Kelsey Waldon’s debut album, The Goldmine, backs classic country delivery (“Town Clown”) with singular original songwriting (the title track).
“I think there’s a common theme of the ebb and flow of my life the past three years, being an artist here in Nashville, trying to do what we love to do and sticking it out,” says Waldon, a Kentucky native who studied songwriting at Nashville’s Belmont University. “So it’s about my ups and downs and my upbringing, as well. I guess the theme is of innocence and me finding my goldmine, in a sense.”
Waldon spoke with CMT Edge about her songwriting inspirations, her future plans and how moving to Nashville — twice — influenced her as an artist.
CMT Edge: Tell the story behind writing the opening track, “Town Clown.”
Waldon: I got an assignment to write a song inspired by the village idiot. I started thinking about that character and that theme and all those old country and rock ‘n’ roll songs I love like “Bandy the Rodeo Clown” and “Cathy’s Clown.” I thought that theme was really cool.
The song’s based on a true story about a person I know in town that had a similar story. I wanted to make it into what it is now with a good pedal steel/Telecaster hook at the beginning. I think it turned out really cool.
How essential is real experience in your writing?
I write either from my own experiences or a special place inside of me. Even if I am writing about someone else’s experience, I try to get to that place myself as much as I can so it still affects me. My songwriting’s always personal. I don’t know how to write about anything else.
What songwriters do you draw from?
As far as songwriting, I draw from Tom T. Hall and, of course, Townes Van Zandt and Guy Clark. I love Loretta Lynn as a songwriter and people like Paul Simon. I think Hank Williams Sr. was one of the best poets there ever was. Emmylou Harris and Gram Parsons. That’s a good start, I think.
What’s Tom T. Hall’s best quality as a songwriter?
He writes about real experiences. His are mostly true stories from his life and experiences that are unique to him. Also, he’s able to throw a little humor into things, which is kind of nice, but the storytelling’s essential with him. I think he says things in such a unique and special way that even sets him apart from people like Roger Miller and John Prine and those guys. Tom T. Hall is one of the most serious, disciplined songwriters. He loves it. He’s very passionate, and he lived his songs. He has a great voice, too.
Tell the story behind writing the title track.
I wrote that in 15 to 20 minutes, and I don’t even know how it happened, which is always magical. Sometimes it takes five days or three weeks. That felt so good because it just came out. It was all there.
I was back home in Kentucky for Christmas two years ago, and it was the longest I’d been there for a long time — two weeks. I holed myself up and I started writing. I’d been listening to a lot of stuff like “Mansion on the Hill” and Tammy Wynette and stuff that was drenched in melancholy. That theme “all that glitters is not gold” was recurring.
How did growing up in Kentucky shape you as a songwriter?
I think you never lose your part of home. I miss it a lot. I mean, I was born and raised there. Nashville’s the only other place I’ve lived. I grew up around a lot of music, but my parents weren’t musicians or anything. I’ve been writing songs since I was a really little girl.
I don’t know where it came from. My granny and my mom have songs from when I was 9 years old. I was always just drawn to music. I think living there helped me have my story and who I am.
What have you learned in Nashville?
Moving to Nashville helped me challenge the whole thing. Songwriting was the one thing I found that made sense to me, and it whipped me into shape as far as discipline and really being around people that help me take it seriously. I actually moved to Nashville once when I was 19. I had set my mind. All I wanted to do was write songs and play music. I just didn’t know how I was gonna get there as a career. I just knew I didn’t want to go to school.
Describe that first experience in Nashville.
Well, I lived with a girl I barely knew. It was a totally different part of my life. I worked a really bad, 40-plus-hour, minimum wage job to pay my rent. I learned a lot, though, because I couldn’t even get into bars yet. I basically got my ass kicked in a good way and ended up going back home after a year. That’s when I decided to go back to school.
I went back to school in Kentucky, and then I came back to Nashville and was accepted into the songwriting program at Belmont University. So I didn’t exactly come here for school, but it did help me get back on my feet again.
Now your goal’s to be the next Shania Twain?
(laughs) Yeah, it is not to be Shania Twain, not that I don’t respect Shania. I think the goal is to take the show on the road, and I want to bring the guys with me and hit up all the great venues and honky-tonks. I want to be able to do that much more often.