It’s impossible to miss Kady Rain. Her shock of tangerine hair screams out across the idyllic patio and gardens of Cosmic Coffee in Austin. It’s just an ordinary Friday morning in Austin, but she’s clad head to toe in pastel rainbow stripes. Under horn-rimmed glasses, a freckling of tiny black stars dust her cheeks.
“Dressing like a crazy person and dressing like a walking rainbow, I feel like it gives other people happiness and it can give other people confidence, too,” she says. When friends and fans on Instagram and in real life lament their inability to express individuality with such ease, she counters with a challenge: “Do it. Do it. I double dog dare you to do it.”
“it empowers me to be weird and to be myself and also I do it because I hope that it empowers other people, too,” she says.
The Austin pop breakout with a knack for dance floor glitter bombs buoyed by accessible sing-along hooks plays an 11:45 a.m. set Sunday at Austin City Limits Music Festival.
For the native Austinite, who started playing in bands as a teenager, it feels like a dream. “I used to sneak into ACL and to be playing it is just, like, unreal,” she says.
With a new four-piece band, a set of triumphant earworms and a streak of high profile gigs under her belt, Kady Rain is riding high these days. But for the 29-year-old singer and songwriter life wasn’t always so bright. Abusive relationships upended her life before she picked up the pieces, fought to discover a new path for herself and found her voice as an artist.
From the time she was a child, Kady Rain loved music and theater. An early obsession with Tejano pop star Selena was a gateway into the glossy pop of the Spice Girls and Destiny’s Child. She began playing in her first band, the Pickpockets, after attending a session of the Natural Ear Music Camp with Alvin Crow and Michael Murphy when she was 14. She sang and played keyboards and a little guitar.
“I just loved it. It was so great,” she says.
In what would become a recurrent theme, she says, she was in a relationship that “not very supportive.” The band fell apart midway through high school and for the better part of a decade, she decided she was “more into doing drugs and messing with boys than doing music.”
Still, she dabbled in tunes on and off, but her partners rarely supported her passion.
“Whenever I was pursuing something where I was in the spotlight, they would try to hold me down and try to dim that spotlight,” she says. The experience was “really disheartening and disorienting,” she says.
“It makes you doubt your dreams and your talents when somebody’s like, ‘Oh, I don’t think you should do that.’”
In the deceptively sunny 2018 track, “It Wasn’t the Roses,” she sings “It wasn’t the roses that kept me alive, it was your sycophantic smiles and a false sense of pride.”
She says she wrote the song about her struggle to leave a relationship that had become physically dangerous.
“With abuse, it’s really hard because deep, deep, deep down you know that this isn’t right for you and that you need to leave and that you have to get away from this,” she says.
But getting away isn’t always easy.
“Some women, they lose their lives. They lose everything when they leave their partner so it’s really scary to leave an abusive relationship. ‘It Wasn’t the Roses’ is about that feeling of knowing that you have to leave but being too afraid to.”
Magic and color
In the aftermath, she struggled with anxiety and depression. Unable to work, she was on disability.
“I remember, I was just laying down looking at the stars one night and I just started to cry and I was just like, ‘What am I doing with my life? I’m in these bad relationships and I’m making these bad decisions and I’m in these jobs that don’t make me happy and I’m not pursuing my dreams,’” she says.
“What is my dream?” she wondered.
“And the immediate answer was music. That was the only answer. That was the only thing that I could think to do,” she says.
She began to work on her craft day and night, pursuing it with a fervor she never had before.
“It was a really challenging time in my life but it was also a really colorful and a really magical time in my life because I was finally free of those chains of being in an abusive relationship,” she says.
She linked up with a partner and started writing. A lot. Over a period of roughly two years, she says, they wrote about 150 songs. They pared it down to five tracks that she packaged and released as her 2016 EP, “All I Ever Wanted.”
At a 2016 show at Kick Butt coffee, she played a 30-minute acoustic set, then premiered the EP.
“There were about 50 people there and when 'All I Ever Wanted' came on about 45 of the 50 people stood up and started dancing,” she says.
That had never happened before and it was a lightning bolt moment. She was playing original songs, but people were dancing as if they were covers. The acoustic set went out the window. After the EP came out, she says, it was “pop or nothing.”
These days, igniting the dance floor is always her goal, and with club-friendly bangers like “R.A.D. Moves” and “Lonely One” she usually succeeds.
The secret to a good pop song, she says, is the hook.
“If you listen to a song all the way through and you can’t sing along to the chorus by the end of the first time you heard it, it’s not a good pop song. Once you hear that hook one time you’ve gotta be able to sing it the second chorus and the third chorus,” she says.
Her music is consistently upbeat and she tries to make it inclusive. When she realized that a good portion of her fan base came from the LGBT community, she began swapping definitive pronouns like he or she for you so that her love songs could feel universal.
“Love doesn’t have to be exclusive to a certain gender or a certain feeling," she says. "It’s for everyone.”
When she takes the stage at ACL Fest, she’ll be celebrating the release of a pair of glitzy new singles on colored vinyl. She’ll also be celebrating five years of sobriety.
“It’s really empowering to think back on who I was five years ago. I didn’t think that I would be here. I didn’t think that I would have the confidence to do this,” she says.
At 29, she says she has “crazy credit card debt from chasing my dream” and she works at a smoothie shop to make ends meet, but the life she’s made for herself is everything she could have dreamed it would be.
“I am living my fantasy,” she says.
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