Kree Harrison Is Getting Back to the Basics
In her short 28 years, Kree Harrison has seen more sides of the music industry than most artists see in their entire careers. From signing a deal at only 10 years old to captivating nationally televised audiences — and all the heartbreak in between — Harrison's path to her new record has been anything but simple.
And that's probably why the humble (albeit wryly sarcastic) country singer is setting out to deliver something a little different from her life story on her new record.
"The message I want to get out is very simple, very basic," Harrison tells Taste of Country. She's tucked away in the corner of a coffee shop on the ground floor of Nashville's Omni Hotel, which is at the time hosting the notorious Country Radio Seminar, an event that is anything but simple and basic.
Forgotten American Idol Auditions of the Stars
"The message is as simple as songs like Otis Redding's 'Try a Little Tenderness,'" Harrison says. "That's a message that for my whole life I've worshipped. I'm his biggest fan — I literally worshipped the ground he walked on at Fame Studios."
It makes sense, then, that the former American Idol finalist chose new song "I Love the Lie" as the first taste of her forthcoming album. Written by Chris Stapleton, Morgane Stapleton and Liz Rose, "I Love the Lie" is one of those wonderfully simple songs that allows Harrison to show off a different side of her gorgeous voice.
"It's one of those songs I can sing every night for the rest of my life," she says. "It's this lush country sound, different from the soulful thing" that she showcased so prevalently on her 2013 American Idol run. A child of the '90s, Harrison of course references the powerful female voices that defined the country landscape that decade as a primary influence on her upcoming record.
And while a lot of artists get to reference their childhood heroes, few can say they had a career at the same time as their heroes. But that's exactly the situation Harrison found herself in when, after a few appearances on The Rosie O'Donnell Show, she moved to Nashville and signed a development deal with Disney's Lyric Street Records at only 10 years old.
The next 10 years brought some of the biggest personal challenges of Harrison's life, when she lost both her parents to tragedies. Harrison lets out a slight chuckle thinking about the emotional toll it took on the family. "It's hard to make other people feel ok about it," she says. "I mention it and they're like, 'Oh shit, I don't know what to say right now,' and I just have to be like, 'It's ok, I got you.'"
She lost her first deal after returning to Texas when her father died in a plane crash. Then, at 15, she signed a publishing deal with Chrysalis until that company underwent changes and she lost that deal. She again returned to Texas to take care of her little brother after their mom died in a car crash.
Harrison returned to Nashville yet again, working at the famed Santa's Pub, before her sister convinced her to audition for American Idol. "At first I was like, 'I'm not going to do a talent show for karaoke singers,'" Harrison says. Having already been in the industry for a decade, she felt like it might be a step backwards.
"It was one of the best decisions I ever made," she admits now. "I made lifelong friends. My work ethic was created then."
After that crazy carnival ride ended, Harrison took some time to work on her first record, spending years writing 2016's This Old Thing. Harrison has also continued to leave her imprint on records all across town as a background vocalist, often for fellow Texans like Kacey Musgraves, Eli Young Band and William Clark Green.
Now she's preparing to finish recording the rest of her new record in Asheville, North Carolina, with producers Jordan Lehning (Andrew Combs) and Skyler Wilson (Andrew Combs, Lindi Ortega).
"I'm so excited to just go in with some of my good friends and get in that space," she says. "Throw my phone in the toilet and flush it. Check out from everywhere else and just pull from the vibes in the room."
Harrison wrote most of the record in addition to a few outside cuts (like "I Love the Lie") and a cover or two — including one with a very personal connection back to her Santa's Pub days that, without ruining what is going to be a very good on-stage story, involves a late night, a finicky jukebox and a pistol.
"I'm just excited to show people a different part of my life," she says. "I'm anxious to get this side of my influences out."
'American Idol' Country Finalists: Where Are They Now?