tunes tailor made for the bars and stages they were spawned from.
We chatted with Mathews all about Turn Out the Lights, as well as her early start in music, moving to Nashville, staying busy on the road and more!
Pro Country: Your bio mentions early influences from bluegrass, gospel and traditional country music. Who were some of the artists you remember hearing early in your life that made you fall in love with music?
Kayleigh Mathews: Early on, I was raised on a good mix of music. As far as gospel goes, my Grandparents were Gaither vocal band fans & missionaries, so I grew up hearing those tight harmonies on the classic hymnals. My dad loved classic rock bands, which in turn, I loved, like the Eagles, Fleetwood Mac, Queen & Aerosmith. I personally always gravitated toward country music though. Artists that really influenced me during that time were powerhouse female voices like Lee Ann Womack, LeAnn Rimes, Sugarland & The Judds. And I can’t forget the male voices that also shaped my love for country music like George Strait, Alan Jackson & Vince Gill.
PC: Your bio also mentions that you began writing songs at a young age. What was it about songwriting and expressing yourself in that way that connected with you so early in your life?
KM: This one is funny! I always explain myself best that I am introverted extrovert. Songwriting has always aligned with that for me as well. I started seriously writing songs at 16 years old. I always told myself I wanted what I wrote to resonate with my real life in some form so I could feel connected to a song. As I’ve gotten older & practiced being a stronger writer, I’ve learned how healing songwriting can be. Some things we aren’t ready to just flat out say to the world but sing it!? Yes, absolutely, where’s my guitar!? It’s been a way to speak the truth about life, death, work, struggle, touring; you name it!
PC: At what point did your early interest in music and songwriting translate into realizing you could, and wanted to, pursue music as a career?
KM: I can honestly say since I was about five years old I knew I wanted to be a professional singer. I of course had backup plans like being an astronaut & teaching, but math was a BIG struggle, so those were out of the question! I remember every awards season, we’d watch the CMT, CMA and ACM Awards and I’d have this burning fire feeling in my heart watching my heroes in country music give these speeches about their journeys. I just somehow knew I could do what they could do, I just needed some experience. It wasn’t until I was singing regularly at church, bluegrass functions & in school that I realized if I really worked at this, I could have a shot. Then in 2017, it really became reality that I wasn’t getting any younger. It was now or never, and never wasn’t an option for me!
PC: You moved from your native Arizona to Nashville in 2018. What emotions were you feeling as you were preparing to make a move of that magnitude, and what was it like immersing yourself in Music City?
KM: Oh gosh! Let me tell you, moving 1,600 miles away from everything you’ve ever known & everyone you love was probably one of the scariest parts of that decision! Not to mention being that far away, I couldn’t get a job before I moved. Everywhere I applied to said I had to wait until I was actually moved into town. Talk about STRESS! I also ended up having to sublet an apartment that I had never seen in person. When I was moving to Nashville, 100 people a day were moving there, so housing was crazy! I now know what Bon Jovi meant about “Livin’ on a Prayer,” because wow, there was so much unknown. When I finally got here, I went a month and a half without a job. In that time, I’d go walk around Broadway, go to any event I could find just to see what Music City was all about! Then in April of 2018, I got hired at the Grand Ole Opry as a tour guide (talk about excited). That’s where I really made friends that became family, learned a lot about the Nashville scene & started to work on music more in depth!
PC: You released your debut single, “Crashing Down,” about two years into your time in Nashville. What kind of emotions came with releasing music for the first time and how do you look back on that song?
KM: “Crashing Down” will always hold such a special spot in my heart. I actually wrote that song back in Arizona & even played it out in the country music scene back home. When I released that song, it was a way of telling about a rough few years of life. I also may or may not have released it on the one year anniversary of my divorce finalization the year prior. Is that country music or what!? For me, it felt like way to release my old life. A new chapter was beginning, and that song really kicked it off with full steam ahead.
PC: Your 2021 sophomore single, “Unconditional,” earned airplay on UK Country Radio. What was it like to know that your song was reaching people so far away from your base and to know that it was receiving radio airplay?
KM: When “Unconditional” came out, it was an emotional (in a good way) song. It took me a few months to finish writing it. I wrote it about my boyfriend who really had changed what love is for me. When we got word about getting it on UK radio, we were over the moon. They told us the times it would be airing, and hearing it for the first time on a radio program gave me head to toe chills! It still often feels like a dream. I’ve gained some amazing friendships from my music playing overseas that I wouldn’t trade for the world. It proves that music is the universal language for the world. To hear and see that people care about what you create is an experience I can’t even fathom. I don’t know that I ever will be able to fathom it!
PC: Your 2021 single, “Love Nashville,” delves into those chasing musical dreams in Music City. How much of that song’s contents are a message to yourself as an artist in pursuit of a dream?
KM: “Love Nashville” was my first co-write with my friend & producer Dave Smith. It was written from two different perspectives. He had moved to Nashville 25 years prior to writing the song, & I was still pretty green at the time. That song flowed out of the two of us within about three hours. We wanted it to be something that talked about what it’s really like, the stuff people don’t usually tell you. We came up with this concept of it being a love letter to the dreamers of Nashville from Nashville itself. This song, as a songwriter, is still one of the most powerful ones to sing in a set, because we’ve lived and are actively living that dream out every day. I learned quickly that being genuine & being yourself was the best way to be, because it’s not always the case in the music business. This song is as real and raw as it gets. Learning to stay true to your heart & self, do what you love & play the music that got you started in the first place. When I play it live, I always think about what it will be like someday to still be singing that song, but perhaps from the circle of the Opry stage, & how that truly will be a full circle moment of the dream to reality.
