In the Devil’s Teeth With the Muddy Magnolias

Broken People Offers Hope in a World of Uncertainty

Muddy Magnolias’ Kallie North and Jessy Wilson feel blessed to have found each other in Nashville’s music community where most artists never find their musical soulmates.

They play off one another like they were born sisters, and they stay inspired everywhere they go. Nearly halfway into our CMT.com interview, they paused to write down a new song idea while North was answering a question about what her family back home in Beaumont, Texas thought about her move to the Mississippi delta to live life on a soybean farm with her husband.

“They love my husband and they knew I was madly in love,” North recalled. “You know how love is. Everyone was like, ‘Finally! You can have her.’”

“‘You know how love is,’” Wilson repeated. “I like that. That’s a good song.”

“That’s a great song,” North agreed. “Let’s write that down.”

Both had their phones out and ready to notate the potential lyric.

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The story of how they met is as pretty as a picture, too. During a meeting at Nashville’s BMI headquarters, Wilson spotted a black and white photograph of an ancient ruin of the South sitting on a coffee table. The shot was of an old upright piano rotting away in an abandoned Mississippi juke joint that North snapped for her personal delta culture blog. Wilson left the meeting with North’s contact information, and then the two formed a fast friendship over visits to Burger Up in Nashville’s 12th South neighborhood.

They also love talking about how they came from opposite sides of the tracks. Back in Texas, North cut her teeth singing in church and got turned onto every form of live music she heard while immersing herself in Austin’s local club scene. But it was until she got to the delta where her own music started pouring out of her.

“In the country, it’s so easy to create because you have nothing else going on,” North said. “Your mind is completely open. It’s so much easier to create when you’re surrounded by silence and nature and country roads and animals and not hustle and bustle. The walls of the city are truly walls in your mind for me personally.”

Wilson grew up in Brooklyn and as a child, she sang before she could form complete sentences. Her formal music education started at La Guardia High School, the “Fame” school, where she discovered her affinity for gospel. While still in her teens, she sang backup for Alicia Keys and then worked for four years with John Legend, who is one of her top mentors and is probably the biggest Muddy Magnolias fan.

Recalling giving Legend her notice still makes Wilson laugh.

“We had this really funny conversation because we’re friends,” Wilson said. “After we giggled a little bit, he said, ‘When an artist has as much talent as you have, there comes a time when you have to make that decision to step away from something that’s really comfortable and say, ‘You know, I’m going to go out on a limb.’ He told me he had to do that when he was touring with Kanye West and so he understood the decision. I remember in one of the last conversations we had about it, he said, ‘Are you sure you don’t want to go out on the road?’ He’s very proud of us, and he loves the Muddy Magnolias.”

Legend sings and plays piano on the soulful closer “Leave It to the Sky” on the duo’s striking full length debut Broken People, which a perfect snapshot of what the American culture does best — blues, country, gospel, jazz, rock ‘n’ roll, soul and all the subgenres in between.

Together, North and Wilson bring out the best in each other and their words unify in a world of uncertainty and act as a guide for a better tomorrow by looking inward. Their message of hope rains on the soul like water and it was relevant yesterday, it’s relevant now and it will be relevant tomorrow until the people of the world start treating each other better. Their subject matter borders romantic love and the world around them, giving them the opportunity to be the soundtrack of today’s political environment much like how The Staples Singers underscored the Civil Rights movement in the ‘60s.

Their voices sound like Janis Joplin and Tina Turner formed a duo, making the Muddy Magnolias a dream act for any all-genre music festival or touring band. And they’ve made some killer concert memories this year opening for Gary Clark, Jr., Grace Potter and Zac Brown Band. Meeting John Mayer backstage at the Hollywood Bowl and making their Fenway Park debut while on tour with Zac Brown Band are just a few of their top memories of 2016.

It’s true. They’ve got it going on.

CMT.com: I specifically wanted to ask about a lyric in “Brother, What Happened?” — “My momma told me don’t throw hate around.” Who came up with that?

Wilson: That was a real thing. I grew up singing and my mom used to always tell me, “You know when you get older, you’re good now, but when you get older, singers are going to be coming out of the woodwork. And you may not be the best person in the room anymore.” You can’t let that get to you in life. There’s room for everyone.

