Queer Country’s Freshest Voice Pulls Back the Curtain On Her Debut Album
By Rachel Cholst, Contributing Editor
Katie Pruitt started the party at 1:30 PM, Nashville time. “I’m drinking a margarita ‘cuz it’s Cinco de Mayo. But hey, what else am I gonna do, right?”
We spoke only six weeks ago, but it feels like a lifetime. Back then, Nashville had just experienced a second, less destructive, round of bad weather.
“I’m pretty chipper in spite of everything else that’s been going on. I mean, yeah, probably just because of the margarita.”
Behind the Album
Pruitt’s debut album, Expectations, is a queer country masterwork that delves into some of the highest peaks and deepest valleys of a young gay person’s life. The album, released in February on Rounder Records, is a biographical piece, with songs set in chronological order. Ultimately, the album focuses on breaking — and creating anew — the stories you tell about your life.
“You kind of realize that you don’t have to be confined to this world that your parents expect you to live in or that you grew up in. You can go out there and you create your own world around you that’s supportive. It’s scary. It’s definitely scary to just leave everything you know. But doing that was the best thing I’ve ever done.”
Pruitt knows she’s not alone. After shows — and lately, via DMs — fellow travelers have reached out to her about their experiences. “That’s why I made the record. I knew I wasn’t the only one that had been struggling with this.”
Of course, stories like ours aren’t the stuff of mainstream country music. Pruitt found herself in Nashville because her parents pressured her to get a college degree. When she learned that Belmont University had a songwriting major, she jumped at the opportunity. “I was like, all right — I won’t fail out of that.”
While Brandi Carlile is her most obvious influence — Pruitt can belt right alongside her — she cites the current cohort of “new Nashville” as opening a sense of possibility for her. Musicians who flirt with pop like Phoebe Bridgers and Courtney Barnett influenced Expectations’ sound, but country music remains its core.
“People like Jason Isbell and Rustin Kelly use the elements of country, but it’s the story they’re telling through that. It’s the storytelling aspect of country that I really grabbed onto.”
Pruitt enlisted the community she built through Belmont on all aspects of the album. “The girl that did the visual art for my album does a lot of other video stuff with me. Sammy, she’s become one of my best friends. And the guy that produced my record, Mike Robinson, he was a guitar player in my college band. It was the people that I met at Belmont that made it the experience that it was for me.”
Journey to Herself
Finding queer community in Nashville, though, required Pruitt to go farther afield from her “hipster Christian” campus.
“The queer community there was definitely very few and far between. Like I maybe knew like one gay guy.”
Pruitt transferred to Belmont her junior year of college after feeling constrained by being around too many of her high school classmates in Athens, Georgia. This move led her to discover more about herself – and come out to her parents.
It probably wasn’t the way she would have chosen. She had just broken up with the girlfriend she was living with, featured in the explosive song “Grace Has a Gun.”
Her parents’ suspicions were raised. Pruitt had told them Grace was her best friend.
“I lied to them and said that I moved out because she was dating a guy that I liked. But eventually they put the pieces together and were hounding me about it and were telling me to like take the song offline. So I just finally called them and was like, ‘Hey, look, Grace was, more than a friend and I’m gay.’”
Things were tough for a while. Pruitt was raised Catholic, and her parents flatly disapproved. But since then, her relationship with her mother has improved.
As for her own faith, Pruitt now describes herself as spiritual. “God to me is anything good, like the feeling that you get when you have beers with a friend, or taking a hike and looking at a waterfall. Those things have sort of become like God to me.”
Having found that sense of self, Pruitt no longer needs to write songs about fake boyfriends. Expectations culminates with the song “It’s Always Been You,” a remarkable love song about the fruition of a lifelong yearning.
She met her partner in a scene straight from The L Word. The pair were initially roommates who became close. Eventually, “a switch just flipped. We started hanging out more and we were kinda like, ‘huh, what’s going on here?’
“Then one night, I was playing this Belmont house party with my rock band. She came just to hang out with me. We were standing on this porch. And then it went from there.”
Four years later, their appreciation for each other has only deepened.
“It’s been the best relationship my whole life. She’s just my best friend and I can really confide in her. It’s not like the relationship I had with Grace, that was super toxic and unhealthy where we were very codependent. This is an adult relationship where we respect each other’s space. But also, you know, there’s that romantic thing where we’re like, ‘you are the thing that keeps me going, you know?’”
While Pruitt is thoroughly enjoying the extra time she has at home, she’s aching to get out on the road. “I’m trying to figure out ways to connect with people online for now because I think that’s important. But man, what I really want to be doing is playing songs live. You know, that’s what I always dreamed of doing.”
As Pruitt waits it out, she’ll continue to write and noodle around on the guitar to stay inspired. In that time, though, she hopes that Expectations will help people grow into themselves.
“Even if they’re not gay, I hope that they feel like they can be themselves in a world that otherwise tells them they can’t be,” she muses. “What I want people to get out of this record is to just be comfortable in your own skin and love yourself, whatever that means or looks like for you.”