Willow Avalon Talks Gettin' Rich, Goin' Broke, Diss Tracks, and Classic Country

For the New York-based artist, country music is not a trend — it's in her roots.


Willow Avalon is the kind of girl people write songs about. Why? A quick journey through the singer/songwriter and self-proclaimed southern belle’s social media answers that question. I watched all 102 of Willow’s TikToks before speaking with her. Her feed is an amalgamation of little “ditties" that just came to her, boho-chic ‘fit checks, and fan cams of her late pet possum, Bowie. Many of the comments under her videos share the same adoring sentiment. “I want to be her and I want her,” one reads. Somebody named Chloe writes, “I’m in love with you,” to the tune of 28,900 likes. Her debut EP, Stranger, was released February 29th to much anticipation – thanks, in part, to the virality of one of the aforementioned ditties, “Gettin’ Rich, Goin’ Broke.”

I spoke with Willow on a bright Friday afternoon in mid-February, two weeks before the release of Stranger, and one week before she left for tour with fellow southerner and rising star, Briston Maroney. “It’s been a strange series of events,” Willow says when asked how she got here – “here” being 25 years old, living in New York City and signed with Atlantic Records. She released her first single, “Drivin’,” while living in Los Angeles. Unmixed, unmastered, and featuring a cover photo taken on an iPhone 5, the track garnered unexpected attention. When a song of hers was featured on hit TV series Riverdale, the managers started calling. Willow, understandably, was hesitant – “I was like, y’all probably live in your mom’s basement, I don’t know what you smell like. But I let them fly me out to New York.”

Willow grew up in rural Georgia, playing the piano at the local Baptist church in a town with no more than 200 people. “We had one stop sign, no stop lights, and no grocery store,” she says, “all there really was to do was go out and get dirty and roughhouse and sing songs.” She fondly remembers days spent sitting around the kitchen table with her grandma, her mom, and her aunts, belting out old country songs together. It was not until her pre-teen years that Willow performed publicly, on a stage with a band, for the first time. She found her safe space as a musician at Camp Amped, an Athens, Georgia-based summer program for budding musicians, with a focus on mental health and wellbeing.

“I didn’t sing when I first went to camp. I was very shy and I just played piano,” Willow reminisces. When the head of Camp Amped called Willow’s dad, folk artist Jim White, in awe of her voice, all bets were off. That one question, “Why didn’t you tell me Willow can sing?” changed the trajectory of her life. “Singing professionally never seemed like something I could actually do, because the dream was so far from the reality of where I was and the circumstances I had,” Willow admits. “I was a waitress for a really long time, and I thought that was probably going to be the end all be all. I got very lucky, but I also worked hard.”

“Singing professionally never seemed like something I could actually do, because the dream was so far from the reality of where I was and the circumstances I had. I was a waitress for a really long time, and I thought that was probably going to be the end all be all.”

Willow now recognizes that a mixture of “hard work, luck, and being really annoying” carried her toward living out her dreams in Manhattan. “I love New York, I love my apartment, I love where I live, and I’ve never felt so comfortable and happy in a space,” she gushes. The city also offers reprieve from things (and people) best left on the West Coast. Willow wrote “Call Me On My Way Home,” the last track on Stranger, “as a love ballad to someone I had a very strained relationship with – but a very intense connection with – after I left my partner of a long time.” In her sweet, signature vibrato, she ponders how a fling can sometimes hit harder than a long term relationship, admitting, “It feels like a crime every time I wanna hear your voice.”

“Call Me On My Way Home” is a bit of an Easter egg, recalling the name of a song written by Willow's ex-muse (some minor sleuthing will answer any burning questions). Clever moments like this are woven throughout Stranger. Two days before I spoke with her, Willow posted a video of a demo she had written that day – featuring her uncomped, raw vocals over a live performance – with the caption, “I desperately want Dolly Parton to tell me I did a good job on this song.” TikTok loved it. “Gettin’ Rich, Goin’ Broke” is now a pre-release track on her EP. “It’s about how, hopefully in the future, fingers crossed, I will make enough money to buy my momma a house and everything that my family wants,” she says, “because we grew up in the deep south and the dirt, with not much to any of our names.”

“I desperately want Dolly Parton to tell me I did a good job on this song.”

The track is classic country – think Loretta Lynn, Tammy Wynette, or Kitty Wells, who is a personal favorite of Willow’s. “I love a good diss track,” Willow says, “and Kitty Wells’ ‘It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels’ is literally the number one diss track that has ever been written in the history of the world.” I ask Willow why she thinks country music is making such a comeback right now, with people like Zach Bryan and Kelsea Ballerini becoming household names, and pop stars like Lana Del Rey and Beyonce incorporating the sounds of the south into their latest records. “I think it’s an overall feeling and the genuineness of country music, it resonates with people and makes them feel good,” she says. “It’s hard to fake a good country song with a computer.” For Willow, though, country is not a trend – “this is the first time I’m making music that feels true to myself, with a producer that makes me feel true to my roots.”

In a world that is chronically online and constantly inundated with (oftentimes concerning) information, authenticity is rare and more valuable than ever. Willow Avalon has that special something – that je ne sais quoi that her TikTok comments hit on – because she is real, and she makes music that feels real. Some songs, like “Stranger” and “Honey Ain’t No Sweeter,” feel warm and fuzzy. Others, like “The News,” package up the fears we all have in these maddeningly unprecedented times and deliver them with a big pink bow. Willow may be the kind of girl people write songs about, but her new EP proves that she writes much better songs for herself.

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