Whenever you feel jealous, whenever you feel hate, whenever you feel anything toward another person, you have to check yourself. Make sure you check yourself. If you recognize it and check it, then know that what’s for you is for you because there’s room for everybody. That’s where that lyric came from.

What was the world like when you wrote that song?

Wilson: It was last October so about a year ago. We had written a song called “The Ballad of Michael Brown” and the circumstances surrounding Mike Brown were always sketchy. Some people believed one thing. Other people believed another story. So, we wrote it based on what was reported in the news and what we read online. It all kind of blew up and when we sang it for the first time, I remember it was on Thanksgiving weekend in Cartersville, Georgia. There were some people who were upset at our lyrics. They thought we made Mike Brown into a martyr and they felt that we weren’t factual and so we stopped singing the song momentarily.

But we wanted to continue to kind of address things that were happening in the world but from a different perspective — not from a finger-pointing perspective — but more from an all-inclusive, all-loving, all-knowing perspective and regardless of what happens on the news or in the media.

One thing you can always do is look at yourself, not matter what’s going on outside of you, you can always look inside. So, “Brother, What Happened?” is a call to action not to go out and protest — not that there’s anything wrong with that because those things change the world — but what changes the world most is like Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror.” So, that’s the inspiration behind “Brother, What Happened?”

What do you think of the timing of this record?

North: When we started writing, we actually didn’t put any mental time into thinking, “This is what the theme of our record is going to be, and we’re going to play off of worldly events, and this is going to play in our favor.” None of that ever went through our heads. In fact, I think there’s a lot of artists right now that are throwing music out that just lies within their hearts because they’re American citizens.

As artists, you soak up everything around you and then it just comes out. So on this record, I think it’s beautiful that we’re able to put these messages of hope and love back into people’s ears at a time when they need it the most. But it was never in our great plan to see it all going down like this. I don’t think we could have planned for that. But what’s funny about America is that if we would put this record out in any decade, it’s always going to be relevant because these issues have been relevant since the beginning of time.

Wilson: It feels really good to know that music is serving a purpose for people the way it served a purpose for us.

North: That’s my favorite thing about music and always has been since I was little is that it’s healing. I’d much rather have the healing property of music. Even a dance party can be healing. Music to me is sometimes the only thing that can heal you. I’ve been healed by so many songs on this record at different times for different reasons. Some race-related and world-related, and some just heartbroken-related. Like she said, I’m just so happy that other people, if they’re feeling any sort of despair at all they might be healed through our music.

Regarding “Take Me Back Home,” it seems like knowing where you come from is a secret to personal strength for you. Is that the case?

Wilson: Oh, yes. We keep our families around us a lot, too. Both of us get depleted if we don’t have that boost that comes from being around our families, whether it’s my boyfriend, her husband, my mother, her sisters, my bother — any family — we just long for them all the time.

People move to Nashville every day for music and they never find their creative soul mates. Do you feel divine intervention stepped in when you met?

North: Right? I was writing country songs on Music Row every day. And Jessy and I became friends. She moved here to write songs and so over drinks one night, I invited her to one of my songwriting sessions.

Wilson: And I had never written a country song. She was like, “What? Come with me!”

North: It was an easy write. It was fun. It was a country/R&B song — straight up. There’s no denying it. It’s called “Take the ‘L’ Out of Lover and It’s Over.” It’s a great song! I want Blake Shelton to cut it.

Wilson: And then it’s, “Take the ‘D’ out of done and we’re down to one.” Get it?

North: Blake! I want him to cut this. He would sing that song so beautifully.

You guys have had a couple original songs either on hold or released, like Brooke Eden’s “Daddy’s Money.” What would it mean to you to have other Muddy Magnolias songs recorded by other artists?

North: Everything. It would mean so much to us. It was our initial dream when we met and before we knew we wanted to be the Muddy Magnolias was that we wanted to be hit songwriters in Nashville and get songs to other artists.

Wilson: We knew we could do something really unique just with the combination of our influences because there’s nothing like it.

North: Then we focused on ourselves. But I’m telling you — I’m going to call Blake up and tell him about that song.

Lauren Tingle is a Tennessean and storyteller who eats music for breakfast, lunch and dinner. When she’s not writing or rocking out, she enjoys yoga and getting lost in the great outdoors.