Walker County sometimes opens their shows with the disclaimer that you may leave covered in glitter. It’s the signature trademark of the sister duo of Ivy and Sophie Walker. Raised on a farm in the rural town of Sulphur Springs, Ind., the sister act spent their early days cutting their teeth as street performers on the sidewalks of Music City, later graduating to famous bars like Tootsies on Broadway. Long before the twosome where opening for generations of country acts ranging from Loretta Lynn to Old Dominion and performing on The Kelly Clarkson Show, they were slopping pigs while wearing high heels and honing their music skills performing for friends, family and neighbors in their humble hometown. Now based in Nashville, the duo was inducted in CMT’s Next Women of Country class of 2020 and are ready to make an impact with their debut single, “Bits & Pieces.”
In this edition of Female Friday, Walker County describe how they learned to write songs by picking lyrics out of a basket, what inspired Sophie to become a drummer and how they hope to inspire fans.
Tell me about your journey to music and when you realized you wanted to make it a career.
Ivy: Sophie and I are sisters and we grew up in a really small town in Indiana. At a young age, our dad saw that Sophie and I had a passion for music. We went on a family vacation when Sophie was nine and I was 12 to Nashville and Dad said, ‘if you girls want to street perform just to say we did it,’ and so we played a few songs for 10 minutes. Then Dad was like ‘this could be something we come back to Nashville and do every month,’ and so Sophie and I started coming down and street performing and making money, and then we’d go blow it at Opryland mall. It was a lot of fun for us. That was when Dad was like ‘if you girls want to do this, let’s start a band,’ and we did, and started playing fairs and festivals, churches, birthday parties, literally anywhere they’d listen to us, and then we made the move to Nashville about seven years ago. It’s been Sophie and I’s passion. After I graduated high school, dad was like, ‘what do you girls want to do?’ and me and Sophie both looked at each other like ‘music’s the only thing we know how to do’ [laughs]. So we knew pretty quick that we wanted to make it into a career.
You hear all the time about people coming down to the bars and honky-tonks and cutting their teeth that way, but I find it so interesting that you became street performers. What did you learn doing music that way?
Sophie: I guess that was a thing that [Dad] remembered seeing as a child visiting Nashville was street performers, so he was like, ‘I think you girls would have fun doing it.’ We knew some old country stuff, a lot of Patsy Cline and Dolly [Parton] and a lot of traditional [country]. I think one of the things we learned from that was grabbing people’s attention. That was a big thing. You want to have a little crowd around you.
Ivy: As they’re walking by how do you make them stop and listen? It was a fun way to start out. It was definitely a learning experience. I remember Sophie and I were so young and one time I tripped and fell in front of a crowd of people, just funny stuff like that that you remember being a little kid. But we did end up going down and playing in Tootsies. We started out on the street performing and then grew into going into the bars and playing as a band, so that was cool.
Sophie: I remember one of our first Tootsies sets was a four-hour set and I think I was 15 at the time, so we were still really young. I remember it became ‘this is my job. My friends go to work at Wendy’s or McDonald’s and I’m going and playing these four-hour sets.’ It really taught us. We learned so many songs and how to entertain for four hours, what do you do in that four hours to keep people’s attention? So it was a great learning experience for us. Now we get to play these shows that they’re only about at the most an hour and they seem so easy. I think you learn at a young age how to hold the attention of a crowd and certain tricks and techniques that get people to stay.
What was it like to grow up on a farm in Indiana and how does that apply to your career as musicians?
Sophie: Me and Ivy, we are country girls at heart. Our family was always super close, which was amazing growing up.
Ivy: We lived about a field away from all of our cousins. We did 4-H and I did FFA. We were definitely farm girls, but it’s funny, Dad has a picture of me and Sophie out in the pig pen and we have high heels on [laughs]. We were definitely more of the girly-girl, but we absolutely loved our town. It was very small, but we were very involved in our town. My mom was a beautician for 25 years, so she did the whole town of Sulphur Springs’ hair. We knew everybody’s business. We absolutely loved growing up there and that town really became a part of our story. We owe a lot to that town. They were the ones who hired us for birthday parties, weddings. They were the ones who kept us playing throughout the years, especially starting out as young girls.
Sophie: The majority of our audience, most of the time was people from back home.
Ivy: It’s so heartwarming now getting to play these big events and sometimes people from our hometown will come out and see us. They’ll be like, ‘I can’t believe you guys are playing these stages and just seeing you up there in your element, it’s very heartwarming.’ So we have an absolute blast. We go back home quite a bit.
When did you realize that you were musically connected and how does that impact your relationship as sisters?
Sophie: Ivy always sang. She loved to sing and I always loved music. It was funny because I was always in the background. I’m great with that. I love being on the drums or playing the mandolin back in the early days, standing off in the background. Ivy one day came home, she had been in choir at school and a girl taught her how to sing harmonies.
Ivy: I was like ‘Sophie, you’ve got to try this, you’ve got to learn how to sing harmonies!’ [laughs].
Sophie: So we sat down, probably had the worst fights of our lives.
