The summer of 2015 was full of shocking moments in the country music world. Between the heartbreaks and scandals, controversial comments and harsh truths, there was a bounty of mouth-gaping moments that left the industry and fans alike scratching their heads and rubbing their chins.
One of those jaw-dropping moments occurred in June, just a mere three days after a new album listening party. Rising country singer Katie Armiger, who had recorded four albums, charted seven singles on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart and was enthusiastic about the upcoming fifth album, suddenly disappeared.
Her label Cold River Records released press releases stating that Armiger was "taking a breather" from music, spreading the message throughout her social media accounts and sending fans and industry personnel alike into a frenzy.
The confusion mounted when, solely on Instagram (two posts, to be precise, both of which have been removed), Armiger declared her dispute to the announcement, also claiming that she no longer had control over her other social media accounts. Over the next seven months, there was no word from either party.
But then another press release emerged, one from Katie's representatives, in which Armiger said, "I wanted to make it with integrity." Vaguely detailing Armiger's drive to succeed without inappropriate conduct, her words have brought to the forefront the issue of sexuality over substance in the entertainment industry.
In legal documents obtained by The Boot, Armiger attests in her counterclaim that independent label Cold River Records President Pete O'Heeron provided finances to purchase "hot", "game-changing" clothes to impress radio station program directors. The alleged philosophy was that "if they don't wanna take you home, they're not gonna play your music."
Armiger also claims she was advised by O'Heeron and Cold River VP of Promotions Jim Dandy that she needed to seduce radio program directors by hugging, kissing, flirting, and sitting on their laps, if need be.
The counterclaim states that O'Heeron, who signed Armiger as a minor, was required through probate court to secure a percentage of Armiger's earnings into a trust account. Armiger alleges that O'Heeron never informed her of this nor followed through on the requirements.
With the counterclaim filed on Jan. 26, 2016, at the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee, Armiger was free to finally make her public statement, which she released the following day.
Outside of walking the red carpet at the 50th Annual CMA Awards last November, Armiger had been hidden from public sight until the week following her announcement. Armiger spoke with me at the Omni Hotel in downtown Nashville during the Country Radio Seminar. With the soundcheck for the coveted New Faces showcase resonating through the background, Armiger nervously yet eloquently spoke her own words.
WOC: Alright, Katie, let's address the elephant in the room.
Katie Armiger: There had been disagreements at the label, just on how things should move forward, how I should conduct myself, and it had been ongoing. This past June, I was fired from the label and then two months later they filed suit against me.
WOC: Was that for a breach of contract?
KA: Well, it was because I was fired. I assumed "Well, then, I can move forward and I can start trying to tour and work again." And because of that, they filed suit. So I filed my counter-claims this past January. It's scary but, in June, a press release was issued that I did not agree to, that [said] I was essentially quitting country music, and that wasn't the case. I had just had my new album listening party three days before.
WOC: It was a huge shock to fans, to the industry, alike, that all of a sudden, "Wait a minute, what's going on?"
KA: Absolutely. Everybody was confused and I was confused as well.
WOC: Before you recently went public, did you have moments of "Maybe I should just stay quiet and try to work it out in the background?" You know, try to rectify and then make a new start?
KA: I didn't really have a time where I didn't want to say something, that was never the case. I wanted to say my side and my truth of what happened but, you know, at first, it was fear of another lawsuit. And I was locked out of all of my social media accounts.
WOC: They still have control of your website and your Facebook, from my understanding.
KA: Yes, so I only have Twitter and Instagram currently. They are more accessible to fans, but on Facebook I had so many followers, it was just such an easy place to get the word out on touring and everything. But I'm going to start a new one and I'm working on a new website and that will have the tour dates. But I always wanted to be able to say my side, it was just waiting until it was the right time. And honestly, up until I filed counter-claim a week ago, I had tried to settle with them. I filed on a Tuesday and the Friday before I sent out a memo with my lawyers saying, "Ya know, let's try and settle this - say your offer by 5 PM." And they didn't reply. "And if you don't respond, then we're going to file counter-claims." And then we did.
WOC: So moving forward, are you worried about any backlash, like when it comes to being signed again or other opportunities?
KA: I think I'll kind of take that one when it comes. So far now I've only had support from the people I'm working with. But I think there are always going to be pros and cons. I knew that making my story public, but my hope with it was just to help other females, or even men, who are in this position. Men are definitely in this position as well. I'm friends with male artists that were told that, kind of along the lines of what I was told, the same things, and just... I knew there would be some backlash but if it can help any of those artists going forward then it's worth it. There's so many people out there who do believe it should be about the music. I think more good will come out of it, and I'm still in the core process so we'll see how that turns out.
WOC: Any plans for new music?
KA: I was just approved this last month, so I can start writing and recording and not fear that it will be taken down.
WOC: And you're going to be on an all-female tour, the It's A Girl Thing tour.
KA: It's so fun, all the girls are amazing. It's Jamie O'Neal, Hannah Blaylock, and Andrea Pearson. We all just have different personalities but it works and is so much fun and it's great to be around females - we all support each other. I think it's because we are all very different and unique but we love music and we just love getting out there and performing and so it's going to be a blast. We're going to be touring all of June. I'll be touring solo in May and have California dates as of now. We're working on getting a new website so you can see all the tour dates and find where I'll be.
WOC: So outside of everything with the label, you're now kind of getting a fresh start. You've got a chance to re-invent yourself and not a lot of people get to do that. What do you feel is going to be different? Is there going to be anything you change up a little?
KA: It's interesting you say that; a lot of people are like "What are you going to do?" and "Are you going to look different?" and I'm like, I'm going to write music that means something to me. And perform. And I would say at this point just be amazing because I won't have to worry about people saying I need to try to sing something different or act differently. I can do anything, I can wear anything. I can say anything, within reason.
WOC: Within reason, having that little voice in the back of your head.
KA: Yeah, it's just having that total creative freedom and I'm looking forward to that. I have never toured or done anything on my own terms so the answer is... I don't know how it will be yet but I'm really looking forward to a new chapter. And adventures. And doing truly what I want to sing and say and I'm figuring that out right now. It's an evolution that I'm excited about. I was kind of worried walking into CRS with everything going public just last week. I talked to my lawyer and my publicist about one of my biggest concerns being radio, and them being mad or upset or thinking that I thought that they were corrupt or they were bad. And I just wanted to say "No, I never thought that. I was told by a label that this was the only way my music would be played by them." But there are a ton of people in radio who, like the stations I have been to that have played my music, have been supportive of my music and me and have never encouraged me to be anything other than what I've presented. And that's just what I hope everyone knew this week and weren't upset that I thought those things.