Reyna Roberts has a fire not only in her voice, but her spirit. The rising country star spent her early years living around the country from California to Alaska to Alabama while her parents served in the military. Along the way, the singer who was destined to be a star learned how to make these vast landscapes home. It’s only fitting that her breakthrough single “Stomping Grounds” pays homage to her parents and their selfless sacrifice, Roberts delivering the tribute in the form of a fiery melody complimented by her bold voice.
In this edition of Female Friday, Roberts recalls how her military upbringing left a lasting impact, why she treats performing like a sport and what song she’s already imagining stadiums full of fans singing.
When did you first feel a spark for music and how did you know that you wanted to make it your career?
For me, it’s never been a question. I’ve never considered being an artist, I’ve always just been one. I was born two months early, so to help with my developmental delays, my parents came up with a program to play music all genres every week. I could sing before I could even start talking. I’ve always sang. I’ve never even questioned doing anything else, it’s always been music. I can’t even imagine doing anything else. The first time I sang was in a bar in Alaska. My mom took me to a karaoke bar and I loved “Lady Marmalade,” that was my all-time favorite song. I didn’t know the words or anything, but I’m sitting there on a stool singing in front of the bar. Also, I remember being in elementary school and for talent show day, I went in there and I sang “Here For the Party” [laughs]. I’ve grown up listening to everything: country, rock, classical music, pop, blues.
I know that you come from a military family. Tell me about your upbringing and what it was like to be raised in that environment?
I think it’s great, especially as a musician, because artists have to travel all the time all over the world, and I feel like my parents being in the military prepared me for that. Us moving from place to place, it taught me how I was going to live my life. Because of that, I feel comfortable being in any environment, and if I wasn’t moving around a lot as a military brat, I don’t know if I’d be the same way.
That’s interesting. Has there ever been a time where you’ve been in an environment where you may have been uncomfortable, but because of your military upbringing, you felt comfortable and knew how to operate the room?
For me being in different environments, I was never uncomfortable. Whether I was at a really rich neighborhood or a really poor neighborhood, I felt fine either way. For example, when I was in middle school, we were homeless for a little while. During that time, my mom was teaching psychology, but she got a pink slip. I was still doing piano recitals, we would have them twice a year, so my piano was in the storage unit. My parents, the little money that we had at the time since we didn’t have a home, they put it into keeping my piano in the storage unit. At one point when it was time for the recital, we would go to these huge mansions. Out of all of my piano teacher’s students, I was clearly the poor student. Everybody else, they grew up with old money, so they had people in huge mansions in California. Even though we were homeless and I was sitting there playing piano in a mansion, I didn’t think twice about it. I wasn’t uncomfortable and I think that’s because of my parents being how they are, I adapted to it and I didn’t even think twice about it. If you want to be personable, if you want to translate to people and people to see themselves in you, in order to do that, you have to be comfortable in all environments.
I’m curious about your history with wrestling since you did that in high school. Tell me about how you got into it.
Growing up, my father was always watching WWE. We would always watch it together and we would go to WWE shows. That actually wasn’t the reason I decided to be a wrestler. In middle school, I had two friends. One was older than me and him and his brother would be wrestling all the time and I’m like ‘that looks so fun. It looks badass. I want to know how to do that.’ So the first day of school when I went to ninth grade, I found the wrestling coach and I was like, ‘what do I need to do to get on the wrestling team?’ I remember Coach Thompson looking at me and he laughed a little bit. He didn’t think I was serious, and I was like, ‘I want to be on the wrestling team.’ My whole first year of wrestling, I lost every match. When I say every match, I mean 23 losses, no wins. The first time I won a match it was after my first year of wrestling in the off season. Weirdly enough, I got a concussion and ended up winning the one after that. I didn’t want to give up. It was a challenge and I love challenges, so I was like, ‘I will practice as long as it takes. I’ll stay two or three hours after practice if I need to,’ which I did, and got better and better until I kept winning. By my senior year, I was winning almost all my matches. [My] work ethic, I feel like I apply that to performing now. When I’m getting ready for a show, I feel like I’m in the same mindset of what I did when I wrestled. I treat performing like a sport.
That’s incredible. So when did you start writing songs?
