In a world where almost everything is instant and fleeting, it’s hard to find art that is timeless. However, this country/americana songstress has managed to create music that’s just that. With a voice straight from the golden era of country and a writing style that’s just as authentic as she is, Kalsey Kulyk’s sound is simultaneously contemporary and classic.
This past week, Kalsey and I got the chance to sit down and chat at one of her favorite spots in Nashville: a cool little coffee shop called Crema, a stone’s throw from downtown. Over coffee, she told me about her life, as well as her thoughts on work ethic, family, and giving back to your community. Kalsey believes that “the whole purpose of life is helping people, being the best human that you can be, and doing good for the world.” And she is doing just that. On Tuesday, she was a featured artist in OMG! I’m A Songwriter’s first ever benefit showcase, which raised money for Instruments for Education.
This Saskatchewan native was born in a small town called Hudson Bay, where the closest McDonald’s was a three and a half hour drive away. She grew up listening to classic country with her grandparents, and then became a self-professed 90s baby, drawing inspiration from iconic artists like Lee Ann Womack, Martina McBride, and fellow Canadian Shania Twain. She made her first trip to Nashville at the age of seven, recording a little album with her mother that they later sold at gas stations in her hometown. Kalsey’s mother taught her how to play guitar at the age of 13, and her parents took turns driving her to play shows on weekends when they weren’t working at the town’s mill.
While still living in the Great White North, she went through something no one should ever have to suffer. “When I was 17, I was diagnosed with cancer, and that was a really big eye-opening experience for me because I got to meet so many people that had a story and didn’t have anybody to tell it.” She underwent chemo for Hodgkin’s Lymphoma for six months, during which time she turned all of her feelings into countless songs. After she was successfully treated, she started playing shows again, featuring the new material she’d written during chemo. After shows, strangers started coming up to her to tell her that her songs reflected their own stories. This brave cancer survivor has been giving people a platform to be heard ever since, because “everybody has a story, and everybody deserves to have their story shared.” For Kalsey, her cancer diagnosis was the OMG moment that made her decide to dedicate the rest of her life to giving back through music.
One of the ways she’s been giving back is by playing music for hospital patients. “If there’s a little girl in a hospital somewhere that’s battling cancer and she loves to sing, I want to be able to give her that little bit of extra oomph to be like ‘hey, you can do anything you put your mind to— you can do anything, absolutely anything that you want.’” She’s also been volunteering with CreatiVets for the past three years, a non-profit that helps veterans heal through music. The organization pairs veterans with songwriters to help our nation’s heroes turn their feelings and stories into songs. While veterans might not always be able to express how they’re feeling to their loved ones, these songs help them be understood.
When Kalsey turned 19, she moved to Las Vegas to be mentored by the legendary producer Richard Dashut, who is known for producing six of Fleetwood Mac’s albums. He taught Kalsey everything he knew about songwriting, performing, and production, as well as life lessons she would never forget. The singer adopted his motto: “be humble and keep your nose down,” a principle she still lives by today. She spent the next three years in Nevada honing her craft and solidifying her vision as an artist.
In 2015, Kalsey visited Nashville again. “I felt like I never fit in for most of my life, and then when I moved to Nashville, I was like ‘oh, this is where I belong, I fit in here.’” A year later, she made the move official.
She signed to ole music in September 2017, and then released her first single in March, a heartfelt storytelling song called “More Time” about her grandfather’s reflections on his life. The song was inspired by a phone call from her grandfather after he was diagnosed with cancer. “When I first moved to Nashville, I promised myself I was going to stay for the full year and not go back to Canada at all.” However, eight months into being here, her father called and told Kalsey that that her grandfather had been given three months to live. Her grandfather called her right after and skipped right over the cancer diagnosis, only expressing to her how he wished they had spent more time together. Like a true songwriter, Kalsey started writing a song as soon as the phone call ended. The result was “More Time,” the solo-written ballad that became her first release two years later. “We move to Nashville, Tennessee to follow our dreams” so this song is about “all the things we give up to be here . . . we give up the time we’d love to spend with our family or our friends.” She encourages everyone to “take in every single moment as much as we can.”
Family means everything to this budding star. She still talks to her mother and grandmother on the phone every single day— sometimes more than once. She has a dress she wears for performances and awards shows that was designed by her younger sister, who is currently going to fashion school in Vancouver. As hard as it is being so far away from her family, she’s working as hard as she can in Nashville so that one day when her career is more established, she’ll have the ability to go home more often.
On June 7th, Kalsey will be releasing another single, an up-tempo tune she co-wrote with Lainey Wilson called “Bad Liar” that shows the more cheeky side of her personality, and leans more into her country roots. She’ll be releasing her debut EP on August 30th that will showcase the full breadth of her songwriting. The EP lands right in the middle of country and americana, and even features a song co-written with industry titan Liz Rose. Since there are so many sides to Kalsey as both an artist and human, she resonates with the album format because it provides her with the room to convey all the different expressions of her worldview.
Kalsey continued giving back by stunning audience members at the first ever installment of OMG! I’m A Songwriter’s benefit concerts on Tuesday night at Live Oak. All proceeds benefited Instruments for Education, a non-profit that collects and donates musical instruments to Nashville area school classrooms.
Learn more about Kalsey Kulyk, the latest blessing to country/americana music, here.