People believe in Kristen Kelly. Candid and down to earth, with a room-filling smile and a voice that echoes the heart of what she sings, Kristen laughs as she describes her music as having “a little more grease than polish.” And that grease is an exciting mix, distilled from her country, blues, and classic rock influences into a passionate, playful, often sexy, and always heartfelt reflection of real life as she knows it.
Born in Waco, Texas, Kristen Kelly grew up in the country, living on 10 acres in small-town Lorena, Texas. “You blink, you miss it,” she smiles. She credits her outdoorsy, adventurous spirit in adult life to those days of “simple country living.”
She sang at church, in talent shows, high school choir, and by middle school had taken an interest in poetry, beginning the foundation for the songwriting that would emerge years later. “I grew up in love with music,” Kristen recalls. Her late grandfather, Sterling Kelly, was a country musician – “I still have 45s of him and his band, Sterling Kelly & The Hearts” – while her dad helped instill her affinity for classic rock, as well as her determination. “He’s a simple, hard-working man who never quits – and I think that’s where I get some of my ‘workaholic’ from is him.” Along the way, she adds, “I fell in love with the blues.”
While bartending in 2001, an impromptu performance earned Kristen an on-the-spot invitation to sing with the regional classic-rock cover band Big Dave & The Freaks. That night launched a three-year part-time gig with the band as she moved closer to a life in music, co-writing her first song (“Down in Flames” with Brandon Jenkins and Stoney LaRue) in 2004, the same year she began a two-year music degree at Waco’s McLennan Community College.
In her final semester, a friend asked her to sing harmony on songs he was recording. They began writing and recording with Kristen on lead vocals, as well, resulting in their self-released album, The Highway Is My Home, as Modern Day Drifters. The duo added a few players to flesh-out their live sound and the act earned airplay and acclaim around Texas. With the departure of her original partner in late 2008, Kristen took the reins and recorded her debut under the banner Kristen Kelly & The Modern Day Drifters, producing all but one song on 2010’s independent Placekeeper. Kristen began experiencing success as a solo artist as "I Remember When" (written by Kelly and fellow Texas singer-songwriter Matt Caldwell) from the Placekeeper album was the first song performed by Kristen to reach the TOP 10 at Texas Radio.
Kristen's performance at Dierks Bentley's 2010 Miles and Music benefit concert held at Billy Bob's in Ft Worth, TX impressed two-time GRAMMY®-winning songwriter Paul Overstreet enough to invite her to write with him, sparking a chain of events that ultimately led to her first record deal with ARISTA Nashville. "I have a hard time singing or writing about something I can’t relate to,” she says, and that philosophy was front and center on her Arista Nashville self titled EP, co-produced by nine-time CMA Award-winning producer Tony Brown and Overstreet. Kristen experienced success on a national level as her debut single "Ex-Old Man" (penned by Kelly and Overstreet) from her 2012 self titled EP climbed the charts breaking the TOP 30 on Billboard. That same year Kristen was a member of the first class of female artists inducted into CMT's Next Women of Country campaign which shines a spotlight on the newest ladies of country music.
Kristen has remained busy outside of the writers room or studio, touring with some of country music's biggest names including Brad Paisley on his Virtual Reality Tour 2012/13, Rascal Flatts’ Changed Tour 2013, Alan Jackson, Sheryl Crow, The Band Perry, Willie Nelson, Gary Allan, Dierks Bentley, Jake Owen and more, as well as playing the Grand Ole Opry, the Ryman Auditorium and the Bluebird Cafe in Nashville.
Her musical style embraces influences ranging from Fleetwood Mac, The Eagles, and Bob Seger to singer/songwriter Patty Griffin to the blues and soul of Ray Charles, Susan Tedeschi, and Bonnie Raitt, while her country roots were shaped in part by the sounds of the ‘80s and ‘90s. “I grew up listening to The Judds and Reba and George Strait and Willie Nelson,” she says, adding that her biggest influence is Merle Haggard. “I think I’m such a big fan of Merle Haggard’s music and his songwriting because it’s simple. I’ve always believed that country music was three chords and the truth, and that’s more or less what he did – and what all the great blues musicians did.”
“I've been through a lot throughout my life but overall I'm a happy person,” Kristen offers, “what I write has a lot of realness to it; whether it’s something that I’ve personally experienced or somebody close to me has experienced. To be able to give voice to all the different emotions I have felt and continue to feel is part of my music. I have faith that God doesn’t give you anything you can’t handle and what we are given helps shape who we are.”
Faith is at the heart of Kristen Kelly, and it’s visible on the inside of her right wrist, with a tattoo of the word “Believe” that she designed herself. Kristen incorporated that tattoo design in her “Believe by Kristen Kelly”TM line which she launched on April 22, 2014. A percentage of all sales from her Believe line goes to survivors of domestic and sexual violence. The line was also featured in the May 12, 2014 issue of Country Weekly.
Kristen is an avid outdoor enthusiast and when she's not in the writers room, on the road playing shows or raising money and awareness for a great cause, she's most likely off the map in the woods somewhere. MossyOak recognized Kristen's passion for the outdoors and she gladly accepted the invitation to become a MossyOak Pro Staff member in 2012.
“If you’ve got a dream, keep dreaming,” she says. “Dreams do come true. BELIEVE.”