By Madisun K. Geis
With a voice that commands the room and the songwriting chops to back it up, Kaitlin Butts is a spitfire songstress whose story has just begun. There’s a tangible edginess to her voice and relatability to her lyrics that listeners — from younger fans to the most esteemed of songwriters — can’t help but admire. The Tulsa, Oklahoma native hit the road hard after the 2015 release of her acclaimed debut, Same Hell, Different Devil, which she recorded with celebrated Red Dirt producer Mike McClure, but she’s taken a bit of a step back from touring of late to plot the next stage of her career. Focusing most of her time and energy now on writing, Butts — who recently landed her first Nashville publishing deal — hopes to have new music out soon. We caught up with her via FaceTime to talk about how she thinks her writing’s evolved in the three years since her debut, the challenges of gigging as a true DIYer, the best advice she’s gotten to date in her career, and why she wasn’t all that impressed with The Greatest Showman.
You just came back from vacation, right?
Yeah, I just went to Orange Beach for spring break with my family. We took my tour van. I pretty much drove; it was supposed to be 12 hours but it ended up being a 14-hour drive. My mom drove two hours and I ended up driving the rest. It was fun. I didn’t even know about Orange Beach until my aunt booked us a little condo down there.
What else have you been up to? Have you been working on any new music?
I’m doing a lot of writing. I just got a publishing deal with a woman in Nashville. Her name is Liz O’Sullivan. She’s the woman who got Chris Stapleton his record deal and was his first publisher.
It will be interesting to see how your songwriting has progressed since Same Hell, Different Devil. That was released three years ago.
With that album, the worst thing that could happen to me at that time was a guy didn’t like me. There have been a lot more adult things that have happened to me recently that make good subject matter. Those other things all seem so small and so silly to be upset about.
What upcoming shows and festivals are you excited to play?
I’m playing Larry Joe Taylor Fest. It’s next month — I’m playing on Wednesday, April 25. I’m also playing in Stillwater for the Gypsy Café Music Festival. It’s a Red Dirt songwriter kind of thing honoring the fathers of Red Dirt like Bob Childers and Tom Skinner. And I’m sure we will be paying tribute to Brandon Jenkins. And I’m playing Blue Light (in Lubbock) on May 12. But I’ve been kind of low-key lately as far as touring goes, just so that I can really focus on a new album. I want to focus my energy there instead of being on the road all the time.
That’s something I was curious about, too. What are the most difficult things about touring that most people wouldn’t think twice about?
I don’t really have a team behind me. It’s me booking and doing my online stuff. I don’t have anyone, so when it comes time to do tons of shows, it’s me doing everything. I have all these responsibilities that most bands have other people for. I don’t have a booking agent or a manager. I don’t have anyone doing social media posts. I really just have a publisher, and that was really recently — that happened in December. So when I go on tour, it’s just me doing sound check and taking care of merch, and somehow finding time to get ready and eat before the show, then I go back to the merch booth and sell my own stuff after the show. Then you have to wake up at 8 and drive to the next place. You know, I’ve been doing that constantly for the past two years. There’s just no point to be touring that much when you don’t have an album to push.
You do have a really good sidekick, though. Everyone wants to know about the special guy in your life … your dog, Hank.
He goes on the road with me sometimes. Whenever it’s not too hot outside, he’ll come with me. I can either leave him in the car or have someone watch him for me. But handing your dog to a drunk person is very nerve-wracking. So until I have a good place where I can lock him up and there’s air conditioning, I’ll probably leave him home most of the time.
What is some of the best career advice you’ve ever gotten?
Starting out, when I was going to school at ACM at UCO [Academy of Contemporary Music at the University of Central Oklahoma], you basically can either just get an associate’s degree and just do music stuff for the first two years. But to get your bachelor’s, you kind of do more core classes and regular school stuff. So when it came time for me to decide whether to get my bachelor’s degree or just stop with my associate’s and just go, Chris Hicks [the Director of Academic Operations] told me that as an artist, I would learn a lot more if I just went for it. He said that I was ready for it and I just needed to go off and do my own thing at age 20. That was right whenever I recorded my album and released it. That was something I needed to hear early on. A lot of people just base their opinions on someone’s age and think, “well maybe you’re not ready because you’re not 21,” but he really had no other intentions and understood really who I was as an artist specifically.
What was your first gig outside of Oklahoma?
The first one that always comes to mind is when I played South by Southwest. It was very random, and I had never really been to Texas before that. And I didn’t really go back for a while. It was 2014 and it was an all-Oklahoma artist showcase.
What’s something that Texas does better than Oklahoma?
There is a huge radio support for local artists in Texas, which leads to more followers and fans coming to local shows. I think if we had the same radio support in Oklahoma, local artists would have a lot more of a following and support there.
If you could write a song with anyone, who would it be?
I think Kacey Musgraves would be really cool. Her writing is very colorful and descriptive, and I think just based off what I’ve seen about her writing, we could have some common perspective.
Her new record (Golden Hour) is fantastic! Alright, I saved the fun part for last. We’re going to do some rapid-fire questions.
Let’s do it!
What actress would play you in the movie about your life?
Does pineapple belong on pizza?
I don’t like it, no. I don’t like warm fruit.
How do you feel about cilantro?
Love it. It tastes like soap to some people, but I like it.
Backstreet Boys or NSYNC?
Drink of choice?
Well, if I’m being fancy … I had a drink in Key West and it was my favorite drink ever. I like a mojito with pineapple and orange juice in it.
I really just like a lot of things and I don’t feel guilty about liking them.
Favorite throwback jam?
I have a Spotify playlist of throwbacks. Oh, “Where is the Love” by the Black Eyed Peas. It’s very powerful even today.
Is a hotdog a sandwich or a taco?
It’s a sandwich, because you can have it on Wonder Bread and it’s still good.
Biggest pet peeve?
I have a lot. But I would say, even though I’m guilty of it sometimes, negativity.
Worst movie you’ve ever seen?
Probably something that Cleto [Cordero, lead singer of Flatland Cavalry and her boyfriend] made me watch. He makes me watch really weird stuff! Oh, and this probably an unpopular opinion, but I didn’t really enjoy The Greatest Showman. Well, I liked parts of it and the message that it was trying to convey, but from a songwriter’s standpoint … it was just kind of silly.
What is the last song that was stuck in your head?
(Singing) “You can have your space, cowboy …”