Karla Davis is one of our favorite new artists. We met this soulful singer/songwriter at Ronnie Dunn’s Nashville studio, where she absolutely floored us with her original song Country Gone. We also really love getting to know this girl, who has skills and talents that we know will go far in contributing to her continued success.
Nashville is a Competitive Sport
Davis has the typical “sang in the church choir” background, but she was also a competitive athlete, playing multiple sports throughout high school and receiving an athletic scholarship to play for the Women’s Soccer Team at The University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Davis had always played hard for the win, but Nashville has taught her to shine on her own.
“I sang in choir in church from the time I was little but that was always with a group of people,” Davis said, “The idea of singing by myself scared me to death.”
At the end of her senior year, when her soccer career ended, Davis needed something to keep her busy. “I heard an Alicia Keyes song [Fallen] and thought, ‘I think I could play this.'”
Davis hears the chords and plays by ear, her only musical education beyond a few early childhood piano lessons. “I was too impatient, so, no, I’ve had no training. No guitar, no voice coach or anything.”
That’s not so rare in Nashville, according to Davis. “You can find a lot of people who can play by ear. It’s actually a lot easier when I’m singing with people who can so don’t have to tell them the chords. They just know them.”
It’s one thing to follow show business dreams, but it takes serious commitment to make turn those aspirations into a paying gigs. Davis put in the work.
“I started making the worst recordings ever on my computer,” she says. While studying for finals senior year a friend found her iTunes account and shared Davis’ music with a couple of athletes from school. “They got around school quick! I was devastated at first, but then they got me to sing at this open mic night and I loved it. I couldn’t believe that I did it. It seemed easy for me to get up and sing and play guitar.”
Karla’s future was probably set when her parents finally got to see her on stage.
“Mom and Dad had no idea about me singing,” Davis says. “I invited them to a show in Durham. and they came I’m sure just to support her me.” They didn’t really know how much Davis had been performing or what to expect. “I just remember the way they looked at me,” Davis says. That’s the kind of encouragement it takes to pin your future on the extremely slim chances of success in the music industry.
her parents continued to cheer her on just as they had when when she was a student athlete. “They needed something to replace the soccer games,” she says. “Now they come to every show that they can.”
Always an Entertainer
While majoring in business administration and media management, in college, Davis interned at the local radio station, WKZL. Part of her job: free style rapping every Friday, which is naturally how Davis earned the nickname White Virgin Rapping Intern.
She loved radio so much in fact, that when Karla moved to Nashville and was planned to get a “day job” at a radio station her parents warned her against that particular backup plan. “Mom told me, ‘I don’t want you to get a job in radio. I know you love radio and I’m afraid you’ll give up on your dreams of music.'”
Davis did not give up. In January 2010, after competing in the national finals at the Ryman Theater in Nashville, she won the Colgate Country Showdown.
“That’s when I really realized I could do this for a living.”
Later that year she started 3 Chord Entertainment, her own record label, to release her first album, Here I Am.
Why her own label, we wanted to know?
“A lot of singers or writers coming to Nashville, all they want is the major deal,” Davis said. “That’s what would make them happy.”
But when she got to Nashville Davis didn’t know yet what she wanted to do. “I talked to a few major labels after winning Colgate, but I didn’t want to have to compromise who I was or what I wanted to sound like.”
Unlike many young artists, Davis had the wisdom to know what she didn’t know.
“I didn’t have the experience to be able to say ‘This is what I have to offer,'” she says. “Ultimately, I wanted to call the shots and surround myself with people who would make me a better artist.”
Karla Davis on The Voice
After several phone calls, emails, and connections, a friend of Davis got her a private audition for The Voice. Her YouTube presence definitely helped secure the special treatment. She had 80 videos up by then, with thousands of views and comments. However, it was still a long process from initial audition to being on stage with entertainment’s elites. After three rounds of auditions and on-camera interviews, the producers said, “We’ll let you know in the next two months.”
Exactly two months later they called to invite her to do the live televised auditions.
Davis enjoyed the whole process, which lasted eight months in total, all that time traveling back and forth to Los Angeles. There were a lot of 18-hour days, and of course, invaluable experiences. When Davis finally met the celebrity judges, she was surprised by how close they were.
“As contestants, we were a lot closer to the celebrity judges than it looks on TV,” she said “I could hear Adam Levine lean over and whisper to Blake Shelton before I started.”
Davis wouldn’t tell us what was said. A little mystery is a good thing. What she did admit: Competing to be The Voice was the scariest and most exciting she ever did. Davis made it through the televised blind auditions, the fan voting, and the battle rounds. She went home after achieving Top 16 status.
“Your bag has to be packed in case you don’t make it to the next round,” she said “And then your bags meet you at the airport.”
The silver lining: The flight out of L.A. went straight to New York. The next night Davis was performing in front of America on Jimmy Fallon. “I got to practice and perform with The Roots!”
Then it was time for a quick stop at home before getting back out on the road.
“I love being able to go and tour each summer and see the country.”
Next Stop: Little Willie Records
Davis learned about Ronnie Dunn’s new label, Little Willie Records, from her dad. The legendary former half of Brooks & Dunn was starting a label that went against the status quo of the traditional mega labels. Davis wanted in.
“I sent him an email through his Little Willie website,” she said, adding that this was atypically bold and she just had to hit send before she changed her mind. “I told him I see what you’re doing, want to be a part of it. I never thought I’d hear anything back.”
But Davis did hear back from Dunn’s partner, Jeff Balding, who wrote back to tell her he and Ronnie loved her email and asking if she’s be willing to come perform at The Barn for them. “That was December 2013. I played two songs of my own, and they loved them.”
When she got to Nashville, Davis drove around town in a 2004 Jetta with a guitar and a PA system and parked outside every label and blared the speakers. She’s glad she’s not doing that anymore, but she values the experience, and her own work ethic.
Calling her own shots has worked for Davis so far, but she thinks she ready to partner now in order to move her career into the next phase. “I’m definitely hoping to work with Ronnie and LWR,” she says.
No matter what direction her work takes, Davis will–if we are to believe her lyrics– continue to keep moving on.
“One of the biggest mistakes people make when they come to Nashville is thinking they’re going to make it big, and make it fast. I’ve always preferred working really hard for something and know it’s going to last.”