Growing up in Norman, Oklahoma, Krystal Keith knew a lot about country music and Oklahoma football. She received her education on both topics from her famous dad, Toby Keith, an award-winning, multi-platinum artist who is also famously known as one of the biggest Sooners fans in the state.
As one would expect, Keith grew up with country music on her mind and the University of Oklahoma in her future, although one of those wasn’t exactly what she had planned. It hasn’t always been a straight path, but Keith has since recorded a full-length album (Whiskey & Lace) and two EPs, including Boulder, which released this past July.
In this one-on-one conversation with SCENES co-managing editor Chad Bonham (and fellow Oklahoman), Keith talks about those deep Oklahoma roots, when she knew she was going to be a country music singer, how college factored into her career timeline, and how motherhood has changed everything.
SCENES: What do you remember about growing up in Oklahoma?
KRYSTAL KEITH: The thing that sticks out to me the most about Oklahoma if I’m talking to somebody not from there is everybody’s the nicest people you’ll ever meet until you tick ‘em off, but people that come there love it. We have people that come visit and they’re like, “Nobody is nicer than people in Oklahoma.” We’re just very hospitable. I love it. If something happens, the whole community comes together from all over the state.
SCENES: As someone who grew up in the shadows of a country music star, was it a given that you were going to get into the business?
KRYSTAL KEITH: It was always gonna be — from at least three years old. That’s my first memories of thinking this is what I’m gonna do. It’s what I always said. Nobody ever encouraged it or discouraged it. They were just, let her do her thing, and here I am.
SCENES: Your dad insisted that you go to college first. Were you okay with that?
KRYSTAL KEITH: No, I wasn’t happy at all. (My dad and I) did “Mockingbird.” That was my teaser. That was my introduction and now I was gonna go make an album now that I’d graduated high school and he was like, “No, I said you have to go to college.” And I was like, “That wasn’t the deal! You said I had to graduate from school!” He said, “College is school” and I said, “So is high school. There was a graduation. I was there, remember? I should be done!” I tried to suck at college. I tried really hard to barely show up and make bad grades and I was like, “Dad, college just isn’t my thing. It’s just not for me. Some people just aren’t good at college and I guess I’m just one of those people.” And he was like, “You were great in high school.” I carried a 3.5 GPA and I graduated a semester early. He was like, “You can’t suck this bad at college. There’s just no way. I’m not buying it. It can take you 10 years, but if you want to do music, you’ll find a way to graduate.” And I did. I did four years of school in two and a half years.
SCENES: Was it a difficult decision to take some time away from touring after you had your first child?
KRYSTAL KEITH: It wasn’t challenging. I had come off the road. I really didn’t have my next project. I had some songs but I hadn’t cut them yet and then I got pregnant. I still toured and did some shows the first few months, but for medical reasons I couldn’t tour the last half of my pregnancy. So I just decided to take off and just enjoy being pregnant and getting everything ready and then when I had her and I really started getting into the groove, I decided to take a year off. Most people don’t have the opportunity or the luxury to really take in and soak in every little moment of that first year and there’s so much change that happens in that first year. There’s not as much change from two to three. There is some change but it’s more subtle than from zero to one. That’s a big year, and we had a lot going on as new parents. I just didn’t want to miss it. This industry, especially country music, is very family-focused, and I didn’t want to look back and regret not spending that time with her and being a new mom. So I took off a year and then I got back in the studio and recorded during her second year. So I really had two years with her before I had to be back on the road.
SCENES: Has becoming a mom changed your perspective as a recording artist?
KRYSTAL KEITH: Oh yeah. Typically I would have a bus and we would go out on a radio tour four months at a time and I’d be fine with that. My husband would just pop out here and there. But when you have a baby, they don’t understand. They don’t get why mommy’s got to be away so much. We’ve done really good. We’re usually on the road Monday through Thursday. We get to go home two or three days on the weekend and it’s been a really good system for us. She’s gotten into a groove. Every Monday I leave. Every Thursday night I’m home. She doesn’t miss a beat. She gets to do everything she wants to do with my parents and with my grandparents and my husband all the time. It’s become our new normal but I’m sure my husband is ready for me to be home more often.
SCENES: How do think this new season of life will help you relate to your fans even more?
KRYSTAL KEITH: I think there’s a wisdom that comes with being a mom. You don’t just see the world as a woman. You look at how the world is going to affect your daughter and how you can change that through music. What can I say to socially impact the world to make it a better place for her? So everything comes back to her in the end.
SCENES: Why do you think “Anyone Else,” your duet with Lance Carpenter, has become such a big hit?
KRYSTAL KEITH: I think it’s so relatable. Anyone in general has somebody they would do anything for, whether it’s a relative or whatever. But this particular song, for me, it’s my husband. We fight like hell but we know neither one’s going anywhere. We can fight it out and know at the end of the day that everything’s gonna be good. It shows you that love it messy. It’s not this pristine thing. It shows that gritty, dirty side of love that everybody goes through. It’s not a breakup song. It’s a very real, raw, emotional relationship song.