Elaina Kay spent two years in Nashville waiting for her stars to align, but before that she grew up in Wichita Falls, sneaking peeks at her older brother’s garage band rehearsals, not yet knowing she’d one day release a record of her own. Now based in Dallas, Kay says she’s always operated on instinct and thus far, the habit has served her well.
“Every other thing I’ve ever done kind of runs its course or has its season, but music has been the one thing that stays through it all,” she says.
Kay's debut album, Issues, is set to release in August and was mostly written while she was in Nashville, where she moved to on a whim. She says she arrived with songs ready to go, but when looking for a place to record and produce her first album, an opportunity fell in her lap, and true to her character, she did not hesitate in taking it.
“I didn’t even know where I was going to record or produce and then I got the offer," she says. "Paul Cauthen and (The Texas Gentlemen) wanted to produce it and record it and play on it. It was like we talked about it and then the next day Paul’s like, ‘All right, I got everything lined up in the studio, be in Texas on this date and this date.’ And I was like, ‘Whoa, I didn’t even tell you yes yet, but I think I’m just going to do it.’ I just kind of went with my gut."
The album was recorded at Modern Electric Sound Recorders with Cauthen, the self-styled preacher of country music, who acted as producer, while members of the Texas Gentlemen were her backing band. Suddenly, the years of playing shows while struggling to break into the “boys club" of country musicianship seemed worth it to Kay, who says the album simply would not be as good as it is if she had released it any earlier. Cauthen says recording was the easy part for Kay, and her real hustle will start now.
“Elaina has been on the road for a long time rodeo-ing so the songs really came to her easily," Cauthen says of the production. "They’re real tunes. That’s why I did it.”
Kay’s music has earned attention through her straightforward writing style that is deep-rooted in personal experience. Tracks such as “Daddy Issues” and “Cheating Me Out of Love” come straight from her own life, like the best of country songs. With local rising star Cauthen attached as a producer and after her SXSW showcase in March, the long-awaited release of her first album is finally nearing its end. Kay says she’s tried to take all her news in stride. Getting help from guys at Modern Electric was just what she needed.
“I felt very lucky to have that caliber of musicians on the record, and their ideas were just amazing," Kay says. "Paul was great. He’s crazy, and I think that was what I wanted — someone a little bit insane to be a part of it, because I didn’t want it to be a normal record.
“I could’ve gone anywhere in Nashville, and it would’ve sounded like another Nashville country record, and that’s the last thing I wanted. I wanted flair. I wanted flavor. I wanted something unique, and I think that’s something I got for going with my gut feeling.”
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Ultimately, Kay says her new album expresses what she intended, and she made an empowerment record about dealing with issues (such as her complicated history with her biological father) and managing to embrace them. Kay also wanted the album to be uplifting, despite its themes.
"I wanted it to be a dance-able record even when talking about deep things or sad things," she says. "I wanted it to be comedic in a sense."
Kay looks back on the emotional roller coaster that's landed her in a place of peace.
"The writing is really where it started for me," she says. "If I think back a few years ago, it’s like I would’ve never dreamed I would’ve gotten the opportunities I’ve got now."