By Abby Lorenc
On April 16, 26-year-old Krystal Keith, daughter of Moore, Oklahoma’s Toby Keith, released her self-titled EP and began an adventure. After years of waiting, she is finally launching her music career. Her full-length album, coming soon, is titled “Whiskey and Lace,” adeptly depicting the femininity and toughness that make up the singer herself. Krystal laughs easily, thinks clearly, and sings from her heart. We talked with Krystal during her recent radio tour about the excitement of a new career, the long anticipation leading up to 2013, and life as an Oklahoman.
If Krystal had had her way, she would have gone straight from high school graduation to cutting an album. She has been singing since she could talk, and she knew she wanted to use her voice for more than lullabies. The family laughs over pictures of Krystal throwing a fit when her mother wouldn’t let her on stage to sing with her dad. In early adolescence, Krystal began writing and performing, spending time around her father’s studio sessions and concerts, gaining an understanding of the industry. Country music fans were introduced to Krystal’s talent when she appeared as a teenager with her father on the Country Music Awards, singing “Mockingbird.” People took note. This girl had a voice!
But although she would have gladly launched her music career after high school, her father insisted she attend college … actually, it was more of an ultimatum. If she wanted his help in starting her music career, she would have to have a degree.
“I fought him really hard,” Krystal laughs, “and for the first two years I actually did really poorly in college just to try to prove to him that it wasn’t for me.” Her bluff didn’t work. Since Krystal had always excelled in school, her father saw right through her act. Eventually, she realized that he would not give in, and she committed herself to her college career, choosing to major in business communications. Not only did she succeed at the University of Oklahoma, she is now seriously considering going on to pursue her MBA once her life slows down a bit.
I asked her how college changed her as an artist.
“College gives you a chance to grow as an individual,” Krystal reflects. “You learn about culture, about yourself, and you mature. College gave me the time I needed to grow up, and it gave me the maturity I needed to handle this industry. It was definitely the right call.”
Today’s music industry is inundated with second-generation stars that have been given a helping hand into the limelight of fame, but have not been taught how to handle that fame. The recent scandal and sadness surrounding Miley Cyrus serves as a case in point, and Krystal’s balance and sensibility provide a stark and hopeful contrast.
Not only did she graduate college before starting her career, she recently married her college sweetheart, with whom she owns and manages an energy company. Krystal’s composure is no act. This is an educated, grounded woman with stable relationships, business skills, and a sense of self based not in an act, but in reality.
I asked Krystal how she and her dad were similar and different in approaching their music careers. She notes that they are both stubborn and strong-willed. The conflict about the starting date for her career is just one example. She clearly has a lot of respect for her father and the path he walked to country music fame.
“He had a lot harder road ahead of him when he started doing music. The industry was different then.”
Not wanting to assume that all was easy thanks to having a father in the industry, I asked Krystal if she had encountered any obstacles entering the music industry in her father’s famous shadow.
She responded gratefully, “No. It has been really great for me. Everyone has been really helpful.” She loves the country music industry, and so far she has experienced it as a gracious and welcoming place.
She experienced this in particular as she worked with some of country music’s most respected producers and songwriters while putting together the 13 songs that make up her album. Until beginning to work on this album, Krystal had not written collaboratively, and described collaborative writing as “a blast.”
She candidly reflects, “You can tell yourself you’re great all day long, but when you have another writer who will be honest with you, it makes you a better writer.”
Krystal worked with Nathan Chapman, who has worked with the likes of Keith Urban, Taylor Swift, Rascal Flatts and Jewel, to write her single “Get Your Redneck On.” The album had been done for three years when Nathan called to work with her.
“When I got the call to work with Nathan, I couldn’t believe it,” Krystal remembered. “He is just brilliant, and working with him was incredible.” The song quickly became a favorite of hers, so much so that she pushed another song off the album to make room for it. She experienced collaborative writing as both inspiration and discipline.
As she put it, “It takes a lot of crappy songs to teach a singer to write a good song. Nobody comes up with a hit on his or her first try.”
For her EP, Krystal and her producers chose songs that are eclectic and representative of the album’s range. “Doin’ It” is upbeat and hopeful, the kind of song that makes you wish you were driving a red truck down a country road. In “What Did You Think I’d Do,” Keith sings of spontaneous young country love and the joys of risk taking. And “Can’t Buy You Money” is an ironic song about a happy family that is making do with little.
Perhaps the song that has gotten the most attention is “Daddy Dance With Me.” Krystal wrote this song as a surprise for her father at her own wedding. She worked with the recording studios to write and produce the song without her father’s knowledge.
“The song is already making its way into father-daughter dances. This is also the only song to have a music video to date. The video, which containsa friend’s actual wedding footage,boasts almost 1.5 million views. The album’s title song, “Whiskey & Lace,” is a prime example of creative collaboration. Krystal worked with Rodney Clawson to write the narrative song that follows the life of a stripper.
She’s quick to qualify, “It’s not raunchy. It’s up-tempo, rockin’, but not too racy.” She chose the song as her album title not because of the story, but because the title reflects her own personality. She is girly but strong, and she’ll take a Jack Daniels over a Daiquiri any day.
Krystal made more than one trip to Nashville in the process of making her album. I asked if she had plans or dreams to move there or anywhere else in the future.
She responded emphatically, “Oklahoma will always be home. With our [her and her husband’s] business, we’ve had out-of-state job opportunities, and I told him I might consider living elsewhere for a while, but we are always coming back home. On our third date, I told him ‘I’m not a girl that leaves Oklahoma. If you’re looking for a girl that will move all over the country with you, I’m not her. My kids will be raised in Oklahoma.’” Krystal’s entire family, with the exception of one uncle, lives within a ten-minute drive.
She adds, “I’m not leaving that village for anything.”
A loyal Oklahoman myself, I asked her why she thought this state was so special.
“We are a proud people,” she responded. We love our state and support it like nobody’s business. Across the state, we are neighbors, and if something happens to any of our neighbors, we come together to help each other. Once you’ve lived here, you understand how great it is.”
When the recent tornadoes hit, Krystal was out of town and could not return for a few days, but she stopped everything and watched the news in shock. Thankfully, her family suffered little loss, but she had friends whose homes were damaged. She said spending that week away from Oklahoma was one of the most difficult things she has ever done. As soon as she came home, she changed clothes and began helping with the cleanup. They loaded a trailer with water, baby wipes, cleaning supplies and food, and pitched in with everyone to help. Later, she performed with father Toby Keith, Garth Brooks, Trisha Yearwood and Willie Nelson at Toby Keith’s Oklahoma TwisterRelief Concert, which reportedly raised $2 million. As she said, and as every Oklahoman knows, we drop everything to help out a neighbor in need.
When she isn’t touring, Krystal is running the business with her husband, gardening and cooking. She actually launched her food blog, “The Barnyard Bistro,” in June, has already published a private cookbook, and is hoping to publish one in the future. But right now, her music career is at the forefront of her mind, and the project she is hands-down the most thrilled about. With “Get Your Redneck On” hitting the radios this month and “Whiskey & Lace” scheduled to drop later this year, Krystal has every reason to be excited. And we Oklahomans have every reason to be proud of this woman’s talent, strength and sense of place, and to follow this burgeoning artist as she begins her career.