Featured, International Drummers Month, Music History

A Conversation with Walker County's Sophie Dawn

In 2014, teenaged sisters from Indiana signed a record deal with Warner Music Nashville. A magical blend of Ivy Dawn’s soulful vocals and thoughtful lyrics blended with Sophie Dawn’s hard-driving rhythm topped off by their wonderful sister-harmonies have landed them on stages with everyone from Willie Nelson, Martina McBride, Loretta Lynn and Dwight Yoakam. With millions of streams already under their belts, the duo has recently released the EP No Smoke and Mirrors. As part of our month-long International Drummers’ Month celebration we sat down to talk with Sophie earlier this spring.

JS: Hi Sophie, thanks for taking some time out to talk with us today. All during May we are celebrating International Drummers’ Month. It’s time to give the drummers a little love.

SD: I love that! I appreciate y’all thinking of me. That’s so cool!
JS: I love what the band is doing, and the new material is just so good. Can you tell our readers a little bit about yourself and Walker County?
SD: So, Walker County, it's me and my sister, we started in 2007. I was nine and she was 12 or 13. We started just as a family band. My dad took us to Nashville on a family vacation to Nashville and he was like, ‘you wanna perform?’ and we were like, ‘sure!’ So, you know, just to say we did it, we opened up the guitar case and played a few songs. My sister is an incredible vocalist and even at that young age she sounded like a full-grown woman. We got quite a few tips within like 10 minutes and after that, we realized how much fun we had, and that maybe we wanted to start something. Dad said if we wanted to do this, we [could] start playing shows back home. So, we went back to Indiana and just started playing anywhere and everywhere they’d listen to us. At the time I was playing mandolin and my dad [was playing guitar]. We started getting booked for weddings and I remember dad saying, they're not gonna want to dance to bluegrass music, so we have to set things up. One day he surprised me with the Sparkly Pearl Vision drum kit and I was sold, he was like, you want to be the drummer? And I said, yes, that's gonna be so cool! So that's kind of how my drumming started and then just from then on, we played every single weekend and in 2014 we were signed to Warner Brothers.

JS: So you’ve been with Warner for about ten years?
SD: Yeah, it's been a while. I was only 16 when I signed the deal. I had to be emancipated for my parents and everything. It definitely was a development type deal where we were just writing all the time and just figuring out what kind of music we wanted to release. and just growing and learning. Over the years we've just crafted exactly what we want to be and now I feel like we're the most authentic we've ever been, and it's exciting.
JS: How much does the sound of the drums play into the mood of the song? And how much of that is conscious when you're ready to go play live or you're in the studio? Is it more for the song or is it more of a Walker County sound that just stays steady throughout?
SD: I feel like it's all depending on what we want to convey in the song. You have to think about the lyrics just for example, we have our song Mirror Mirror and that song has been tried and true for us. I would play it acoustically at live shows because the lyrics are so important. That's the point where I have to go as a drummer, you know, I'm gonna step off of this song. We want the lyrics to be important but also with a song like Shovel the drums are the driving force. I think as Walker County, I definitely have a certain drum sound and it does kind of play throughout and connect each song. But yeah, I try not to overstep as the drummer.
JS: When you're writing a song, do you have a mindscape of what the sonic textures are going to be? Or is that something that comes once you get in the studio?
SD: Yeah, there definitely is. [When we’re writing] a song and we know it's going to be an up tempo rocking song, I'll immediately be thinking of what the drums should sound like. But if it's a song that's lyrically more driven, I try to kind of take a step back because I know that sometimes those lyrically beautiful songs don't need so much drumming. For example, we wrote a song, called Drink and Problem. It’s not released yet but we've played it live quite a few times. The whole idea was to do like a stomp, clap beat and that's how it started, then we wrote the lyrics. So, it kind of depends just on the mood of the day.
JS: Who are you listening to and, and who were the drummers that influenced you?
SD:  I am a big eighties rock girl. My favorite band is Skid Row with Sebastian Bach. I rock out to Motley Crue, Metallica. Those are the drummers I'm listening to. Not to say that I'm anything close to Tommy Lee, but, he definitely inspires me. And, one thing I do love about Motley Crue and Tommy, is that he was part of the reason you bought a ticket to see them. You wanted to see him rock out on the drums. I love that he was performing. I was probably 18 or so and I had that epiphany of like it's something that could make Walker County worth seeing, you know, me slinging my hair around and wearing heels. Kind of leaning into the performance side of it. I think it was probably just because of how I was, it was just kind of a part of what I did. But I remember having that realization and that's when I started to super lean into the head banging and all of that. We opened for Jamie Johnson and he came up and said ‘man, you’re really like an Eighties rock drummer!’ And I tell you what, I will never forget that. That was one of the best compliments I ever received.

JS: That's awesome. So, speaking of that, you've opened for some really incredible acts. What's that like when you're sharing a stage with the likes of Loretta Lynn or Willie Nelson?
SD: It's absolutely incredible. I just feel so blessed to have met Loretta while she was here and just, oh my gosh, it was so cool. I can't even tell you. And to share that with my family made it even 10 times better. I grew up listening to those people and being inspired by Loretta and Willie and, you know, Dwight Yoakam. and to share a stage with them is something that I will forever be grateful for.
JS: For new folks getting introduced to Walker County, what would you want them to listen to, to get the idea of who Walker County is?
SD: Our new EP No Smoke and Mirrors has a song Ivy and I have championed for years – Mirror Mirror. Message-wise, Mirror Mirror is something Ivy and I want everyone to hear. I think a lot of young women and men can relate to it. We really poured our heart and soul into that one. It showcases my sister's vocals so much. You definitely have to hear that to get a taste of just what she can do. All of our other stuff [on the EP] is just so fun I think it’s definitely the project to listen to first. It's the one that is most authentic to who we are as women now.
JJS: So what’s next?
SD: Ivy and I are just gonna lean into being who we are. We're writing a lot of music. We've got a huge list of songs we want to release. So hopefully we'll release some more this year. I think Ivy and I are just focusing on being true to ourselves and writing stuff that makes us happy which is [a little] different from our past years in Nashville, where we were just being young and influenced by everyone around us. We're taking stand and just doing what we feel is right for us.

JS: Thanks very much for being a part of our International Drummers’ Month celebration. It was a real pleasure talking to you and learning about everything you’ve got going on.
SD: Well, thank you so much. It's rare that I have an interview alone, so it was a lot of fun for me. I appreciate it!

For more information on Walker County, please visit walkercountymusic.com
By Jack Sharkey for KEF
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