Country Next: Kaleb Lee

Kaleb Lee; Photo by Tighe O'Connor
Kaleb Lee; Photo by Tighe O'Connor
Kaleb Lee; Photo by Tighe O'Connor
We take pride in introducing fans to country music’s brightest new stars through our Country Next series. Here, we chat with Kaleb Lee.

It may be fitting to say that rising artist Kaleb Lee has come full circle. Over a decade ago, the Kentucky native was in Nashville pursuing his dreams of becoming a country star. After years of hard work, he withdrew from his passion and moved to Ormond Beach, Florida to focus on raising his kids and being a superstar husband.

But his time away from the stage didn’t last very long. In 2017, Lee was reminded of his calling when he received a call to audition for NBC’s The Voice. With the loving support of his family, he agreed to take his talents to the popular reality competition show.

“Doors don’t just open like this,” Lee confessed to Country Now of the unanticipated invite. “It was one of those things that this is what God intended me to do. We were focused on our family and raising our kids. Then it was like God said, ‘Okay here’s the stage again. You can go and play music.'”

During his blind audition, Lee earned chair turns from Blake Shelton and Kelly Clarkson. He chose Team Blake but ended up finishing in the Top 6 on Team Kelly. Now, he has found himself working alongside Clarkson, who is executive producing his upcoming EP, which is slated to release in early 2020.

Lee spent some time with Country Now to talk about his time on The Voice, his upcoming EP, working with Clarkson and much more.

Read on for our exclusive Q&A with Kaleb Lee.

Melinda Lorge: You stepped away from music for a few years before competing on Season 14’s The Voice. Was it difficult getting back into music for the show?

Kaleb Lee: It was a little. I have been in Florida for almost ten years now. I had put music behind me. Then all of a sudden, The Voice reached out. They found an old video of mine and said, “Hey, would you be interested in auditioning?” Within a 30-day window, I went from that life of not playing music to being back in music, and at the blind auditions. So there wasn’t a lot of time to get nervous.  But, it’s been two years since that initial audition. So in the last two years, everything’s gotten pretty comfortable again.

Lorge: Can you tell me about your experience on The Voice? 

Lee: I’m not going to say I’m a pessimist, because I’m not, even though my wife will probably tell you that I am. The way I deal with excitement, I wrestle down the ideas of what would happen if it didn’t work out. So the whole time I’m on the show, my wife is super excited, and I’m here going, “Yeah, statistically I’m not going to go to the next round.” Not that I wasn’t trying hard and was hopeful and confident, but that’s the way I deal with not getting too excited with something that’s going to potentially not happen. So it was pretty much that way up to the live shows. And when the live shows started that’s pretty much when I was like, “Alright, I’m doing music, and this is me now.”

Lorge: What was your biggest takeaway from The Voice?

Lee: The Voice is like a boot camp. I wasn’t playing music. So, the biggest takeaway, for me, was getting back into that world. If it weren’t for The Voice, I never would’ve been exposed to that level of production or that level of performance. If I had chosen outside The Voice to get me back into music, it would have taken years for me to just get back on the horse, and be able to play on stages like that, and to meet Kelly [Clarkson] and Blake [Shelton] – some of those influential people that can really help you in your career.

Kaleb Lee, Kelly Clarkson; Photo via Facebook
Kaleb Lee, Kelly Clarkson; Photo via Facebook

Lorge: Kelly Clarkson is the executive producer of your EP. Has working with her changed since the show?

Lee: On the show, it’s a very focused time. When you’re with your coaches, you’re with them, and you’re rehearsing. But the coaches have their schedules, and we have ours. The show was real and authentic, but very structured as well. I think, after the show, it’s been more of a – Kelly [Clarkson]’s a friend. I wouldn’t say we talk all the time because we don’t. But it’s a different vibe. It’s less structured, and it’s more like checking in and seeing how things are going, which is cool.

Lorge: You two collaborated on “I Dream in Southern.” What was that like?

Lee: That’s one of the first songs I heard when we started picking out the songs we wanted on the album. Initially, that song didn’t make the cut. I loved the song, everything was top-notch, but it just didn’t feel like me. So, I decided to move away from it. Then I sent Kelly [Clarkson] a text one night to talk about the songs that we chose. I said, “Hey, what did you think?” She was like, “I love that one, but what about ‘I Dream in Southern’?” In a very loving and “Kelly” way, she was saying, “You need to do that song.” So we went back in, re-crafted some things, and it became one of my favorite songs that we cut.