Ivy: We fought so hard. We were like, ‘that’s not right. This is how you do it.’ But once we got it, it almost became…
Sophie: … So natural. I couldn’t stop singing harmonies and there was some times where I was like, ‘Sophie, don’t sing there’ [laughs]. But also growing up, playing music every weekend together instead of going over to slumber parties with our friends, we would be playing shows together.
Ivy: So we became really, really close.
Sophie: It really made our relationship strong, and we became each other’s best friends. I’m so thankful for that because now we get to share these big moments together. We’re sisters, we still bicker and fight, but we get over it really fast because we know that we’re so blessed to be where we are and be sharing it together as a family.
When did songwriting come into the picture?
Ivy: That started pretty young as well. My dad wrote music. He was actually the one who started out writing. I can remember watching him write these songs. He worked as a service man for a gas company and my Dad would come home with these note pads full of lyrics that he would think about throughout the day and he put them in this basket. We had literally baskets full of random lyrics, song titles. It was a really cool story because I was [in] late middle school and Dad was like, ‘you need to just pick a lyric out of that basket and write a song around it.’ So Sophie and I did one day and we grabbed a few lyrics out of the basket and started reading them and writing. It really kick started that songwriting side of things for us. It was a really cool way of learning how to write songs because if we ever got stuck on something, we’d be like, ‘let’s go look in the basket, see if there’s anything Dad wrote.’ It was such a cool way that our Dad taught us how to write, and then we started doing it on our own, we’d sit in our rooms and write together. Then moving to Nashville, that was like a boot camp for us. For the first two years we lived here, we wrote almost five days a week. Learning from this town is so special because there’s so many talented writers here.
Sophie: It’s almost on a whole other level. You learn so much. We’ve grown a lot through the years.
Tell me about how you learned how to play guitar and drums and why it’s important for you to be able to do that in addition to sing and write.
Sophie: I remember we were starting out, I was maybe 10 at the time, and we started getting asked to play weddings and stuff. We’re like, ‘people aren’t going to want to dance to bluegrass music and we need to take our game up a notch.’ So one time after coming home from my cousin’s house, my dad had a sparkly, pearl drum kit for me and he’s like, ‘do you want to be a drummer?’ I was like, ‘yes!’ There was a boy at our church that was an amazing drummer, and he taught me a few of the basics and I became self-taught from there, playing constantly. I learned a lot through trial and error, and then I started getting into 80s rock. I love Mötley Crüe and Tommy Lee. People come to see the drummer as well as the main guy, so you always think you have to be a performer while you drum as well as a musician. So I really took that and started running with that, too.
Ivy: I think it’s cool because it’s fun for me to watch because I feel like drums seem like a male-dominated instrument. We get so many people coming up and being like, ‘female drummer, I love that.’ It’s cool because I see so many young girls in the audience gravitate towards Sophie. I see people come out in their sparkly heels and have a pink drumstick. It’s a heartwarming thing though at each show and these young girls that, even if it is a male-dominated thing, you can do it as well and you can be just as badass and even more badass I think [laughs]. That’s one of my favorite things. I notice that so much when we play live, there’s so many young girls that they can’t take their eyes off Sophie, and that’s such a cool thing.
Tell me about the story behind your single “Bits and Pieces” and why you wanted to release it.
Sophie: We got the demo and it was a male vocalist singing it. Me and Ivy fell in love with his version and we would put it on and drive to it and we’re like
Ivy: If they’re not going to cut this, we want to cut it.
Sophie: We were able to play it out a few times before the pandemic happened and all the times we did, everybody loved it. It had a great response.
Ivy: We started noticing people pick up on the ‘thank you Jesus’ part.
Sophie: We noticed it was such a fun song, and so we knew we wanted it to be our first single right around this time. It’s summer, quarantine’s being lifted, I think everybody needs that kind of song. It’s a good summer song. It’s all about having a good time, so we’re super excited about it. We got to debut it on The Kelly Carson Show, which was insane. That was a dream come true for us. We’re on cloud nine about it because we’ve been waiting for this moment for awhile to put a song to radio, and we think this will be a good one.
What’s the story behind “The Hamptons” and how do you feel like it connects to “Bits and Pieces” and the other songs you’ve released?
Sophie: I think “The Hamptons” was a perfect introduction of who we are. We actually went back home to our little hometown to film the video, so we had our family and everybody involved, which was super special to us. When we were pitched that song, it was kind of the same feeling, ‘we have to cut this.’ It was written for us almost. We related to it so much in the lyrics in it. I also think it’s got that fun vibe. One thing that we try and do in all our music is ‘let’s have some fun, let’s forget the worries of the world and let’s just let loose and have a party.’ We try and keep that in our message of our music, so I think that’s definitely one of them, just to have a good time.
What messages do you share through your music and what impact do you hope to have in country music?
Ivy: We’re excited to show the world that we’re females…People say, ‘you’re female country singers’ and ‘you’re women in country,’ and I think us women, we just want to be country singers. We don’t want to be, ‘a female country singer,’ we want to be country singers right up there with the guys, and I think you’re starting to see that. We’re excited to show the world you can be badass chicks and inspire young girls to follow their dreams. Even if growing up in a small town it seems impossible for us to be country singers, that they could do that as well.