On her new self-titled EP, Kylie Rae Harris mines a wide swath of seriously adult terrain. Not that dealing with the sometimes-shocking twists and turns in life’s post-college road is anything new for the Wylie native, mind you. But more than even in the past, Harris is intent upon employing an unflinchingly grown-up scope to view the thoughts, moments and motivations of life as a single mother with a tremendous amount of life left to live.
Recorded last fall in Nashville’s Farmland Studios, the EP consists of songs written by Harris, as well as tunes she co-wrote with an impressive roster of collaborators, including Jon Randall, one of the writers behind award-winning hits like Miranda Lambert’s resplendent “Tin Man” and the hauntingly epic “Whiskey Lullaby,” which won superstars Brad Paisley and Alison Krauss some awards in 2005. All the artistic components come together to create Harris’ best work yet. But without the winding road Harris has traversed over the past decade, the EP might sound great, but it wouldn’t have such heart.
A universal theme that often fuels stellar country music is the raw, careless need to be with that someone you know isn’t any good for you, but for one night at least, it's all you can think about. That agonizing thought has been the basis for classic cuts “One More Goodbye” from Randy Rogers Band and Leeann Womack’s 2004 heart-tugging “I May Hate Myself in the Morning.” Harris throws her common sense into a pit of desire with “Big Ol’ Heartache,” a twangy tale of making decisions that hurt so good. It’s a killer song but not because her feelings in this sort of realm are all that unique. Actually, they’re just the opposite.
“I think the reason that feeling makes for a great country song,” Harris explains, “is that country music is meant to be honest. I think everyone at some point in their life has had a relationship they know is unhealthy but continue to go back to. We have our patterns, and patterns are hard to break. Unfortunately, it’s just relatable content.”
In the record’s most evocative song, the gentle, folk-y “Twenty Years From Now,” Harris expresses hope for what her daughter Corbie will think about her life and choices in a couple of decades. At one point Harris sings, “I hope you know your daddy loves you, it broke his heart to watch you leave, but he can’t wrestle with his demons, and still have time for you and me.” That dramatic scenario is taken from real life, which means it belonged in the song.
“It was extremely difficult,” Harris says about including the struggles of someone else in the song. “It’s not my place to tell someone else’s story, or bring attention to something someone is going through without their consent. It is my place as a human to be able to share my own story and work through my own feelings though. Also, I love her dad, and her dad loves her very much. The words we chose on the second verse were done with extreme intent. We tried our best to be thoughtful and sensitive to their relationship and to not say anything that could be damaging to him, while still being honest.”
Longtime fans of Harris will remember her emotional appearance on the syndicated television show Troubadour, TX in 2013. In one episode, a tearful, uncertain Harris informed her manager about her pregnancy, which occurred as her sights were set on building a team of industry professionals around her in order to chase her own neon rainbows and honky tonk dreams.
The entirety of her journey — triumphs and heartbreaks, births and deaths — has brought Harris to this point, the time in which she can create an EP so authentic and real it could only be made from her own history and hopes. As much as “Twenty Years From Now” gazes into a hazy crystal ball, present-day Harris has some things she’d like to tell that scared young woman from the TV show. Because of her brave ability to honestly examine her past, she can offer something revelatory in the here and now.
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“If I could, I’d say to her, ‘Don’t be so hard on yourself, kiddo,’” Harris says. “‘And quit trying to do it all by yourself.’ I think my pride got in my way a lot the past several years. I didn't want people to see that I was ‘failing,’ or that I felt depleted at times. It took me years to wave my white flag. And once I did, the fog lifted and things got easier, not only as a mother but as a person, and a musician.”
Regardless of what happens for Harris, whether it’s in 20 years or more, this self-titled collection of songs will stand as an open-hearted view into what her life was like in 2019.
“I can’t sing about things I haven't experienced, so when I write something and put it out, it really is a part of that particular season of my life," she says. "It’s preserving those seasons, as well. Some people write journals to work through things, I write songs.”
Kylie Rae Harris’ self-titled EP is out Friday, March 29. She performs in Roanoke at Chop Shop Live on April 4.