Coretta Scott King once said "The greatness of a community is most accurately measured by the most compassionate actions of its members." It's a sentiment that rings true with all sorts of variations on the word "community." Granted, King's version of the word was almost certainly through a more philanthropic lens, but the idea behind the quote stands well within the the many music communities of Nashville. Music communities like the one Kelly Eberle has seamlessly inserted herself into, after a seven month long sojourn across the contiguous forty-eight states after graduating from Berklee College of Music in Boston. It was a trip that served as a sabbatical, but quickly turned into a powerful guiding light for lot's of what she's done here in Nashville ever since. She's someone that's benefited greatly from the compassionate actions of others within her musical and general community, and will undoubtedly do the same.
Now/It's met with Kelly Eberle at Portland Brew East, in the Lockeland Springs neighborhood of Nashville.
N/I - How’s your weekend been?
Kelly - It’s been great! I did a…. Do you know what JoCo Shows are?
N/I - I’ve seen the name on posters, but I’m not certain of specifics. Are they a promoter?
Kelly - Well this guy, Joe Copeland, has JoCo Shows, and he does different series, but he does a series that are “versus” shows. So they’re a tribute to two different artists.
N/I - Oh! Okay. That’s where I’ve seen it then.
Kelly - So he did one that I was a part of last night. It was Britney Spears vs. Christina Aguilera. It was ridiculous.
N/I - That’s right! I saw some other people promoting the show. How was it?
Kelly - It was so much fun. It was the most nostalgic thing that I think I’ve ever been a part of.
N/I - So were you, what, Team Britney or Christina? Or did you sing a song for both?
Kelly - You did both. It sounds a lot - since it’s a “versus” - like you’d have to pick one, but I did it with my friends Bre Kennedy and Hadley Kennary. So we just did a big group set and picked all of our favorite songs.
N/I - So what songs did you guys do? Or what were your song choices?
Kelly - So we had to pick one of each. I chose “Candy Man” by Christina Aguilera, and did “Everytime “ by Britney Spears, to slow it down. It was amazing. It was at Mercy, and I’ve done one other show there - that was also a JoCo tribute show - but I don’t know, this one was so much fun, because I was like “Okay, I’m going to do a slow song,” and I pictured everyone wanting to chill out. But it was a sea of people singing sad songs back to each other [laughs]. It was just all the 90s feels. It was great.
N/I - So I assume you were a huge Christina and Britney fan growing up?
Kelly - Yes [laughs]. I was. It definitely took me way back listening to all that stuff. I used to listen to “Stripped” by Christina Aguilera in my room. That was my angsty time [laughs].
N/I - That’s fair.
Kelly - I was listening to that a lot [laughs]. It was pretty great.
N/I - That’s one of those things that makes me feel like I should be more nostalgic about that era of pop….
Kelly - Fair.
N/I - But around that time, I was listening very bad hip-hop.
Kelly - Oh really?
N/I - Not “bad” as in vulgar - I guess it was vulgar, too - but….
Kelly - But just poorly done [laughs]?
N/I - Exactly. Standards wise, it could have been better. So during the time of the pop princesses and Blink-182 bands….
Kelly - Oh my god, yes.
N/I - I was just listening to terrible music. While that was all going on.
Kelly - That’s totally fair!
N/I - So I still feel like I need to rapidly recover from that every once in a while. I only know about a dozen Christina Aguilera and Britney Spears songs, combined.
Kelly - Honestly, I thought I was a really big fan, but then last night, there were some songs that were played where I was like “I don’t know which one of them this song is from.”
N/I - Like deep cuts?
Kelly - Yeah. Super deep cuts.
N/I - It’s wild to think…. Well actually, you would hope they would have deep cuts. But you don’t necessarily think of either of them as the “deep cut” type.
Kelly - No, you don’t. But also, I think Britney Spears has such an extensive catalog, especially at this point in her life.
N/I - Yes! She definitely does.
Kelly - Which was kind of cool, also, because you saw some people doing the wholesome Britney thing, and then others doing….
N/I - The Vegas stuff?
Kelly - Right! The things she’s playing in Las Vegas now.
