Just over two years into their professional relationship, Muddy Magnolias' Kallie North and Jessy Wilson are already that couple finishing each other's sentences.
Their paths first crossed in Nashville, both searching for that big break, and their instant connection set everything in motion. North's Southern roots meshed seamlessly with Wilson's independent Brooklyn spirit, resulting in a cohesive powerhouse of soulful blues rock.
The duo recently visited Miami as openers for Gary Clark Jr. and make a return to South Florida this week to play Tortuga. Ahead of their show, we chatted about their chance first encounter and the resulting effusive friendship that informs all of their music. This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
New Times: Where does the name "Muddy Magnolias" come from?
Kallie North: The name "Muddy" came from a Muddy Waters record. We were in a record store, and Jessy and I got booked real quick in a festival in Key West, and we didn't have time to pick a name for the duo. So we went to a record store we love and found a Muddy Waters record, and we said, "Muddy!" And someone else had mentioned magnolias, so we put the two together and thought it sounded —
Jessy Wilson: Iconic!
Has the name come to mean anything more?
KN: We have a lot of blues in our music. It definitely has a Mississippi feel to it.
JW: It sounds like some sort of mangled flower. Over time, it's kind of come to feel like it represents us in a way that, women are beautiful, but everyone's flawed. Us in particular, we have this tough side to us and this anti-girly thing most of the time. It fits our personalities.
On your first single, is the phrase "grown-ass American woman" a response to the stereotypical good ol'-boy mentality of country?
JW: We wrote that song one day, and it was the way we were feeling. We didn't mean for it to be some sort of big statement toward anyone in particular. We were just feeling really strong and really —
JW: A lot of women that we've performed in front of really attached to it, so that's why we made the T-shirt.
A lot of the media coverage of the band seems to hint at a feminist slant.
KN: Definitely. It comes from that one song and one article. Elle magazine was a big honor for us, and they chose to write about that, and at the time, we only had one song available... We're so happy to be a part of that conversation, but that's only one part of our music.
Describe a typical set, for those unfamiliar with your style.
JW: People there will be able to rock with us, because our music is very Southern. There's not necessarily country like the way country music stands right now. But with Kallie's roots being in Mississippi and Texas and then you think about all of the soul music and R&B and the blues, pretty much everything originated in the South in general. Our music has a major Southern overtones. I think people will be able to jam with us for that.
In that Elle profile we spoke of earlier, it said that you two partnered up pretty quickly after meeting. How did that happen, and what drew you to one another?
KN: Well, I was a photographer in Mississippi and the Mississippi Delta for years, and one photograph I had taken was of a blues juke joint on Highway 61. I had given it to someone on Music Row [in Nashville], a man who worked on Music Row, and that picture was sitting on his desk. Jessy saw it and had to meet the photographer, and it was me.
Jessy, you grew up in Brooklyn and sang for Fantasia and John Legend. What brought you to Nashville?
JW: I used to sing for John Legend as a background singer, but then I ventured off into songwriting through him. He would invite me to his studio sessions, and I started writing songs under him, like a mentor. I started wanting to focus on my own writing career, and that's when I started writing for Fantasia and other R&B artists [like Keyshia Cole, Mario, Meek Mill] and was nominated for a Grammy. I just kind of came here on a hunch... I came here when I was craving something different, and I admired the craft of songwriting in country music. I came here for a five-day visit, fell in love with the city, and moved here. That was two and a half years ago.
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Kallie, is it true your husband gave you a guitar and that's when you started writing music?
KN: Yeah, I was 27 when he gave me the guitar. I've been rooted in the musical arts for a long time. I grew up in a musical family. My mom was a nightclub singer. I grew up playing piano and singing in church and stuff. After college, I pursued a career in photography. I was a photographer until my husband gave me that guitar and I started writing songs. And so I took my camera and my guitar and myself and went to Nashville to see if I could pursue a career in songwriting, and that's when I met Jessy.
12:30 p.m. Saturday, April 16, at Tortuga Music Festival along Fort Lauderdale Beach, 1100 Seabreeze Blvd., Fort Lauderdale. Single-day tickets start at $100; three-day general-admission tickets start at $199. Visit tortugamusicfestival.com.