“It's kind of weird because we're a band, but like I hardly know the singer,” Shoffner said. “The first time all three of us were together was at the studio to record.”
Gatlin said most bands would play local venues like Cat’s Cradle and Local 506 to experiment with their music in front of an audience before going to record in a studio. With the help of UNC adjunct professor and freelance music producer Jason Richmond, however, The Magnolias have done it backwards.
“It was nice to get them in when they're in that early stage where we can help them develop before they got into the overanalyzing,” Richmond said. “I think there’s a lot of energy in that. It’s a rare thing to be able to do and there’s something really special about it.”
Richmond, who taught Gatlin in a music production class at UNC, said he often asks students for demos of their work, but he was particularly impressed with the potential he heard last year from what was soon to become The Magnolias.
The additional challenge of only being able to record over the summer and semester breaks adds to their unconventional development.
In the hopes of releasing an album this summer, the band is planning to continue recording over spring break and potentially skipping classes the week before UNC’s finals begin if they can line up a studio to record in.
“We want to appeal to everyone,” Shoffner said. “but we also want a musician to listen to it and be like, ‘What the f--- did they just do? That was crazy!’ Like how we react when we listen to stuff.”
Pushing for new levels of musicality through lyrics and instrumental composition that elevates one another will help them avoid sounding cocky in their playing, while also avoiding being so simple that their music is redundant, Gatlin said.
“We could show off if we wanted to, but no one wants to hear that,” Gatlin said. “So we're trying to just put a little tease of that in our music.”
The Magnolias described their sound as the overlap in a Venn diagram of styles and preferences that each member brings to the table. Influences from alternative, jazz, indie-rock and even R&B play a role in how The Magnolias shape their sound.
The singles they released and the songs they are working on for their first album deal are centered around the development of two characters and their eventually intertwined storyline, Gatlin and Shoffner said.
“Basically, it's gonna be a love story, and it's gonna show the effects of depression,” said Gatlin, adding that the album plans to address topics such as depersonalization, skepticism and self-harm across several records with these characters.
Future plans for the band include immersive performances with elaborate stage and light design and, if they can find the funding, a jukebox movie where they bring the characters from their soon-to-be records to life on film, they said.
Shoffner said he and Gatlin have worked on other projects before, but that they were not as passionate about them or the music they were making.
“This feels very honest to us,” Gatlin said. “This is the most accurate representation of our music and who we are, not just musically, but artistically.”
Their first release, titled “An Invitation,” includes two singles and is available on popular streaming platforms like Spotify, Apple Music and YouTube.