Eleanor Balkcom studied international business and learned Korean in college, although she admits she isn't fluent. Lily Balkcom learned to pilot airplanes and Powell Balkcom dreamed of going into agriculture. She was headed back to college to get her master's degree.
Then social media took over. About one year after the sisters made their first trip to Nashville, the trio known as The Castellows is releasing its debut EP on Warner Music Nashville and Warner Records. "A Little Goes A Long Way" is seven songs deep and will be available Friday. The sister trio will launch their accompanying tour of ballrooms, beer joints and music halls on February 17. None of them are old enough to drink. Ellie and Powell, both 20 years old, are two of three triplets, but their brother isn't part of the act. The group's baby, Lily, came along about 18 months later.
They played original live music for the first time in November of 2022.
"Grateful and humbled are the two things we probably say the most whenever we're talking about this stuff," Eleanor said. "We love writing songs, and we love playing music together."
The harmony-rich, neo-traditional music for which they're known is keeping them close. The sisters, part of CMT's 2024 Next Women of Country, agree on most things and explain that everyone moves in different directions when siblings go to college. For them, the trio's popularity means they get to live together in a Music City – which the sisters enjoy. They were homeschooled in their Georgia home and never got used to spending much time apart.
The Castellows come from a musical family on their dad's side, but no one plays instruments.
"It's very Baptist church vibes," Eleanor said, explaining her grandmother taught her to play piano when she was 8 years old.
The sisters started singing in church when they were 12 and 13 years old. Eleanor began playing guitar at 12, and Powell picked it up about the same time before she switched to banjo. They remember making $100 for singing at weddings or funerals, which Eleanor said was "so much better than working at Chick-fil-A."
They were having fun, but Lily jokes that Ellie, as she calls her, forced her to start playing bass.
"She said I was just being the lead singer, and I wasn't contributing musically at all," Lily remembers. "Ellie taught me bass in four days, and then I kind of picked it up."
Eleanor wanted Lily to play bass because the trio sings in higher registers, and she thought adding an instrument with a deeper tone would balance out their sound. However, Lily said singing lead and playing bass isn't for "the faint of heart."
Because the Balkcoms were homeschooled and took advantage of dual enrollment courses, they graduated college in two years. They gigged around Athens, Georgia, for fun and started writing original songs during Eleanor and Powell's second year in college. They remember when the creative shift happened because the women were opening for someone at the iconic Georgia Theater in Athens in 2022. They wanted original songs to perform during the event.
Lily didn't know Eleanor was writing music until she called her and played it for her over the phone. The connection was terrible and Lily could hear the words but not the melody.
"I was like, 'Let's just play it at Georgia Theater,'" Lily said, explaining her sister taught her the song over the phone.
By the day of the show, the women had written two more original songs.
"Heartline Hill," one of the first few songs they wrote, is included on the EP.
Lily and a friend were in a deer stand in December of 2022, about one month after the Georgia Theater show. Her friend told her that she and her sisters should post videos of them singing on social media.
"He said, 'I think people would like it, and I think it would do really well,'" Lily recalled. "I was like, 'Are you sure you're not lying to me?' That was over Christmas break. We posted them, and for some reason, all the videos did really well."
The viral success of The Castellows' videos created interest in the country music industry, and the women made their first trip to Nashville a couple of weeks after Lily's conversation in the deer stand.
The sisters connected with Make Wake Artists, who also manage Luke Combs, and inked a record deal with Warner Music Nashville and Warner Records.
"The Castellows popped up on our radar a little over a year ago, and we didn't hesitate to reach out," said Stephanie Wright, SVP of A&R at Warner Music Nashville. "Within minutes of meeting them, it was abundantly clear they were special. In addition to their dynamic family harmonies, the Castellows have so many unique individual talents. Their charisma, stellar work ethic and musical talent is infectious, and we are more than excited to get their music out to the world."
In the months leading up to their "A Little Goes A Long Way" EP, the trio released "No. 7 Road," which they wrote with Hillary Lindsey, their popular cover of "Hurricane" and "I Know It'll Never End," which they penned alone.
Tuesday night, the women brought a couple of those songs and more to the Ryman Auditorium stage when they opened a private show for Luke Combs.
"We wrote a song a couple of months ago, 'Miss America,'" Powell explained from the stage. "I think it's a song a lot of people will be able to identify with."
Lyrics include: I miss America on the front porch before she had to lock her doors.
The performance was just getting their feet wet for their upcoming headlining tour, which will launch next weekend. The sisters are thankful to start their touring career as headliners and are elated that two shows of the 20+ concerts have already sold out.
"Playing is the most fun part of it for all of us," Eleanor said. "So, we're just excited to be able to do that and play our own shows with people who bought tickets to come see us. We're excited to meet all the people who have been listening and everything."
But they won't be traveling in luxury. They laughed, explaining that buses are expensive, and said they'd be hitting a wide swath of the East and Midwest in a van. They have a tour manager to help them drive, and everyone in their band is friends from college.
"We're basically just going on a big road trip," Eleanor said.
"It's going to be hard, but we're excited, and we're getting ready," Powell said.
Lily added: "One of them got a seminary degree, and the other one's going to school for counseling. Someone's dad is a Baptist pastor, so we are going to be set on the road. They're not crazy."
The sudden success has made the sisters understand even more how lucky they are – to not only be succeeding in Nashville but to have come from a stable home environment that gave them the platform to get educations and launch their career.
"We never knew that we were privileged to have two parents who love each other and grow up on a farm and being able to ride horses and have each other and learn how to play instruments with each other," Eleanor said.
"That was just very normal for us," Powell added. "But the older you get, the more you understand how fortunate we were. We're just trying to get better, become better singers, become better players, become better writers, become better people."
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