Singer and songwriter Kassi Ashton knows she isn’t your typical female country music artist. She knows that she sometimes talks too loud and laughs too hard, and she knows that many people doubted she could tour the country and garner millions of streams.

But she knows something else, too—being authentic is part of what makes her special. We’re pretty sure this is just the beginning of her journey towards stardom.

So, what was it like growing up in California, Missouri?
Well, it’s a one-stoplight town. There is no Walmart. My parents split up when I was a kid, so I always felt like I was living in two different worlds. At my mom’s house, my room had a big iron gothic bed and a damask comforter, and these old Victorian chairs we picked up at Goodwill. It was very girly, but with an edge [laughing]. At my dad’s house, my room had a bunny wallpaper border that just never came down. Like I said, it was two different worlds.

What kept you busy as a kid?
I was a big dancer. I danced six days a week and I would spend a lot of time at dance competitions. But I also loved hunting season. I mean, it was bigger than Christmas for me. I also loved my dad’s motorcycles, and I rode dirt bikes. I acted like a boy, but I loved eyelashes and clothes. It was an interesting childhood.

Sounds like your childhood was filled with good memories, right?
No, there were plenty of shitty memories, too. There were times that I was singled out and made fun of. But family wise, I was always surrounded by love.

When did you know that you wanted to go to Nashville?
I was in high school, and I was counting down the days until I could move. I knew there was nothing there in California, Missouri, for a girl with a ton of ambition who just wanted to see life past the stop sign. So, I headed to Nashville to attend Belmont University. I remember going to a fair out in the country while I was there, and the girls I was going with asked if there would be cows. I mean, they had never seen a cow [laughing]. It made me so happy to have been raised in Missouri. I have always cherished that small town mentality that I had been raised on.

You were also diagnosed with thyroid cancer while in college. Did you ever think about throwing in the towel?
No, even after the cancer diagnosis, I didn’t want to go home. I just kept going.

Now you’re touring the country and working with artists like Keith Urban.
I don’t feel like I’m any different than anyone else. From a young age, I learned that we are all just human. So when I go out on that stage every night, I just want people to know that they can be whoever they want to be. I just want to be honest and authentic with them, no matter what.

You recently went out on tour with Nashville singer Maren Morris. Did you enjoy the chaos of touring?
Well, yeah, there are a lot of moving pieces when you are on a tour as big as that, but all of those moving pieces truly inspire me. I really have to pinch myself that I get to do this. I mean, I can be a trailblazer if I want to [laughing]. I try not to think about it too much or I’ll pee.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.