Lauren Watkins, a Tennessee native and a recent University of Mississippi graduate, is expanding her country music career while keeping her experience at Oxford close.
Watkins grew up in Nashville and attended Ole Miss, graduating in 2021 with a degree in integrated marketing communications.
“In a lot of ways, Ole Miss feels like the place my life really started,” Watkins said.
The 23-year-old country singer has many fond memories of her time in Oxford and the community around her. Being enthusiastic about all things musical, she found herself constantly at the Lyric, attending concerts alongside friends.
Watkins began to write more songs as her college years progressed, taking inspiration from ordinary young adult experiences.
“It was really those first college heartbreaks that pulled me to start writing songs in the first place, and I couldn’t stop,” Watkins said.
She sings with a strong alto voice and has a slightly raspy tone makes it seem like she is more world weary than she actually is.
Her voice is not the only authentic aspect to her music. Watkins puts heavy thought and effort into her lyricism. Her clever use of wordplay gives her a distinctive place in the country community.
Last April, Watkins’ debut EP, “Introducing: Lauren Watkins,” was released. It features seven songs, ranging from fast-tempo pieces that echo old school rock to slow, meaningful pieces with deeper lyrics.
She likes to use multiple meanings to a sentence or phrase. The unique phrasing in her song “Ole Miss,” such as lines like “the same ole miss you feeling,” gives the listener multiple ways to interpret the lyrics.
“I got to keep growing into myself and writing exactly what I was living in college before moving back home to Nashville to pursue (music) full time,” Watkins said.
She recalls her time in Oxford as a student when crafting her art. In her song, “Ole Miss,” she sings about aspects of Oxford and UM: “We used to take Highway 7” and “those powder-blue eyes.”
These clever riffs give insight into young adult life in Oxford. She expands on specific themes many Ole Miss students can relate to, like broken hearts, game day experiences and enjoying down-home Southern life.
Although Watkins lived out these ordinary collegiate experiences, she was also focused on her artistry, which at times caused her to miss out on things.
“In some ways it was lonely pursuing something like (music) while still in school, but I actually think that’s what forced me to be myself and to be creative on my own,” Watkins said.
Watkins draws songwriting inspiration from popular artists Kacey Musgraves and Natalie Hemby.
“I had never heard more clever one liners until I started listening to Kacey. And her way of making old country so new and dreamy was always fascinating to me,” Watkins said.
Watkins’ connections to her favorite artists extends beyond inspiration, though. Since moving back to Nashville, Watkins has worked alongside Hemby.
“Natalie Hemby was one of the first songwriters I was even aware of. She wrote so many of the songs I grew up loving and ones that got me through huge moments in life,” Watkins said. “Years later, I’ve been lucky enough to work with her, and watching her process is a whole new level of inspiration to me.”
Watkins has enjoyed a successful beginning to her career. After the release of her EP, SiriusXM named her album as The Highway’s newest “Highway Find,” with past winners including Luke Combs and Parker McCollum.
“I just want to be a vessel for the songs I write. I plan to keep putting out music and getting out on the road to play it for people,” Watkins said. “I hope my music reaches as many as possible and that it does for people what music has always done for me. Whether it gets you through tough times or helps you work through emotions, I want to be able to bring that to people for as long as I can.”