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Kellie Stroud: Making Her Mark In Modern Country

Modern country female artists are on an up-swing once again with recording artists like Gretchen Wilson, Ashley Monroe, Taylor Swift, and Carrie Underwood making an impression from Nashville to across the Pacific Ocean into Australia and back around to the UK and the eastern border of the USA. Northern California's singer-songwriter Kellie Stroud is riding this wave with her upcoming self-released debut album produced by fellow Californian Larisa Bryski and featuring members of Bryski's band, like modern rock drummer Darrell Hale and bassist Andrew Houston.

Kellie Stroud explains that she was a student at Sacramento's prestigious music shop and education center Skip's Music (www.skipsmusic.com) where she met her producer. "I met Larisa over two and a half years ago at Skip's Music. She took me on as a vocal student. After working together for a while, it was clear that she understood my style and what I was looking to accomplish musically, so she was a natural choice for my project, not too mention, she is an insanely talented singer and songwriter, so I couldn't lose."

She assesses, "I needed someone I could trust to be honest with me, push me to do my best, and coach me through the process. She was a pro in the studio. She has a great ear for what sounds good and being able to identify the tiniest details, notes, and sounds that need to be changed or enhance in order to get the best end result. She is a singer, so she understands the process of recording vocals and the challenges that come with it. She did a great job at helping me stay focused and keeping frustration at a minimum, while setting realistic expectations."

Kellie tells that she started out late in the music business, but reinforcement from her family and friends gave her the courage to believe in her own credibility as a recording artist. "I was a late bloomer," she admits. "I was not the kid that was known for singing or being in the choir, plays, bands or talent shows. Those close to me knew I loved to sing and could sing pretty well. It wasn't until I was in high school that I started to sing in public. People would always be surprised when they saw me, because they never knew I had this talent. I truly had a deep passion for singing very early on, but never knew how you went about parlaying that into a career. My parents never forced me to do anything or pushed me in any direction with regard to the arts, so it was up to me to pursue music if that was what I wanted. I think hearing positive feedback from the audiences and honesty from friends and family gave me the motivation to move my musical ambition forward."

She recalls, "I have sung all my life. Since I was a little girl, I have been singing mostly on an informal level, but always singing. It wasn't until recently that I began taking vocal lessons from Larisa Bryski. I wanted to develop my technique and challenge myself to take my music to another level."

She asserts, "I pretty much wrote all of my own songs. Larisa helped me shape and structure them after I had the lyrics and basic melody done. I was very lucky to have the opportunity to work with some great local musicians. Both Darrell Hale and Andrew Houston from Larisa's band played on my tracks. I also recruited my friend and band mate DJ Mathis to play lead. It all sounded so awesome when we were finished."

She cites, "I am probably most proud of the song 'Somehow,'" which can be heard at her myspace site (www.myspace.com/kelliestroud). "It was written about my brother and the difficult experience he went through. The song was really a way for me to deal with what had happened, a little music therapy. I was reluctant to play it for him at first, because I wasn't sure how he would respond. After he heard the first cut, he was overwhelmed and so proud of me for what I had done. I think that it is the song that resonates most with people for some reason. Most people can identify with loss and heart break and are happy for the opportunity have a new start and new beginning."

She reflects, "I believe that a song paints a picture in your mind and hopefully, tells a story. I am inspired by everyday life, as cliché as that may sound. Real things that happen to real people and how it has affected them, changed them, challenged them and inspired them. Most songs I write are based on experiences from those around me. I have to be careful though, so that people don't listen and say 'hey was that me you wrote about in that song?' My friends and family might stop hanging out with me for fear of being song material," she winks.

For her debut album, she discusses about the songwriting process, "Generally, I start with a lyric, maybe a phrase, line, word, title, and then a simple melody comes shortly after. I am most inspired when I am running, and, oddly enough, vacuuming. Then I sit down and hammer out what I can. I work on the structure of the song and hope that it flows the way I want and gets the message across that I am trying to convey. If I feel that what I am trying to say is clear, then I'm done. If not, I tweak it and re-write, etc. For me, songwriting is not an exact science; it is emotional, personal and always an evolving process."