N/I - Well yeah, if you have a Vegas show, you probably have need a fairly extensive catalog.
Kelly - [Laughs] Exactly.
N/I - Anyway… Tell me about this trip that you hinted at in your email.
Kelly - Of course! So basically, I was living in Boston - I went to school up in Boston ….
N/I - And is that how you met Emma [Hern]?
Kelly - Yeah! She was actually my roommate at Berklee.
N/I - Oh, okay! Cool.
Kelly - And funny enough, I found out later - this is a tangent - I found videos from a summer program that we had both done one summer in high school, and it turns out we were both at the same camp at the same time. I have video that my parents took of me performing on the final day, and then later on in the same thing, Emma goes up and does a song, but I don’t think we met then. It was funny to look back at. But yeah, I went to school in Boston, lived in Boston through the horrible winter of 2014-15 where it broke every record for snowfall and all that stuff, and I just really needed a change.
N/I - Sure. I would imagine so.
Kelly - I’m a New England girl, from Connecticut. I love snow as much as the next New England person, but I was like “This is too much. I need something different.”
N/I - I wouldn’t blame you.
Kelly - And my sister was living in Boston around the same time…. We had been talking, and I basically said that I was planning on saving up and buying a car to move down to Nashville. A lot of my friends from school had already moved down here, but truthfully, it was just one of those things, the more I said it, the less I kind of believed myself. I just felt really, really nervous and not really excited about the move, but I was like “I guess this is what I should do.” It was one of those instances where if every else was moving there, it seemed like the logical thing to do. I remember that I sat with my sister, and she was saying that she also wanted a change, but didn’t know where she wanted to go, and didn’t know what to do. So I said “Well what if I just bought the car, and then we made a trip out of it? And at some point, we’ll end up in Nashville.” So from there, we got really excited about it.
N/I - And it inevitably ballooned and kept growing and growing from there?
Kelly - Basically. It was “What if we visit Nashville, but we don’t end up there, immediately. We can just drive until we run out of money or something happens.”
N/I - So was it just a straight shot west, then? Were there points of interest throughout?
Kelly - No!
N/I - Was it super circuitous?
Kelly - Yeah. We did such a weird, zig-zaggy route. And I actually still want to map it out. It’s actually been two years now and I still haven’t actually gone through all the points. But I do know that we hit 48 states.
N/I - I assume all 48 contiguous states?
Kelly - [Laughs] Yeah. All the contiguous states.
N/I - Holy cow!
Kelly - [Laughs] It took us seven months. It was amazing though! It was one of those things where I just felt like as we were saying it to people, and we brought it to our mom and dad and younger sister, who was still in high school at the time - we were like “We’re thinking about doing this. Is this crazy? Are you guys on board?” We were like “We’re just going to save up all the money and just work, work, work, work and then go and see what happens.” It was just so great, they were all so supportive. The more people we told about it beforehand, the more people that were like “Oh man, I wish I had done that when I was younger!” It just felt like a good thing to go out and do.
N/I - So it was fully supported and everything? Was there any point where you were like, “Oh my gosh, this is it?” Did you ever get tired of it?
Kelly - It got close.
N/I - Where? Was there a point somewhere in the middle of nowhere Arkansas? No offense to Arkansas, or anything.
Kelly - Actually, no! Arkansas is a great state.
N/I - Well that’s the thing!
Kelly - I know, because the best places are always the places where people would say beforehand, “You’re going to get two states into the Midwest and then you’ll be like ‘Enough corn, already!’” But I don’t know, I really loved that. There were weird moments that kind of were out of the blue. I remember being in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and that was the first time where I was kind of homesick, and it wasn’t really exciting seeing a new place, it was just a new place. It turned into “Alright, I guess.”
N/I - I’m sure at that point, you realized that every place is a new place.
Kelly - Exactly. There were some days where you have a weird thing where the excitement is monotonous, and you’re like “I’m just getting used to this.” But the thing that kept us going - I remember my sister Kate and I both that same realization on the same day at the same time. We were both like “I don’t know why, but today is a weird homesick day. I don’t know if I want to do this anymore.” And then the next day, you go to a new place and you’re like “Oh, but this is dope. I can keep going.”
