WNXP asked Nashville artists who released and promoted music during the pandemic year what it was like to put their music out into a world on pause. We wanted to hear how they coped and stay connected, and how they’re preparing to return to live, in-person shows.
Kyshona Armstrong (who performs as Kyshona) is a singer-songwriter steeped in folk, soul, gospel and rock, whose album Listen was released mere weeks before lockdown, in February 2020. In the 15 months since, Armstrong has doubled down on meaningful contact with friends, family and fans, and she told us that she’s now feeling refreshed and ready to immerse herself in touring once again. There’s one importance difference: she says she’s insisting on a slower pace, so that she can really appreciate the people that make up the communities where she’ll perform.
How have your priorities changed in the last year?
Kyshona Armstrong: In the last year, I’ve definitely begun focusing more on my friendships and relationships. I know one thing that’s very hard in Nashville is most of our relationships and friendships are based around music. But I started leaving a lawn chair in the back of my car and realizing that sometimes just popping up at someone’s house and sitting in their front yard just to talk about life, about mundane things is really important. That truly grounded me, and that’s something I don’t want to lose.
I’ve been able to spend so much time with my nieces and nephews and just making memories, and I truly love them. They are hilarious and at an age where the memories we make, they’ll actually remember. And so I really want to just build on that and continue to just be around, be the cool auntie that I am.
How has the whole virtual thing gone for you?
KA: I have to say I’m quite proud of myself. I was with everyone else in the panic of getting the home studio together to be able to connect with fans and continue to do any kind of publicity for my album, Listen, that we released last February. But the virtual thing has truly opened up who I’m able to reach. So I’ve been doing a lot of songwriting sessions, but with novice songwriters now. I started a therapeutic songwriting company called Your Song. The virtual world has allowed me to write with people in the U.K., people in California and up in Maine and Massachusetts. This wouldn’t have been possible if we hadn’t all had to move virtually and realize that our community truly is as wide as these Internet waves can go.
We thought we were leaning on social media and websites, Spotify and Apple Music, to get our music to all those places we couldn’t reach. But here we find that just WiFi, a good microphone system or just some kind of way to talk to people was a way to further that community and allow us to reach people that we can’t even talk to. You know, it’s awesome.
What’s been the most effective way for you to stay connected to fans?
KA: When we were completely isolated and inside, I was truly staying connected with my fans through my newsletters, my mail-outs that I do for myself, for my own sanity. I chose a word to focus on for every month. And I would just journal or write about that, what that phrase meant for me, in my emails to my fans. Some of the words were “Breathe,” “Trust,” “Be open,” “Let go.” And what I found was the responses from my fans were also vulnerable and open, and they were telling me what they were struggling with or how that word might have been just the right thing that they needed to think about in that moment, because of what they were going through in personal life, home life or even work life.
To be honest, the other ways that I’ve been staying connected to my fans has been through writing music with them. Writing over the Internet has been really amazing. I’ve found that my relationships, especially with the fans that have signed up to come and write with me, have grown even deeper. I feel like I know them and understand even more why my music connects to them and why I write the kinds of songs that I write. That truly has been special this whole past year.
What music has spoken to you in this time?
KA: I flip flop, I do a lot of audiobooks. I think audio books and podcasts have been my main jam. But there were days where that was all I played was one song on repeat. Samoht has a few songs, one is called “I Forgive” and the other one is “Be OK,” and those were on constant go for a whole week. I’m a big fan of a mantra, and even those titles “Be OK” and “I Forgive” were things that I really needed for myself: to forgive myself for how I treated me over the past few years of touring and hustling. I wasn’t nice to myself. And I think those songs by Samoht really spoke to me.
Also, I lean real hard into Beyonce’s Black Parade. I still do. If I’m in a mood in the mornings, I’ll put that on. That is my, like, “Buck up, Kyshona” song. Man, one more tune that really got me through was Liz Longley’s “Funeral for My Past.” I think I cried, I’ve had a whole church moment in here. Also, hearing my friend’s voices on this track with Liz and her songwriting just made me feel even more seen.
How are you approaching the return to live performances?
KA: I’m approaching this next step into live performances with full intention. For so many years I’ve toured, and you could ask me what my favorite performances are and I can name a few. But if you ask me what my favorite towns are, it’s very hard for me to remember shows. And I’m sure many other artists could feel the same. When somebody asks me that question, “What do you miss most about tour?” all I could see in my mind’s eye was just landscapes flying by me in the window and not knowing where I am, showing up in towns and being like, “Wait, where are we?” There is something very disjointed about that. So my intention going forward with my performances is I really want to root myself in the communities that I’m touring through. I’m stepping away from doing the fast, night after night in a different city, but truly wanting to be in a town and invest in a community while I’m there and really connect with the people.
Also, just being very intentional about the spaces that I’m playing in, the reason that I’m on that stage. I realize the privilege that I have being given a microphone and a literal stage and platform to stand on. And so I want to make sure when I’m showing up that there is a deeper reason that I’m in that town, in that place and in that space so that I can stay rooted and grounded in what my mission as Kyshona is and really not get caught back up in the hustle and whirlwind that is the music industry and the touring life.