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Liner Notes

Nashville’s Kiely Connell Taps Into Her Rustbelt Roots On Debut Album, “Calumet Queen”

Kiely Connell By Kurt Ozan.jpg
Kurt Ozan
Kiely Connell

My first introduction to Kiely Connell’s rich, emotive voice was as the lead vocalist on some songs by Paul Zografi, a Nashville songwriter and producer and I was immediately drawn to Kiely’s voice. It’s got grit and texture, yet it’s soothing, all delivered with depth and intensity. Kiely Connell’s debut full length album, Calumet Queen is out today. Originally from Hammond, Indiana near the Illinois border, her Midwest roots are at the heart of this music, a blend of folk, rock and soul well suited for her poetic style of storytelling. I'll be playing the song we talked about, "The Blues That Really Burn" this week on the Local Brew Hour, Sunday at 8am, Monday at 7pm and recent episodes are here at wmot.org on the Roots Radio Replays page.

AnaLee: Congratulations on your debut album, Kiely. Having been familiar with your voice thanks to Paul Zografi, I was really excited to hear your songs! Sonically and emotionally, these are powerful songs and stories. Would you tell us a little about your background, growing up in the rustbelt and what inspired you to want to tell stories in song?
Kiely: Thank you so much for giving my songs a listen AnaLee! I’m the daughter of a former comic turned lawyer and an actress/singer so I suppose performing runs in the family. I was born and raised in Hammond Indiana just four houses from the Illinois state line and about 20 minutes from Chicago. There’s something to be said about being from that part of the country. You’ve gotta be flinty. I think that gives a lot of us quite a bit of pride. My life playing music in the Chicago area exposed me to a lot and forced me out of my comfort zone. I met so many people from all different walks of life and I quickly learned that I wanted to tell their stories. I wanted to truly listen and do my best to understand where they’re coming from and maybe help others to understand it as well. I think it even helped me have a better understanding of my own life and emotions as well. I feel like the best way to help people through their most difficult times is by listening to each other and sharing our truths. 

AnaLee: I really love the album art; it makes me wonder - are you the Calumet Queen or is it that river boat? Can you talk a little about the album art, what the Calumet River represents for you and how it became the title song for the album.
Kiely: The incredible album art was hand painted by my dear friend Jeff Bertrand and I absolutely have to give him a shoutout! I hope to be the Calumet Queen! In my mind I am. I lived right up the road from the calumet river and my friend Sam and I used to play in the woods and on the rocks lining the river building forts all summer long. It’s one of the most vivid memories of my childhood. The calumet river is an interesting little river. It flows through an industrial area and despite man's best efforts to contain it, it follows its own course. I found it to be a great metaphor for myself and how I’ve lived my life.

Calumet Queen Album Art.jpg

AnaLee: Can you tell us about recording Calumet Queen; your producer, studio, who’s playing on the record? 
Kiely: To record Calumet Queen, I teamed up with my friend & incredible guitarist Drew Kohl as well as producer Don Bates, recording live out of Bates’ home studio to preserve the spirit in which the songs were written. I brought in drummer Taylor Jones, bassists Jess Perkins and Cameron Carrus, steel guitarist John McNally, cellist Chris Perdue, and fiddle player Lauren Saks. We recorded everything live in Don’s house, mostly with me and Drew in the same room, and then we’d only dub in things like cello or steel guitar.  I wanted the record to sound how I sound at my shows. I feel like because a lot of my songs are very personal, it’s something that I don’t feel like I can capture emotionally if I hadn’t been just playing it all with my guitar and my friends.

AnaLee: I also wanted to ask you about the song, “The Blues That Really Burn”. This one really packs a powerful punch, lyrically and with your vocal performance. You have a real gift for stirring emotions! Talk a little about the inspiration behind this song.
Kiely: I’m pretty open about my struggles with depression and this song is directly about my own journey. For a long time I don’t even think I knew what was going on with me. The first time I can remember going through a depressive period was in high school and it got a lot worse during college. Even the most simple tasks felt like moving mountains and I was so exhausted that I would sleep for a whole day and not be able to get out of bed. Most people will go through some sort of depression or anxiety in their life and the important thing is recognizing it and not being afraid to ask for help when we think we might need it. It can be hard to do because there’s a lot of stigma behind mental illness. That is why I try to be an open book about my issues in hopes that maybe someone might more easily recognize the signs in themselves and get help. 

AnaLee: Are you planning to tour at all, or do you have any shows coming up locally? Thanks for taking the time to chat today, Kiely. I wish you all the best with Calumet Queen. 
Kiely: I cannot wait to tour for this album! I’ll start booking very soon here for early spring and I will be sure to get a tour schedule up on my website and all of my social accounts so keep an eye out for that! I’m so excited to play for everyone again!

“Calumet Queen”

“The Blues That Really Burn”

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