The Waymores photo by Lindsay Garrett
The Waymores Bring Distinctive Voices To Greener Pastures
Americana duo The Waymores have a lot of combined experience performing live in bands before forming their outfit and that often shows in the ease of their expression as songwriters as well as in their distinctive vocal and acoustic performances. For their previous albums Weeds and The Stone Sessions, relationship themes came to the fore and proved to be their forte. Kira Annalise had overcome a battle with vocal nodules in order to record it, and has since recovered, but she and Willie Neal faced their biggest opportunity and challenge yet when it came to their new album Greener Pastures.
They learned that their music had come to the attention of veteran classic rock producer Shel Talmy who wanted to try his hand at recording some country music with some covers. They jumped at the chance, but the rewarding experience in the recording studio led them to accept Shel Talmy’s kind offer to produce a whole album for them. After writing furiously towards the new collection and bringing in some friends, they went back to the studio with Talmy and a bevvy of top-notch musicians to create Greener Pastures.
It was their distinctive voices that had drawn Talmy’s attention, and on Greener Pastures, their voices, and their songwriting really shine. I spoke with Kira Annalise and Willie Neal about this levelling-up experience and the exciting challenges they faced.
Americana Highways: What was the approach to recording for Greener Pastures? I know that you have an inclination to do things live.
Willie Neal: I overdubbed my vocals because I played my guitar with the band, and her harmonies are overdubbed, but everything else is live. Even though solo breaks are all done live.
AH: That’s amazing to hear in the context of these songs! They are very precise.
Kira Annalise: Those players are all pretty incredible.
AH: This feels like hearing that someone flew a jet purely by sight, without any instruments.
Kira: I’m so glad that we didn’t know anything about those players’ resumes the day that we first walked in there. I don’t know that I would’ve been able to get through those studio doors.
Willie: The resumes were incredible. Dave Pearlman was on steel guitar, who’s worked for Merle Haggard, James [“Hutch”] Hutchinson was on bass who’s worked for Willie Nelson. The list goes on. Johnny Lee Schell, who did the engineering, had all these Grammy certificates framed and hung on the wall.
Kira: I walked in and saw all the awards and said, “Oh that’s not intimidating at all.” And he said, “Oh, those are just the ones I care about. Go and look at the other ones.” I walked into the next room and there were just piles of them on the floor! [Laughter] I said, “I can’t be here.”
Willie: We just kept looking at each other, wondering, “When are they going to figure out that we aren’t supposed to be here?” But Shel [Talmy] treated us like we should be.
Kira: They treated us like equals. There was no ego in that room at all. They treated us like old friends and we all told stories.
Willie: Those guys have played for Chuck Berry, Townes Van Zandt, everybody. Those guys would start telling a story between takes and it would just go on for twenty minutes. We were hooked on the stories. Shel had to say, “Okay, let’s get back to work!” But I wanted to hear the stories!
AH: It must have been so hard to stay on task, I can imagine. It hadn’t occurred to me before I looked into this album and your story that Shel had not made a country record before now, but that makes sense because he’s classic rock ‘n roll.
Kira: Yes, he changed rock ‘n roll history with the way that he recorded.
Willie: He’s a very significant guys. Before Shel started doing this, when they recorded drums, they’d have three or four mics on the drumkit, but Shel put like twelve. That’s why The Who’s drum sound is so big.
AH: That was the big frontier at that time, how to get louder.
Willie: Shel knew that Keith Moon had the precision to play, even if mics were all around him, and keep from hitting them. He never hit a microphone.
Kira: Then by the time Shel came back from the UK, everyone was using his mic technique.
AH: I know that Shel was attracted to your music to work on because of your classic Country sounds, but I think that your music is also very “now” in many ways in terms of your subject matter, particularly in talking about relationships.
Kira: I think that we both struggle with imposter syndrome from time to time because of how impressive our peers are. But I always think that you should surround yourself with people who are doing what you want to be doing. I’d rather be the worst songwriter in the room rather than the best one! But now that our peers are people several steps above us, it’s hard not to look at your own work and be super-critical. I always strive to be doing better.
Willie: You have to be careful about that stuff because what we did got Shel Talmy’s ear and the universe gave us this opportunity. We emulate our peers, we don’t imitate them. You’re always learning, and Kira and I are very much students. We absorb what we observe, you’re always a sponge.
AH: When Shel Talmy talks about music with you, is he a man of few words? Does he say descriptive things about what he’s going for? Did he say what it was about your music that attracted him?
Kira: He did say that our distinct voices caught his attention. I think it was also the opportunity itself. He knew that he wanted to record a country album and there was opportunity. As far as how he speaks when he’s speaking about music, he’s a man of few words in interviews, but on the phone with me, he is not! [Laughs] It really depends on what you’re talking about. Sometimes he has been asked a certain question a lot and has nothing further to say, but he can 100% tell a tale. Otherwise, he can be to the point.
