Locals Only: Kiwi artist Kaylee Bell wants to bring country music back to Aotearoa

Country pop artist Kaylee Bell from the small town of Waimate on the South Island performs Living Free. Made with funding from NZ On Air. Video / Local only

Kaylee Bell could be New Zealand’s greatest unsung musical hero.

Self-managed and independent, the Waimate-born country pop artist has been the most listened to female artist in Australasia for the past four years; in September, she was chosen as the playlist face for Spotify’s Equal Global Music program – representing female artists in New Zealand and Australia – which involved having her image featured on a billboard in the middle of Times Square in New York.

It’s a godsend for his profile that didn’t come out of nowhere – Bell has been putting mahi in mahi for a long time. Having started singing at the age of 4, the singer and guitarist grew up in talent scouts and weekend gigs with her siblings, winning the 2007 NZ Gold Guitar Award as a solo actor at the age of 18.

This led her to participate in the Tamworth Country Music Festival in Australia, which was the first time she crossed paths with artists who actually made a living playing country music, which she had not considered. as possible in Aotearoa.

Bell took a leap and moved to Australia for five years, touring and making a name for himself there. She won Star Maker, “Tamworth’s Big Competition” in 2013, the first time a Kiwi has won the title since Keith Urban in 1990.

His 2019 EP The Red received over 10 million songs and generated hits in the form of Getting Closer, Keith and Wasted on You. And yet, despite her international success, Kaylee Bell is far from being known in her home country. Country music is a seemingly dormant genre in New Zealand – although Bell is hoping it will make a comeback.

“Country music [coverage] has been lacking in mainstream media for a good two decades, but… because of things like Spotify, this next generation is starting to hear American stuff, what I also grew up on and loved. People are starting to like it again, it’s really nice to be able to do it in my own country. “

Covid can be a blessing in disguise; Bell has spent the past 10 years traveling back and forth between New Zealand and Nashville, spending winters from the Southern Hemisphere to the United States, getting to know the industry there and building a team of co- screenwriters and peers she loves to work with.

“It’s a 9-5 job in Nashville to be a songwriter, and you really make a lot of money. I just got started, writing every day when I’m there. Sometimes for d ‘ others but mostly for my own a lot of my music is produced. Country is the number one genre in America, so I’m always going to make those connections. “

While frequent visits to the United States have been a great help for Bell to hone her craft, being anchored in Auckland due to the pandemic has allowed her to focus on building her profile locally, which has piqued the interest of programmers. radio and summer festival goers – although, due to Covid, most of its live performance plans are on hold at the moment.

Assuming she’s possibly the first local country artist to receive significant commercial airing in New Zealand in the past two decades, Bell That Summer’s recent single became the most added song on mainstream radio for the month. of May 2021, and had over a million feeds. . That, along with new single Living Free, heralds the release of their second album Silver Linings at the end of this month.

“My goal and my dream has always been to turn on the radio in this country and listen to country music,” she admits.

“So it’s been huge, it’s been huge. I just want to break down some walls, I feel like this has been missing in our culture for a very long time.”

With her commitment to her craft and her genre, not to mention Silver Linings, Bell may be on track to fulfill her dream of repopulating country music in Aotearoa – just like her ultimate hero Shania Twain did in her prime. , and complement the Americana and folk scenes that wore and were worn by Tami Neilson, Marlon Williams, Delaney Davidson and Nadia Reid.

Produced by longtime Bell collaborator Simon Oscroft (Disney USA, Midnight Youth), the LP cites an impressive cast of collaborators, including Lindsay Ell – who is featured on “Living Free” – The McClymonts, Josh Mirenda, Lepani, Lindsay Rimes and Sam Sumser.

But while she’s thrilled to have the release there, Bell can’t wait to bring the album to life on stage. She worked hard with her band to make their show “really strong and accessible so people could see how far it has changed in relation to their perception of country music.”

Hopefully, the public can enjoy the in-person experience soon enough.

Listen to the Locals Only podcast below. Made with funding from NZ On Air.

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