While her high school peers were focused on grades, homework and life outside the school walls, Tiera was paving her path to stardom. The 23-year-old Birmingham, Alabama native has been fueling her passion for music and songwriting since she was a teen, and has since blossomed into one of Nashville’s promising singer-songwriters, catching the eye of Grammy nominated songwriter Nicolle Galyon and becoming the flagship songwriter to the female-focused Songs & Daughter’s publishing arm.
With a new EP on the way, and an impending wedding to fiancé Kamren Kennedy, Tiera opens up to Sounds Like Nashville about cultivating her music since high school, what the acoustic rendition of “Found It In You” means to her, and an inspiring mantra she lives by.
When did you first discover that you had a passion for music and specifically country music?
I feel like I’ve always loved music, but I never really knew if it was something that I wanted to do professionally. I think I just did it for fun growing up and then around middle school or high school I was like ‘I need to figure out what I need to do because some point I’m gonna have to start making money’ and all of that stuff. So I was just doing it for fun and then I started playing talent shows and festivals around my town and then I started writing songs, and I think that’s what got me into country music, because it naturally came out country because I wrote stuff about my life, and that’s what country music is about, so it definitely was a natural progression for me. Then I started taking trips up to Nashville and I just fell in love with the whole scene even more.
I released an EP when I was in high school and the first song I ever wrote it was called ‘Love You Better.’ I wrote it about this guy that I liked at school and he was dating this other girl and it basically was like ‘you should break up with your girlfriend because I’m better,’ very forward [laughs]. I wrote that song and then I think two others and I put a whole EP out. It was the very first piece of work that I ever had, but it’s also really fun… getting messages from people that they still listen to that and they’ve been following me ever since then. But I definitely remember that music and I still have some of the EPs at my house and my fiancé likes to turn it on sometimes to embarrass me, so that’s great [laughs].
What drew you to songwriting and music, especially as a high schooler, and writing these really personal feelings and turning them into song?
I grew up on Taylor Swift like a lot of people and I loved how she wrote about what she was going through and it was congruent with what I was going through at the time. I was in high school and boys and all of that stuff, so I turned to music to write about that stuff. She was definitely an inspiration for that and I fell in love with songwriting even more. I would look up YouTube videos of up-and-coming people in Nashville and songwriters in Nashville. I started to look at the people that were writing the songs that I loved and diving into their music and dissecting how they wrote songs. I know Nicolle Galyon was one of those people, so it definitely is a very full circle moment getting to work with her now.
When did you realize that you wanted to make music your profession?
Probably in high school. That’s when I started to take trips up to Nashville and I really wanted to go to Belmont University, that’s the big music school in Nashville, but I got a full ride to University of North Alabama so my parents were like ‘that’s where you’re going.’ So I went there for college for a year and I studied music business, but I really was in the studio a lot. There’s a studio there called Fame Studios and so many amazing people have recorded there. I wrote a lot of songs when I was in Muscle Shoals and I felt like I really got to figure out who I was as an artist. I had been taking trips with my parents up to Nashville and everybody had been saying ‘if you really want to do country music, you have to be here, you need to move,’ and my parents they finally bit the bullet. [I] left college and we all moved up to Nashville and I’ve been doing it ever since. But I’d say definitely my love for country and knowing that music was what I wanted to do, it started in high school.
Tell me the story behind “Found It In You” and what it means to you.
That was the first song that Cameron Bedell, my producer, and I wrote together. That song is so special to me not only because it’s about my fiancé, but also because it was the first song that established my sound. After we released it, I had a lot of people saying that it could be interpreted in a completely different way production-wise and I totally saw that. It’s a jam the way that we released it, but it could also be broken down, super sweet love song. So we did an acoustic version of it and we did it on piano and I really love it. Piano just breaks my heart anytime I hear any piano song, so I can’t wait for people to hear this different version. I feel like the original version, it’s a very upbeat, it’s a jam, but I feel like the acoustic version it really gets you in your feels a lot more. It’s just the piano and strings and I feel like it really lets you pay attention to the words. When I recorded it, I just sang it, we didn’t have any specific way that we wanted to be, I just sangwhat was on my heart, so I feel like it’s a more heartfelt version.
What have been some of the biggest artistic changes that you’ve gone through that’s reflected in your new music?
Definitely the sound and production overall. When I first started out, it was more pop-country and I didn’t know a whole lot about production and what I wanted it to sound like. So I was just going with the flow, just release whatever I thought sounded good. But at the beginning of last year, I started working with my producer now, Cameron Bedell, and he grew up on R&B and country and he’s really great at meshing the two of those. We wrote “Found It In You” together, that was our first single together, and when we wrote that song, [I] listen back to the demo and I was like ‘this is exactly the sound that I have been looking for for the longest time,’ so it’s in that R&B-country feel. It’s just feel-good music that makes you happy, so this is the first time that I feel like my music is congruent with who I am as a person, so I’m really excited about this EP. We’ve got “Found it in You” and “Shut it Down” on there and then there’s this song called “Miles” that I have played out at shows and everybody loves it. There’s a cool little rap part in it that my producer did the rap part for the demo and we were brainstorming people that we wanted to be in that spot and I’m really excited we got the person that I really wanted to be on it. This is my first collaboration ever, so I cannot wait for people to hear that. And then we’ve got two other songs that we decided on those when we sat down to figure out what we wanted to be on the EP. I think the first three were right after I wrote them, I knew that I wanted to release it. I am so pumped about all of the songs collectively because I feel like they really represent who I am as a person and I love singing them and I listen to them all the time in my car, so I can’t wait for people to hear it.
How do you feel like these songs collectively represent who you are? How do they tell your story?
I’m very much in love right now, so there’s a lot of love songs on there. But there’s also one song we actually did a switcheroo and decided on this one. I usually steer more towards the love songs when I get into the room and I don’t write a whole lot about me as a person. But there’s one song on the EP it’s about how I feel like with my music and me as a person in general. I feel like I’ve changed a lot since I’ve moved here and gotten very comfortable with who I am as a person and not letting anyone dictate what my sound is and what I want to say. So that’s what the song is about and I’ve never put out a song like that, so I can’t wait for people to hear it. I really hope it empowers a lot of people.
What is a quote or a message that you live by?
I just wrote this quote down from Kari Jobe that I love. She said “comparison will always steal from the calling and creativity on your own life.” I feel like comparison is something that we all struggle with no matter what you do and I have always. I feel like it’s a daily struggle, but I try to be really conscious of staying in my lane and knowing that God has a plan for me and if somebody else gets something, that doesn’t mean that something isn’t going to happen for me. So just being happy for other people and focusing on what I’m doing and not comparing every little thing that I do to somebody else and comparing my journey to somebody else’s.