Kalie Shorr Jumps Genres but Stays True to Her Unique Voice: 'I Don't Feel Boxed in Anywhere'

Following her critically acclaimed debut album, Open Book, the 27-year-old country maverick goes for a pop-rock sound in her new EP, but her lyrics still teem with her brutal honesty

Kalie Shorr. Photo: Mallory Turner

In her 27 life-packed years, Kalie Shorr has learned to embrace accidents. She did, after all, start out that way.

Her unmarried parents were both in their forties when she was born, "and I could not have been more unplanned," the Maine native tells PEOPLE. "I got here — on this planet — by accident, as well as really anywhere interesting I've been."

Now the artist, who established herself as a country original five years ago with the no-holds-barred single, "Fight Like a Girl," is welcoming life's latest unexpected development: She's tumbled out of the genre and turned herself into a punk-pop-rock goddess.

Appropriately, her EP — debuting Friday and brimming with her edgy self-confessions and swagger — is titled I Got Here by Accident.

The genre shift, she confirms, "was not intentional. It just happened to be that these songs weren't country, and that's just how I wrote them. I think it's all what the songs want."

Actually, if there's anything about the EP that is intentional, it's that title. "The biggest reason I wanted to call it that was because there is absolutely a genre shift," she says. "I love country so much that I don't want to disrespect it by calling something country when it's just simply not at all."

Mallory Turner

But then don't get Shorr too wound up over the whole issue of genre, or what she calls the "Dewey Decimal System for Spotify and record labels."

"They need it," she says, but "fans don't care. My fans don't care what I call something."

What they — and critics — do care about is Shorr's brutal honesty, artful commentary and hard-won wit, as put to song. For her last album, Open Book, she processed a lifetime's worth of trauma: growing up in a broken home, ending a six-year relationship with an unfaithful and abusive boyfriend, and coping with the death of her sister from an accidental heroin overdose. In 2019, the album landed on several "best of the year" lists, including The New York Times'.

It qualified as country with its sharp storytelling and instrumentation, including fiddle and dobro guitar. But Shorr was already pushing the bounds with her raw and graphic content.

"I felt like it was important to tell the story of Open Book, which is really personal, really dramatic and a lot," Shorr says. "It was important to tell it as distilled as possible and just to be so intentional with every song that was on there."

So much so, she adds, that the album didn't depict a complete portrait. Accident is her effort to start filling in some of the missing pieces. Its five tracks include "Love Child," an unflinching reflection on her lineage (with lyrics that feature the album title) and "Alibi," a cheeky testimony to the lengths she'll go in friendship. But Shorr also is still processing that failed six-year relationship and its aftershocks, particularly in "Amy," a deliciously caustic tirade directed at a girlfriend who slept with Shorr's freshly former boyfriend.

An acoustic version of the song blew up on TikTok and drew the attention of famed pop-rock producer/songwriter Butch Walker (Taylor Swift, Avril Lavigne, Pink, Fall Out Boy and Green Day), who signed on to helm Shorr's project.

Walker's involvement is clearly a source of pride for Shorr. "I just have been a fan of him for so long," she says. "I think the first Butch Walker song I heard was when I was 11, and I just remember being like, oh, this is so good. It would be very nice to go back in time and tell 'high school me' that I would get to do this. I think she'd probably worry a lot less about what boys were talking to her."

As for the real-life subject of the song that attracted Walker — yes, her name really is Amy — Shorr is proudly unapologetic. "All is not fair in love and war, to be honest," she says.

"Approaching it with humor lightened it for me," she adds. "I don't really feel angry anymore, even though the song sounds super-angry. It's more just a matter of fact. Like, you did this thing, and that was really messed up, and I hate that for you karmically."

She also points to ample precedent of calling out her target by name. "A driving factor in this is the songs I listened to growing up that I felt seen in, and they were really, really honest," she says. "I grew up listening to Liz Phair and Alanis Morrissette, and nobody's more unfiltered than the two of them. And Taylor Swift — everybody knew who she was talking about, but she had to keep writing anyway."

Time, obviously, has relieved Shorr of her lyrics' fury. So has the fact that she has been happily involved for over a year with Sam Varga, a singer-songwriter with a rock, emo and punk bent. They wrote "Alibi" together, and Varga was the inspiration for the EP's sole love song, "I Hate the Way This Feels," Shorr's expression of initial discomfort over being in a healthy relationship: "I'm afraid that you'll leave / and I'm scared that you'll stay / and I don't know which one would be worse."

"Being happy is, in and of itself, part of the healing process, obviously," she says.

And in her line of work, writing a love song can be just as risky as falling in love. Shorr has gone off the deep end before, writing romantic words for a man who ultimately didn't deserve them. This time around, she says, she thinks she's getting it right: "I am making a way more educated decision. So it's like, just write the love song. You mean it."

Even then, don't expect Shorr to go gooey. "My favorite love songs are the ones that address the whole picture and aren't just flat, one-dimensional," she says, "because that's just not how it works."

Indeed, all of her music teems with endless complications, insecurities and conflicting emotions — not uncoincidentally, a lot like life.

"For some reason sharing it feels less scary than sitting in it alone," Shorr says. "I think there's a lot of empowerment in self-awareness, and I try really hard to be self-aware. I think my biggest nightmare is to walk around with a completely different impression of myself than other people have. That sounds horrible."

Shorr also knows that her honesty is what connects her to her fans. "I get DMs from people who have told me their deepest, darkest tragedies — all of these crazy things that are so much bigger than a song," she says. "It's just an honor to have somebody see their story in a song, given how important their stories are. Because they're so honest with me, it's made it easier to be honest with them."

Kalie Shorr. Mallory Turner

Today, as she waits to see what radio stations and playlists give her new music a home, Shorr seems far more excited than anxious. She may still be exploring genres, but she knows she's found a niche for her voice, snugly fitting between Millennials' constant search for direction and Generation Z's constant demand for truth.

"My music somehow lives in the middle of that," she says. "No blueprint, but I'm going to say everything as I create my own blueprint."

And who knows? Maybe she'll end up back in country one day — surely by accident, of course.

Says Shorr: "I don't feel boxed in anywhere."

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