Those who know country artist Kalsey Kulyk will tell you she’s always had musical talent and a passion for performance. Her effortlessly bright and unmistakable vocal, paired with thought-provoking lyrics and overall messaging, is something most songwriters never master. “My friends say I make people cry. I don’t want to make anyone cry, I just want to make them feel something. After my parents’ divorce, my dad would listen to ‘Nobody Knows It But Me’ by Kevin Sharp, over and over again. I knew exactly what he was feeling without him telling me what he was feeling. That’s when I knew what music could do for people. That’s what I want to do for people.”
Kulyk’s Hudson Bay, Saskatchewan upbringing yielded a more organic way of life. “My whole family worked at the Plywood Mill and farmed in their spare time.” Though most of Kulyk’s family wasn’t musically inclined, the love of music was instilled in her at an early age, with family campfire sing-alongs a popular past time. Her mother was the exception. “My mom would sing at talent shows, and I’d just watch her - completely mesmerized.” At age three, with some encouragement from her grandfather, Kulyk’s mom put her on stage at a talent show and she was hooked. “That was it. Music was all wanted to do from that point on.”
Over the next several years, Kulyk took part in hundreds talent shows and competitions. “I traveled all around the middle provinces with my mom, performing at different venues and competitions.” At 13, Kulyk’s mom bought her a guitar and taught her daughter to play. Shortly after, she won her first competition. “I’d written my first song on the guitar and won $2,000 to put toward recording costs. I was shocked. I heard my name, and I didn’t respond - I was so used to hearing ‘no.’ It took them a few shout outs before I realized I had won.”
Then everything changed.
In high school, Kulyk fell ill and couldn’t seem to get well. It was cancer.
Kulyk was diagnosed Hodgkin's Lymphoma and underwent six months of chemotherapy. “I lost all my hair, but got a lot of song inspiration, because there were a lot of people I got to meet during chemo. I’d run home and write about their incredible stories. I had to get it all out, and I wanted to give that voice to people.” When she got sick, Kulyk was on the fence about what direction to take her life after high school, but the experience solidified Kulyk’s belief in a career in music. “What is life unless you’re doing what you love every single day?” Now ten years in remission, Kulyk says “I always tell people I was super blessed to get cancer, which sounds kind of crazy, but it’s true.”
Shortly after her recovery, Kulyk became acquainted with Fleetwood Mac producer Richard Dashut who invited her to Las Vegas to record. “We’d write songs, talk about performances - we even pulled a band together and did some shows on the Vegas strip. He literally trained my ears.” It was also Dashut who gave Kulyk her first taste of Music City. “We did a cross-country road trip to Nashville to take some meetings. There’s such a creative blanket over Nashville - it’s everywhere. It’s such an inspiring place to be.”
Her progress in the creative capital didn’t go unnoticed - Kulyk was invited to participate in both the Canadian Country Music Association’s Discovery Artist program, as well as ole’s “On the Spot” competition. She won both. “I’ll never forget it. The finals for both contests were the day of the Canadian Country Music Awards (CCMAs). That afternoon, I performed my song for ole “On the Spot”, and won. That night, at the CCMAs, the winner of the Discovery Artist program was announced - and I won again. It was surreal. It was a dream.”
Winning the ole contest came with both publishing and record deals, and Kulyk found herself back in Nashville to launch her career, which has already brought some amazing moments - like writing her song “Damn You Love” with Liz Rose (Taylor Swift’s “You Belong With Me,” Carrie Underwood’s “Cry Pretty”) and Phil Barton (Lee Brice’s “Woman Like You,” Eli Young Band’s “Skin and Bones”).
“Liz Rose has been on my bucket list as a songwriter since I was sixteen years old. So to be able to get into a room with her… I was pretty star struck, but super grateful. I couldn’t believe it was happening.”
A lot more is about to happen. “Damn You Love” is one of the song on Kulyk’s new EP, which is scheduled to be released in the spring of 2019. “I’m really excited about the music that I have now. I feel it really encompasses everything about me, and who I am, and what I want to give to my audience. I grew up around a lot of old school and ‘90’s country music - Lee Ann Womack, John Prine, Dolly Parton, Shania Twain, Emmylou Harris, Jason Isbell… And I think that can be heard in the overall style of my music.”
And, true country’s roots and Kulyk’s calling, her upcoming EP delivers lyrics with meaning. “I love the songs that reach into your soul and tell you everything about yourself. I want people to feel something. If they do, then I’ve done my job.”