She embraces, "For me there is no science to songwriting. I write when there is something I want to write about. I don't need to sit in the same chair every time, or wear a certain sweater, I am inspired by life and people and wherever and however it happens; I just try to take advantage of the moment. I do find that when I am near water, or the beach, I am more creative, but perhaps that is because I am also usually more relaxed."

Her calm approach to writing songs was greatly influenced by the relaxed atmosphere of her upbringing. "I grew up in Colusa, California, a small farm town in Northern California. I wouldn't say that I had lot of creative opportunity as a child outside of school and church activities. It definitely came about later in life." She relates, "My Dad and grandmother both have great voices. My grandmother used to sing in a quartet, which is actually how she met my grandfather. There was always music playing in my house growing up and my Dad singing in the background. I would say they both inspired and motivated me to sing."

Some of the recording artists who captivated her early on were, "Stevie Nicks, The Eagles, James Taylor, Sam Cooke, The Ronettes, Dolly Parton, and Alabama. Looking back, I can tell how these artists have had an impact on my music."

Kellie professes, "I think most singers are born (to sing). You either have the raw natural ability or you don't. However, there are the occasions where someone can be trained how to sing and be in tune using technique, but wouldn't be considered a great singer."

She recognizes that she was meant to be a lead singer as she declares, "I can't harmonize, so I have to be a lead singer! I feel that one of my strengths is in my performance and connecting with the audience." She claims, "I would like to see my music lift people up and make them excited about life. I think if one of my songs can touch someone in the audience for the moment, than that is a success. Each song is so different and will affect each person differently. To be lost in a moment whether it be laughing, dancing, crying, or screaming while the song is playing to make you forget about everything else around you for a minute or two, that is what I hope for."

She highlights, "I have played mostly in Northern California clubs and bars. I love the energy that occurs between me and the audience. It is the greatest rush! Before a show, I make sure I have done vocal warm ups and am well hydrated, that is pretty much it. Nothing too major."

She is influenced by many present-day recording artists by the way they form a rapport with their audiences. She lists, "I love Faith Hill, Martina McBride, Keith Urban, Sugarland, Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton and Shania Twain to name a few. I am drawn to big belting singers and songwriters. I love how each artist evokes emotion and power with their songs on stage, they really captivate and engage an audience."

She observes, "I think country music has become much more contemporary and commercial for better and worse. You have critics on both sides of the fence, some say it is too pop now and some say the old stuff was too twangy. I enjoy listening to all of the new artists coming out today that are writing their own songs. In general, most will say that the record industry is not what it used to be in terms of contracts, money and artist loyalty. It can make it difficult for a new artist to be seen and heard by decision makers and get money to back his or her project."

Kellie Stroud acknowledges that music videos are still a vital tool in helping artists get noticed in the industry and reaching out to potential fans. "I like music videos, particularly, country music videos. I think they are a way to illustrate your song. Some are funny, some are bad, but all in all it is just another medium to have your song heard by the masses…or those that watch a lot of TV! I would like to do a video for 'Welcome To This Crazy Life.' I think it would make a fun video for sure since it is a fun up-tempo song."

She also utilizes the opportunities which the Internet offers to new artists. "I think the Internet is a great way to get your music out to a lot of people at once that generally might not have heard it otherwise. Isn't this an on-line magazine? The advent of MySpace and other personal websites has created an affordable and effective medium for all artists; just the viral nature of it alone is extremely powerful. I am amazed at how many people have found my page just because I was linked to someone else's. The Internet has been great for me. It gives artists the opportunity to reach out to more people and get their songs heard."

Of course, many artists often lose themselves in the promotions and public image which music videos and Internet sites create of them, and Kellie realizes that it takes a strong character not to be seduced by this whirlwind force. "I think staying true to your passion and dreams can be challenging at times," she ascertains. "It can be easy to get frustrated or discouraged by others. For me, it is important to stay focused on what it is that I want and to be surrounded by positive people who support me. It is a hard road to go down, but if it were easy….everyone would do it!"

With her feet firmly earthbound, her eyes looking over the horizon, and her spirit keeping in time to an upbeat tempo, Kellie Stroud is everything that modern country music characterizes and inspires in others. Her self-released debut album is not only a dream coming true for her but it gives modern country music relevance with real people and a greater chance for worldwide appeal.

-Susan Frances

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