Nashville-based singer-songwriter Katie Pruitt is made of the tougher stuff. Growing up religiously conservative in Georgia, the openly gay 25-year-old did not have the easiest coming-of-age experience. Yet, ever the artist, Pruitt took her real-life struggles and weaved them into lyrical narratives, such as in her songs “Loving Her” and “Wishful Thinking.”
Pruitt’s debut album, Expectations, which is set to release later this year, delves even deeper into religion, mental health, toxic relationships, overcoming internalized homophobia, with a few old-fashioned love songs thrown in for good measure.
Now on tour through May, Pruitt performs at Houston’s White Oak Music Hall on March 21. Prior to her Houston visit, she sat down with OutSmart and opened up about the road to this album, highlights of her career, and what we can look forward to at this month’s concert.
Alys Garcia Carrera: The album is named Expectations, and you’ve mentioned a bit about liking the irony of it. Can you talk more about the expectations that were placed on you?
Katie Pruitt: In general, it’s kind of like shedding other people’s expectations of you—this expectation to succeed, and to never f–k up. But it’s so important to embrace your failures, because success isn’t one linear line. It’s about giving yourself time to grow. Really, [Expectations] is more of a mantra—what to care about, and what not to care about. It’s the classic mental struggle: knowing what you want to prioritize, and not worrying about things that are out of your control. In the song “Expectations,” there’s a line that says “you’re way too generous with all the f–ks you give.” That’s what I’m trying to convey with all of this: sometimes you just need to remember to not care about what others might think, or what you “should” be doing.
You talk about religion in several of your tracks. Are religious expectations among the things you hope to shed? Do you find it difficult to reconcile faith with an LGBTQ identity?
Yeah, definitely. Growing up in the South, you have to appear and act a certain way, or you’ll be judged and ostracized in a very public way. It causes a lot of shame about something you really can’t help.
It took a while to be okay with myself and say ‘yeah, I’m gay’ and not care about what people might think, because it’s not something I can change and I’m not going to hide it anymore.
In “Loving Her,” you mention overcoming the shame of writing love songs about women, and now it’s one of your most-viewed videos and listened-to songs. What has that been like for you?
It feels really good. If 18-year-old Katie could see 25-year-old Katie, she’d feel empowered and proud of how far she’s come, being able to write songs like this. I mean, I started writing at 18, and when I would write love songs I would change the pronouns so that nobody would know I was talking about a girl. Now it’s very clear who I’m talking about, and it’s been really liberating.
Since releasing the song, I’ve been celebrated for being honest and I see there’s a lot of support now from people. Of course, there’s always going to be those who are against you, but seeing so much more positivity out there was really great. It gives me faith in people, and for the future.
Did you find it difficult to write about such personal topics for your debut, or is it liberating to hear your story told in the way you want it told?
It was a hard road to acceptance, but it’s always served me to be open and honest about things. Like when I first came out, my parents didn’t react well, and for a while it was really strained between us. We had to have a lot of very difficult conversations, and it was hard at first, but I’m glad they happened. It’s also about timing. I know it’s not the same for everyone, but this was how my timeline happened and I’m really glad I was honest and had those difficult conversations. Now I feel better understood, and my parents are now inviting my girlfriend to family events, and things like that.
So even though I know it’s not the same for everyone, I’m glad I was able to be open and honest about myself, because it’s led to me feeling better understood and supported by those around me.
It’s also [more than] just my story. Growing up and feeling different from others, you think you’re alone. But I want to show that you’re not. When you tap into those similarities, that shared narrative, it’s a lot easier. I don’t feel like it’s just about myself, but that I’m telling this common story and giving a voice to so many others who can’t tell it themselves, or at least not at the moment.
You performed “Thoughts and Prayers” at the Nashville March for Our Lives. What was that experience like?
It was . . .emotional. There were a lot of speakers from across the country who were all tackling such important topics. It was just such a rewarding experience, and also so different from anything I’ve done before as a performer. That song is not necessarily for me, or about my life or my story. When I wrote the song, I wanted to represent others—the coming-of-age restrictions on yourself, and what it’s like to be politically active in this era. The song, and the event, deal with how we’re constantly trying to fight against those who see differences as something controversial, and who continue to hold others down. Gun violence is such a big issue, particularly in the South. It’s crazy that there’s so many people out there talking about gun restrictions, [yet we can’t] figure out why we don’t have them yet.
What’s been your most rewarding experience as a performer so far?
Oh, wow—so many!
You know, I’m glad you brought up March for Our Lives, because that was one of my favorites—being part of a social movement like that.
Something bigger than yourself.
Yeah, being a small part of a movement that is helping make a change. That’s been really rewarding. Another special moment was at the Unrig Summit, a conference where artists, activists, and so many other people came together to eliminate lobbyists and improve our democratic process. It was just so amazing. So those events, and having the opportunity to work with artists like Taylor Goldsmith, or going on tour with The Wood Brothers, has also been really rewarding. As a young artist, getting to perform with these other talented artists that I’ve admired for so long, it’s an honor.
What’s your favorite track of the new album, and can you tease a bit of it for our readers?
I think my favorite track is probably “My Mind’s a Ship That’s Going Down.” Despite the really sad title, it’s more about always remembering to be grateful for family and friends and all the things around us, especially when things are getting to be too much. So this song is a bit of a mantra as well, but it’s more about gratitude and caring for the things that really matter, and dropping what isn’t vital or is damaging your mental health. To always remember to come back to the positives when you’re having a hard time mentally—or any other time, really.
Sometimes you just need to go out in nature and take a breather, recover from everything that’s happening, and come back to that place of balance and gratitude and care.
Well, thank you, Katie. I’m looking forward to your concert here in Houston on March 21.
Yeah! I’m so excited to come to Houston. I’ll be there; there’s gonna be a band with me. It’s gonna be a party!
What: Katie Pruitt’s Expectation Tour
When: Postponed (TBA)
Where: White Oak Music Hall
This article appears in the March 2020 edition of OutSmart magazine.