Kelsi Mayne’s debut album, As I Go, opens with the sound of a needle dropping on a scratchy record and a Gospel intro before the first song, “Woman Waiting.” It’s a nod to the emerging country star’s upbringing in Windsor, Ont., across the bridge from the epicentre of old-school R&B and soul in Detroit – and those soulful roots spread throughout her songs, subtly revealing her love for Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, and Destiny’s Child.

As I Go‘s release date was March 27, in the midst of the COVID-19 maelstrom, but while she’ll have to postpone the launch party, Mayne – an independent artist who’s her own manager, label, and booking agent – is way ahead of the game. She’s been dropping kickass singles over the past year and watching them soar, with Spotify streams in the six figures and 1.5 million views on TikTok in 24 hours. She was a finalist in SiriusXM’s “Top of the Country” contest and a hit with her single “Takin’ U Home” on the Rogers Hometown Hockey Tour. And she sees a silver lining in the album’s timing. “We’ll get twice the publicity, ‘cause we have to announce the cancelling and then announce the new dates,” she says. ‘It’s not the worst thing. I have a nursing background, and I’m just happy everyone’s taking precautions.”

“I have a rule for our pre-show ritual:  shots and squats.”

Mayne has a powerful, beautifully twangy voice, and she’s been wowing people with it since childhood – at school, in Windsor bars, and at festivals like Boots & Hearts. But she didn’t start writing songs until more recently. “When I graduated from university I decided it was a now-or-never time to pursue music,” she explains. “I met with a manager who told me that if I wanted to be an artist I had to learn an instrument and write my own songs. So it wasn’t till I was 21 that I picked up the guitar for the first time. Sometimes I think it would have been better to learn at a younger age, so I could be a stronger player and writer by now. But I don’t think I’d change anything, ‘cause I got to live that life and work in the hospital and have all these experiences, and now I get to write about them. I think my first couple of songs were stronger than they would have been if I ‘d started writing as a child.”

Now Mayne lives in Toronto and travels to Nashville for songwriting sessions; she co-wrote all but one of the songs on As I Go with collaborators including Brett Sheroky, Drew Powell, PJ Ju, and Andrew Peebles. “In Nashville I take all my other hats off and put my writing hat on,” she says. “That’s all I’m thinking about. And when I come back to Canada, that’s when I focus on marketing, and booking, and all the other stuff.

“Nashville is a very nurturing environment for up-and-coming artists. When I first got there, I’d go to a bar, listen to the live music, grab a beer, and start talking to people. That’s how I did a lot of networking, and I met a lot of really great singer-songwriters, because most everyone’s a songwriter there. It’s cool to be able to work with some great hit songwriters. The Canadians all tend to find each other down there, and they helped connect me to a lot of people.”

As a nurse, a singer-songwriter, a track athlete, and an actor, Mayne has a lot of career options. “For everything there’s a time and a place,” she says. “Music is my first priority, and I fit everything else in when I can. I’m not an athlete anymore, but I volunteer as a coach when I have time, and I love doing that.”

And all those skills are complementary, she points out. “I have a pretty energetic live show, and being athletic helps that,” she says. “I have a rule for our pre-show ritual:  shots and squats. We do 10 squats, do a shot and go on stage. I have another rule for when I’m on stage: no high heels, ‘cause I like to jump around and jump off things, and it doesn’t work in heels. But that’s OK: when you’re a country artist, cowboy boots are totally acceptable.”