Entertainment Music Country Lou Ridley Is Pushing Each and Every Boundary of Country Music: 'Nashville Is a Little Bit Behind' "I tried to fit in for a while, as we all do growing up and then quickly, I was like, OK, this isn't going to work out how I want it to," Ridley tells PEOPLE. By Tricia Despres Published on December 10, 2021 06:15PM EST Share Tweet Pin Email On most mornings, Lou Ridley wakes up early and takes a long sip of strong coffee before she heads out to the full-time job she straddles alongside a budding music career that is certainly deserving of her undivided attention. But for now, it's that full-time job that pays the bills. "I guess I am a glorified assistant," Ridley, 31, says of her current gig at a Nashville-based realty firm. "I'm really grateful for the opportunity to work there because, well, life is not free. My cell phone bill doesn't stop coming, you know?" Giving off Lady Gaga vibes with every sexy slant of her eyes, Ridley currently finds herself working to discover more about the artist within her, an artist that finds herself on the fringe of country via truthful lyrics and sheer honesty in every soaring note she sings. Lou Ridley. Bethany R. Reed Yet, the act of finding that artist within her means that Ridley must sift through a bunch of emotional luggage from her past, from the adoptive dad who convinced her that her music wouldn't make her any money to the PTSD she still suffers from as a result of a somewhat tumultuous number of years growing up as a teenager in Texas. "All the kids at school were kind of judgmental because Southlake, Texas, is a place where it's all about the money all the time," Ridley recalls to PEOPLE. "And my family, we just never put a lot of value into that kind of stuff. So, I tried to fit in for a while, as we all do growing up and then quickly, I was like, OK, this isn't going to work out how I want it to. So then, I just started to accept that maybe, I didn't need to fit in." It was a revelation for sure, but one that didn't come easy for Ridley, as she continued to feel like an outcast no matter where she went or who she turned to. Eventually, a sexual assault would end up taking her virginity while, at the very same, the creativity that seemed to ooze from her pores began making people more and more uncomfortable. "I had this little fire of creativity within me that didn't align with anybody," she sighs. "I didn't know if it was wrong or right to be that way growing up, but I knew that I didn't like it and I couldn't articulate why." Abby Anderson Beats Eating Disorder and Reclaims Self Worth Through New Music: 'I Needed 2020 to Heal' Lou Ridley. Bethany R. Reed It wasn't until her sophomore year of college that Ridley began to realize that the "little fire of creativity" burning within her was in fact her yearning to play and create music. "I was like, 'This is why I've been so angsty this whole time,' because I'm this little creative bean and no one lets me do anything about it," explains Ridley. "It had been building up, that's for sure." Soon, Ridley found country music sitting within her heart, along with memories of her days as a child singing Garth Brooks' song "Shameless" in the back seat of the family car. "I always came back to country because that was the best time in my life," remembers Ridley, who now refers to her current brand of music regularly as 'anti-country country.' "When I was younger, and we had my horse, and I was listening to Garth Brooks…life was so very good. So, I just went and found my way back to it essentially." It's these embers of her past that ignite beautifully on Ridley's current catalog of music such as the ultra-relatable "Hometown." 1883's Faith Hill, Tim McGraw: How They Make Sure Their Real Marriage Is Different Than the Show "I was just really tired of only hearing about how everybody in country just had the best time growing up," she says with a slight snicker of the song that she wrote alongside Alex Angelo. "So basically, I thought, 'Let's write a super country song and make people think it's going to be about the same thing, but then let's flip it on its head and make it true to me. I get a lot of messages from people who tell me that the song means a lot to them because they've never heard a song that articulates their experience. And I found that most people I enjoy being around had some sort of time in their lives where they were not having a great time." It's this version of reality that Ridley believes should find its way into more of today's country music. "Nashville is a little bit behind in terms of saying what you really mean," says Ridley, who recently released her sophomore EP Angel/Outlaw, which includes her current single "Blind Eye." "I think it'd be a good piece of the puzzle for people to be like, 'Oh, I don't have to write the same song about the same thing.'" Instead, Ridley is looking to stir things up. "I'm pretty vocal about the fact that I do find that country music has a lack of inclusivity and representation, so I'd love to be another artist working to break up that narrative," she says. "But I also want to push the genre past the four-chord progression, you know. Because frankly, that bores me."