Over the past 18 months, rising country artist Kalie Shorr faced a series of unfortunate events. She dealt with a painful breakup, lost her older sister Ashley to an accidental drug overdose and had to figure out how to navigate her way through it all the best way she possibly could.
All of that led to the release of her first-ever full-length album, Open Book.
The 13-track collection documents the most trying period of Shorr’s life. She began piecing the album together in May 2018, focusing on the devastating end of a six-year relationship. Her direction shifted slightly when she learned of her sister’s passing the following year. It was then that she realized she had too much to say.
“As I was writing this album, I thought it was going to be a breakup record,” Shorr told Country Now, adding that she co-penned most of the tracks in the weeks following her sister’s death. “It all started to fall into place this past February. I wrote ‘Vices’ and ‘Thank God You’re A Man’ on the same day. I wrote ‘Gatsby,’ and ‘Escape’ probably five days apart. There are more life songs in there than there are relationships songs. So much of it is just a commentary on life and growth as a human being.”
While many of the songs on Open Book cover topics ranging from family sins to Shorr’s reliance on antidepressants, plenty delve into the feelings and emotions she faced after parting ways with a cheating ex-lover. “Alice In Wonderland” is a prime example of one of those moments. The song, which serves as the first single from Open Book, features Shorr artfully telling the girl who came after her to beware of what she’s getting into when it comes to her ex.
“Before you know it every bottle says drink me / before you know it you’re gonna start shrinking / he’ll make you feel small / and there’s so far to fall / when you’re loving a mad man / so hey Alice, how’s wonderland,” Shorr sings in the chorus of the song, which she released on Friday, (Nov. 2).
Indeed, Shorr sends out a warning about her former flame in “Alice In Wonderland,” but the tune only divulges one chapter of her coming out of a bad relationship. She expresses even more raw emotions in songs like, “F U Forever,” “Lullaby,” and “The One.”
“There’s a spectrum you go through with a breakup. It’s not I loved you, I lost you, I miss you, and I’m over you. It’s so much more complicated than that. And you go back and forth, and so does the record,” the 25-year-old Maine native explained.
“I think the hardest part of it was when I got thrown the wrench of my sister passing away, I was still in the middle of my breakup, and I was still going through that. So it sent me catapulting back,” she continued. “I had to convince myself that it wasn’t a step back, it was just a part of the process.”
Shorr leaves nothing to the imagination on Open Book. She’s honest, transparent, unfiltered and unapologetic with no regrets. And, much like the truthfulness fans hear in her lyrics, she kept things raw in the studio as well, particularly while laying down tracks like “Escape,” “The One,” and “The World Keeps Spinning.” The latter of the three, which she co-wrote with Robbyn Collins and co-producer Skip Black, addresses the sadness she felt in the wake of her sister’s January 2019 death.
“I cried during that song, and I cried during ‘Escape,’” Shorr recalled. “For the album, we did mostly one-take vocals because the whole attitude I had with lyrics and production, and vocals, was the more you try to polish it, it loses its real emotion. So what you hear in these songs is what I was truly feeling at the time.”
“Skip had just lost his niece, who was my age, from an overdose, like three months before my sister passed away,” she continued, adding that she and Black dedicated the album to their lost loved ones. “And Robbyn lost her dad. So, that was the only room I could have written that song in because everyone knew that emotion, and I realized, I’m not going to write about something I don’t understand anymore.”
Similar to her co-writing sessions, Shorr wasn’t alone during her grieving process. During the longest year of her life, the songstress found solace in friends like Candi Carpenter and Savannah Keyes, who are frequent collaborators on Open Book, and members of the Song Suffragettes, a Nashville-based women’s songwriting initiative she co-founded. Both peers came to Shorr’s rescue following the news of Ashley’s death.
“I can’t believe how people say that female artists can’t be friends. Pretty much my closest friends I met through Song Suffragettes,” Shorr said. “After my sister passed away, Savannah left warm chocolate chip cookies on my stoop. I had friends around me for the first 48 hours around the clock. Candi went home with me for the funeral and played clean up with my family. I’ve had an incredible support system, especially from my team.”
As a whole, Open Book features songs that are laid out chronologically to take fans through Shorr’s journey from the imperfections of her life growing up to the complex and sometimes ugly realities that come along with being an adult. Shorr came up with the title of her record after discovering a literary trend in her songwriting.
“As I was turning these songs into my manager, we noticed these themes popping up,” Shorr, who also looked to Alanis Morissette’s 1995 Jagged Little Pill and Sheryl Crow’s 1993 Tuesday Night’s Music Club for sonic and lyrical inspiration, noted. “’Alice In Wonderland’ and ‘Gatsby’ are books, and there’s a line in ‘Too Much To Say’ that says, ‘I’m an open book with an open ending.’ The whole concept of the album is to be transparent and honest. So when we heard that line and saw it connected back to all of these literary things, we saw ‘Too Much To Say’ as the thesis statement, ‘Escape’ as the background paragraph, and ‘Angry Butterfly’ as the concluding paragraph. So it reads like a book with chapters.”
And, while many listeners might think the collection shares a multitude of unfavorable moments, Kalie makes clear that Open Book also shares a message of optimism.
“Making this album is a risky move. Not everybody is going to like it, but that’s fine,” Shorr, who will soon head out on LeAnn Rimes’ You And Me And Christmas Tour, explained. “I think there’s hope in it, and I think some people can interpret this album as overly negative. But also, I’m like, ‘How do you go through these things and not have a little bit of negative energy in there?’ But, as it progresses, you know that there is hope in everything. There’s a lot of closure in it too, so I think closure is hopeful in its own way. It’s an evolution of me as a human.”