Some might say that 2015 Ironwood Ridge High graduate Kaylor Cox has an unfair advantage. Her country roots might be genuine and freshly-sown, but she has the guidance of a guy named Du on her side.
"What I'm doing with Kaylor is developing her," Du Cassell says.
Now Du is a country-rooted producer and DJ with feet spread between New Jersey, Nashville, and the Old Pueblo.
"It's about transitioning her from a normal 19-year-old into what I hope and believe will be a superstar one day," he adds.
Known professionally as DJ DU, Du was one of the first of his kind to be signed to the APA Agency, who otherwise has signed more typical country acts. Having laid down some hard road in Music City before he played alongside star-shiners like Kenny Chesney and Sam Hunt, Du seems equipped to focus on his own management company, Casslar Entertainment, to the side, helping youngsters like Cox develop.
He's like a kinder, gentler Kim Fowley or Colonel Tom Parker, offering up the guidance.
Du continues, "I tell her that you don't have to be on American Idol or The Voice to make it, and as a matter of fact, how many of those people really do make it? My work with Kaylor is about doing it the right way—building your network, making new contacts, being a wonderful person to others—while also being willing to listen to constructive criticism. If I tell her it's not in the right key or if she needs to step it down or up, she does it. Ever since she's started embracing all of this, it's been leaps and bounds."
Cox, a South Dakota import with a perpetually sunny disposition, details her relationship with Du: "I'm just so thankful that he even takes the time to work with me. I know he's busy and has his own career, and it's very encouraging that he wants to spend time to help me and develop me. You know, he's hard on me but he's also very encouraging and makes me believe that I can do anything."
"She has something so unique in her voice," Du interjects, "and I hate to say it but her overall package reminds me a lot of a younger Taylor Swift, with that innocence and that purity to her voice."
He throws his arms up to illustrate. "She's going to be like this—boom! Biggest star since Linda Ronstadt, and that woman is basically god. To me, the best female voice of the entire 20th century, if not the best, period."
The two are comfortable enough to trade barbs and Cox memorably points out Du's tight, white t-shirt and saying, "You really do look like Simon Cowell right now." Perhaps that's a fitting remark for Du, being her manager and all, and the only ammo he's got to fire back is, "Well thanks, now she's just saying I'm old. You're not going to get my age out of me. This is her interview."
It's hard to read whether or not Cox is nervous, about the interview or about putting her career into the hands of Du. And it's hard to tell if she's been trained down to her speaking skills, or something else, but she answers her questions with a pre-determined professionality. Either way, she's ready to advance her career. She's well-mannered and poised—not like many her age, and her jabs at Du shows she can joke around.
Du cracks, "The only thing that I haven't helped her with is her public speaking. With that, she's got me beat. I'm an idiot."
The guffaws fade and Cox and Du explain more of their dynamic together, telling how it applies to other segments of her career and her life. And also how to engage her audience, ways that include home-recorded video covers of songs like Adele's "All I Ask," Miranda Lambert's "Vice," and Dierk Bently's "Different for Girls."
"With my YouTube channel right now, we're trying to get a video out a week and they've mostly been covers," Cox says. "I hope that even the covers speak to our audience. I try my best to make them my own so that even they speak to my listeners, and that's what I do my best every week at."
Du talks of his own dealings with Nashville grit, "I may have been in Nashville and had a conversation with somebody, and they may represent another artist out there. I may go to her and say, 'Here's this other manager's artist's song,' and she performs it, and here comes a connection. Some people ask me or they ask her why she chose to cover this song when it isn't very well-known, but this cover was meant for one person to listen to and if that one person does and we've made another link in the business for Kaylor, then it was worth it."
She also has a penchant for songwriting, with a couple on her YouTube channel as of now, and it's probably safe to assume that these two are trying to become one of the city's dynamic duos. For Du, though, the buck doesn't stop in Tucson, and they are in the planning stages of tracking Cox's songs in Nashville.
"I think Tucson has something special going on, and that's why I keep coming back. At the same time, seeing the connections I've made and the success I've met even as a producer and DJ in Nashville, I know that I can open those same doors for her while avoiding the same hurdles I had to go through in Music City."
Cox herself is diving straight in, of course.
"Some people say I can go to college at any time, and that's what all my friends are doing," Cox says. "But for me right now, this is it. I've lost friends over this because whenever they wanna hang out I'm always in my room writing or playing a song, but I don't regret anything about this. I want to show the world what I'm made of."