Nora Collins doesn’t exactly have country in her roots, but there’s plenty of country in her soul. The youngster hails from the Milwaukee area, not generally considered a hotbed of country music. But the style has been gaining ground with fans in the big city, and that’s been enough to inspire Collins, who has just released a brand-new single, “Who Knows Who.”
“I think people are often surprised at how huge a presence country radio is in Wisconsin,” Collins tells “S&E Nashville.” “Especially in Milwaukee. The music just resonates with people. The city kind of has that blue-collar attitude and people relate to the songs. It’s what I listened to growing up.” As far as a country music heritage, though, the state is still on the short list. “The only one I can think of from the area is Josh Thompson,” Collins says, referring to the “Beer on the Table” singer. “I have opened for him a couple times and I have gotten the chance to write with him. He is someone I really look up to.”
Two years after moving to Nashville, Collins is beginning to hone her own songwriting chops. She co-wrote “Who Knows Who,” a playful but also somewhat feisty tune, with Music Row writers Nick Donley and Jake Mitchell. “I write about five days a week,” she notes, “and I write with a lot of different people.” She composes mostly from guitar, describing herself as a “basic player. If there’s a stronger player in the room, I’ll defer to them. You won’t see me shredding it,” she laughs.
Her “Who Knows Who” single represents a new sound and direction for her. “I am so excited about the single,” she says with enthusiasm. “It’s a fun, sassy song that I think people will relate to. The title came from Jake and when I heard it, I loved it.” The single basically revolves around a relationship breakup and takes the attitude of “I can play that game, too,” in a fun-spirited sort of way. “You kind of want the other person to know that you can have a good time without them,” Collins smiles.
As a performer, she has years of experience already notched in her belt. Collins has taken the stage several times for Milwaukee’s annual Summerfest, billed as “the world’s largest music festival.” Few could take issue with that moniker, as the festival runs for 11 days and hosts literally hundreds of acts, many of them the top names in all genres of music. “I’ve played it since I was 16,” Collins says. “This past summer, I got to be the direct opener for Lee Brice on the Miller Lite Oasis stage, which is one of the really big ones. I played with a full band in front of about 10,000 people. That was a special night for me.” Collins has also performed at Nashville’s renowned Bluebird Cafe as part of the Song Suffragettes, a group of female writers and artists, and opened for such acts as Maren Morris, Kelsea Ballerini and Ronnie Milsap.
Her career catapulted upward when she was selected for CMT’s Artist Discovery program in 2016. The CMT campaign helps up-and-coming artists through world premiere videos and custom on-air promotion to more efficiently connect them with their fan base. “I really saw the results of that,” Collins says. “That has been amazing. I would say that it definitely helped grow my fan base. You could see it through Facebook activity and views on my videos. It was a very cool thing to see that progression.”
Fans will likely get to see her in action as she fills out her tour schedule for the year. “We’re still working on that,” she explains. “There are a lot of festivals in Wisconsin during the summer, but not sure exactly which ones we might be doing.” Obviously, any opportunity to play before the home folks remains a cherished one.
“My parents are very supportive of this,” she says, with a touch of emotion in her voice. “They encouraged me from the beginning. They are excited for me and understand my passion for doing this.” Leaving Wisconsin for Music City wasn’t easy, she’s quick to admit. But acclimation has come quickly. “I was able to move to Nashville after I signed a publishing deal,” Collins says. “”This is where I wanted to be for the music. But it’s also a lot warmer here,” she adds with a relieved grin. “I’m very happy not to be up North during the winter.”
Nora Collins’ new single “Who Knows Who” is available now. The single is part of an upcoming EP, due this summer.