PC: You released your newest EP, Turn Out the Lights, about a year after your debut EP, Desert Child. How important is it for you to keep a steady release schedule and to consistently be able to offer new music?
KM: As a consumer of music myself, it’s important to me to always be working on something. For me personally, I believe in releasing quality over quantity. With that in mind, I don’t pressure myself to put out something if it’s not ready or the right time. Everything we’ve released has honestly fallen into place, & I wouldn’t want it any other way! I have found that being on the road actually has been a hard place to create or even feel creative. I have to find that balance, and I’m actively learning that daily. Somewhere in the middle is where I am, and just like life goes, you go through seasons of crazy inspiration and total writers block. So if you see me quickly jotting something down, it’s likely an idea that I don’t want to forget so I can come back to it & see where it leads.
PC: As lovers of cheating, heartbreak songs and waltzes, “Cheatin’ Chaser” is our favorite song on Turn Out the Lights. Can you take us in the room and talk about the inspiration behind the song and how it came together?
KM: Ahh I knew I loved y’all! A good ole country heartbreak ballad is forever my true love vocally! I have loved ballad singers of all genres like Lady Gaga, Adele, Aretha Franklin, Keith Whitley & Merle Haggard. They are vocalists & songwriters that make you feel something with the way they write & sing a song. “Cheatin’ Chaser” started with just the hook. I had it written down for about a year before it took life. I was actually getting ready to record a different song that I thought would be on Turn Out the Lights, and then for some reason, I couldn’t get the tag from “Cheatin’ Chaser” out my mind. So I sat down and ended up finishing the song within a few hours. I played it for my manager thinking it may be a single, and he was like “I never do this, but I really think this should be on the Turn Out the Lights EP!” I was shocked. I didn’t think anyone would like it! We went in and recorded it two days later in the studio, and when I got the master back, we listened to it like 15 times through. I’m so glad it ended up on Turn Out the Lights; it’s where it really belonged. It’s real & raw and talks about something hard to say out loud. Don’t get me started with that heavy pedal steel. Somehow makes you crave a glass of whiskey on the rocks & a good cry!
PC: “Turn Out the Lights” closes its EP on a stone cold, steel-soaked, traditional country note. What drew you to have that song serve as the title track for its EP?
KM: The last three years we’ve been touring all over the country playing traditional country music. We’ve played a wide range of venues from a bowling alley, dive bars, breweries, wineries, honky-tonks, festivals & rodeos. What I’ve learned in that short time is there’s a little bit of honky-tonk soul in us all. I wanted the last song of the EP to explain how the end of a night out feels. You’re sad to go home because you’ve had fun. You find solace in knowing you’ll be back next weekend in your boots & back out on the dance floor. It’s a song for all the people like me who love to close a place down. Maybe one day they’ll give ya a key to the place, but for now, they’ll at least let ya turn out the lights.
PC: What do you hope listeners take away from the Turn Out the Lights EP after listening all the way through?
KM: Turn Out the Lights actually mirrors, in a way, life out on the road as a musician & the hard working people that come out to our shows & support live music. Everyone in a bar has something going on like a bad breakup, hoping to meet someone, paying your dues on stage, or even as simple as forgetting about the everyday for a couple hours. Somehow, all those people get together on a weekend & all cohesively honky-tonk their hearts out. It’s true traditional country music, & I hope from track one through track four, that conveys to any listener.
PC: Your website shows a very busy performing schedule for the rest of the year. How much are you looking forward to staying active on the road and stages and bringing your music to people in that setting?
KM: The road life is my true happy place. While I love recharging at home every once and a while, the road is home to me. It’s special to see all the places you grew up learning about in school in real life. It makes you stop and grasp how lucky we are to call America home. In 2022, we played in 19 different states. This year, we are adding some more states to our tour schedule & hitting up some of our favorites from years past. Not to mention this year, we are going international! We’ve booked three weekends this year to playing down in Puerto Peñasco, Mexico. Performing live is my absolute favorite part of being a musician. I get to meet people from all over the world, listen to their stories, share my own, interact & grow because of them. I’m so grateful for all the venues that have given us a chance to bring the music to them and their patrons. It’s the best feeling in the world when a kiddo gives you a picture they made you, seeing people singing along in the crowd, or getting a hug from someone that connected with what you sang. It’s priceless, and I’m grateful it’s my full time job!
PC: What do you have planned for the rest of 2023?
KM: For the remainder of the yea, I’m constantly working between the road & writing. We have some exciting festivals this year! May 23rd-26th I’ll be performing my original songs for South of the Border Songwriter Festival in Puerto Peñasco, Mexico. Next big show is June 10th: I’ll be opening from Lindsay Ell & Ashley McBryde at the Black Diamond Music Festival in Nelsonville, OH. We also just booked a show in Cheyenne, WY during Frontier Days at Blue Raven Brewery July 25th, so that will be another full show! Excited to see y’all out there on the road this year!
PC: Additional comments (if any)
KM: Lastly, as an independent artist, I just want to thank you Justin for giving us a platform to not only share our journeys, but our music! One of these days we gotta get to NJ and you’ve gotta come down for a visit here in Nashville!
*Kayleigh’s music is featured on The Best of Pro Country playlist!*
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