The top of the country charts can seem further away looking through a glass ceiling, unless you’re never looking up for it to begin with.
This spring songwriter/producer Alex Kline became the first solo female producer to take the number one spot on the Media Base/County Aircheck charts and enter the top 15 on country radio, peaking at number three on Country Billboard charts.
It’s all due to she and her all-female team’s work on Tenille Arts “Somebody Like That.”
“When we set out with this single I didn’t realize the statistic was what it was. It just seemed kind of unbelievable to me that a solo female hadn’t produced a number one song before,” Kline said. “It still kind of blows my mind.”
According to a 2021 study by the University of California, just 5% of all producers credited on tracks appearing on Billboard’s Hot 100 over the last nine years were women.
From its release, “Somebody Like That” embarked on a 70-week journey to number one, which is also a record, according to Kline.
“There were a lot of times along the way where it was a slow ride,” Kline explained. “We’d make it to the top 40 and just be happy to be there. We’d make it to the top 30.”
“It really wasn’t until a couple weeks before number one where I really let my hopes get up that we were actually going to do it. It was against all the odds,” she said. “It was crazy it was even possible.”
Like the song’s long journey, Kline’s own story didn’t unfurl over night.
When Kline and her family left Minnesota for Northern California before her sophomore year of high school, she was a young John Frusciante inspired guitar player infatuated with No Doubt and the Red Hot Chili Peppers who lived next door to Jerry Garcia’s last residence.
“I really thought coming to California would be a scene from “Clueless,” somehow I’d be the Brittany Murphy and show up and Alicia Silverstone would take me under her wing, and before you know it I’d be super popular and living my best California life,” said Kline with a laugh. “It did not work out that way. Being a transfer student with a thick Minnesota accent does not blend in super well.”
Kline pursued a music education locally before choosing to transfer Berklee College of Music for more formal training, but that choice left her with a lot of time in between for something different.
When Kline graduated high school, her godfather had given her $5,000 to spend on “something fun.”
“I ended up taking that and buying a plane ticket and a Eurorail pass,” Kline said.
What ensued was a three-month backpacking trip across 12 European countries, riding the rails, and staying crowded hostels.
“I just had this little notebook with me and I’d have my headphones in and be writing lyrics,” Kline said. “And I had this tiny little travel guitar that I strapped to my backpack that I would pull out when we’d get to places.”
By this time, her passion for writing had taken root.
“Something just feels really satisfying about writing a really great song,” Kline said. “And of course, we don’t write really great songs every day, but I love the process and getting together and having a relationship with people. Talking about what’s going on in our lives and pulling a story out of somebody is just really thrilling … And we’re all afraid of impermanence.”
Berklee’s halls would lead her to Nashville on an exploratory trip in 2007, one that built on a youthful love she’d developed back home for the Dixie Chicks and “left-of-center country.”
There, she saw songwriters Gillian Welch and David Wellings perform at an Berklee alumni show at the Station Inn.
“That was kind of an ‘Aha’ moment for me.” she said. “... Having all this incredible music, being around these songwriters and being immediately in the scene I kind of knew from that moment that I was going to move to Nashville.”
Fresh into Music City, she played in bands like Fireman’s Daughter and The Lunabelles, rubbing elbows with a host of future stars and players like T.J. and John Osborne, who were on the scene at the time.
The Lunabelles signed with Sony and released a single “A Place to Shine” but disbanded after two years.
“I spent a day crying over it, being like ‘Oh my God, what do I do?’ I just lost a record deal,” Kline said. “Then I took a deep breath, and realized I wasn’t really that happy being an artist.
“I found myself being more excited for those days I was back home creating than the thought of living in a bus 250 days a year and playing arenas and recreating the same songs over and over again,” she said. “It didn’t feel like my path, as much as coming up with something new every day.”
Kline had taught herself numerous stringed instruments since arriving and now writing heavily again she taught herself how to create, spiff up and shine her own demos via online tutorials.
As her skill grew, songwriter Erin Enderlin was the first to ask Kline to produce her EP.
“I didn’t even realize I was a producer at the time. I was kind of like, ‘I don’t really understand why you’re going to ask me to do that, I’m not a producer,’” Kline said. “And she was like, ‘Of course you are. This is what you’ve been doing this whole time. I think you would nail this.’”
Enderlin’s resulting 2013 EP “I Let Her Talk,” was reviewed well and got her on The Grand Ole Opry.
“That experience of recording then also helping someone accomplish some dreams was just really exciting to me,” Kline said. “From then on, I knew I wanted to write, but I also wanted to be a producer.”
The work trickled in, pairing up with Tara Thompson for her Big Machine debut and Terri Clark and more, the scarcity of females in her line of work never bothering her.
“I have tried to use it to my advantage, because it makes me stand out. When I was in Berklee, I was a guitar principle, and there was 1,000 guitar principles and about eight of them were women,” Kline said. “I was just used to always being the only girl in the room.
“I kind of thought more that this makes me special, and also, on a plus and a minus, they don’t expect much from me. So, if I show up and blow them away, they’re going to be doubly blown away. That’s how I felt about production too. … There are thousands of guys in this town, at least I’m a little bit of a unicorn.”
Kline met fledgling artist Tenille Arts in a writers’ room. The pair, along with songwriter Allison Veltz-Cruz, worked together on “Wouldn’t You Like to Know.”
And in March 2019, the same team was at it again, building on their chemistry.
This time, they met in Kline’s home, in a crowded bedroom setup with a mobile rig next to an old treadmill, instead of Kline’s usual basement studio.
“It had just flooded and so it was a disaster down here,” Kline said. “The carpet was ripped up, people had been jack hammering earlier, the walls were ripped out.”
Despite the ramshackle setup, art sprang forth.
“Tenille had been writing a lot of stuff that felt more like break-up songs and sad songs,” said Kline. “She really wanted to write something positive about love.”
“It was just such a magical day,” Kline remembered. “I started playing a groove and Allison and Tenille started singing and somehow we came up with that chorus. It felt like something special right away.”
Kline played bass, keys, mandolin, guitar, banjo and the synth on the track, and the original vocals recorded during that bedroom session remained throughout the process.
With Arts’ team very much on board with promoting the single, it became a waiting game featuring low expectations.
“I’d been here for about 10 years and had been so used to loving stuff so much and then it kind of having a minimal impact,” Kline said. “Just out of defense for getting my heart broken, I come in usually with pretty tampered expectations.”
Over time, the song rose steadily. When it finally happened, 70 weeks after release, the moment all the sweeter for it.
“I feel incredibly honored … I’m not going to lie. It’s been awesome,” said Kline. “After being here for 12 years, it feels really awesome to be like ‘Ah that’s my face on a banner.’ As silly as it sounds, it’s actually pretty incredible.”
Kline is hopeful the moment has an impact on the increasing number of women she’s seeing coming up through the production pipeline.
“I’m thrilled to be the first, but I’m hoping it’s going to inspire a lot more women to say ‘I want to do that too and I can do that because I’ve seen another woman do that.’ I hope there’s a slew of women behind me eager to smash that record even more,” Kline said. “There are a lot that are doing some really great stuff, so I think that I definitely won’t be the last by a long shot.”
Kline has a publishing deal in the works and will be releasing more tunes with Arts, Stephanie Quayle and Maddie Larkin later this year.