MILVERTON – Music fans have been able to enjoy a powerful new voice from Perth County on all major music streaming platforms and, with any luck, radio stations across Canada since April 1.
Isabella Caskenette, a 15-year-old singer-songwriter from Milverton who teaches music lessons at Back Alley Sound Studio in Listowel, released her debut single “What You Leave Behind” on April 1 on all the major music streaming outlets such as Spotify, Apple Music, iTunes, Google Play, Tidal and YouTube.
The song was co-written by Academy of Country Music Best New Female Vocalist award-winner Tenille Townes and Canadian Country Music Awards nominee Scotty Kipfer, who also grew up in Milverton and started putting together annual hometown concerts a few years ago to help local youth get into music and arts. Caskenette played his concert in 2019 and Kipfer was extremely impressed by her performance.
“At that time I was ready to start looking for artists to develop and it just worked out that she was in a position where she was ready to start recording and go down that road,” he said. “I crashed the stage before her last song and said ‘you’re killing it and I think it will be a lot of fun to do some recording together.’ So it’s about 16 months later and we’re finally ready to release the first single.”
“It sounds so weird but it’s just how it happened,” said Caskenette. “Right people, right time.”
Kipfer dropped by her house to let her family hear the song he wanted her to record. Mike Hall, her father, said they were impressed that it was a song written with Tennille Townes.
Caskenette was a big fan of Townes long before she ended up landing an opportunity to record one of her songs.
“It was super, super exciting – that was a big thing for us, knowing that Tenille Townes wrote it,” she said. “I remember the first time hearing one of her songs – her first big song. It was like ‘Oh my god! Wow!’ My grandma had shown me. It was fantastic.”
She said she finds Townes’ lyrics very relatable and it was easy to connect with the meaning behind “What You Leave Behind.”
“That’s why I am in love with the song that she gave to me,” said Caskenette.
“(Townes and I) wrote this song together a couple of years ago and it was the right fit for Isabella,” said Kipfer. “It’s tough to find songs that a 15-year-old girl can sing. It has to be age-appropriate but also we want it to have some substance and this song has that.”
His goal is to get Caskenette into a routine of creating and releasing music so when she finishes high school she’ll have a body of work to help her find a manager and a record label.
“My background is in labels and management and artist development but I’m a full-time artist-writer-producer now,” said Kipfer. “Bringing her along on this journey and setting her up to spread her wings when she graduates high school is really what I’m trying to do here for her and give her a space to do all of that.”
Caskenette’s childhood was immersed in a love of music.
“I grew up singing, dancing and performing for my family,” she said. “I was always super interested in Taylor Swift, Miley Cyrus, a lot of the Disney Channel stuff. I would perform on my grandparents’ front porch for my neighbours.”
At an early age, her family realized Caskenette had a knack for memorizing songs.
“When you are a musician memory is quite a big part of it,” she said. “I started performing when I was eight. My first time performing was at church. I was so incredibly nervous that I had to stand facing away from the audience. I couldn’t even face them I was so scared.”
After getting noticed performing at the Stratford Fair she was invited to perform as a younger version of Miranda Lambert in Tribute shows featuring the songs of country music stars and rock n’ roll legends such as Elvis Presley, Patsy Cline and Roy Orbison.
“I’ve always been a country singer,” said Caskenette.
No matter how people accept her songs, Caskenette knows she always wants to have music involved in her life.
“I’ve always kind of liked the idea of being a teacher – it just so happens you can be a music teacher, as I am now which is super cool,” she said.
She gives music lessons at Back Alley Sound Studio, which is a job she can only describe as “super, super, super cool.”
“A lot of teenagers don’t get to pursue what they are passionate about as a job,” she said. “I sit here and I get to express what I love doing to other kids. It’s cool being able to do what I love as a job already.”
Caskenette is currently recording “Butterflies,” one of her original songs.
“It’s so different releasing one of your songs than releasing something someone else wrote and I bet Tennille Townes probably feels this way,” she said. “You write the songs from your heart… it’s what I put all my emotions into. When you are writing songs and you think to yourself that… other people are going to listen to what you are saying and hear the story and understand your emotions – that’s scary sometimes.”
Although she loves country music, Caskenette is not sure she would describe her songs as ‘country.’
“When you keep it open it’s a lot easier to write songs, I’m not going to lie – if you don’t stick to a genre it’s a lot easier because you just kind of feel it out,” she said.
“She is just a powerhouse vocalist,” said Kipfer.
It is exciting for him to be fostering musical growth within the community he grew up in.
“I’m from Milverton so to be able to raise talent in Milverton, Stratford and Listowel – that’s really what I’m interested in right now,” said Kipfer. “I think there is a lot of talent and it goes undiscovered and that’s just by nature of the fact that we don’t have much of a circuit around here.”
He believes if there was someone who took him aside at 15 and said – ‘hey, I see you’ve got some talent. Are you interested in taking this to the next level?’ – his life would be very different.
“I’m 38 and I think I was about 35 when I released my first single, so if I had started this 20 years ago I don’t know where I’d be,” he said. “I definitely think I was put on the road for a reason… now I can share knowledge and wisdom with the next generation.”
Once COVID-19 is dealt with and concerts are allowed again, Kipfer plans to continue with the annual concerts in Milverton and he hopes to be able to find and help many more local artists.
“I think this is a really fun part of my job right now and I’m just really glad it’s a girl from Milverton who is the first one to be able to spread her wings,” he said.
Colin Burrowes, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Listowel Banner