Willie: He’s very to the point in the studio. It’s not that he’s mean or brash, but it’s very quick. There’s no time for emotion. If we were off key, Johnny Lee and Shel would let us get through the whole take and not interrupt us. Because if you interrupt an artist, it messes with their confidence. But at the end, they’d come back and Shel would say exactly what part needed to be redone. It was just quick facts.
Kira: There was no pandering. The only thing that I don’t have imposter syndrome about is my vocals because I think that they are different than other peoples’ vocals. I’m pretty comfortable in my voice. I’d sing, and Shel would say, “Nope, redo it.” There was no room for feelings about it.
Willie: With the guys, got through the intros, the outros, and solo breaks, and they’d we’d roll tape. And either that was good, or we’d do it one more time. Those guys finished tracking in two days!
AH: Wow! Considering the quality, it’s incredible.
Willie: Those guys are a modern-day Wrecking Crew.
Kira: I think that you can hear growth on the album in the songwriting and arrangements, but the personal growth that it gave to Willie and I was about the studio work. Things like being prepared before you go into the studio and having charts for all of your band members. I have a spreadsheet now with everything you could possibly want to know about the song. We grew up a lot in these sessions and even though we have always been professionals, this went from us not taking things seriously enough to taking things very, very seriously.
Willie: One of the biggest moments with Shel for me was when we were working out arrangements for the song “She’s Gone.” I was lightly singing, and Shel pulled me over and said that the way that I was singing was how he wanted me to sing on the record. He said, “Your voice is big, it projects really hard. It’s harder than you think. Let the microphone do all the work and sing in your talking voice.” That has changed my life. All of these years and I hadn’t thought of that. I think this album is my best vocal performance.
AH: This is something I was thinking about this album. You all know that Shel’s observation about having distinctive voices is true, but everything he brought out of you on this album further spotlights that. This album is a really great showcase for you all, vocally. It’s next level for you.
Kira: There were a couple times when we heard the tracks played back and we thought, “Oh my gosh, that was us?” The harmonies on this record is something I’m really proud of, since neither one of us is good at harmonies.
AH: Did Shel choose among your demos?
Willie: We sent a bunch of demos to Shel, and he sent them back all chopped up. We couldn’t understand how some of it was going to sound good. We started to get a little scared about it. But we told ourselves that we were going to go in and sing on a Shel Talmy project. Once we started doing it in there with the band, we began to realize that these arrangements were genius. But everything is for the sake of the song. Everything is about making the song the best it can be.
AH: You worked on some songwriting with your friend Johnny McGowan on a couple of the tracks. I really love “Hill Country Waltz.” That song is haunting.
Kira: I had done vocals on that but I wasn’t satisfied with them. I told Shel that I wanted to do it one more time. I went in there and I channeled Tammy Wynette. Then I said, “I’m much happier with that, thank you.” Then we went on with our day. It was easy as pie.
I love Johnny and I’ve known him a long time. I know what he went through to write that song. I am so glad that he gave that song to us. He writes music that sounds like the 1960s.
Willie: I felt like it was a total Red Headed Stranger song, like the Willie Nelson album. I love the acoustic I put on it, a bit like “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain.”
AH: He really does write like the 1960s. It’s so hard to believe that song was only just written.
Willie: He’s also the fastest songwriter in Texas. One time we were on tour with him, and staying in room 444, and I said, “Hey, that sounds like a country song. Johnny, you have until we get up to the room to write me a song about it.” He had two verses and a chorus written before we got to the hotel door!
AH: Well, I recall from your past work that you come up with devastating relationship song lyrics. You should probably someday be a collection of just those songs that should only listened to if you are feeling very emotionally stable. “But I Don’t” is definitely one of those. It’s such a cool song!
Kira: We do write true to life. Willie writes more looking back on things in a reflective way, but I write more in the moment. It’s really hard for me to do that now since I’m so happy with Willie. But I do look back on our earlier years when we were sometimes horrible to each other, and I pull from that!
Willie: We wrote that song under the gun. We went down to our family’s farm in middle Georgia. We took a couple bottles, I smoked a bunch of weed, and we sat out on the front porch. I always keep a couple lines tucked away. I had “If you had a heart, this song would break it. But you don’t!” Kira said, “That’s great!” and wrote a line. Pretty soon we had the whole song. It came about quickly. Kira and I are a really great writing team.
Kira: It’s a song that was very much inspired by John Prine. It has lyrics that are kind of symbolic, like “If you had ears, you would hear.”
Willie: It’s metaphorical. When it gets to the chorus, it makes sense. It’s not an earless, eyeless, lipless person walking around.
AH: It’s almost part of the poetic tradition to talk that way. There’s so much tradition of love poetry, like complaining to one’s unresponsive love. Or like Shakespeare’s sonnets. They take liberties with how language is used. This song is a sweet spot between traditions.
Willie: You’re making us blush! John Prine teaches you not to take yourself so seriously. You can be deep, but also tongue-in-cheek.
Thanks to the Waymores for chatting with us. Find more information on their website here: https://www.thewaymores.com/
Enjoy our review of their album here: REVIEW: The Waymores “Greener Pastures”