Sara Kays, a young pop artist who’s based in Nashville, is quickly emerging as a talented, unique singer/songwriter who has a bright future. She has signed with Atlantic Records and released her new EP, Struck By Lightning. Impressively, she is already a star on video platforms—she has almost two million followers on TikTok and 182,000 subscribers on YouTube.
Kays, who is 22, is part of a new generation of singer/songwriters who are using video platforms and social media to maximum effect. Interestingly, she says that she not only uses TikTok to promote her music, but she often posts songs that are partially-finished, to get feedback from her followers before completing the song. One of her most popular songs, “Remember That Night?”, is an example of a song that Kays was encouraged to finish after she posted a verse and chorus of the song on TikTok.
Born and raised in the city of Carmel, Indiana, Kays fell in love with singing at a young age, and she later learned to play guitar. At first, she would sing cover songs, and then during high school she gained experience as a performer by busking and playing local gigs.
Along with her performing, Kays became skilled at writing songs. She mostly wrote songs in her bedroom, and she developed a way of telling stories with her songs that is fresh and imaginative. She also has an appealing, expressive singing voice.
For Kays, a key moment occurred while attending college, when she met Nashville producer/writer Steven Martinez. The duo began collaborating together, and they hit it off so well that Kays decided to remain in Nashville, and they continue to work together.
Kays and Martinez have now teamed up to record two EPs: Camera Shy (released in October 2020) and Struck By Lightning (in August 2021). Martinez produced both EPs, and co-wrote several of the songs. Camera Shy features such personal, sensitive songs as “Smaller Than This,” “Chosen Last,” “Home For The Summer” and “No Matter The Season.” And Struck By Lightning contains such highlights as the title cut “Struck By Lightning” (which features UK artist Cavetown), “Remember That Night?” and “Backseat Rider.”
Here’s the video of Sara Kays’ new single “Struck By
Lightning” (feat. Cavetown).
Currently, Kays is looking forward to playing live and touring. She will be playing shows on the west coast opening for folk/rock band Mt. Joy, and then she will be headlining solo shows in the U.S.. Then later in the fall, she will be opening for Cavetown for shows in the UK.
We are pleased to do this new Q&A interview with Sara Kays. She tells how she got started with her music, and she discusses the making of her new EP. She also tells the fascinating story of how she’s had success with TikTok.
DK: I read that you’re from the city of Carmel, Indiana. How did you get started with music, and writing songs?
Sara Kays: It started with me liking to sing, and singing with my friends. My mom ended up giving me a guitar, and I learned how to sing and play together. That’s how I realized I really liked doing it. Then I was playing cover songs for a long time, and I was busking and playing a lot of bar gigs throughout high school. Then when I started writing a little bit, I realized that I wanted to do that a lot more. So eventually I shifted my focus to writing, and that became the goal.
DK: When did you move to Nashville?
Kays: I moved here for college three years ago. I came here for school, and then I decided to stay, and my producer, Steven Martinez, lives here.
DK: You’ve had a lot of success creating TikTok and YouTube videos. How did you become aware that this was a great way to promote your artist career and your songs?
Kays: It’s been really awesome, especially TikTok. YouTube is a cool place to post videos, but TikTok has been a nice place to post ideas of songs that I come up with. You mentioned seeing my video of “I Hate Math” on TikTok. I had just written a verse and I posted it to see what people thought of it. There’ve been a few songs like “Remember That Night?”, “Chosen Last” and “Smaller Than This,” that started with me posting one of the verses or choruses on TikTok. And I decided to finish the song because of the reaction that I had. So it’s been cool to engage with people that way, and sometimes I’ll respond to a comment of someone asking me if I could write a song about [an idea they suggested].
Here’s the video of Sara Kays’ single, “Remember That Night?”
DK: On your EP Camera Shy, some of your songs are very personal, like “Smaller Than This” and “Chosen Last.” Were these songs inspired by your own personal experiences?
Kays: Definitely. Especially “Smaller Than This” which was really personal, and “No Matter the Season,” which was the first song I released about body image. Particularly, that song helped me realize that other people are also going through that, and it made me feel better about talking about that and releasing it.
DK: Some your YouTube videos are simple, but very creative. In your lyric video for “Home for the Summer,” you have two people sitting on the bleachers in the park, with just their feet showing.
Kays: The funny story about that video, is that it’s actually Steven (Martinez) in it, because for the cover art of that song, it was me and my boyfriend at the time. But we broke up the next week and we hadn’t done the lyric video, so Steven replaced him in the video.
DK: You’ve just released a new EP, Struck by Lightning. Can you talk about the making of this EP and your favorite songs on it?
Kays: Yeah, at first I was releasing five of the songs as singles, and I wasn’t sure what kind of project it was going to be. Eventually, I felt like it was an EP. Then I got to collaborate with one of my favorite artists, Cavetown, on the title track “Struck By Lightning,” and that was awesome.
DK: How did you connect with Cavetown?
Kays: We had been sending ideas back and forth for songs, and I sent that one, and he was down to do a verse on it. Then he sent it back to me and I loved everything that he did, and it worked out great. And then we got together in New York to film the video there.
DK: You’ve signed a label deal with Atlantic Records. When did you sign with them?
Kays: It was around October (2020), when my EP Camera Shy came out.
DK: Did they find out about you because you were popular on TikTok?
Here’s the lyric video of Sara Kays’ single, “Smaller Than This.”
Kays: TikTok was and definitely still is the place where a lot of people are finding new artists. I think that’s where they initially found me. Actually, I first started talking to them back in March (2020) when “No Matter the Season” came out. We kept talking for awhile and I eventually signed with them.
DK: One of your most popular songs is “Remember That Night.” What inspired you to write this song?
Kays: I started writing that song the night I got a text from somebody who I had gone through a breakup with. It had been awhile (since the breakup) and it reminded me of stuff, and so it inspired me to write that song. Then I posted me singing the verse on TikTok, and the reaction to the video is why I decided to finish the song. I haven’t written a lot about breakups or love or those topics, so I wasn’t t feeling confident about writing about it. But then [the video got a strong reaction] so I was like…Oh, maybe I should finish this song. I did, and Stephen (Martinez) finished producing it in three days. It was crazy (laughs)…it was released about nine days after I started writing it.
DK: You’re about to go on tour in the U.S. with the band Mt. Joy, and then you’ll be touring in the UK with Cavetown. Can you talk about your tours?
Kays: Yeah, I’ll be opening for Mt. Joy for five shows on the west coast, and then I have my own tour that starts in October. Then I’ll be going to the UK for a tour with Cavetown. And I’m just excited for all of it.