So fast forward, and I do a show with Kelly [Clarkson]. She invites me up to sing a couple of songs with her, and I sing “Cooler Weather.” Then I wanted to sing “I Dream in Southern” because that was the song she sent me. So during rehearsal and even during the show, she said, “ I want to sing this song with you.” Like on the recording. In my mind, I’m like, “We already finished it.” I’m also thinking, “That’s flattering, but she’s so busy, and it’s probably just a fun comment.”  Well, a couple of weeks later she sends me a text like, “Hey, I’m going to be in the studio tomorrow. Can I sing on that song?” I said, “Oh yeah! Absolutely.” So, I sent it to her. I haven’t listened to the full mix yet, but I have heard her tracks, and they sound amazing.

Lorge: Can you tell me more about “Cooler Weather?”

Lee: A good buddy of mine, Tim James…he’s a co-writer on “Cooler Weather,” and on “I Need A Drink.” Funny story with him – so when I moved to Florida, I had to buy a lawnmower. I go to the local store and meet the owner, a guy named Scott Edwards. He said, “You have to meet my friend. He’s a songwriter in Nashville.” I didn’t think anything of it, and over the years we had made mutual friends and got to know each other a little more. So when I was on the show, he sent me a text that said, “Hey, you need to get with my friend.” It was years later, so I was like, “Fine, give him my number and have him call me.” Tim calls me, and after I talk to him, I Google search him. I should’ve written with him years ago. I mean he’s written No. 1’s for George Strait, Lee Brice, and I mean not just a songwriter but like a hitmaker kind of songwriter. He’s a super great guy. He’s taken me under his wing here in Nashville.

Lorge: The water skiing in the “Cooler Weather” music video reminds me of Alan Jackson’s “Chattahoochee.” Was that intentional?

Lee: For sure, I sang “Chattahoochee” when I was in elementary school at a talent show. So when we were shooting “Cooler Weather,” I said, “We’ve got to have a Chattahoochee-esque video.” Thus, I’m skiing in the video wearing jeans and a life jacket, not even like a legitimate life jacket. But I will say it was an ode to Alan Jackson and “Chattahoochee” for sure. Alan one-upped me though because he did the slalom ski and I can’t do that.  

Lorge: It must’ve been difficult with the water skis. How many times did you have to shoot that scene?

Lee: Honestly, the next day, I was so sore from doing different takes of the video. I skied, and once you’re up you can’t do anything. I had to wait for the trail boat to get up close. I think I skied for like an hour. And, when you ski, you ski for five minutes and then someone else goes. This was me for like an hour, and I’m going, “Oh my God! Get me out of here.” But it turned out well.

Lorge: Do you have a favorite song on the EP?

Lee:  I don’t think so because if they were all similar, I think I’d have one that stands out. To me, it feels like every song is so different. We tried to show a lot of the different dynamics of me as an artist, and I think because of that, I don’t have a favorite. If I had to pick one though, I would probably say “I Dream in Southern,” mainly because, to me, that’s like the flagship song. I’m on this journey because of The Voice, and because of Kelly [Clarkson] and people who supported me. For me, it’s that song. It just commemorates where I’m at right now.

Lorge: Let’s switch gears. How do you juggle family time along with what you’re doing right now?  

Lee: It’s hard. Music is notoriously one of those industries, especially as a traveling artist, you’re gone a lot. That’s, kind of, the whole shtick. But, as you know, music isn’t the only world where you travel a lot. Before this, I was running a marketing company. I was probably gone more than I am now. So it’s not anything new. The good thing about this gig is my family can come with me every once in a while whereas before it was kind of hard to take them to a business meeting. But, they can go on the road, and go to a show with me. My wife was here for the last trip I had in Nashville, and we got to hang out for a few days. She loves that, and I love having her. 

Lorge: You recently celebrated your 11th wedding anniversary. What do you attribute to the strength of your marriage?

Lee: We got married young and started having kids young. We’re kind of wanderers at heart. We like trying new things and meeting new people. I would say that has been a big play. We have always tried to keep our lives interesting no matter what we’re doing, whether it’s moving to a new town or starting a new career. We just kind of keep things going and The Voice was something that happened to us that we didn’t create. I don’t know what the next exciting thing will be. But I would attribute that to keeping things fresh and exciting.

Lorge: What’s next for you?

Lee: Really, at this point, its put out more music, play as much as I can, continue building a fan base, continue listening to that fan base – what songs they like, and what songs they don’t like – and writing new songs. That’s where I am. For me, to say the end of this year is going to result in a record deal, I mean hopefully. I would be excited if it did. But, I’m just going to keep doing what I’m supposed to do, write the songs, play the shows, and something good will come of it.