Kalie Shorr, a country-pop singer-songwriter whose self-released debut album was one of the critical breakouts of 2019, has signed to Tmwrk Records, which will issue an expanded edition of that album, to be called “Open Book: Unabridged,” this fall.
“Tmwrk fell in love with my album as-is. That meant so much to me,” Shorr tells Variety. “They didn’t try to change it; they only want to build off of what I’ve already done. I think signing with a New York label was absolutely the right move for me as well. I’ve been in Nashville long enough to know what the system can do to great art. I love my city, but I’ve also pushed a lot of boundaries and it’s pissed some people off. The rules are different outside the Nashville bubble — namely, that there aren’t any.”
Shorr opting for a non-Nashville label is in line with the genre-crossing plaudits that came in for “Open Book” when it came out last year, with critics comparing her brash songwriting to that of country-era Taylor Swift, Miranda Lambert and the Chicks but also the rock-oriented sounds and attitude of Alanis Morissette and Avril Lavigne. In naming “Open Book” one of the year’s 10 best albums, the New York Times’ Jon Caramanica called it “the sort of gut-wrenching album made by someone who understands how vital and detailed country music can be, and who is faithful to its heritage, including its lineage of resistance. Everyone in Nashville is likely hoping to sandpaper her into something just a little bit less confrontational; fingers crossed that doesn’t happen.” Variety called it “2019’s best freshman country effort” and one of the year’s best overall.
The Tmwrk label (usually stylized by the company in either all-uppercase or all-lowercase letters) is a new offshoot of the already established Tmwrk management brand, with an eclectic managerial roster that includes Diplo, Sturgill Simpson, Animal Collective, Ariel Rechtshaid, TV on the Radio and Milk Carton Kids. The Tmwrk label, founded by Andrew McInnes, CEO of the management firm, is starting out with offices in New York, L.A. and London and a roster that includes Grady, Herizen, Molly Payton, Onyx Collective, Prado and Monica Riskey in addition to Shorr.
Shorr says she knew she’d taken “Open Book” as far as she could on her own and wasn’t ready to just move on to an all-new project. Although she isn’t ready to reveal the additional content that will be included on the “Unabridged” edition (or an exact release date), she recorded fresh material this summer to augment the original 13 tracks.
“Simply put, I have the opportunity to do it over with the marketing push I wished I’d had when we released it last year,” she says. “When I say I had zero budget to promote ‘Open Book,’ it’s not an exaggeration. I’m excited about ‘Open Book Unabridged’ because I feel like now I have a chance to do things like more music videos, national television, bigger opportunities for playlisting, etc. All of that felt so out of reach when we released the album independently last year. What got me through the self-doubt was the reaction from the fans, which led to the critical acclaim, which led to this new chapter. The new songs feel like the perfect bridge between this project and what’s next for me.”
She feels she’s not giving up anything as she hands over some of the reins after becoming the most attention-getting DIY artist in country. “Tmwrk has allowed me to be the final say on the creative decisions, so I’m not sacrificing any of that control. I respect everyone on the team so much. I’ve been running my own social media for my entire life and never had a strategy. It was all as grassroots as it gets. Now, I get 10-page social media plans from people who know the ins-and-outs of it the way I know the ins-and-outs of a song. I feel like I’m already able to be more creative and not have to do so much left-brain exercise — that always sucks the creativity out of me.”
Shorr’s sometimes feisty social media presence is likely to go undiminished, though. Her strong personality off the record as well as on plays into why, under the aegis of one of her champions, TV/radio personality Bobby Bones, she announced plans last month for an iHeartRadio podcast, “Too Much to Say With Kalie Shorr.”
Of where she’s been able to take the “Open Book” album so far, Shorr says, “The end of last year was such a whirlwind. I think the real moment I felt like something had changed was when I opened my first headlining tour at Exit/In in Nashville” (after previously opening tours for artists like LeAnn Rimes) shortly before lockdowns kicked in. “I’d never heard people singing along so loud, and the crowd looked different than it had before, with so many new faces, from hipsters to rock ‘n’ roll dads to college girls with s—ty exes. I felt like I was really connecting with people. I started a mosh-pit of sorts during one of the songs and climbed all over the speakers. It probably would’ve been the best show I played in 2020, even if the rest hadn’t gotten canceled.”