Female Friday: Kylie Frey

She's a third generation rodeo star.

Written by Cillea Houghton
Female Friday: Kylie Frey
Kylie Frey; Photo credit: Joseph Llanes / Design: Betsy Baird

Rodeo Queen isn’t just the name of Kylie Frey’s latest EP – it’s an important part of her identity. The Louisiana native was raised by a bronco-riding father and record-breaking cowboy grandfather, becoming herself a third generation rodeo star, a storied history she channels into her music. As she carves her own path in country music, the rising star hasn’t forgotten rodeo roots while planting new ones across the landscape.

In this edition of Female Friday, Frey offers insight into her new western swing single “I Do Thing,” how being raised in the rodeo culture impacted her as an artist and what it truly means to be a “rodeo queen.”

Tell me about your new song, “I Do Thing.”

This song was kind of the tip of my hat to [The Chicks]. I grew up on them, they were my first memories of music. I wrote it with Stone Aielli and Ian Janes and Stone came in with this title and it was brilliant, and Ian automatically started doing this swing thing and I was like ‘I love everything about what’s happening right now, except for I have never in my life felt like I wanted to get married, and so maybe we shouldn’t write this today.’ And they were like ‘come on, girl,’ so I was like ‘okay, let’s write this because it’s a great song, it’s a great idea,’ but I think maybe Miranda [Lambert] should sing it, maybe we’ll pitch it. So we wrote the song and I kid you not, a week later, I met a nice doctor and I was like ‘well, this is why people get married.’ Then it worked its way into my live show and I have closed my show with it for at least a year. It’s one of my favorite songs to play with my band.

You are a third generation rodeo star. Tell me about your family’s history with the rodeo.

My grandpa did everything and he actually holds a couple of records in Louisiana, and my dad was a bronc rider, my uncles were NFR cowboys and my aunts were rodeo queens and barrel raced and did all the things. So I was born into it and it was very natural for me and for my sister and that’s all we did growing up. We rodeoed every weekend and it comes out in my songs a lot; write what you know. I always say I could never be doing this if it wasn’t for the way that I was brought up. I kind of felt like I was training for this job before I even knew it. It’s the hard work and dedication that went into owning livestock and waking up and feeding and cleaning up after their poop, literally. So it’s carried into my adult life, those values, and the work ethic – and cowboys are fun to write about.

Rodeo Queen is the name of your upcoming EP. Why did you decide to name it that?

I didn’t think I was going to name it Rodeo Queen, I thought I was going to name it something else; “Rodeo Queen” almost did not make it on this project. There were a couple of really close people in my camp, in my corner that were like ‘this song is a part of you. I know you may have written it four years ago, but it is a part of your story and people need to hear it, whether it’s five people or 5,000 or 5 million.’ And so I recorded it and I always had a very special connection to it. It held a very special place in my heart, but I write so many ballads that it’s hard to pick and choose sometimes between them. So I cut this song and it was the most natural song of the bunch to cut and it just fell into place and it was meant to be. It’s exactly where I am in my life right now and so I’m really excited. It feels like it’s meant to be the Rodeo Queen project and I’m really excited for it.

What does it mean to be a rodeo queen?

It’s a lot more than just rhinestones, contrary to what most people believe. There’s the pageantry part of it, which is really cool because I was giving speeches and modeling, so to say, during these pageants, which really prepared me to be on stage. I was [giving] interviews and then there’s a horsemanship portion to the contest, and so I couldn’t be talking to you if I wasn’t thrown in front of people and asked all these questions. That’s another reason why I wanted to name this Rodeo Queen is sometimes it gets a bad stigma like the pageant world, but it really shapes your character. I’ve got friends that are lawyers and doctors and the skills that you learn with being a rodeo queen have absolutely carried into their careers. Once a rodeo queen, always a rodeo queen.

Is there a song on the EP that carries the most meaning for you?

Probably “Horses in Heaven.” It is about my grandpa and it is a song that I never thought I would sing to anyone. I did one time and it struck a chord with so many people in a way that I never would have expected because it’s so personal to me and my story. But people would come up to me and relate it to their story with their grandfathers and it has become the most requested song that I have not put out yet. It’s a story about me and my grandpa; I couldn’t be doing this if it wasn’t for the way that I grew up and I wouldn’t have been able to have that if it wasn’t for him. The story throughout the song is basically him teaching me how to ride and making me who I am and it’s like ‘I don’t know what he’s doing up there. I don’t know if he’s rounding up a herd of cattle or riding a bronc or anything, but there is one thing for sure, he’s riding horses in heaven.’

You had a great quote about the EP where you said “I want to own my story so much that it makes someone else own theirs.” How do you own your story and how do you hope that this project inspires people to own theirs?

I always felt like I wanted to be Shania Twain or find some badass girls and be [The Chicks] and all of these things because I loved them so much, I looked up to them, and had an ‘aha’ moment of ‘there’s only one Kylie Frey and I want to be her and I have my own unique story. Other people and their stories lift me up to own mine and I want to do that for someone else.’ I want to be Kylie Frey and I want to tell my story and I want to own it in a way that someone feels a little bit more comfortable about themselves and where they come from, no matter where that is.

It takes you through Kylie and her years of dating a cowboy and leaving the cowboy and being broke on her butt and also being like ‘let’s have a good time and what a time to be alive and a girl, and let’s do this,’ and then experiencing heartbreak and experiencing loss in a way that I had never felt before. So I tried to touch on all parts of my story thus far. I wanted to be uniquely myself and tell my stories and really be intentional with just being Kylie. I hope that someone in Los Angeles, Calif. hears it and feels a little bit stronger about who they are and where they come from, or Washington D.C. or in Iowa or south Texas. I wanted to make it so personal that people could look at it and be like ‘she can be herself and so can I.’