KELSEY PIPER WALDON GREW UP in Monkey’s Eyebrow in Kentucky. Yes, that is its name. It’s the kind of place where you learn some basic truths that will stay with you for life – and turn up in musical form on your fourth album – such as bluegrass and soul music are connected, especially on the philosophical line that hopes and desires lead to suffering, but there’s a lot more death in bluegrass.
“They kill their uncle under the apple tree, you know. But you have to make it happy,” Waldon says almost gleefully. “It’s got to be to a happy beat.”
These days the singer/songwriter lives about 30 minutes out of Nashville, in a small community called Ashland City that “is still a lot bigger than where I’m from”. Clearly, city life is not her preferred mode. As she is speaking to a lifelong city dweller, can she explain why a rural life has more appeal? And can she can reveal what it is that repels her from city living?
“I wouldn’t say anything is repelling me from being in the city. That language is a little dramatic,” she says. “I just love waking up where I can have a garden and have my chickens and maybe walk around in my pyjamas in the morning and not worry about the neighbours seeing me.
“There’s birds all around us and wildlife and personally I think things move a lot slower out here and I appreciate the quiet. I appreciate just getting time to take it all in. When I come home from the road I love hanging out on my back porch and being able to have things be more simple you know.”
Okay, my use of repel was too strong, but what’s wrong with her pyjamas that she doesn’t want the neighbours to see?
“Well,” Waldon says, laughing again. “It’s not that, it’s that I can walk out in the garden naked if I needed to. It’s about privacy!”
Privacy and some clear air to write?
“I think inspiration really strikes anywhere. I’ve certainly been able to write where it’s noisy, but it is hard to write on the road and it does help me being in the quiet, absolutely,” she says, adding however that “doing everything out in the world, filling up that well and having those experiences, [means] I can come back and write about it.”
Getting that input is valuable but maybe there can be a little too much for some of us given the state of things in the past few years, especially for an American since 2016. Especially for an American with a social conscience and an empathetic streak like Waldon, who once released an EP of traditional and modern protest songs, is a fierce advocate for marriage equality among other human rights, and happily displays a willingness to stand outside the safe option conservatism of her childhood state as much as her current home.
“I write songs and all of my favourite songwriters were aware of what was going on around them. There are so many other artists that express their opinions, I’m not really sure why I should feel any different expressing mine,” she says. “And if I don’t feel like explaining myself, to be quite honest and still respectful, I don’t have to. Everything I do is about heart and I’m not one to preach any about; I have my own issues and problems. But I will always write about whatever I feel like I need to write.
“I don’t want to live a life like that, scared, and I don’t want to be scared to say something in a song. I just want freedom, mental freedom. I mean, what’s the worst that can happen?”
In Season’s Ending on her new album, No Regular Dog, Waldon addresses the death of friends and relatives during Covid (including her hero and label head, John Prine) alongside what we might think of as “regular” burdens of addiction and depression, and advocates for understanding, of ourselves and each other. “You can’t stand tall and mighty all the time,” as she says in another song.
Did she find herself in recent times having to reduce or narrow the things coming into her life and her head, if only to get a bit of control?
“Everything that’s happened in the past couple of years has certainly caused me to think what type of energy I wanted to bring into the world post-pandemic. I honestly feel like I’m looking at my career with whole new eyes since the world shut down: understanding your inherent worth, having a lot of healing,” Waldon says. “I love touring and I love working but I also love so many other things and I don’t really think I realised how much I needed to kinda experience a slower type of life. I definitely cut some things out of my life that have now made my life much more positive.
“So I think I’m answering your question … Yes.”.
Though one line from the album, “I might still go crazy some day”, suggests she is keeping her options open for the future. As any sane person would.
“There’s more songs in me right now. I hope to be doing this for a really long time but if every record ended up being my last one, should something terrible happen to me, then I’d be proud of that.”
No Regular Dog is out today.