N/I - It washes away pretty quickly then.
Kelly - Yes. That’s exactly it.
N/I - So while you were doing that, were you writing any music or anything? Or was it mostly just a self-discovery thing that would later on benefit your music greatly?
Kelly - I was hoping, for sure, that it would benefit music somewhere down the line. I think a real part of it too, was that by the time I graduated from school, I felt really burnt out on music. It’s four years of music, so I think I kind of had it in my head that things had to be done a certain way, and I think I had lost a little bit of my own songwriting…. joy, which I think is a common thing.
N/I - I would imagine - I went to school for marketing, while studying English writing for two years - so I don’t have that experience with music, but that writing portion had an infrastructure where you were forced to write a certain amount of times, all the time. So I would assume the same thing would be implemented at a school like Berklee. Sure, there are going to be times when it benefits you to have to sit down and do stuff, but other times, you may not necessarily be in the head space, but you still have to do it. It’s not destructive, but in the long run, it might not be as beneficial as someone might try to convince themselves it is.
Kelly - It’s a good thing to learn - to push through and create something….
N/I - Of course.
Kelly - Especially when you’re not in that kind of mode. But there were other times where it was kind of the opposite. I felt like I had written something, and I had a teacher saying “Great, you get an A. Good job,” and I just don’t feel any connection to that.
N/I - I figure it can probably feel arbitrary from time to time.
Kelly - Yeah! So there was that when I left…. That was also a real concern of mine, because like I said, the original plan was just for me to come to Nashville and start doing music. And at that point in my life I really didn’t know what that sounded like for me, I didn’t know what it looked like. I was just kind of like “I guess this is what I should do.” Then I actually talked to a lot of people that had gone to Berklee with me about the road trip, and they’re like “Oh man, you’re going to write so much about it,” and all of a sudden it was all of this added pressure. It became “Oh my gosh, okay, so I have to be like Sufjan Stevens and write a song in every state,” kind of thing [laughs].
N/I - Oh man. If only.
Kelly - A part of me really wanted to do it, but as soon as I let it go - I think it wasn’t until I moved here a year plus after I started the road trip - that I even had any idea of this song that I’m releasing. It was “Oh, okay!” I think I tend to put myself under a lot of pressure to process things as I’m experiencing it, just in life.
N/I - Why do you think that is?
Kelly - I don’t really know. I think it’s probably just tied to being a creative person. I want to make something of every experience that I have. But this was such a different thing, because the night that I ended up writing this song about, there wasn’t any thought of that. It was “I don’t need to worry about that.” It sounds cliche, but it’s one of those moments where you’re so overwhelmed by everything around you that you’re like “I don’t matter at all.” And it’s a beautiful feeling to not matter.
N/I - I’m trying to think… there’s a word that roughly means something like that. I want to say it’s “sonder.” It’s one of those things where you have a moment where you realize that you are you, but literally all these people on this floor have all their own lives, and things that are happening, and all of a sudden, you don’t necessarily feel minuscule in this large thing, but you definitely realize you are not the only thing happening.
Kelly - Yes! And it’s such a release, to feel that. I can just kind of observe, and just be here. I get to just soak it in and just not do anything with it.
N/I - Right. It’s not like there’s an external pressure from everyone’s expectations. It can feel that way, where you want everyone to listen to this song. But at the same time, people can come to the song at different points.
Kelly - Yeah! And I think that the person I was most concerned about hearing it, ultimately, was my sister. Because she was right there with me when I was experiencing it. I wrote the song - and I think when I wrote it, that was my way of going back to that moment, even if I’m doing things that I don’t want to be doing here, like dealing with tax season, or whatever. I mentioned in my email that I’m not good at being a “settled” person [laughs], I think I’m always looking for the next adventure, and it was really nice to have something where I’m like “I wrote this and in this little way, it can be my thing that reminds me.” There will be more adventures out there, and you can always kind of go back to that in your mind. I showed [the song] to my sister, and I was so nervous.
