“We have fought for everything to be as real as it could possibly be,” says Amanda Watkins, “so to say that this album is bonafide, that’s all we’ve wanted.”
“The purity of something being exactly what it is—that’s the definition of ‘bonafide’,” adds Kasey Buckley. “So that just had to be the title of the album.”
Kasey and Amanda—usually found finishing each other’s sentences, talking over each other, making each other laugh and cry—are the two singers and songwriters who make up Miss Willie Brown, and the release of their album, BONAFIDE, marks the arrival of a major new force in country music. With raw, honky-tonk-style emotion and irresistible rock & roll swagger, the duo is both a reminder of the classic power of a song and a fresh look toward music’s future.
“I love the Rolling Stones and Lynyrd Skynyrd. Some people think that’s not ladylike—but we don’t want to just give you music, we want to entertain you,” says Amanda.
The Miss Willie Brown saga begins, like so many of the best stories, in a barbecue restaurant. Less than four years ago, West Virginia-born Amanda, an aspiring songwriter, was the new girl showing up for work at Baby Blue’s BBQ in Los Angeles. Kasey, a Texas native and struggling actress, was the head waitress. (“I thought, ‘she makes the schedules, so she’s gotta like me!,’” recalls Amanda.)
After determining that they were both interested in writing songs, they made plans to sit down and see what they could come up with together. Amanda was skeptical—collaborative writing sessions during a stint in Nashville had never worked out—but discovered that she and Kasey clicked immediately. That first night, the pair wrote four songs; “Gospel Song” would eventually become the final song on their self-released EP, BLACKOUTS AND POLAROIDS.
“From there it really was just one thing after another,” says Kasey. “If we’re writing these songs, I guess we should sing ‘em, so let’s come up with a name. I guess if we’re playing shows, we should get flyers, and we’ll need to let people know what we sound like, so let’s make an album. And suddenly, we got signed.”
No doubt it feels like a rocket launch to Miss Willie Brown, who took their name from one of their early songs, “Big Willie Brown,” which was inspired by Kasey’s father. But these women had a lot of work to do in a hurry. They may have connected instantly, but they still needed to figure out how to harness and focus their creativity. “When we first got together,” says Amanda, “she could write all these words and stories, and I could write a melody and a chorus—I was solid in getting to the point of the song. But our weaknesses got stronger from being together.”
“Amanda can write music that sounds like what I’m saying,” says Kasey, describing the pair’s chemistry, “and I can write words that sound like her music.”
In addition to growing as songwriters, Miss Willie Brown needed to find its identity as a singing and performing duo—especially since, unlike most lead-and-harmony groups, the two women split lead vocals from song to song. For Kasey, who had never sung previously in any serious way, the learning curve was brutally steep.
“I’ve been singing since I was five,” says Amanda, “and what the band and I have been able to learn in front of empty rooms, Kasey had to do in front of 400 people, or on national television. I’ve spent twenty years learning what she had to learn in six months.”
“Good Fight” is a song that made us feel like we had arrived at a whole new level,” says Kasey. “We’re honest, truthful women, and we tell our truths. But that was the first song where everything came together and it was what everyone was looking for, including us.”
As word started to get out about Miss Willie Brown, one great source of pride for Amanda and Kasey was how far they were able to take the project on their own, with full control and independence. The song, “Mad Dog” got placed prominently on Lifetime’s ARMY WIVES and they became the first unsigned band ever to play late night television on Jimmy Kimmel Live.
Though the group has been introduced to the world with such bad-ass calling cards as the title track to BONAFIDE or the album’s funked-up “Sick of Me” (“They say that playing with fire/Kinda like we are/Leaves you bleeding”), Miss Willie Brown offers more tender emotions on songs like “Freeland,” the story of two women waiting for their men to return from fighting overseas. “It’s about how the people at home sacrifice for our country, too,” says Kasey. “We did those other songs on national television, but since we put ‘Freeland’ up as a little home video on Youtube, we get emails every day about it.”
As their songs finalize into the recordings on BONAFIDE, Kasey and Amanda are also quick to give credit to producer, Keith Stegall, who has worked with the likes of Alan Jackson, George Strait, and Zac Brown. “Keith really jumped into our heads in terms of knowing what we like,” says Amanda, while Kasey adds that “it was astounding to find someone as connected to our vision as we are.”
Through the high-speed adventure of the last few years, the women of Miss Willie Brown have been able to stay laser-focused on what is most important to them. “Amanda and I made a promise to each other a long time ago that we would do whatever was best for the song,” says Kasey. “It’s hard to do a lot of the time, because interests conflict and collide. But the song is everything.”
That conviction, passion, and pure honesty shine through on the songs of BONAFIDE. Amanda Watkins and Kasey Buckley have come a long, long way in a very short time, but that hasn’t rattled their confidence or slowed their ambition.
“There’s too many things that are serendipitous about our relationship,” says Kasey. “We don’t believe in coincidences. We believe that we were brought together for a reason, and we’re going to ride this train as long as it goes.”