Reilly Downes is the Sad Cowgirl of Chicago. An Americana artist hailing from the Texas Hill Country, she cut her teeth as a session musician in Nashville, singing behind some of Americana’s favorite singer/songwriters. Reilly’s music has been described as “easy on the ears but hard on the heart” by Nashville’s Music Mecca. Her songs diverge from typical contemporary country, draw on her Texas roots with a sound that “cuts across each track like a rattlesnake, adding some extra honesty and grit.” Reilly’s first solo album, Spent, earned her the spot of #1 Americana releases for 2022 as well as features on The Boot, among other Americana and Country covering media. Since then, her haunting rendition of “Wicked Game” has landed her radio play, a feature on Spotify’s “Vibes” playlist, and more.
1. What gets your motor running?
Oh man, I’d say anything that makes me feel like a badass, things that push boundaries or are just incredibly emotionally raw. The sadder the better.
2. Tell us about a work of art you feel is woefully misunderstood or underappreciated.
I’d definitely say any of Leonard Cohen’s deep cuts, especially “Alexandra Leaving.” The man was such an amazing songwriter, and I don’t think he gets enough credit for songs like that.
3. You’re from Central Texas, by way of Nashville—and you even spent some time in West Texas—but you’ve ended up in Chicago. How does your Texas-infused “Sad Cowgirl” sound translate to Chicago?
Surprisingly, my music is way more indie than the country music you’ll hear a lot of in Chicago. Chicago is an old town, and boy do they love their honky-tonk.
4. Chicago has its own Americana sound (i.e., Wilco), and so do Austin and Nashville. How do these various Americana “moods” differ, and how do you bring these influences together in your own music?
Like I said, I’m a lot more indie in the Americana genre, think early Noah Gundersen or David Ramirez (an Austinite himself!). They were huge influences for me, but as I’ve grown as an artist and come to respect old country more, you’ll see a lot of that influence in my newer work.
5. We decided to do a Seven Questions blog with you after the guys from West Texas Exiles expressed admiration for your work. What’s your wider musical community like?
I love those boys, so incredibly talented and just skyrocketing. It was such an honor to be mentioned by them. Daniel [Davis of the Exiles] and I ran around with the same crowd back in the panhandle of Texas. Nowadays making connections with other artists is so easy thanks to social media. I have musician friends I’ve never met who have been such a support just from hearing about me through the grapevine that is the music industry. It’s an incredible little thing.
6. What are some of your favorite venues to play (in Chicago, Texas, Nashville and elsewhere)?
My favorite venue in Chicago, is probably the California Clipper—not only is the sound incredible for the size, but my experience with the staff has been the best. They really care about the artist. Nashville, I haven’t played in almost 10 years. Unfortunately my favorite venue, Mercy Lounge, closed last year. And Texas . . . now TEXAS, I think the Golden Light in Amarillo will always have my heart. TALK ABOUT FEELING LIKE YOU’RE HOME. The energy in that room is magnetic.
7. How do you take your whiskey?
Neat, always. I’m a no bullshit kinda girl.