A nationally touring singer-songwriter and recording artist, Small was a winner at the 2012 Independent Music Awards and a finalist in the 2015 International Songwriting Competition. She will play the Tybee Post Theater on June 17 in support of “3 AM.”
Music has always been an essential part of Small’s life.
“I don’t remember ever not singing,” she says. “My mom says I used to sing to myself in the playpen when I was a baby.
“It’s always been a part of me. I don’t think I could turn it off if I tried.”
In middle school, Small took part in a Halloween musical and discovered her potential.
“The microphone wasn’t on when my song started, but when it kicked in, I saw the whole audience’s eyes get wide,” she says. “I got a pretty righteous round of applause, too.
“That was the first time I figured I might be on to something. And I was dressed like a mummy.”
While still in high school, Small knew she wanted to sing professionally.
“I went to a performing arts high school in Milwaukee, so I was already headed in that direction,” she says. “I remember pondering the idea of getting a degree in something safe like physical therapy while minoring in music.
“Then I envisioned myself poring over anatomy textbooks and wondering what would have happened if I’d gone to music school instead. That’s when I decided to go to Berklee College of Music.
“I never really looked back,” Small says. “I was 18 years old at Berklee the first time I got paid to sing something.”
The person who hired her said, “You can sight read really well, right? Meet me at this address at this time.”
“I showed up and did what I’d been doing for years for free,” Small says. “Then I got a check. ‘Whoa ... you mean I can get paid for this?’
“I was hooked. It’s certainly not always that easy and sometimes things cost me more than I make on them, but it evens out.
“And like I said, I don’t think I could turn it off if I could,” she says. “I’m all in.”
Small has been writing songs almost as long as she has been singing them.
“I dabbled in it from middle school on and took my first earnest crack at it when I was in my mid-20s, but it wasn’t until I got to Nashville that I found my writing feet,” she says. “This town is full of inspiration and fuel in that department.
“I’m part of the East Nashville Song Salon, a group of writers who gather each Monday to get gentle feedback from peers on new songs. It’s a wonderful support network that pushes us all to be better.
“Every song on this new record was workshopped in that group,” Small says. “I’m so grateful to my songwriter tribe.”
Small finds inspiration in her own life.
“Almost always I find myself writing about my own life and feelings,” she says. “Every now and again I get an idea for something random, but more often than not, it’s me working out my own stuff.”
At times, songwriting can be a form of therapy.
“When I’m struggling with something I almost always write about it,” Small says. “Sometimes I don’t know what’s really true for me about something until it comes out in song form.
“That’s a trip. I’m a huge believer in journaling as a way to process emotions.
“My new album ‘3 AM’ tells the story of how I got over a pretty devastating break-up,” she says. “Every song on the record started in my journal.”
Small has taken the journaling one step further.
“I’m also writing a blog series about the songs on the new album,” she says. “It’s called ‘Getting Over A Break-Up — A Step By Song Guide.’
“So far, all but one of the posts encourages journaling in some form. And there’s something really powerful about singing what you feel — it’s a deeper expression than just saying something.
“I think that’s why songs appeal to people the way they do — when you hear something that says exactly how you feel and you can turn it up and sing along? That’s super cathartic,” Small says. “When it’s something you wrote, too? Catharsis on steroids.”
As a session singer, Small has worked with icons such as Willie Nelson, Garth Brooks, Peter Frampton, Wynonna Judd, Ray Price, Randy Travis, Kenny Rogers, Ronnie Milsap, Deep Purple, Ray Stevens, Jimmy Hall, Jamey Johnson and more.
In addition, Small has been featured as a live performer with Martina McBride, Radney Foster and Lynda Carter. She has had a recurring role as a backup singer on ABC’s “Nashville.”
Working with the greats is always a thrill.
“The professional answer is it’s a tremendous acknowledgement of the work I’ve done to hone my craft,” Small says. “The personal one? It’s really freakin’ cool.
“They’re both true. I remember being at the emergency vet with my cat several years ago when I got an email from Peter Frampton thanking me for doing such great work on his album.
“That kind of thing will certainly turn your day around,” she says. “Working with artists who have reached such a level of excellence is really inspiring and informative to me as an artist myself.”
There are several other artists Small would love to work with.
“Bonnie Raitt is at the top of my list,” she says. “She has been a huge influence on me and I have always wanted to work with her somehow.
“I woke up in Wonder Woman pajamas the day I got the call to work with Lynda Carter,” Small says. “I keep joking that I need to get some Bonnie Raitt pajamas.”
Touring to perform can be overwhelming at times.
“It can be exhausting, but honestly, I love it,” Small says. “I have a traveler’s heart and just love being on the road.
“If I don’t get out and sing for people regularly I get a little berserk. In terms of keeping myself sane and managing my energy, the key for me is to find enough quiet moments to focus inward and not talk.
“That’s hard because I’m so wired to be social,” she says. “But I’m much better at it than I used to be.”
For two years, Small was a vocal instructor at Berklee and says she enjoys teaching.
“I don’t do it that much anymore because I’m busy with other things, but if someone seeks me out I try to make time,” she says. “Helping someone find their voice is a really special thing.
“Watching someone’s eyes light up when they finally get it and make a sound they didn’t know they could make is beautiful. There is much high-fiving and happy dancing when that happens.”
Throughout her career, Small has had some extraordinary experiences.
“But honestly these album release shows have been a profoundly moving experience so far,” she says. “This record is my most honest and raw work.
“Triumphing over heartbreak, turning it into art and pouring my heart out to the audience is a powerful thing and so far I’ve been moved to tears at every show at least once.”
Listeners at the Tybee Post Theater will hear Small’s latest work for themselves.
“We’ll do the new record in sequence first, since it’s really a sequential narrative,” she says. “The second set will be a mix of fun stuff from my previous albums and maybe a surprise or two.
“Check out the new album and blog series at kirasmall.com. I’m tremendously proud of the new record and I’m having a ball writing the blog.
“There’s usually a video or two included on each one, too,” Small says. “I love reading and responding to people’s comments as well, so I’d love to hear from folks.”
IF YOU GO
What: Kira Small
When: 8 p.m. June 17
Where: Tybee Post Theater, 10 Van Horne Ave., Tybee Island
Cost: $25 or $22.50 for members
Info: 912-472-4790, tybeeposttheater.showare.com