Heart pumping, eyes darting, Abby Cole races down the highway toward her family home. Her gaze flits between the road and the clock. As the pedal inches toward the floor, she wills time to go slower. It’s a chilly night in September 2019, and her song “Dandelion Wine” is being played on 91.7 KXT. She wants to make it home before it makes it on air.
“I could’ve listened to it in my car, but I wanted to hear it with my family,” she says. “I wanted to share that moment with them.”
Cole’s tracks have gotten consistent spins on KXT. Her latest single, “It Was Meant to Be,” was played on the station before its official release in late February. That consistent airtime is a big deal for the 20-year-old Cole, an SMU student who started making music in summer 2018.
Cole has an Aristotelian view toward knowledge and art: She loves to learn for the sake of learning, and she loves to create for the sake of creating.
Music was one of the few mediums she had yet to try, so after her first year of college, she gave it a go. Her first single, “Ghost Town,” was made almost entirely on the GarageBand app on her phone. The result was a chillingly lo-fi sound reminiscent of artists like Clairo, and further proof that you don’t need a studio to gain an audience. Maybe all you need is a phone and a story.
Cole’s earliest memories are of her tinkering. Her father, a photographer, had a camera that Cole used to record her own mini home movies. She supplemented these flicks with a recurring newsletter, the content of which still makes her laugh.
“It was your typical 6-year-old stuff,” she says. “‘What was for dinner tonight?’ Stuff like that.”
Cole continued to experiment with photography and filmmaking throughout her childhood, showing shades of the tireless creative she is today. As a teenager, she launched a YouTube channel that began as a vlog chronicle of her life. The “About” section of her channel describes her as a “20 year old internet enthusiast and maker of stuff. I like film & social media and also I think a lot.”
Past videos cover everything from making a zine to prepping for college. In 2018, the channel took a turn toward musical content.
Cole has always been an avid music fan and cites artists like Grimes as major sources of creative inspiration. But until 2018, she had never made music of her own.
“I took two years of piano and a year of voice lessons,” she says of her musical experience. “I was honestly kind of bored with music.”
2018’s “Ghost Town” was just like her short films or photographs; it was an avenue to tell a little bit of her story.
“I was seeing people I follow and liking their stuff, and I just thought, ‘I’m going to try that out,’” Cole says.
Specifically, she cites YouTuber-turned-musician Conan Gray as a principal influence, though her style veers toward more moody, dark material. Shortly after the GarageBand-produced “Ghost Town,” Cole released Is It Not Strange?, a five-song EP that showcased the dream pop sonics Cole can craft on a budget.
“I’m a huge music fan, and I was incredibly impressed by what she was able to do,” says Marla Burchett, Cole’s friend. “Her transitions are crazy, if you think about what she has to work with.”
Cole has upgraded a bit since her GarageBand days. In addition to a $200 mic, she now employs her laptop for songs like the recent “It Was Meant to Be.” But that’s her only tech — and it’s not just her friends who have taken notice.
“Abby writes songs that are super vibe-y and creative,” says Amy Miller, who hosts The Local Show on KXT. “She has a good ear for melody, which we love at KXT. ‘Dandelion Wine’ is such a beautiful song that I gravitated to right away when I first heard it.”
As for how she ended up on the radio?
“I just emailed them,” Cole says.
Praise like Miller’s feels strange to the young singer. She appreciates it, but since her music is such a solitary experience, it can be weird to hear other people talk about it.
“You spend so much time on it when you’re alone, and I never think about what it’ll be like when people hear it,” she says.
Even though Cole isn’t sure if a full-time music career is in the cards, she’s beginning to warm up to the idea of playing live. Until recently, the mere thought would have seemed terrifying, if not impossible. But hey, she’s on the radio.
As she thinks back to the night of the “Dandelion Wine” radio premiere, Cole remembers barely making it home. She and her parents queued up KXT, and the trio listened to the song together.
“I think they liked it,” she says. “All I know was, I kept thinking, ‘Whoa. I made a song.’”