N/I - Well I was about to ask - has she heard it? I figure it would either be that she’s heard it a million times, or hasn’t yet, because she’s so intimately linked.
Kelly - She heard an initial draft. I don’t think that she’s heard the final project yet. But she’s heard the form of the song, and the lyrics and everything. It was really cool. She was really positive, and really supportive, and said she really liked it. So that was kind of a weight off my chest, because that’s the last thing you want, to be like “I’m really proud of this song,” and then someone that was part of it to be like “I don’t remember it at all that way.”
N/I - Right. The one person most intimately related can be the most skeptical.
Kelly - Exactly! And they can say something like “Why don’t you give it another whirl?”
N/I - That can be rough, I imagine, but luckily, it sounds like it’ll turn out okay.
Kelly - Yeah! And I’m so lucky, because I brought the bare bones of the song to my friend Colin Pastore. He produced the whole thing and then just the amazing band that we had…. They’re just geniuses.
N/I - So was the band people that you asked to come in? Or was is Colin helping field people to come in?
Kelly - For a majority of it, it’s basically all people who are my family in Nashville now, which is so amazing to have, because they’re so good at what they do, but they’re also like, “We can just hang out.” That’s really important. There was only person - it’s so funny, the bass player, Andrew Brown - was someone I had met once briefly. I think I was going to have someone else play bass, and then they couldn’t, so we kind of rearranged it, and I just took Colin’s advice, saying Andrew Brown is great. I brought him in and it was an immediate sort of “You are so good at this, and we are best friends.”
N/I - That’s great.
Kelly - [Laughs] Yeah. It was so nice. Actually, all the guys that played on the record were part of the Britney/Christina band last night. So they’re pretty regularly the people we all go to, to play shows and stuff.
N/I - You say “we all,” you mean…
Kelly - It’s my friend group - Emma [Hern], Hadley [Kennary], Bre [Kennedy], and me. It’s really nice to have that community here.
N/I - Awesome. So what drew you to Nashville? Because this whole story kind of revolves around the fact that you were going to do this big trip before you went to Nashville - and now you’re in Nashville with this great group of people who some you knew from Boston - but why not New York, or DC even?
Kelly - So when I was on the road trip, I was definitely looking at different cities for potential places. I had already visited Nashville once, really, really liked it, and a core of my best friends from Berklee came down here. So truth be told, if they hadn’t already been here, I don’t know if this would be the place that I ended up. But on the road trip, I specifically looking at LA and Nashville. I went to LA, and we stayed there for, gosh, three to four weeks there, on the road trip, and I remember kind of growing more and more into it. I had this idea of being an east coaster that I would absolutely hate LA, but once I got there, I had realized it was pretty cool.
N/I - Yeah. It’s pretty nice. There’s plenty to do it LA, for sure.
Kelly - And the weather is beautiful, and you have beaches, and it’s just great. I think by the time I left, I had convinced myself that I was most likely going to move back to LA. But then a few weeks later, we had zig-zagged our way [to Nashville], and the first day I got here and was surrounded by my friends and in the town again there was an immediate….
N/I - Knowledge that this was truly where you were supposed to be?
Kelly - Yeah. I remember what I was telling my parents at the time was that this was the place that felt like home the most. It’s a great balance of challenging and inspiring. I really had the sense with LA that I could really grow to like it, and make something work for myself there, but I think that right now, it would just feel really overwhelming to go there. I would be jumping into a massive pond.
N/I - It’s definitely the deep end.
Kelly - Exactly! And Nashville, it has so many opportunities and stuff, but it still feels like a small place.
N/I - Yeah. I would imagine from a musician’s standpoint that it feels much more manageable than some place like LA or even New York.
Kelly - Well, even cost wise….
N/I - That’s another big thing.
Kelly - Yeah! And at the time, I didn’t have any music out, and I still didn’t really know what my “sound” was, I was just kind of hoping it would come back, and literally from a logical perspective, I realized that if I’m going to hope to get a job and figure it out in the meantime, then Nashville is also very inexpensive in comparison as opposed to making New York work. It just made sense on all levels.
N/I - So how did you re-arrive at what your sound was, then?
