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A chat with rising star Kylie Hughes: California blend

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The English language has never won any awards for being easy to learn. And about the same time as some aspiring orator thinks they have a handle on it, the linguistic deities add another hundred words or so. Just try getting your head around “nomophobia” as you’re frantically trying to locate your mobile phone.

Of course there are some advantages to having a little philological flexibility, like the ability to come up with the perfect word to describe a fusion of disparate music genres – something like say “Calipopicana.”

Talented up-and-comer Kylie Hughes coined the word to brand her exceptional blend of California influenced melody, classic pop and Americana soul – think Patsy Cline meets The Beach Boys meet Sheryl Crow.

The rising singer-songwriter from Malibu, California has had a busy decade. Over the last 10 years Hughes has recorded a holiday EP, a worship EP, two full-length original albums, and completed her bachelor’s degree.

Since graduating, Hughes has been more determined than ever to leave her mark on the music industry. Without label support, Hughes formed her own production company and assembled a band.

As 2014 marches on, Hughes is eager to finish her upcoming album and unleash Calipopicana on an unsuspecting universe – not to mention the Volunteer State. The performer chatted with me as she rehearsed for her March 15 Nashville debut at Rocketown.

The first live performance in Music City can mean some seriously mixed emotions for a young performer. But for Hughes, there was nothing mixed about it. “I wouldn’t say mixed emotions. I think the solid emotion is just excited (laughs). I've been wanting to play there for a really long time. I'm glad it’s happening.”

“For the longest time I thought I was gonna move out there. When I was trying to pick a college, I was really attracted to Belmont. And then ever since then, I will go out for meetings or shows or vacation, I love being around music.”

Meetings and shows we might believe – but a vacation? Considering Hughes’ frenetic last decade, it’s hard to believe that she took any time off. And given that she’s been calling the shots on almost every aspect of her burgeoning career, it stands to reason that Hughes might find it difficult to “give up the reins.”

“Well, I always used to say that when you’re independent and you’re the only one pushing yourself, it’s hard to be your own coach, your own quarterback, your own team and your own cheerleader.”

“Most of the time I have to remind myself to be a cheerleader for myself, because no one else is telling me to ‘Get up today’ and ‘Go work on that song’ or ‘Go do a voice lesson’ or ‘Get out there and play.’ It’s hard to be your own encourager at times. But I think I found some people that speak that kind of encouragement to my life that I don’t know where I’d be without it.”

In addition to encouraging people that are around to help an artist’s career along, there are bound to be plenty of others that have something very different in mind. “You have to stick to your guns every day. It’s become second nature for me.”

“There’s nothing wrong with saying ‘No.’ Sometimes they’re frustrated. Somebody wanted me to change my name and I was just like, ‘No’ (laughing). Or I have a couple songs where producers will want to change a word.”

“I wrote this song, it’s not necessarily a Christian song but it’s definitely a song where in one portion it’s directed towards God. And so in the lyric I say, ‘God it’s you lifting me up when I fall down.’”

“And when I was recording it, I had one of the engineers or producers ask me if I would drop the ‘God’ and just say, ‘It’s you.’ And I said, ‘No, that’s not what I wanted to do. If it really bugs people then they don’t have to like the song.’”

“In one song I reference hell. And they say, ‘You should sing, ‘Tell that person to go to hell’ instead of ‘Give them hell.’’ And I was like, ‘I don’t want to sing that every night, telling someone to go to hell. That’s not really my jam.’ So it’s kind of staying true to you.”

Staying true to themselves can be even more challenging for an artist that is constantly under a microscope because of their Christian background. But the cheery Hughes looked at it as an opportunity.

“I just try to stay true to myself and as human and as accessible to other people as I can. The one thing we can all agree on is, we all just want to be loved and love each other. So I just try to bring that in my music.”

“In one interview somebody asked me if I feel like I’m under a microscope and I mentioned my younger girl cousins. There’s always been a bit of a bar or compass that I check in on. If I can't explain it to them, then I probably shouldn’t be doing it. If I can't do it in front of my 15-year-old cousin, than I probably shouldn’t be doing it in a public forum.”

Hughes might want to consider consulting the teens on her soon to be released third album. As the singer confessed, it’s taken a bit longer than she expected to get the effort into the record stores.

“It’s been such a process. I started writing for this album two years ago. And the problem is, I keep writing songs that beat what I already have. It’s the perfectionist in me, being able to say ‘when’ and ‘stop’ and ‘Okay, this is the collection of songs that will be the album. This is for later.’”

“I went and re-recorded a couple songs. I've been working with some producers and I've just been trying to find the exact sound. Right now I'm recording with Earle Mankey in Los Angeles. He is a producer that has done a lot of ‘90s bands, like punk bands. He has a very California sound and vibe and we immediately connected.”

“We just kind of found this sound and in the past month we decided which songs. So right now we’re finishing. I have one more song to finish, background vocals or something. We should be ready to go probably by April.”

It may take just as long today for the musical perfectionist to get an album released as 10 years ago. But as Hughes professed, her songwriting has evolved by leaps and bounds. “Oh my goodness. My songs are just so much more mature. My songwriting is where it should be.”

"I look back at the other albums and my parents will still play them or hand them out to friends. And I’ll grab it out of their hands and I'm like, ‘Nooo! (laughing).’ Just listening to vocal quality, my voice has just matured and grown. I can't even listen to the old stuff.”

“Before I demoed the songs on cassette tape I think and sent them to a producer. I would come in and play the track, sing my parts and leave. Whereas, this time around I'm in the studio from start to finish, from A to B. I hear every part. I will sit through every organ tracking and bass tracking and guitar part. I feel like my fingerprints are on all of it. The other one was much more out of my hands.”

What is and always has been in Hughes’ hands is the story itself. Some of the sources of her inspiration may surprise music fans. “Every song is different. One time I watched a commercial and there was some stupid plot. It gave me an idea for a song and I ran with that.”

“Definitely the autobiographical songs have more of a special place in my heart, I guess. I try not to show a difference when I'm performing. I'm told you can tell the difference when I'm singing from my heart or when I'm singing from my head. So it’s different every time. I definitely connect with the stuff that’s more connected to me.”

“There’s one song that when I sing it, I have to remind myself, ‘Kylie, don’t cry right now’ because it hits such a chord. Whereas if I'm singing about somebody else then I can act like it’s hitting it where it doesn’t.”

After chatting with Kylie Hughes for just a few minutes and listening to her catchy “Calipopicana,” we had better be prepared – because her music will definitely hit a chord.

Be sure and catch Hughes’ show at Nashville’s Rocketown this Saturday March 15.

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