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Interview: Lemon Wire

Kaylee Keller is a country-pop singer from Kansas who puts a spin on the small-town-girl- making-it motif. She proudly displays the topography and wildlife of her Midwestern hometown. She is literally from where the buffalo roam. Her latest release, “Rubies” features the single “Nowhere America.” The song itself is gaining popularity, and the video shows viewers exactly how beautiful “nowhere” can be.

The video for “Nowhere America” will appeal to those who have (if they will admit it) a pleasant emotional reaction to a popular gas station chain’s commercial that prompts Americans to travel by car because the gas station has got the fuel.

There are wide-open shots in “Nowhere America” that feature the singer driving a Jeep and standing atop a hill while strumming her guitar and the feeling those shots evoke for those who are actually from places with more wildlife than night clubs is a pleasant reckoning that it is okay to be from such places. Keller eschews the “now I’ve made it, so I will party in shiny clubs” ideology that is common in contemporary music.

Keller’s work shows audiences that simple things are universally appealing. It is difficult to watch the video for “Nowhere America” without feeling like organizing a welcoming barbecue for anyone who might be coming back to town.

I recently had the opportunity to talk to Keller and found that she is at once a professional musician, but she has the ebullience that comes with being a happy 20-year-old woman.

Keller is from Garden City, Kansas. The kind of place that is like a lot of Midwestern cities that are continuing to outgrow their agrarian and industrial reputations.

“The people in the community [make Garden City special] and also the way they treat each other. I’ve been blessed to have people support me. It’s a small town, but it has a city feel. It feels like home.”

It isn’t just the residents of Garden City that support Keller. Her family is supportive as well. Her mother used to work in theater and is skilled in costuming. She worked on award-winning productions and did the costuming for the “Nowhere America” video.

From Keller’s description, Garden City is the kind of place where people can be themselves, that they are given space and opportunity to find their passions. For Keller, inspiration for her path came from an unexpected source.

“I have been performing since age six. At that age, my mom started showing me Shirley Temple movies. I looked up to Shirley Temple. Seeing her be able to take all her talent to the big screen and her ability to make people smile inspired me. I have been hooked ever since.”

As a child, Keller became involved with every performing group she could join.

“I did everything my community had to offer. I have done a lot of national anthems. If nearby communities were hosting contests, I participated in them, too.”

But Keller isn’t just a performer. The singer and guitarist is also a scholar who graduated from high school two years early. She studied acting at a New York City-based conservatory after getting involved with a talent search group, which ultimately lead to a deal with Capitol Records. Now, a few years later, the performer works independently.

Since “Rubies” is her third album, I wondered if she had any specific goals for it.

“With all my music, I want to help people with it. Hope that they can find songs that relate to them that will help them on a personal level.”

Singers with any sort of public profile invariably inspire younger generations. Keller has both words of caution and support for would-be performers.

Keller says, “My advice is to find your purpose in this. It’s gotta be more than to be famous. If you’re gonna pursue this, you have to define your purpose. You can’t do it alone. You need someone to help. Parents, grandparents, aunt, or uncle, a trusted adult to keep them focused on their morals and to help with making big decisions.”

And, what about that visually stunning video for “Nowhere America?”

Keller explains, “We partnered with the Mariah Fund to film the video. [The video] is also part of Kansas tourism. The video shows parts of southwest Kansas.”

As a result of her connection with the Mariah Fund, Keller has become an ambassador for 22 counties in Kansas. Does public speaking and performances and appears at community events. “It’s my job to tell people how beautiful Kansas is,” Keller explains.

Time was taken to search for the best light. Even though that sounds tedious, Keller enjoyed herself. “It was fun. It took several months to prepare, and five days to film.”

While videos and fun are certainly enjoyable, Keller keeps her mind on her big goals. She wants to connect with people, to craft songs that mean something to their lives.

“Becoming famous is an empty goal. My goal is to chase purpose, not fame. I love public speaking and being able to share my story. [If]someone in the audience doesn’t have a voice; I can speak for them. That’s how you create a difference. I love getting my message out there. So far, it’s been beneficial. I have had kids reach out to me and I can help them or [find resources for them].”

As a sexual harassment survivor, Keller is willing to share her story with others. Part of her appeal is that she is not much older than the students she addresses.

The payoff for Keller has been those kids reaching out to her later and thanking her. Thus, it seems, her larger purpose achieved.

Right now, Keller is busy performing and putting together a tour. Western Kansas and the rest of the world should brace themselves for a ray of light dressed in country pop songs.

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