With all the emotion of a folk singer-songwriter and the catchy sensibilities of today’s pop performers, Chelsea Gill has carved out her own brand of country that is both unique and reminiscent of the artists she grew up listening to among her father’s record collection—artists like The Beach Boys, The Police, and Amy Grant. Following a successful debut EP in 2016, on May 5 Chelsea released a new single, Be Your Own Kind of Beautiful. I got the chance to ask her some questions about her music, her message, and what it means to truly be your own kind of beautiful.
This is a question that you probably get a lot, but it always makes for such a good story. What got you into songwriting initially?
I grew up really very interested in music from honestly since I was, like, two years old, probably because my dad is a music fanatic. My parents split when I was one, so my dad and I for a few years kind of, you know, were doing the single dad thing on and off, point being that he would always be blasting amazing music and he loved some really amazing songwriters. So since I was really little I wanted to be a singer, but the songwriting side of it I didn’t really start understanding until I was quite a bit older. In high school I was writing poetry and journaling and that just naturally, as I got older and was pursuing music full-time in college, evolved into me trying to turn them into songs. I became a songwriter really late compared to a lot of people.
You’re clearly very suited to the country singer-songwriter sort of sound, which leads me to my next question: what draws you to country music specifically?
Well, I am from rural Michigan, and I grew up in a farming town, so that was my entire community. I grew up literally on dirt roads and jumping in the back of pickup trucks; at one point we had goats and chickens and all of the above. I think honestly, musically, I didn’t think I’d end up in country music initially. I was just kind of in general singer-songwriter mode when I first started. When I moved to Nashville and started understanding country music, I realized why it is such a relevant genre because the stories are just so powerful and so real, and that’s the whole basis of country. Really, it’s telling your story. It’s telling where you came from. That’s what drew me to the country side of things. A song that says something that you have felt before and you can relate with is just so powerful.
I imagine that life as a musician is quite stressful. What helps you unwind when Nashville life gets crazy?
Nashville is a very intimidating and honestly kind of heartbreaking town. I would say unwinding versus continuing to chase the dream are kind of different issues. In the immediate to unwind I sort of end up just doing other things. I’m kind of in the middle of three careers at once at the moment. I’m in the process of renovating the house I just bought, so, you know, when I’m unwinding from music I usually end up pouring that energy into something completely and totally different and kind of mindless in order to just detox and relax. Continuing to chase the dream in such a crazy industry is definitely really challenging because honestly, sometimes it feels like it doesn’t really matter how much you poured into your music or how good it is; it seems like Nashville just has this very fickle personality about it. It’s one of those things that honestly, every time someone says to me “hey, I listen to your music,” or “it’s really good,” or “that song spoke to me,” those are the things that push me to keep going because if you can take something that you’ve created and it changes someone or moves them, that’s really amazing.
Your body of work is so diverse in style, which makes it all the more impressive to hear how cohesive it is. Do you have a favorite song that you’ve written so far?
I feel like that question is answered differently every time! Definitely one of the songs that changed my musical career is What Kind of Trouble. That was the song that really pushed me to put out an EP and actually make things happen, just because I feel like it is something really special, and it is something that a lot of people relate with.
I love your newest song, “Be Your Own Kind of Beautiful”! What was the inspiration behind it?
Well, I wrote that with a woman named Jessica Campbell and I was coming into a write with her and I didn’t really know her, and so when you go into those writes a lot of times you want to have some kind of idea so you don’t go in and sit there and look silly. I really wanted to write something positive and I was realizing how bombarding it is to grow up, especially as a female, and to try and figure out your place in the world. I can’t remember exactly what sparked the line “be your own kind of beautiful,” but I thought of that line and brought it into this co-write and I really wanted to write something based off that. The biggest thing with that, for me, is just that it’s hard to find your place in the world, but I truly believe for each person that there is something that they uniquely bring to the table. No matter what you look like, no matter what you do, no matter who you are, I feel like each human is capable of doing amazing things, so I wanted to write a song that really reflected that.
I read on your website that you donated $1 per 10 views of your “Tennessee Heat” video to the Children of Fallen Soldiers Relief Fund, and I think that’s an incredibly beautiful thing to do. I think, by extension, your commitment to telling truthful stories through your music is something rare in music right now. What helps you to tap into that raw honesty in how you perform and present yourself?
Honestly, I don’t think I could do it any other way. I am naturally an introvert; I love people and I have definitely learned how to be more outgoing and extroverted in my adult life, but in general and personality-wise, I have a hard time with the shallow. It naturally came from that when it came to songwriting and music; every song came out of personal experience, or the personal experience of someone very close to me. For me, I don’t really know that there’s any other way. It’s kind of what’s kept me driven. Music wouldn’t have any other point without it.
I feel like when a lot of people think about country music today, the artists who come to mind are primarily male. How do you stay motivated to make a path for yourself in such a boys’ club of an industry?
You are absolutely right, it is definitely a boys’ club. Thankfully, in the last couple years, voices have started speaking out in the country industry, trying to make a change for that, and we’ve seen a lot of amazing artists come out of it. I am so thankful for them because they’ve made it! They’ve pushed through and made that happen. Even still today, though, if you look at the Billboard Top 100 for country, there are only four songs written by women in the Top 100. That’s gotta change, and I feel like it’s kind of a complicated issue because the genre has taken a different direction. Men, a lot of times, appeal to both guys who like to listen to male artists and females who like to listen to male artists. I don’t know that there’s as much of a crossover for women. There are not as many men who will listen to female artists, especially female country artists. The audience is a little bit different for us. I just think it’s more to overcome, and I think as females we have a really unique voice and I think we do bring more of that heart and honesty to the table sometimes. I’m hoping that the world continues to realize that there is so much more than the surface, and I hope we start embracing women in music again so we can feel those stories and embrace that honesty that women bring to the table.
Your debut EP was such a breath of fresh air, and it really left me wanting to hear more from you! If you don’t mind me asking, do you have any plans for a follow up album?
Yeah, actually, I am in the process of a new project! Right now, I have been writing for the last several months, kind of getting ready for a new project. It’s really hard following something up like that, because I’m really proud of my other project, and you’re like like, “oh gosh, I have to write songs that I love as much as I love those ones!” So it’s been a bit of a process trying to get out of my own head. But yes, I do have plans for a new project. It probably won’t come out until late this year or early next, but hopefully I can get a single out sooner.
MORE ABOUT CHELSEA GILL
From living room concerts to school musicals, talent competitions to singing for church congregations, Chelsea developed an early passion for performing. And as family struggles plagued her home from a young age, she also found solace in writing—mostly poetry. Though she didn’t know it at the time, those poems were the forerunners of many more songs she would write as she moved to Music City to pursue a degree in Voice and Songwriting. Her journey eventually led her to concert lighting design where, coincidentally, she found herself lighting the stage for some of her childhood heroes, Sara Evans, Lee Ann Womack, and more. As she continues to pursue music, Chelsea focuses her passions on the connection that songs form between people. “Everyone has a story. Music says what I need to say when I can’t find the words,” Chelsea says. “I hope my music will do the same for others.” After her recent success funding her Kickstarter project, Chelsea has spent the fall in the studio working on her debut EP as a country singer‐songwriter. She could not be more excited about the opportunity and the chance to share her craft.”This project to me is all about reaching people in their emotions, whether they have it all figured out or not.” Gill says, “These songs are written out of places of joy, triumph, uncertainty, recklessness, hope, and heartbreak. I don’t believe someone’s story has to be pretty, perfect, or censored to be worth expressing. I believe we learn best in messiness.”