Yes, she has a familiar-sounding name. Okay, okay--yes, she is the daughter of country megastar Toby Keith.
However, even if one didn't know Krystal Keith's starry lineage, it would be hard to ignore her powerhouse vocals and unique style--one she's honed with her dad, both in the studio and part of his Show Dog label roster, but also one that is unquestionably her own product.
Toby fans first became widely aware of his extraordinarily talented daughter when she blasted out the classic "Mockingbird" with him at the 2004 Country Music Association Awards. Just 19 at the time, she wowed the audience with her fiery stage presence and self-confidence.
Keith, who released her first EP earlier this month, already has plans lined up for her full-length debut, Whiskey And Lace--which should be out this summer. The album includes three of her own compositions (also a few from her dad), including the touching "Daddy Dance With Me," which she wrote as a special present for the elder Keith on her wedding day.
We had the opportunity to chat with Keith about her new music, what sets her apart from the Nashville machine, and how she manages to work so smoothly with her father (I don't know about you, but I'm sure some of us out there might butt heads in that particular situation!).
Our Country: What has been the most difficult thing about choosing to go into your dad's line of work?
Krystal Keith: There hasn’t really been anything that has been hard! We work really well together. I've always joked that--my poor mother--we are one and the same person. I'm the girl version of him. I've taken it as an opportunity to learn from a master. He's the best mentor as a songwriter, and as a singer. So it's been nothing but positive working with him. The only negative I can see is just being branded as having this opportunity because I'm his daughter. I'm prepared for those criticisms, but I don't really think too much about it. I have faith that my music will stand on its own two feet--if people are willing to listen to it, they'll be surprised and I think they’ll realize I've done all the work. Ultimately it's my job to bring great music to fans.
On that note, country music has quite a lot of talented artists who have famous lineage. You certainly aren't the first, so that must help.
Absolutely. I've always said country music fans just know, they look at it a little more realistically. They don't really cater to just what's hot right now. They're intelligent and they understand what good music is. And I have faith that that's gonna be what shines through over criticism that may come up. Country fans know what they want, and they're not going to listen to it if it's not what they want.
When did you know that you wanted to be a professional musician like your father?
It was never not what I wanted. There wasn't a day I woke up and I was like "Today I wanna be…" A lot of kids change their minds so much, but it was always, always "A singer." I had different passions that I wanted to pursue--in high school I had the opportunity to get my license in cosmetology, so I'm actually a licensed hairstylist and cosmetologist. I actually worked in a salon for a while in college just because I wanted that experience. But music was never not what I was going to do.
How about your siblings? Are they interested in music as well?
My sister loves to sing, but she's not interested in being in the business at all. My brother is a great performer and singer as well; he plays a couple instruments. But he's all football right now. I think if he was going to go one direction in the entertainment industry at some point, it would be acting over singing. He did some theater work when he was younger, until football started colliding with that schedule. Right now he's full-force football and I don't see that changing anytime soon.
You are well into your 20s now. Why is now the right time for you to make an album? Did you want to start earlier?
My dad really was firm on me going to college and getting my degree before I pursued a music career. So I did that--I got my degree from the University of Oklahoma. And as soon as I graduated, I went full force into writing music and choosing music, and engrossing myself in what I wanted for the album. It took us a while to find everything to make the perfect album, but we finally got it done!
Working so closely with your dad--how do you handle creative differences? Do you ever have to say to him, "You know, Dad, sorry...but this sucks"?
At this point he doesn't really write a song that sucks! And if he does, that's not the song he brings to you. He has an amazing ear--as a label head, as a musician, as a songwriter, as a producer. He has an amazing ear for what is going to be a hit song, and for what people are going to relate to. So I didn't really have to worry about him bringing me a song that sucks. There's songs he's brought me that we both like, and then six months later, we're like, eh, we'll move on for now and keep that one in the back of our heads. The songs that he wrote for this album are all great. He's just got it--he knows what he's doing.
Well, perhaps "sucks" is the wrong word! But, how do you settle things when you want it one way and he wants it a different way? Do you ever feel you need to defer to his experience?
I've said that if I had to work with any other producer, I probably wouldn't be as vocal. I might be a little more gun-shy about speaking my opinions. With him, we see things a lot the same, but there are a couple things--when we were in the studio for "Daddy Dance With Me," we were playing with a few things, and I don't know if it's because I'm so close to the song and it's so personal to me, but I couldn't hear it any other way in my head. I was like "I want to be really firm on this. I think this is the way it has to be." And he and [co-producer] Mark Wright were like, totally--that's cool. I think that's what made us such a great team. I had the creative freedom to give my opinion without feeling like I was stepping on anyone's toes as a new artist.
Given that you two mesh so well creatively, what do you think is your greatest difference, artistically, from your father?
Hmm. (Thinks.) There's not that much! I'm a girl, so I have obviously a different perspective. When he started his career, he was older than I am and had two children--he had a different outlook on everything. I think the perspective would be the biggest thing.
And I don't have to tell you that Nashville is a great place to be a woman right now--there are so many talented female artists these days. What do you think sets you apart or makes you stand out in that respect?
Right now there's not many rootsy, gritty, rocky singers. Yes, I do have a lot of those clean vocals, but I have a lot of characteristics in my voice that are kinda rare. The vibrato--I have good control of my vibrato. I tend to get a little bluesy and raspy, a little twangy. I'm versatile--you're going to get a really broad range of music out of me. Not just one cookie-cutter type song over and over again.
Your dad is well-known for his great support of the military. Would you consider doing a USO tour?
Absolutely! I've been asking since we started if I can go over and do a tour with them. I've done some performances for some ceremonies here. But I would love to do a USO tour. Our whole family is very supportive of the military.
Growing up in a musical family, I'm sure you were exposed to all sorts of genres, not just country. What's in your music collection that would surprise fans?
I love a lot of Spanish music. My husband and I will be driving through Texas, and our radio will change as we cross the border to a Spanish speaking station in Texas. And we'll just leave it there.