Though COVID-19 guidelines have kept them apart since July, Chapel Hill band "The Magnolias" is continuing to invent ways to remain connected in order to rehearse, record and produce their newest album.
The band was planning to release their album in early October, but after recent insight from UNC music professor and mentor Jason Richmond, they have decided to hold off until they get picked up by a record label.
Although anxious to release their new music into the world, lead guitarist and lyricist Sam Gatlin said he remains steadfast that Richmond’s insistence on waiting for a record deal is for the best.
“I know right, it sucks,” Gatlin said. “But (Richmond) thinks we should push it to labels just because it’d be more beneficial in the long run. As much as it would suck for us to not be able to put it out right now -- it’ll be worth it.”
The band formed under unusual circumstances.
Now UNC juniors, Gatlin and Bryton Shoffner, the band's drummer, were randomly assigned as roommates freshman year, where they quickly discovered their mutual passion for music.
After some time playing together, Gatlin said he reached out to an old friend from high school, now lead singer Danny Knutelsky, to see if he was interested in collaborating on what would soon become The Magnolias.
However, Knutelsky and Shoffner started out as complete strangers. The first time the two bandmates got the chance to meet in person was in the studio the day they recorded their first two songs.
“It kind of started our sophomore year,” Gatlin said. “Our freshman year, me and Bryton made music together and such. And then the following summer, Danny and I started doing stuff together. And then we just kind of combined.”
Despite the initial unfamiliarity between the members, the three bandmates found that they have unprecedented chemistry, both musically and socially.
“I think we got along really well, really fast,” Gatlin said. “Because me and Bryton had spent a couple years living together. So we had already developed a musical language together. And we always knew that there was something really good about our connection. And then when I was working for Danny over summer, I just sort of felt the same thing. It just felt like an instant click.”
Since that first studio session, the band has completed one album of 14 total songs, centering around topics such as depression, isolation and art.
With Gatlin’s lyrics and arrangements, Shoffner’s drumming and Knutelsky’s vocals, the band has cultivated an indie-alternative sound that takes inspiration from jazz, R&B, rock and renowned artists such as Bon Iver and The 1975.
“We all have primary roles we function in, but we all serve to make musical decisions together,” Shoffner said. “I play all the drums, I play some guitar, a tiny bit of piano and a little bit of bass. On some songs, me and Sam have both played the bass part and we’ve switched off in sections.”
When asked about his role in the band, Knutelsky laughed.
“I sing,” he said.
But Knutelsky’s singing career has flourished outside of just the band, he added. He has begun a solo career of his own, with almost 125,000 monthly listeners on Spotify and over 1.5 million streams on his number one song, “Crush.”
The singer even dropped out of his community college to pursue music full-time. Despite his individual success, however, Knutelsky said he wants to continue singing for both himself and the band.
“I've always wanted to be in a band, and luckily Sam was so grateful to fall into my arms," Knutelsky said. “Making music on my own, things are going great, I got labels called down and stuff like that, so definitely it’s cool to have both the band and a singular musician page where I can still learn and process and add things on both sides.”
The band is also looking into finding a label deal, but the pandemic hasn’t made things easy.
Since the band formed around the start of coronavirus, it’s been nearly impossible to get all three members together to record.
“It got a lot more difficult in terms of booking a studio when the pandemic hit,” Gatlin said. “Because we were in the studio over spring break when s--- hit the fan. School got canceled for us while we were in the studio. And then we weren't able to go finish the album until July, we had to wait for things to calm down.
"The songs that I sent (The Daily Tar Heel) — we recorded those while wearing a mask.”
Looking forward, the band is excited to reunite and continue playing together — even possibly beyond the college years.
“Personally I would love for this band to be a career for all of us,” Gatlin said. “I’d say it's definitely more than just a hobby for me. I would love to do this, exactly, for the rest of my life.
"We got big plans, y’know."
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