I started writing songs in high school. At first, it started with poems. I’m an avid reader, I love to read. I always have a book in my hand, even when I’m in places where I probably shouldn’t have a book in my hand [laughs]. I started writing poems and I would write my own short stories and there came a point when I was like, ‘why am I not writing songs?’ because I was always singing anyway, I’d be in the kitchen singing about getting some coffee or whatever I was doing. I remember one day I was like, ‘I’m going to try and write a song today’ and I did it on these little index cards. I couldn’t find any paper, so I found some index cards and I wrote my first song… The first [song] that I ever released on my own when I was 16 or 17 was “Lying to Myself” that was published, which was actually also about my wrestling captain. That’s how the song journey started.
I was writing nonstop and the more I was looking at my songs, the more I realized that I was writing a lot of country music. It was song after song, they’re all country songs. At the time, I was also listening to Chris Stapleton every day and Adele and I feel like that’s because I love writing ballads, and I was cranking out some country songs. Then I was talking to my mom she was like, ‘I’m going to research and find a writing camp that you can go to,’ and it was in Nashville. So I took the trip just to see if people would even like my songwriting in the first place, to see how people would respond to me and really see am I a good enough songwriter to even be in Nashville in the first place. So that’s that’s what led me to Nashville.
Tell me about the story behind “Stomping Grounds” and what inspired it.
My producer friend [Noah Henson] had just moved into his new house and he didn’t have anything in there except a guitar. We sat on the floor when we wrote the song and he came up with this riff and I was like, ‘what is that? I want my name on it, I want that to be mine,’ so he kept playing the riff over and over again. I was looking through my song titles because I have a whole list of song titles, song ideas, and I was looking to see what spoke to me when I was going through the titles and what stood out the most. I looked at “Stomping Grounds” and I was like, ‘this has potential to be really cool.’ We were trying to decide between two different titles. I was pretty sold on “Stomping Grounds,” but he wasn’t sure yet. But then I started singing along to him playing and he was like, ‘you’re right. Let’s do ‘Stomping Grounds.’ I was like ‘Noah, imagine a stadium full of people and when they call out the song, it’s ‘Stomping Grounds.’ Imagine all those people singing those words,’ and he was sold.
Me being a military brat having to go to place to place and my parents being in the military having to go to place to place, that’s what I was thinking of when I thought of “Stomping Grounds.” I was thinking that every place they had to go whether it was here in the country, out of the country to serve our country, they had to make that place their home. They had to make that place their stomping grounds. Once I told Noah that, it was on from there. We wanted something that was aggressive, but fun that makes people feel good, but also has sass at the same time in the song that gives people confidence. I feel all those things for my parents and I tell them they’re my heroes. For me, this is their anthem.
Reyna, not the artist, I’m really shy and I keep to myself for the most part, pretty quiet. But artist Reyna, I want her to be the exact opposite of that, because for me it’s like a switch. I want people when they hear my name and they hear my songs, I want them to be speechless. I want to break down doors and I wanted to give something that people weren’t expecting. I felt like “Stomping Grounds” with the melody and with the track or with the production and how big and badass and aggressive it is, I want people to be able to associate those characteristics with Reyna Roberts.
Switching gears, it looks like you support so many different charities. Talk about some of the different organizations that are important to you.
My mom works for the VA and she helps veterans get their benefits, so we’re trying to come up with a program for homeless veterans that me and my whole family has been working on to help homeless veterans, because we were homeless. My parents were homeless veterans during that point in our lives, and so it’s important for us to help. That sounds really simple, but we’ve been working on our own project to make a difference. Right now, we’re in the first stages. It’s my first time being a part of creating an organization. We’re laying the foundation, looking at certain units that will be best fitted for the community and creating a community and seeing where is the best places for those communities where there’s large homeless veterans populations. We’re still figuring things out, but I’m super excited about it because I see the picture clearly and how many people we can help so they don’t have to live like how we lived. I feel like we can build a legacy and help change people’s lives.
What is most important for people to know about you and how do you hope to impact country music?
The first thing that I told [my team] was that I’m here to make history. I want to have a legacy and I want my songs to outlive me. If people don’t know anything else about me, that is what I want them to know. I’m here to create songs that outlive me and I want to leave a legacy behind. I want to be written in history books, that’s how I’ve always felt, but not just for the sake of it. I want those to be my achievements because I want to create enough music that lasts forever.