Kelly - It’s still happening. I don’t feel like I “found my sound” or whatever, I think a huge thing was letting other people have my music for a little bit. I feel like all through school, I was so protective of it, and so guarded, that it had to be perfect before anyone else could hear it…. And that’s why I never put anything out. I had several “almost” projects where I’d say “Yeah, I’m working on an EP now,” or something like that, know all the while that it was dreadful, being totally miserable working on it. Colin was so instrumental from the very beginning, when I was like “I want to work with you and actually make some stuff,” and get the ball rolling, he was so great, because he would listen to every song that I had recorded and he’d be like “Yeah. No. Let’s work on that!” [Laughs] And I lucked out with all the guys that worked on it, who were working in the band for that, because they all had their own ideas and they were so…. What’s the word? I was going to say “instrumental,” but literally, they were [laughs]. They had such creative vision for things, like I wouldn’t have heard that weird drum thing, or things like that. I think that’s all helping me. Now I have more ideas of what I want my future stuff to sound like, because up until this point, I had never given my own original music to a band and let them go at it.
N/I - So it was pretty much you throwing the structure together and leaving it all up to them?
Kelly - I mean…. We were all a part of the process, but a lot of stuff happened in the studio, which before this experience was a terrifying thought to me.
N/I - Just the studio in general?
Kelly - Well, yes, because I felt pressure. And also, the idea - I remember talking to Colin about dates we could get in the studio, I was like “Okay, so basically, I should send the guys voice memos, and then we’ll have five or six rehearsals, and we’ll get everything in order, and then we’ll head into the studio.” And [Colin] was like, “No. We’re going to send them voice memos and charts. We’re going to have one rehearsal. We’re going to throw some ideas around, and then when we’re in the studio, that’s when we’re just going to have fun, and mess around with everything.” So that was a really neat thing to do.
N/I - It sounds serendipitous in a way.
Kelly - Yeah! Because before - it was so funny - there was one song - and we had two days to do everything with the band in the studio - I remember at the end of the first day, we had gotten one song down, and it had sounded great, had the majority of a second one, and a third one that I remember going “Okay, this is where I realize that my music is horrible,” [laughs] because none of us could figure out what to do with it, and it went through so many different styles where we would scrap everything and start over. At one point, we were all joking that it sounded like music you would hear at a 1980s bah mitzvah, and then the next day, after we slept on it, we got back and tried it again and went back to basics, and then that was the take we used. So it was hugely collaborative, for sure.
N/I - Well that’s good. So you recorded at least three different tracks? Or more?
Kelly - We did five in all.
N/I - Five. Okay. And “Watercolor Fire” is the lead track?
Kelly - Yes. That will be the single that comes out.
N/I - So what are your expectations for it? Or do you have any expectations? Since it’s the first release and all.
Kelly - Yeah. I think honestly, it’s one of those things where the only thing I want to do with it is to put it out and then after that…. Not to say I don’t care - I hope people like it - but it’ll just be the first time that I just “did it” and put music out there and followed through. And the fact that I’m actually excited and not sweating and dreading everything is a big accomplishment in and of itself.
N/I - I would imagine so.
Kelly - I think there aren’t many expectations with it so I can be like “Okay, I can do this,” and then keep going with whatever else comes out.
N/I - That’s good. It sounds like a nice head space to be in.
Kelly - It’s definitely is. It’s been really great, especially because everyone you meet in Nashville - or almost everyone - is a musician, knows music, or does something related to the music industry….
N/I - Is adjacent to the industry.
Kelly - Exactly. So it was something that, for me, from being in that group of people and saying “Oh, I’m also a musician,” but when you meet new people and they ask what you do, you respond with “I don’t have any music out, I don’t have anything to show you…” [laughs].
N/I - Right. It’s “Ideally, one day I’ll have something out there, but not yet.”
Kelly - Exactly. It’s all in your head. So it’ll be nice to say “Yes, and I have this song out.”
N/I - And at the same point, you also have that group already built in to hopefully lift you up in support of it, which I’m sure they will.
Kelly - That’s the best part of it. I would not be doing this if I was just on my own.