Pensacola, Florida
Tuesday May 21st 2019

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When Everything Just Matches

By Savannah Evanoff

Willie Heath Neal thought his songwriting days were behind him.

He hadn’t written anything he would call decent in more than 10 years and counting—until he met Kira Annalise. They joined forces after participating in an Opry-style ensemble with friends at a few bar gigs in Georgia.

Writing music together happened organically.

“I thought a part of me had died musically,” Neal said. “I thought, ‘This part of my life is done. I guess I’ve written all the good stuff I’m going to write.’ Her and I would just be sitting around, and she’d go, ‘I got this line,’ or, ‘I have this hook,’ and we would write together.”

“I feel like I’ve been reborn artistically working with her, and I love it,” he told Inweekly.

The two have been touring as country duo The Waymores for more than five years, and they recently celebrated their 11-year anniversary as a couple with a performance in Pittsburgh, Pa.

Their name is based on Waylon Jennings’ nickname, and they’re huge Waylon fans, Annalise said.

While the two had separate musical ventures, they decided to make a dime performing together around town while they were home. After they released their own version of John Prine and Iris DeMent’s “In Spite of Ourselves,” they started getting performance requests from all over the country.

The two might not call it this, but it was something like fate.

“Turns out this is all I ever wanted musically—someone to love and sing with,” Neal said. “It got better and better— next thing we know we’re touring. We toured five years before we ever made a record.”

Neal compares writing their debut EP to piecing together a puzzle. He brings a piece. She has its match.

“The first song on the EP, ‘Matches,’ she goes, ‘I wrote these verses,’” Neal said. “And I was like, ‘Oh, my God. I’ve had this chorus. I’ve thrown it around for 10 years. I never had any place to put this, and it works perfectly right here.’”

“We’ll bring back the lyrics or a progression he had written years ago, and it fits with what I just wrote or vice versa,” Annalise said.

The Georgia-based pair had to cut back a few weeds for the music to grow. They wrote the five-track EP “Weeds” after cutting out toxic people from their lives.

Being in the music industry made them realize they had fake friends.

“We were surrounded by tons of people that were users and just bad people,” Neal said. “Our lives got stifled. One day, we just dropped the act and cut a bunch of people from our lives. The whole album’s about letting go of things and redemption.”

Being there to support each other made cutting the dead weight easy.

“We had each other, music and the highway—which is all we need,” Neal said.

Their newly-found freedom inspired the title track.

“We were riding in the car at our farm in South Georgia, and [Neal] said, ‘Look how our flowers have bloomed since we picked those weeds,’” Annalise said. “I was like ‘Oh, my God.’ I remember writing that down and I was like, ‘I’ll come back to it later.’ I did. The song ‘Weeds’ came out of it, and it’s really just about our lives on the road together and how it’s so much better just the two of us without the negativity from those people.”

People often ask The Waymores what it’s like being in a relationship while making music together. The question isn’t original, but the answer is simple.

“Everyone is always expecting us to be like, ‘Oh, my God, it’s so hard,’” Annalise said. “For me, it’s a really beautiful thing. I’m really thankful that we get the chance to do it. There’s literally no one else in the world I would tolerate.”

Annalise once reawakened Neal’s passion for music, but he was the one who first sparked hers. She never wrote songs or played an instrument before they met.

“I saw him one night in a dive bar on stage playing old country tunes, and I was just blown away,” Annalise said. “I changed my entire life to write and play and be with him. I was instantly in love with him and music and all of it. He is the entire reason I’m doing what I’m doing and why I’m here.”

Neal lived in Pensacola for more than 10 years. He looks forward to returning with Annalise and performing at chizuko for the first time.

“After I got a record deal and moved to Nashville, whenever I would come back to Pensacola, it was all out support,” Neal said. “I mean, it would just be crowded always. I’m hoping that there’s still a lot of those fans there I used to see. I don’t think they’ll be disappointed. It’s very fun. It’s not a boring acoustic show at all. It has serious moments but a lot of humorous moments, too.”

“It’s usually us just making fun of each other on stage between songs,” Annalise said.

The Waymores
WHAT: The Waymores with Ed Adams and City Squirrel Country Nuts (Earl’s Killer Squirrel acoustic)
WHEN: 8 p.m. Saturday, May 11
WHERE: chizuko, 506 W. Belmont St.
COST: $5
DETAILS: facebook.com/chizukopensacola

*If you miss the Saturday night show, you can also see The Waymores at 2 p.m. Sunday, May 12, at Pensacola Bay Brewery (225 Zaragoza St.).