"I ain't no regular dog / more like a wolf on the kill" sings Kelsey Waldon to open her new album No Regular Dog, her fiercest collection of music to date that leaves no doubt about her aspirations and where she rightfully belongs as one of today's premiere country artists. The 10 song collection illustrates the Western Kentucky born honky tonk angel's tenacity, drive, perseverance and humility that caught the eye of the late John Prine, who in early 2019 made her the first artist signed to his Oh Boy Records in 15 years.
Now her second album of originals on the acclaimed independent label, the budding star traveled out to the land of stars, Los Angeles, to record at Dave's Room Studio with Shooter Jennings (Brandi Carlile, Tanya Tucker). Waldon says she and Shooter first met at a concert she was playing with Tanya Tucker and Wynonna Judd in late 2019 in Kansas City before reconnecting later on at a birthday celebration for Tucker.
"I was initially taken aback by how much he knew about my record White Noise / White Lines because a lot of people will try to just blow hot air up your ass, but Shooter was very genuine," Waldon tells Wide Open Country. "He wasn't some L.A. high and mighty type, he sincerely was a fan of my music. When it came time to record No Regular Dog I wanted to challenge myself by getting outside of my bubble and working with someone who would push the boundaries of my music, and Shooter seemed like a perfect fit. He was immediately on board and I absolutely love the fresh energy he brought to this record."
The trip out west to record No Regular Dog marked Waldon's first time recording outside of Kentucky or Nashville and resulted in a record that fits right in with her previous albums while also being just different enough to stand out clearly on its own. Comprised of a mix of confessionals, a waltz ("You Can't Ever Tell"), her first ever love song ("Simple As Love"), portraits of growing up on the banks of the Ohio River ("Backwater Blues") and much more, No Regular Dog is easily Waldon's most diverse album to date in terms of both its sound and message.
Waldon sat down with Wide Open Country to dig deep into the songs within No Regular Dog, opening up about the stories that inspired each of the project's 10 songs.
"No Regular Dog"
It was obvious from the beginning that this would be the album's lead and title track. It's fun, playful, grabbing and serious all at once as I use the imagery of a junkyard dog to symbolize fighting and clawing for your dreams. When my tour manager and I were out hitting the road hard during our White Noise White Lines tour I remember being on a plane with her and she looked over and said "we ain't no regular dogs" to which I responded "yeah, more like a wolf on the kill." I knew right then that we were onto something and wrote the song not long after.
At its core the song is about surviving your dream. People work really hard to achieve their dreams, but sometimes when you finally do you're not prepared for it. For the first time in my life after the pandemic and lockdown I feel ready to put two feet in my boots, step into my own role and feel comfortable in my own skin. I think that everyone has a 'no regular dog' in themselves. It's about surviving a dream and wanting it badly, but also questioning yourself along the way before coming to the realization that you need to bet on yourself to make it happen.
"Sweet Little Girl"
This is about a girl trying to find her way back home, whether that be a physical home, a home in her heart or a home that makes her feel safe. She's just trying to discover what home means to her. It's a story of self-destruction and redemption from an outsider's perspective that incorporates details from friend's and my own personal experiences from how we felt when we were down and wanted to destroy ourselves. It's similar to "History Repeats Itself" in that it describes how people start off in life with the best of intentions before sometimes getting knocked off that path due to variables both in and out of their control.
"Tall And Mighty"
You can't have the yin without the yang. I don't think it's natural in life to just be riding a high all of the time, you have to feel the lows too. For myself personally, I've experienced big buzz moments in my career like signing with Oh Boy Records and playing the Grand Ole Opry with John Prine, but I've also experienced low moments like long tours away from home where I was only playing in front of five people a night that I definitely went back to cry in the green room at afterwards. There's a lot of smoke and mirrors in the music industry, so it's always important to believe in and bet on yourself. This song is about not letting those low moments derail you and to instead use them as motivation to continue pursuing your dreams.
"You Can't Ever Tell"
This is an old song that I had tucked away in one of my notebooks. I have a bunch of them sitting around my home office with no telling what's in them. For the while the song was an afterthought until I showed it to Shooter, who loved it. I'd always wanted a proper waltz on the record. We coined the phrase "sweaty Willie waltz" in the studio to define the sound we were aiming for from Willie Nelson's Phases and Stages era.
This was the first song that I wrote after John Prine's death. It's commemorating not only him, but all of the other close family and friends I'd lost recently due to COVID and a multitude of other things. The pandemic was a really rough time for countless people, especially when it came to their mental health, myself included. I remember filling up with grief for a couple months before sitting down one day to write, at which point the song just poured out of me. It's my way of saying goodbye and was like therapy recording in the studio.
"History Repeats Itself"
People like to think that they would never fall on troublesome times like addiction or trouble with the law, but nobody is removed from or immune from it. For instance, opioids have ravaged all parts of Kentucky, but people often don't seem up in arms about it unless it's someone notable in the community who's suffering. The song is about how we're all just one step away from that. If perceptions don't change and people don't know any difference the same cycle is bound to be repeated over and over. It can be hard to feel like you have no other way of doing things. We're all born with so much hope and the greatest of intentions, but sometimes those intentions get lost along the way.
I grew up in the Ohio River bottoms of Monkey's Eyebrow, Kentucky, where the backwaters created a bunch of swamps that would flood every season. I remember having to take a boat to get to our house regularly and finding snakes and other critters washed into our basement. We'd often be sleeping in our beds at night with water just below us in the basement, never knowing when it may rise. It was always a part of my life growing up so I thought it was due time to write a song about it.
The character in the song is inspired by my dad and his determination to stay in the place he called home. It reminds me a lot of the recent flash flooding in Eastern Kentucky and the resiliency of the people there to rebuild their homes and lives. At the same time it's also a song about empathy and understanding why it's not as easy a problem to solve as just uprooting and moving your home to a new place.
"Simple As Love"
I had a song on The Gold Mine called "Me And You Again" that was sort of a love song, but it was nothing like this. I had a lot more to work with this time because it took me years of experience to understand what true love really was. I've learned that loving others and loving myself both come from a place of gratitude, the type of love where you don't owe anyone anything. Throughout the song I compare naturally occurring phenomena like rivers and the moon to love, particularly how natural the relationship I'm in now feels and how happy I am. I finally feel like I have a stable environment for the first time in quite a long time and am very grateful for it.
"Peace Alone (Reap What You Sow)"
This song is about understanding your inherent worth and how nothing means anything if you don't have peace of mind. Everything we achieve, especially as artists, helps to validate you from the gigs to the accolades, but at the end of the day I have to remember that I'd still be Kelsey Waldon with or without all of that. I'd still love music, have a guitar and a voice to sing it with. The key to life is knowing your worth whether others have recognized it within you or not and having the peace of mind that if you put in the work and stay true to yourself that good things will happen in the end.
This is an older tune that I rewrote on my back porch one day during lockdown. I think it's a perfect closer for the record. It's about giving yourself grace and not letting life weigh too heavily on yourself. Sometimes we let the world weigh on our shoulders so much that we can't see what's right in front of us. I gave up a lot of things in the past couple of years that I needed to because I wasn't seeing clearly. I ended up hurting a lot of people I love and I also ended up hurting myself. At the same time, self-hatred and shame can do a lot of harm on their own as well. That's why it's critical to tread lightly and give yourself grace because we're all just trying to get by doing the best we can.
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