Ambitious soul, but Homegrown Heart
As her album rises up the charts, Elkhorn country singer Kendra Kay is ready to think bigger, but she’ll never be far from home
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Country music these days is like traffic on Winnipeg streets — there are pickup trucks everywhere.
When an artist needs some horsepower on the charts, they can sing about Silverado the shiny four-by-four, not a majestic chestnut stallion.
Not so for Kendra Kay. While the Elkhorn singer hasn’t sung about Jan, the horse she barrel-races with at rodeos, she does share a spot with her on the cover of her new album, Homegrown Heart, which has galloped up the charts since its release Jan. 13.
”She’s been a real trouper that horse. She’s been in a music video and three photo shoots for my music career so far, so she’s part of the team,” Kay says.
The two-time Manitoba Country Music Association female artist of the year reveals her rural roots in the title track and accompanying video, singing about how you’ll find her in “a little piece of land outside a little nowhere town you’ve never seen.”
“It’s showing people who I am. I live on a farm, I ride horses in the summertime, I barrel-race. My life revolves around the country lifestyle and I want to reflect that in my music,” she says.
“I grew up listening to traditional country music and I’ve always wanted to tie that into the modern-sounding country stuff.”
Her authentic style, her songs and her patience have caught the ears of country-music fans, who lifted Homegrown Heart to the top of iTunes Canadian Country chart and to No. 3 on its all-genre chart upon its release.
She produced singles independently when she began recording in 2014, but she took the next step in her music career when she signed a record deals with Willing Records and Universal Music Canada, and the major-label push helped with her debut album’s early success.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better way to debut myself to the world with this album,” she says. “I first recorded music just because I loved singing and play songs. I don’t think I’ll get over the feelings of people wanting to listen to my music and being so excited for me on this journey.”
While Kay co-wrote the song Homegrown Heart with fellow Manitoban Tyler Del Pino, other tracks from Homegrown Heart are from other female songwriters and performers, including American country music superstars Maren Morris and Carly Pearce.
Another single that blends traditional and contemporary country sounds, Scars Like Mine, is co-written by another Canadian female country artist on the rise, Meghan Patrick.
“I don’t know if I set out for that goal when I started writing and recording, but I get inspired by a lot of other female artists and people in the industry,” Kay says. “It’s amazing to have such an female-driven and led album. I’m grateful they’ve stood behind me on this project.”
Singers and producers often know little about a song, other than the lyrics and the melody when it’s offered, and songwriting credits are withheld until an agreement has been made to record them.
That was the case for Kay and her producers, Murray Pulver in the city and Karen Kosowski, a former Winnipegger now based in Nashville.
“When I’m falling in love of the lyrics not knowing who the artist is, it shows I’m a fan of them outside of their name and what they’ve done already,” Kay says.
Kay is setting up touring plans for 2023 and is looking to expand her musical horizons beyond Manitoba’s borders. That means more time away from the ranch and her riding pal Jan.
“When it comes down to the industry, everyone is trying to find their lane and everyone has a brand. I’m lucky I was able to be branded as the person I am, the horse-riding cowgirl from small-town Canada that still lives on a farm and still likes her small town,” she says. “I don’t ever want to lose that part of me and I’ll keep doing as long as I can.”
Alan Small has been a journalist at the Free Press for more than 22 years in a variety of roles, the latest being a reporter in the Arts and Life section.
Updated on Wednesday, January 25, 2023 5:58 AM CST: Corrects typo in headline