The Ormond Beach dad and former contestant on 'The Voice' will release his first album in the fall.
Although he always wanted to be a country singer, Kaleb Lee never dreamed that some day, a star as successful as Kelly Clarkson would pitch a song for him to sing. But Lee, who grew up in rural Kentucky and is raising his family in Ormond Beach, could be on the verge of the big time, with Clarkson backing him up.
After getting national exposure and a musical “boot camp” as a contestant on “The Voice,” he released a single (“Cooler Weather”) on his own label, and he has a second one scheduled for release on July 19, “I Need a Drink,” which he describes as another “fun, summer tune.” His third single will be “I Dream in Southern,” the song Clarkson brought to Lee, asking him to sing it with her as the title track on his first full-length album, coming out in the fall. She is the executive producer of the album, he said.
“It’s funny how life works out sometimes,” Lee said.
He spoke with the Ormond Beach Observer while he was on the road, playing in small venues and in bars in California, or as he calls it, “hustling,” as he chases the dream of landing a deal with a record label.
Q: What songs inspired you to say, “I want to be a country star”?
A: We grew up on country music — Garth Brooks, George Strait, Travis Tritt — so it was a way of life. In rural Kentucky that was the only music that was on the radio. It was the music that talked about what we did for a living.
The first song I ever sang in front of people was in an elementary school talent show, “Two of a Kind,” by Garth Brooks.
Q: What was it like working with Kelly Clarkson on “The Voice”?
A: Kelly was awesome. She was always a huge fan on the show, and super supportive as a coach. After the show, she’s been great. She’s the executive producer of the album I’ll be releasing in the fall and she’s singing on one of the songs. She and her team have helped out a ton.
Q: What did you learn from “The Voice” that still impacts your career outlook today?
A: The show it gives you a perspective of what the music business is like. As a younger artist, you play a lot of gigs, bars or restaurants, or smaller venues, and you kind of working you’re a—off. You’re hustling, and sometimes it’s hard to get the bigger picture. Being on the show gives you a picture of that. It’s the big leagues: the best musicians, the best bands, the best production the world, some of the best coaches and people around you. It gives you something to aspire to.
Q: You recently performed shows in California with Pryor Baird, whom you met on “The Voice.” Does the bromance continue?
A: That a--h---- is driving me right now, in the truck. Prior’s one of my best friends. He’s out hustling and doing the same thing I am. When you hang out so much with people on the show, you either learn to love them or hate them. I learned to love this guy. You walk away with friendships that are life long.
Q: Years before “The Voice,” you had a record deal that “went south” in Nashville. What did you learn from that experience?
A: I think that’s probably pretty common ground for artists, from what I hear. Artists hear more noes than yeses. It’s just the lay of the land. Everything is about timing, and who you know and when you know them. If talent was the only factor, there would be a lot of folks out there making great careers. After being on the show, for me personally, my timing is now, and we’re doing everything we can to make it happen.
Q: You rhyme “Yeti” with “Petty” in the song “Cooler Weather,” which you co-wrote. Specific references like that seem to be a characteristic of a lot of country songs. Why do you think that is?
A: They say in Nashville, “It’s about three chords and the truth.” I think that’s why people gravitate to country music. It’s about life.
Country music has gone so much more pop than it used to, but even then, it’s more about the song than about the hook or the beat.
Q: What’s your role in writing the songs on the album?
A: There are a couple songs on the album that I didn’t write, but the rest of them I did, with a couple of other guys. For me, that’s one of the most important pieces as an artist: It’s so much easier to sing and play songs that you were part of conceptually.
Q: You recently performed at the Pocono 400 pre-race concert in Pennsylvania, and then at the Colorado Summer Games opening ceremonies, then to California. What do you like about being on the road? What do you not like?
A: I love being on the road. I have such a good local following, but part of the hustle is getting out and building more and more of that everywhere else. What I like is you can see a lot of new people see a lot of new fans. The part I hate is being away from family and home, but we all know what we signed up for, and this is part of it.