Country Music

Married Country Duo the Waymores Travel to Greener Pastures

The Waymores: Willie Neal and Kira Annalise
Photo by Lindsay Garrett
The Waymores: Willie Neal and Kira Annalise
As the great American philosopher Thomas Earl Petty once opined, “the waiting is the hardest part.”

And that can especially be the case for authors, actors and musicians who have poured their hearts and souls into creating a piece of work that is completed, printed, produced, and ready to go. But the official release date is a still bit ahead on the calendar.

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Record cover
That’s the situation that country musicians Willie Neal and Kira Annalise—the married duo who perform as the Waymores—find themselves in. Their third record, Greener Pastures (Chicken Ranch Records) is pressed and a physical object but won’t actually come out until August 25.

“I know there’s a process and you’ve got to release singles first. But yeah, we’re chomping at the bit to get this out,” Neal says via Zoom from the Atlanta home he and Annalise share.

“This whole thing as a whole has been such a long process!” she says, though adding that the first single, “But I Don’t” comes out today on all streaming platforms. The pair sing both solo and duo numbers, and Neal’s guitar is prominent.

The project actually didn’t start out to be a full-length effort. Instead, the Waymores had just planned to put out a 45 covering tunes by Buck Owens (“Under Your Spell”) and Marty Robbins (“Don’t Worry”).

Both were recorded under the direction of legendary producer Shel Talmy. The now 85-year-old was instrumental in the early careers of both the decidedly non-country ‘60s British Invasion acts the Kinks and the Who. And it’s Talmy who arranged and produced both “You Really Got Me” and “My Generation.” He did the same for Australia’s the Easybeats for “Friday on My Mind.”
It turns out that Talmy’s friend, LA-based actor/restauranter Harry Zinn’ was a fan of the Waymores’ last release, The Stone Sessions. He played it in in his car while driving around Talmy, who was knocked out by the music. It led to some email exchanges and a decision to work together. And who knew that Talmy had a bucket list item: To produce a country record.

“He’s blind, and he has been his entire career. But he’s a spry as ever. He wanted to go out drinking after the sessions!” Annalise says. Neal adds that on this record there are a lot of “odd-for-country-music” arrangements that Talmy did, but they nonetheless worked perfectly.

“We couldn’t hear it in our head what he wanted, and we thought it sounded ridiculous,” Neal says. “But once we got into the studio, we got it. And that’s why he’s Shel Talmy.”
Greener Pastures was engineered by guitarist/songwriter Johnny Lee Schell, who has worked with Bonnie Raitt, B.B. King and Lucinda Williams. The backup musicians on the sessions had collectively worked with Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, Al Green, Jerry Lee Lewis, Hoyt Axton, and Chuck Berry among others. So, the question must be asked: how much studio time was wasted by the Waymores asking for stories and anecdotes about those music legends?

“All those guys know each other. So anytime one of them would start telling a story, the others would as well. Part of you wanted to go ‘Hey, let’s move it back inside to the studio’ and other it was ‘Yes! Keep talking!’” Neal laughs. “But they treated us like equals and listened to our ideas—even though we were way out of our element! It was very humbling and inspiring."

Annalise freely admits that she needed some liquid courage in the form of tequila shots before singing in the studio during the first of two strings of session dates. Though many of her guide vocals were good enough to be used on the finished track. And her liquor of choice?

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The Waymores ink up together
Photo by Lindsay Garrett
“Casamigos. Always Casamigos,” she says without hesitation. “And it went from blanco to mezcal. California got to me, and I’m a mezcal girl now. You should try it with grapefruit juice like a mezcal paloma. It’s incredible!”

The material on Greener Pastures definitely leans toward more jaunty and uptempo, including the couple’s originals (“Flashbacks of a Fool,” “But I Don’t,” “She’s Gone”) and the title track, a co-write with Austin’s Johnny McGowan.

The majority of all 10 tracks were recorded live, a first for the Waymores, which Annalise says will be their new M.O. going forward. They say "it wasn’t cheap” to transition to a full-length record, but that some of the recording costs were defrayed by a crew filming a documentary on Talmy. And the enthusiasm of their label to put out a full release, which would also make them more appealing to Americana radio stations.

One of the album’s best tracks is McGowan’s “Hill Country Waltz,” about a woman who sees her former flame at their local bar with his new girlfriend. An experience shared by countless former couples in smaller towns where there’s no escape from love lost:

“My ears start to burn as I walk through the door/My heart starts to pound/I look to the dance floor/What will I do? I really can’t say/If you’re holding her when the band starts to play.”

Though originally written from a man’s perspective, Annalise says she was initially not too hot on the tune. But after seeing McGowan perform it live with his band and changing a bit of the arrangement and later cadence, she was sold on the tearjerker. Neal said his guitar playing was inspired by Phases & Stages/Red Headed Stranger-era Willie Nelson records.

“Johnny felt every emotion when he did it and so did I. It’s wildly relatable to a lot of people,” Annalise says. “If you see your ex with somebody else, it’s heartbreaking.”

To get the appropriate level of sadness, she decided to channel a bit of Tammy Wynette after hearing a song of hers the night before the session. Though—as Neal notes—she “did not try to kidnap herself,” referring to a bizarre incident in Wynette’s life.
This leads to a side discussion (far too lengthy and geeky to retell here) about the relative pros and cons of the recent Showtime mini-series George & Tammy about the tumultuous relationship between Wynette and George Jones, and how it spilled over into their music.

Suffice to say, Annalise enjoyed it more than Neal, who took issue with the authenticity of Michael Shannon-as-George Jones’ singing voice (Jessica Chastain’s Wynette gets a better reception).

The Waymores debuted with the 2019 EP Weeds, followed by last year’s full-length The Stone Sessions. That’s when the Houston Press last spoke with the couple, who had not yet played Houston. They’ve since had a couple of gigs in the Bayou City and have at least one upcoming date booked September 29 at the Dosey Doe Breakfast.

The pair first met in 2007 as come-and-go members of the mostly cover song group the No Count Palookas. Neal already had plenty of experience in punk and psychobilly bands (including Damned Old Opry) as well as his solo gigs. Annalise was a new mother and just starting to sing professionally.

They joined forces as the Waymores in 2013 (the moniker a well-known nickname for Waylon Jennings) by which time they had also struck up a romantic relationship.
Yet, if they had to choose a favorite song that they themselves wrote on Greener Pastures, it would be the decidedly un-romantic “Time to Ramble.”

“Time to roam, time to ramble/I’ve had all that I can handle/Of your fussin’ and your fightin’ and your cheatin’ and your lyin’/Well your loud mouth and drinkin’ has got me to thinkin’/Maybe I’m better off alone.”

The pair wrote it while on tour and on the road, which is not usual. Neal usually handles the driving while Annalise busts out the laptop and they collaborate as the miles pass underneath them.

“There was some talking in it, and it was really cool! It’s a neat song,” Neal says, while Annalise says it’s her favorite to sing and play.

“But it’s not anything about us!” she laughs. “We’re in it for the long haul.”

For more on the Waymores, visit TheWaymores.com