“I just feel awkward and uncool most of the time in social situations”, Stacy Antonel admits. “I’m an introvert, and it takes me a while to warm up conversationally, so I often feel boring and unworthy of people’s time and attention, especially in a room full of strangers or semi-acquaintances”.
It’s funny to think of the same singer responsible for the wonderfully bold and reassured ‘Always the Outsider’ coming out with such an Eeyore-ish sentence, but the stoic country outsider wasn’t always a role that came naturally to the singer, who grew up listening to pop and R&B hits and studying classical piano in a seaside town near San Diego.
“I often felt like a fish out of water in San Diego,” she recalls, until she discovered country music. “One day I randomly bought a bunch of 99-cent country records and fell in love with the genre; the concision of the writing, the wit, how it doesn’t take itself too seriously even while dealing with deep subject matter.”
In 2013, Antonel won $10,000 in a televised local singing contest, 3 Minutes to Stardom, and quit her job to focus on music. She formed a country band later that year, performing covers of classic country hits as Ginger Cowgirl, and in 2017 she finally made the move to Nashville. She made the switch to releasing music under how own name in 2021 when she began working with guitarist Paul Sgroi, before heading back to San Diego to record the album, Always the Outsider, with producer Ben Moore.
Written after a night out at Dee’s Country Cocktail Lounge, the album's title track is a delightful misfit anthem that pours one out for the lonely wallflower in us all. “The temperature was in the 90s and the AC was broken, so we were packed in and sweating together”, Antonel told us about the night that inspired the song. “The sort of familial, collective quality of that moment brought into sharp relief how alone I was. I was just looking at everyone else with their friends while I was there by myself, as usual".
Listen to 'Always the Outsider' premiering exclusively at Holler below.
A city can often be a lonely place for those of us who are a little bit backwards in coming forwards, and Music City is no exception, especially for a songwriter who’s prone to prioritising her career.
“I moved to Nashville on my own with no connections, and pretty much just put my head down and started working full time while trying to write a ton of songs and book as many shows as possible”, she says. “On this night, I started to really see the personal cost of the relentless pursuit of my career. Always an outsider, working hard but burning out, and stupidly believing I was good enough to not have to get my hands dirty with human relationships”.
“Socializing in Nashville is interesting”, Antonel explains, “because a lot of people hold positions of influence, even if it’s just that they book the music at a local dive bar. It can feel like there are a lot of social gatekeepers, some of whom aren’t even particularly talented or genuine, and it just feels weird and inauthentic to socialize with people with an ulterior motive. Like, maybe they can get me a gig, maybe they’ll book me on their songwriter night, they have connections that might benefit me, etc.”
“But I’ve been so obsessed with ‘making it’ that it’s been almost impossible for me to stop the constant career strategizing and just relax and enjoy people.So I decided to avoid the situation by just not being social at all, which just resulted in me being lonely and isolated. So this song was kind of the beginning of my realization that I was throwing out the baby with the bathwater, and that building real community is probably more important than being successful in the music industry. That ‘making it’ isn't some magical place, it's just your life, so build it how you want it to look”.
Writing ‘Always the Outsider’ ended up being a means of cathartis for Antonel, and once she began singing it live she began to appreciate how feeling like an outsider could actually be a universal feeling for a lot of other people too.
“Writing this particular song did feel cathartic for me. I was at a place where I was constantly comparing myself to others and feeling like a failure in a lot of ways. Writing this song let me express and process the despair I was feeling, and how I really didn’t want to feel that way anymore. I think a big reason I write songs is to feel understood, and it comforts me to have this feeling neatly crystallized in a song and have people relate to it. It sounds really obvious, but it was actually a genuine surprise to me that people related to this song”.
Always the Outsider will be released independently on June 17. Presave and preorder it here.