Photo by Nora Canfield
Throughout pop music history, there have been artists whose songs have provided emotional healing, not just entertainment. For example, James Taylor’s “Fire and Rain” has given emotional solace to millions of listeners dealing with their own surprise pain and dashed dreams.
Roots-Americana artist Kyshona’s song “Out Loud” is a beautiful addition to the songs-that-heal catalog. Our hidden pain and sorrow can often ease when we have the courage to put our feelings into words:
I think you know just what you want now
Just too afraid to say it out loud
In addition to her onstage work, Kyshona recently launched a nonprofit called Your Song that brings the balm of music to the places that need it most, including prisons and assisted-living centers.
If Knocked Loose ever played a prison, there would probably be a riot, not a lot of healing. And it’s hard to imagine Charli XCX ever playing a retirement home. That’s why it’s important to support artists like Kyshona. She’s not just a great artist. She’s also an admirable human being.
You got your music therapy degree from the University of Georgia in Athens – the town that was (briefly) home to Sting and The Police when they first came to America, plus R.E.M. and many others. What was the music scene like when you lived there?
I lived in Athens for about seven years; it was a very multi-musical type of town. There was, and still is, a vibrant hip-hop scene, a lot of spoken-word performances. I used to go to a lot of open mics that were mixed with spoken-word artists, singer/songwriters, hip-hop artists, it was awesome. There was also a huge Americana singer/songwriter vibe happening there. The band Hope for Agoldensummer was huge, and they would put on these surprise shows. There were a lot of (what we know now as) Americana artists who would tour through Athens. Margo Price’s first band Buffalo Clover came through, Shovels & Rope, came through. There was a cool punk scene, indie bands…for such a small town, it was a great melting pot of all the music that you could think of.
Growing up, did you have family members who understood the value of music-as-healing, not just music-as-entertainment?
I would say not necessarily. In my family, the music that we saw as healing was gospel music. If I was feeling any kind of thing, there were gospel songs I would go lean on. Music wasn’t even seen as entertainment – music was more of the culture for us. It was just always there. When we gathered as a family on my dad’s side, oftentimes, singing would happen. They would ask me or my cousin to come and play the piano. Music was just part of who we were as a family. It wasn’t entertainment, it wasn’t healing, it was just culture.
What led to your collaboration with Shannon LaBrie on “Do What Feeds Your Soul”?
Shannon and I were having one of her typical, like, backyard hangs – she has this beautiful little garden – and a few friends showed up. We were catching up on life, discussing how difficult it is when you have to choose between the gigs that pay well, and the gigs that feed your soul. In this part of our lives, most of us are choosing the gigs that feed our soul, ones that really mean something, that we know are making an impact. Even if it doesn’t pay well, we know that it feels good, and it fuels us. Our friend Ryan Madora, who plays bass on the track, said, “We do what feeds our soul because we absolutely must. That’s what we’re born to do.” So Shannon came over one day for a co-write after we all had this conversation and she said, “I have a melody!” She sang the hook and we just went from there, and we made sure we had fun. We threw out all the rules of songwriting, and just played. It was great.
Mainstream country music today sounds sorta like an AI program randomly combined words like “truck,” “backroads” and “whiskey” to create songs. Do you think that Americana and roots music will whittle away at mainstream country’s dominance…especially now that streaming is steadily replacing radio?
I don’t know if Americana will whittle away at it. I think mainstream country will always be the glossy AI program that you see now. That’s just what it is. I think you’ll find more of the outlaw country, more of the old-school country, in the Americana world because I think that’s what speaks to Americana audiences. Genre is always changing. We’ve seen that in neo-soul and soul music, things kind of spider-web off of what is mainstream. Now that streaming is replacing radio, which is extremely sad to me, I see that more Americana music is being shared on streaming platforms. But, I’m really not in the country world, I only pay close attention to Americana and roots.
Your nonprofit group YourSong.org is doing healing work on many fronts. Is Your Song being used as a template for launching similar nonprofits around the U.S.?
Your Song isn’t necessarily a template for launching similar nonprofits, but I am learning there are other nonprofits and artists that are doing similar work. As I meet other artists that have similar programs, we are trying to find ways to partner. It’s been really awesome to see how many artists – and that’s even visual artists – have had this idea of, “How we can tap into community? It would be amazing if we can bring that into the community when we’re in towns doing shows.” I wouldn’t say that Your Song is a template. But I see that there are people who have been thinking about doing this work, and now it’s easy for me to be able to plug in with them and partner up rather than reinventing the wheel in every town. Instead of everyone vying for the same funding, we are figuring out how we can pool resources to bring something amazing to each community. Those conversations are happening more and more.