Interview: Brooklyn Folk Artist Kailey Prior on Her Twangy Debut EP

Interview: Brooklyn Folk Artist Kailey Prior on Her Twangy Debut EP

If anybody has mastered the delicate balance between heart-hugs and fuck-yous, it’s Kailey Prior.

On her debut EP, We’re Okay, released a few months ago, the Brooklyn-based folk artist delivers a twangy selection of songs meant to empower and encourage. It’s a record about self-love, a record about the battle of head and heart, a record about recognizing the shortcomings of the ones we want and the ones we don’t need. There’s a lot to We’re Okay, but it’s aptly named because the ultimate takeaway Kailey works hard to share is that we are, indeed, okay.

We’re Okay opens with “Assume,” a twangy, tongue-in-cheek ode introducing us to a myriad of Kailey’s skills: her thoughtful songwriting (this time exhibited in witty wordplay), her distinct vocal trill, and her pumping multi-instrumentation. On “Through,” Kailey’s trio of triumph continues. This time, we get the twang, but it’s sped up with peppier percussion. We get the trill, sweetened by the way Kailey softly delivers some of her best lines. We get the chomping, smacking rhythms of string-assisted instrumentation. The halfway point of We’re Okay finds “Sleepwalker,” the first track on the EP that obviously unveils Kailey’s tender side. It’s beautifully crafted into a theatrical composition, piano balladry lending an emotive quality to the song that allows it to beat forward like a heart.

“Not A Tree” is a song that might have found its way into Bob Dylan’s discography if he’d gotten there first — lush, endless acoustic strums are the common thread, their fluttering set in the center among moments of crying strings and Kailey’s country croon. We’re Okay ends with “Little Bird,” a whisper of whistles and soft strums. As the conclusion, it acts as a lullaby, relatively sparse in its string-based arrangement accompanied by some of Kailey’s most truthful vocal delivery of the record — we’re missing most of her twang (it’s there in wisps) but we get to hear her voice at its most vulnerable. It’s lovely.

On We’re Okay, Kailey Prior offers up a handful of pleasing folk tunes that make the head think hard and the heart beat harder. She’s on fire with talent, nurturing a signature sound humming with warmth in every single element from her voice to her arrangements to her lyrics. We’re grateful for the EP. We’re most grateful that Kailey has reminded us that we’re okay.

Listen to We’re Okay below and connect with Kailey Prior on Facebook, Instagram, and her website. Read on for our exclusive interview with Kailey who tells us all about Brooklyn inspiration, her debut, and her most memorable moment.

The Music Mermaid: First, can you tell The Music Mermaid a little about yourself and your music?
Kailey Prior
: I’m a queer singer-songwriter with a sincere love for good food and bad puns. I live in Brooklyn, NY, and write and perform lyric-centric folk music in and around the boroughs of NYC.

TMM: You’re based in Brooklyn, one of the most saturated scenes for music of all kinds. In what ways does the Brooklyn music scene influence your work at all?
I am super inspired by the Brooklyn / NYC musicians I’m lucky enough to have in my life. I love going out to see friends’ shows, collaborating, curating shows together, etc. As an independent artist, there are so many ways to come at the business side of this industry and it can at times feel overwhelming. Having a community of friends who are navigating the same industry helps keep it exciting and less daunting. Watching the people around me creating and working hard to get their creations heard inspires me to do the same!

TMM: You just released your debut EP, We’re Okay, a few months ago. It’s a confident, well-rounded introduction. What was the production process like for the record?
I recorded We’re Okay and my first single “Come Back” with Tom Gardner at Rift Studios in Brooklyn. I’m a minimalist when it comes to orchestration — I really love natural-sounding instruments and vocals. Tom is a magician at both recording and mixing all vocal and instrumental layers to find that sweet spot where they somehow sound polished but still organic. He has a collection of great instruments at the studio (including the baby grand piano you can hear on “Sleepwalker”) and helped me think outside the box to find ways to give the songs a little more texture without letting them veer off into an over-produced sound. I was also super lucky to have amazing musicians Aya Kato, Tallie Gabriel, Alex Cummings, and Max Maples add their musical chops to the mix.

TMM: Though We’re Okay mostly thrives in its twangy folk tone, there are theatrical moments and lullaby moments too. What was your vision for the EP -- did you intend to put these different elements on the same record or were a lot of songs left on the cutting room floor?
I definitely had a much longer list of songs I would have loved to put on the EP. It was hard to narrow it down! I started by listing my favorites, and then from there, I chose the five that I felt balanced each other out musically and enhanced each other thematically.

A lot of my music grapples with self-discovery and self-love, which can look and sound very different depending on the day, and depending on who you are as an individual. Sometimes you want to celebrate your independence and sometimes you need a reminder that it’s okay to feel stuck or alone. Each song on the EP is a different layer of that painstaking process of embracing yourself in all your imperfect glory. I hope that wherever you are on your journey, We’re Okay can lift you up in whatever way you need it to.

TMM: What I love most about your lyricism here is how it mostly revolves around a really gentle, but unapologetic, middle-finger-up. Not once are you apologizing -- just encouraging. What was the songwriting process like for We’re Okay?
I love that description, thank you! My bandmate Aya calls them “happy ‘fuck you’ songs.” I generally write my lyrics first based on some feeling or experience I’m grappling with personally, and then find the music that helps bring them to life. Sometimes I’ll sit with a full set of lyrics for a long time before I’m able to figure out what it’s supposed to sound like and on what instrument it’s supposed to be played, and then other times it happens all at once!

Lyrics and music for “Little Bird” came out all in one sitting. I started writing “Sleepwalker” on the guitar in a similar gentle folk sound as “Not A Tree,” but it was falling kind of flat so I called in Aya and her keyboard to help find an arrangement with a little more weight to it. I played her my insufficient guitar part, and then she translated it into a keyboard part. I gave her vague directions like “make it more crunchy here” or “keep the melody descending but make it feel like it’s ascending” and she somehow translated my nonsense into what you hear on the EP. Although she to this day refuses to accept any credit for it, I couldn’t have found that music without her.

TMM: Who are three musicians you think the world needs to hear ASAP?
Cardboard Rocketship, Anjimile, and The Highwomen!

TMM: What has been your most memorable musical moment so far?
Playing “Sleepwalker” for the first time at the release party for my first single “Come Back” was hands-down one of the most incredible moments. I cried, the people in the audience cried, it felt like we all jumped to a different planet together for those 3+ minutes. It was awesome.

The Music Mermaid: Finally, what’s next for Kailey Prior?
Kailey Prior:
I’ve got two music videos in the works and have plans to hit the road and do some touring this Fall! More details to come over on Instagram and Facebook.

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