Okay Kenedi is more than just okay

Emma Tanner, Managing Editor

At five years old, Kenedi Griffis filled up a notebook with original songs. None of them were good, she says, but she kept them anyway. Now, twenty-one years later, she is releasing her debut album under the stage name Okay Kenedi.

Griffis is from the city of Cumming, Ga., where her father was a pastor. Growing up in church, she developed a love for music. Her current influence is Brandi Carlile and her “Silent Days” album. Other favorites include Elvis and J.P. Saxe. Usually, though, she takes inspiration on a song-by-song basis.

“I have home videos of me showing a lot of interest in the piano and music around 18 months [old],” said Griffis. “When I was old enough to take piano lessons around five, I took piano lessons for about nine years. When YouTube came along, I taught myself guitar. I don’t think anything got me into music. I was born into it.”

She was inspired to begin writing as part of her career by her bass player, Micayla Wise. The pair was sitting on the floor of Wise’s apartment when Wise asked her to play a self-written song. 

“She got excited about [my songs],” Griffis said. “She kind of helped pioneer my music career. She was like, ‘I think you have a lot of potential here. We should get you playing places and get your songs out into the world.’”

While playing a show at Smith’s Olde Bar in Atlanta, Griffis met her now-producer Dan Hannon. Hannon is a producer, whose success has charted on Billboard and sold millions of copies. He has worked with artists such as Manchester Orchestra, Aaron Shust and Paris Jackson. 

Hannon expressed interest in working with her and recording with a friend of his, Michael Wright. They began working at Muscle Shoals’ Ivy Manor. Ivy Manor was founded by Wright in 2019. He has previous experience in television, but knew he wanted to work in music since he grew up around it. 

Wright and Griffis began working with one another through a mutual connection and longtime friend, Dan Hannon.

“Pretty much immediately after Dan encountered Kenedi, he picked up the phone and called me,” said Wright. “He said, ‘Hey, [Kenedi] is potentially huge. Why don’t we partner up on it?’”

Wright, Hannon and mutual friend Jared Przybysz have been Griffis’ production team for her upcoming album. The first session they had at Ivy Manor was Jan. 16, 2022. Since then, the group has had many long term recording sessions. Wright suspects that they have roughly 500 songs from Griffis, but only 12 made it on the final cut of the album.

“Kenedi brings in songs that are very nearly perfect,” Wright said. “We’re making suggestions on how we might approach certain songs in terms of instrumentation and arrangement — just sort of doing what producers do. We’ve been intentionally allowing things to be really organic. We’ve done really long sessions in the studio. The music just really gets to flow. It’s really natural and organic.”

The entire team is in near-constant communication. The album is regularly being tweaked and adjusted to get the sound they desire. They have a unique arrangement, as they all collaborate to make the album of a brand new artist.

“You’ve got a really experienced production team building a freshman record for a new emerging artist,” Wright said. “It sounds much more like a third record than a first record as a result of that process.”

While the production has been busy and intense, Wright and Griffis have thoroughly enjoyed it. Wright admires her creativity and skill. He specifically highlights an unreleased song called “Fathers Want Sons” as one that excellently displays her skill as a songwriter. Her strength in vocals, as well her natural charisma and leadership skills, is a trait that Wright sees as integral in a performer.

“I was immediately struck by the quality of her songwriting,” Wright said. “She has a unique ability to take her personal experiences, then translate those to be universal experiences and then communicate that experience in three or four words.”

 Griffis continues to send new songs to her team.

“I write literally all the time,” Griffis said. “I am really, really bad at expressing my feelings or talking about my emotions. I get made fun of it all the time by my friends endearingly. I think to compensate for that, I write songs. Some of the best songs I’ve written have come out of nowhere in five minutes.”

She has started co-writing. Recently, she’s written with Eli Hannon, Dan Hannon’s son and frontman of The Manly Hero. Malachi Mills and Cat Carter are other co-writers. The songs will be featured on their respective works.

“Music is something that unifies people,” Griffis said. “That’s one of the really cool things about it. I think that’s why Muscle Shoals was so successful in breaking down barriers because [music] is the human experience. It’s a beautiful thing.”

As a producer, Wright wants the artists he works with to be as excited as him when making a record. Luckily, Griffis matches his energy. He praises Kenedi’s team and fans, as well, for their strong support of her. Her bandmates, Sarah and Micayla are some of her closest companions.

“You want to be in the company of an artist who is the most enthusiastic person in the room with a bunch of followers who are super enthusiastic,” Wright said. “Then, as a producer, you can hopefully channel those energies in a really positive direction. [Producers] don’t want to be the one who’s ramping up the energy.”

Griffis has more connections to the Shoals than just her studio. She is enthusiastic about learning about the area and its sound. Wright sent her the documentary “Muscle Shoals” to educate her about the local music scene. From there, she has familiarized herself with local artists such as Yes Trespassing and CONNR.

Since January 2022, she has spent months at Ivy Manor. The production team allows creative freedom for Griffis. However, she wholeheartedly trusts the group with her work.

“Dan and Jared really take my little voice memo and musically expound on that,” Griffis said. “Dan is brilliant.”

She released her lead single “Young, Dumb, & Naive” on Jan. 27. Her next single is projected to release in March.

She is returning to the Shoals on March 24. Her headline show will be at For the Record, supported by CONNR and Abigail Virginia.