Muddy Magnolias, the soulful duo of Kallie North and Jessy Wilson, are fresh on the music scene after meeting in Nashville just three years ago. Within six months of individually landing in Music City, North and Wilson met, became songwriting partners and bandmates. Before releasing a single, Muddy Magnolias had earned rave reviews from national press. Rolling Stone praised, “a sound that melds city grit and Delta dirt, exploding onstage not like two lead singers but more like parts of the same whole…performed as if Mick Jagger and Keith Richards inhabited the Indigo Girls.” They also landed a coveted spot in Elle Magazine’s 2015 Women in Music issue. Now, with new music produced by Butch Walker (Weezer, Pink, Panic! At The Disco, Fall Out Boy) the pair are poised for their real breakthrough.
North and Wilson serendipitously crossed paths in Nashville after Wilson visited an office on Music Row where she was drawn to a photograph that North had taken. “I had just moved to town and wanted some advice on connecting the dots in Nashville, so I went to BMI. I was playing my songs for an executive when I noticed on the table next to me a framed photograph of an old juke joint piano. The picture was striking and haunting, and somehow reminded me of my grandmother’s childhood home. I asked, ‘Who took this picture? I want to meet the person that took this picture.’ He told me it was by a photographer and songwriter from Mississippi who had also just moved to Nashville named Kallie North.” Wilson and North were soon introduced and began writing songs almost immediately. “The first time we ever sat down to write together we had such great chemistry that we became full-time writing partners. At that point we had never sung together before. We were just jumping around Nashville writing songs everyday,” says North.
The turning point came when they heard their combined voices on a recording for the first time. “A friend asked me to sing a demo for him. That day Jessy called and I invited her to stop by the studio. While she was there they asked her to sing on the demo too. When they played it back, everyone heard the blend of our voices, and we all just stopped in our tracks. It was an an incredible moment,” says North. “There was something we couldn’t put our finger on. It felt much bigger than anything we probably would have done on our own,” adds Wilson.
The powerful sound that resulted from the union of their voices gave birth to the Muddy Magnolias and marked the beginning of their journey writing their debut album. Mingling the trademark qualities of America’s most beloved genres, North and Wilson combined their childhood musical influences to shape a sound that is rootsy, bluesy, soulful and sexy. “I was raised on soul, hip hop, R&B and gospel in the North. Kallie was raised on folk, country, gospel and blues in the South. Of course we both know pop music by heart, so it’s all there in this big ol’ melting pot,” says Wilson. “It was fun to experiment and mix a hip-hop verse with a blues chorus or a soul verse with a rootsy chorus and then add pop sounds around it. We just did whatever we wanted without worrying about boundaries.”
Their separate roads leading them to Nashville and the world of songwriting would prime them and shape their artistry in two completely different ways. Wilson, born and raised in Brooklyn, NY, was a touring background vocalist with mentor and friend, John Legend. “John was my biggest musical influence and introduced me to the world of songwriting. I used my tour salary to follow him to studios all over the country and that sparked my real growth as a creator,” Jessy states. Wilson contributed as vocalist and co-writer to some of Legend’s biggest hits, including “Save Room” and “Heaven Only Knows” alongside will.i.am and Kanye West. Additionally, her work on Ledisi and Fantasia Barrino’s albums would earn her two Grammy nominations and solidify her spot in the elite level of R&B songwriting. But in the midst of her success, Wilson found herself creatively boxed in. “I felt like I was writing the same song over and over again. Then I remembered a writing trip I had taken with John to Nashville. The songwriters there were writing about everything from dirt to divinity. I craved that freedom for myself, so I got in my car and made the 14-hour drive.”
North on the other hand was living deep in the heart of the birthplace of America’s music, the Mississippi Delta. “I moved to the Delta after college and started my career as a photographer. I was extremely inspired by the Delta blues, the history of the land and the people that had come before. I have really carried that inspiration with me on this journey,” she notes. After being gifted a guitar, North began writing songs at her farm and felt the tug to pursue her newfound creative passion. “I was so consumed with writing, playing and singing music, and someone suggested I go to Nashville.”
When the two came together to make music, they discovered that they had two different ways of working. “Kallie was accustomed to writing alone, just her and a guitar, and I had spent so much time writing to tracks and beats,” says Jessy. “So we’ve really had to develop a style of our own together.” Pulling from their past experiences and landscapes, touching on women’s empowerment, sexuality, spirituality and race, North and Wilson have learned to stay open and write freely, embracing what they don’t know about each other’s backgrounds and influences. “One day I asked to see a picture of where Kallie was living in Mississippi and she showed me a black and white photograph of people being baptized in the Mississippi River, and that inspired us to write ‘Down by the Riverside.’ Later on I was wanting to play with some hip-hop phrasing, and we wrote ‘It Ain’t Easy.’ We just go with the flow. Whenever one of us is inspired by something, the other jumps on board and we try to put it down in song.”
Some might call their meeting destiny, but whatever it is the end result is a raw, soulfully impassioned album that paints a jaw-dropping picture which is sure to make music listeners worldwide ask that very question that brought the pair together. Who took that photo? The Muddy Magnolias did.