Okay Kenedi: A Casual Introduction Is Hard to Come By
Okay Kenedi: A Casual Introduction Is Hard to Come By
Tim W. Jackson
Oct 20, 2023
Okay Kenedi’s debut album is more than just okay. It’s a wonderful ride of alt-pop that is superb, loaded with fun and introspection, and a heartfelt reminder that we’re all okay.
One might consider the fact that Okay Kenedi just released her first album somewhat miraculous. Her father is a fundamentalist pastor, and she wasn’t allowed to listen to secular music growing up in Cumming, Georgia, just north of Atlanta. After she finally played music professionally, she had just given up on the dream when things took a turn.
Recorded at Ivy Manor in the legendary music recording area of Muscle Shoals, Alabama, Okay’s debut album “A Casual Introduction Is Hard to Come By” is a wonderful ride of alt-pop music with every song displaying its own vibe. For instance, the song “Dress Better” is a sure-fire party anthem, while “Fathers Want Sons” is a thoughtful, reflective slow number. The rest of the album is pretty much everything in between.
But the path to this rousing debut album wasn’t easy. Growing up in Cumming, Georgia, Okay Kenedi’s existence seemed far from big city life. She was only allowed to listen to worship or contemporary Christian music, despite how important music was in her early life.
“My grandmother played piano for the church, and they practiced all the time,” Okay says. “I've spent a lot of time with her, and I took an interest in piano at a really young age—probably because I was raised around it. So, my parents put me in lessons around five years old, and I took nine years of lessons.”
She knew she had a knack for music, a love strengthened in middle school. Okay started teaching herself guitar with the help of YouTube videos, and her middle school chorus teacher allowed her to bring her guitar to school.
“She would let me stick my guitar in her office and … come into her classroom in the mornings and play piano,” Okay says. “I wrote her an original song in eighth grade as a goodbye from me and all my friends who were in choir. I wrote it with five other friends, with our 13-year-old minds. I'm sure it was horrific but beautiful at the same time.”
In high school, Okay auditioned to be in theater mainly because she was told that twice a year there was a showcase where she could bring her guitar and play. The audition went well, and she says that she accidentally ended up in the advanced theater travel group.
“I knew nothing about theater, and it horrified me,” she says, “but I did, in fact, get to play twice a year with my guitar and sing a song.”
Okay recalls writing her own version of a song from Wicked and the theater teacher actually liking it. She didn’t know it then but through all of her musical experiences, the building blocks were being put in place for a future in music. As it turned out, she did like the advanced choir program and says that being in choir, musical theater, and music production in high school helps her musically.
“l like the tedious work you hate to do,” she says with a chuckle. “I think that stuff refined a lot of my music. I could pick out a harmony and know what it meant. And I like breath control. We do a lot of vocal exercises. I can't say that I love doing them but I'm grateful that I did it now.”
Though she had written songs since she was a kid, she started looking at music more seriously after high school. Okay attended Lee University, a private Christian school in East Tennessee, and the University of North Georgia. Her love for music continued to grow and in 2019, she met Micayla Wise and Sarah Dickerson, now both members of her band, in a Christian group that had a lot of emphasis on music.
“I was always writing,” she says. “I wrote tons of songs. I just kept writing all through high school, all through college, but I didn’t do anything with the songs. Micayla was the first person to say, ‘Hey, do you write music?’ So, I was like, ‘Actually, I do.’”
Okay played some original music for Micayla, who encouraged Okay to do something will the songs she’d written. It evolved through several genre changes.
“You gotta find yourself before you find your genre,” Okay says. “So, it was like going through a lot of pants that didn't fit until I settled into this.”
This is the music on Okay Kenedi’s new album, which came oh so close to never happening. In September 2021, Okay felt her music wasn’t gaining any traction. She had booked her final show, which was at a bar in Atlanta.
“We have to be adults at some point and pick a career that makes money,” Okay recalls saying to her band. “We have to put gas in our cars, and I need to move out of my parents' house, so this is my last show on the books.”
Some crying from the band ensued but logic dictated that it was time to call it quits. They had a lot of fun together, but it was time to move on. As the night of the show arrived, Okay was headlining for a young guy who had just released his debut record.
“He had a bunch of people who had come to hear him play,” she recalls. “When I came up to do my set, everyone just left because the crowd was all his friends and family—and he was done. So, it was basically me, the band that I brought, and, like, four friends.”
Knowing it was her last show, rather than just going through the motions, she decided to give it her all.
“I sold that show harder than I sold any show to my four friends.” She was gonna go out with a bang, and she did. “It just so happened that in the back of that room was music producer Dan Hannon,” she says. He was impressed with her talent and saw lots of potential.
He was part of a team that operated Ivy Manor, a recording studio in Sheffield, Alabama, just minutes away from Muscle Shoals Sound Studio and FAME Studios. Dan and the team took Okay under their wings. Besides Dan, an award-winning producer with more than three decades in the music industry, there was former SteelDrivers frontman Gary Nichols, along with producers and engineers such as Clint Ingersoll, Jared Przybysz, and Ivy Manor founder Michael Shane Wright.
“I was so new to the way this actually works when you're not trying to do it in your attic,” she says about her new team. “Besides the writing and recording, they even helped me get some stylists in L.A. that designed clothes for me and a hairstylist in Atlanta, and we did 16-hour-a-day rehearsals with me and my live band to polish for the live-show thing. They helped me become an artist.”
Of Okay, Wright says he admires her creativity and skill, specifically highlighting her song “Fathers Want Sons” by commenting on her display of skill as a songwriter. Her strength in vocals, as well as her natural charisma and leadership skills, is a trait that Wright sees as integral in a performer.
“I was immediately struck by the quality of her songwriting,” Wright says. “She has a unique ability to take her personal experiences [and] translate those [into] universal experiences, then communicate that experience in three or four words.”
The hard work is paying off. Five singles have been released thus far: “1 Birthday Behind”, “Dress Better”, “Fathers Want Sons”, “Pharmacy”, and “Young, Dumb, & Naive”. In these songs and the other six on the album, Okay shows a penchant to be both introspective and fun.
As for the album title, “When we first made a website, I didn't even know what to put in my bio,” Okay says. “So, I literally put ‘a casual introduction is hard to come by’ in place of where my bio should go. Then I thought, ‘What if we just named my record that?’ It's like an introduction, and it's funny because I didn't know what to say about myself. My record will say it all, so it's a spoof off of that.”
“A Casual Introduction Is Hard to Come By” is out now and worth your time to give it a listen. When Okay Kenedi becomes a household name, you’ll be glad you were there from the start because, as her merch says, “We’re all Okay!”
For more on Okay Kenedi, her singles, and her 11-track debut album (which dropped today, Oct. 20!), visit her online at www.OkayKenedi.com, Spotify, Bandcamp, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, and YouTube.
You can also access her album, songs, vlog, music accounts, and her signature roast coffee at https://linktr.ee/OkayKenedi.
Tim W. Jackson is a seasoned journalist and author with a penchant for all things dark, macabre, and somewhat sinister. He lives in Tuscumbia, Ala., with his super cool artist wife and their dogs, Maple and Ginkgo.