There’s a lot of value in honesty. I would hope you already generally know this. Letting people know what you’re doing, if you’re going to miss a deadline, or what time you’ll meet them for a drink is just common courtesy. That’s just surface level honesty, and it’s unquestionably a good thing. The honesty I’m talking about is a deeper honesty, an honesty we could all get better at. It’s telling the people in your life you love and appreciate them on a more regular basis. It’s being honest with yourself about what your intentions, limits, and dreams are. And while it can be hard, it’s being open about your insecurities, fears, reaching out when you need help, and using that experience to help others. That kind of honesty is rarer than most, which is what makes Lauren Duski so special. From her runner-up appearance on The Voice to her debut EP Midwestern Girl, the Michigan-born, Nashville-based country artist is winning fans’ hearts by sharing as much of her personality and history in her music as she can.

It’s immediately evident the Duski you hear in her music is the same Duski everyone gets in real life. There’s a friendliness and kindness radiating out from her from the moment she picks up the phone. On top of that is a genuine excitement and enthusiasm for the way her career has turned out. “It’s been really good, a lot has changed after being on the show… good change,” she tells me about her life. She’s clearly as pleased as anyone can be about life, and it’s hard not to smile listening to her talk about it.

That’s not to say all that happiness doesn’t come with some hard work. Duski is releasing Midwestern Girl independently, which is no easy feat. Still, it’s been a dream for her. She describes the independent process as “a gift” and says “it’s actually been really great because I’ve been able to have creative control and pick the songs I want to release.” She has also relished the opportunity to learn about all of the things that go into an album release besides the recording, from art direction to press coverage. She’s proud of what she’s accomplished with it, but she’s quick to mention she hasn’t done it on her own. “I literally don’t know what I would do without my team. I’m independent, but I still have a lot of people who believe in me and who have been helping me through navigating these waters.”

You don’t have to go too far into Midwestern Girl before the benefits of Duski’s musical independence shows up. The EP begins with “Journey of a Midwestern Girl,” an instrumental track. Beginning a five-song EP with an instrumental is a decision she acknowledges was “scary,” but she had a strong vision for the tune. She fondly recalls “when I hear that melody and that song in particular, I see myself as a kid in the Midwest building tree forts and riding four-wheelers and riding my bike around the neighborhood and just being carefree. I really want people to have that nostalgia before they dive into the songs.” Indeed, the string-based arrangement calls to mind a childhood summer spent out in the sun.

The collection of songs on Midwestern Girl have been a long time coming. Over the last two years, Duski has dived into the songwriting process. She says throughout that time she wasn’t writing for any particular project, but “writing about [my] life, about the change that’s been happening, a lot of [my] experiences growing up.” She puts emphasis on those formative experiences as she’s explaining the inspiration for her songs, and there’s a sense of fond reminiscing on the EP that bears this out. “I’m just this normal girl from the Midwest who is trying to figure out her life and I feel like you’ll get that with these songs and really understand,” she says. The eagerness she has at the idea of sharing as much of her story as she can in her music is clear in her voice.

Duski’s story involves not only herself, but a slew of experiences and people who have propelled her to where she is now. Those people include the fellow musicians from the northern part of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula, who encouraged her to seriously go after a career in music. “I feel like their belief in me really gave me the courage to pursue something like the show and to pursue this as a career,” she explains. The story also includes a degree in Biopsychology, Cognition, and Neuroscience from the University of Michigan. She reveals she was originally planning on going to dental school, but a friend introduced her to a producer in Chicago. She remembers “I was getting ready to take the DAT (the exam to get into dental school), and I thought there’s just no way… I have to pursue music, I have to at least try.” While she’s obviously not in the Neuroscience field now, Duski says she’s grateful for her four years in college and sometimes even thinks about her emotions and writing through the more scientific workings of the brain.

The eagerness Duski displays in wanting to share her story comes from a desire to pay it forward in a way. “For me, as a kid growing up, I never knew any of the artists I loved personally, but I felt like I did through their music,” she explains. More specifically, she wants to give her fans something they can relate to. That means not only connecting with Duski and her story, but finding a strength inside themselves. “I consider myself so lucky to be able to do that and to give people a glimpse into who I am through these songs and hopefully bring them some clarity, because I found that clarity writing them,” she says.

Nowhere is that sentiment more clear than on Duski’s first single, “Costume Party.” The single about opening up and sharing your true self with the world has resonated deeply with fans, who submitted videos to create the track’s music video. The idea of loving who you are and being confident is an important one for Duski, and one she’s struggled with in the past. She recalls moving to Nashville five years ago, but it wasn’t an easy beginning. She reveals “I spent the first three years letting fear control me and being so scared just to be myself and to let that show. It didn’t matter what room I was in, who I was going to meet, who I was going to write with, I was so afraid to be myself.” After those three years, she decided to work on letting her fear go, and she’s the first to admit she still has to work on it. She laughs when she says “little Lauren would be so mad at adult Lauren” for not being exactly who she wants to be, but acknowledges the fight it has taken her to get here. She’s proud of the growth she’s done as a person and as an artist that’s showcased on Midwestern Girl, and she is extremely hopeful she can help others do the same thing. “I want to encourage people to be vulnerable and not be afraid to tell people ‘Hey, I’m going through something right now’ because… as much as you think it can push people away, it really only brings them closer,” she says.

The relationship Duski has with her fans is a constant through our conversation and through her career in music. Besides being active on Twitter and Instagram, she also posts a YouTube series called The Duski Trail to chronicle her adventures for her fans. “My fans have become family to me, and I feel like I don’t get to interact with them every day in person so it’s fun to give them a little glimpse into what goes on in my life,” she says of the series. There is no hyperbole when it comes to her considering her fans as family. Duski is quick and generous with praise for them. “They help me every single day, I think even more than they know,” she states frankly, and there’s real emotion in her words as she talks about owing her livelihood to them and being so happy to share experiences with them. She ends our conversation by emphasizing again how grateful she is for everyone who got her to this point in life.

When you talk to Lauren Duski, you hear the complete and total truth. You hear the same thing in her music, which combined with her considerable talent is the reason why her songs have resonated so deeply with people. On Midwestern Girl, she brings us up to speed on the journey that has taken her from a small girl in the small towns of Michigan to a rising country star across the nation. We just have to wait to hear the rest of the story. Duski will be more than happy to tell it to us.