When you’re declared Group of the Year at Canada’s biggest country music awards show, that’s major validation from a community with high standards. Ontario’s Small Town Pistols won the CCMA title in 2014 after the brother and sister reunited for their 2013 self-titled debut, which generated four hit singles, including “Living On The Outside.”
Now Amanda and Tyler Wilkinson — formerly of the Grammy-nominated country trio The Wilkinsons — are back with the follow-up, Pistology, an album that is personal and sometimes edgy, covering everything from parenthood and family values to vices and rivals. There’s even a fictitious song about murder.
“Tyler and I learned the craft of songwriting through my dad, but in Small Town Pistols we are grown-up, able to say things that we couldn’t say in the Wilkinsons’ songs because our dad was there,” says Amanda.
While both Tyler and Amanda are in solid marriages with babies, this sibling duo isn’t all white picket fences and PG conversation. They are quick-witted and speak their minds as people, and in their songwriting are raw and real — note the smoky western crime story “Ghosts” to the moseying “I Only Smoke When I Drink,” the call out of the peacocking man in “Jester In A Crown” to the rollicking “The Other Man,” The group’s collaboration with fellow country star Brett Kissel.
There are also a couple of numbers with a more familial bent, “Can’t Wait To Meet You” about the birth of their children and the heavier rocker “My Family,” inspired by the morals instilled in them from their parents.
Produced in Nashville by Canadian transplant David Kalmusky (John Oates, Neil Schon, Emerson Drive, Justin Bieber) — who worked with the Wilkinsons in the late ‘90s — Amanda says, “This record is a big evolution with our songwriting. We’ve honed in on who we are as a band. We’re very aware that people are predisposed to thinking, ‘Oh, you’re brother and sister; you sing together; you’re going to be a little bit cheeseball.’ So we consciously make sure our lyrics don’t go there.”
“Before, people would think Small Town Pistols is the Wilkinsons without their dad,” adds Tyler. “And even though I was lead on one single with the Wilkinsons, primarily the lead vocals were done by Amanda. With Small Town Pistols, both of us take our own personal stand and do individual songs and just a few singing together. That’s the specific difference – it’s about the two of us.”
Tyler and Amanda have been professional musicians half their lives and they’re only in their early 30s. Their father Steve formed the Wilkinsons in 1997 when his kids were teenagers. They released four studio albums, the first of which went gold in Canada and the U.S., titled Nothing but Love, which contained the hit single “26 Cents.” They disbanded in the late 2000s, Amanda working on her solo career, Tyler fronting rock band Motion Picture Ending, and their dad returning to songwriting behind the scenes (he contributed to four songs on Pistology).
The first Small Town Pistols album — made in full after they sent some tracks to Jonathan Simkin of 604 Records — was written and recorded over three years, in Vancouver, Toronto and Nashville and included help from producer Joey Moi, artist Steve Bays (ex Hot Hot Heat), Kalmusky, and, of course, their father. The group name was chosen as a tribute to their grandma, Ida, whose pistol-like quality Amanda shares. “After we got the album out there, we let out this big breath. Whatever it’s gonna be, it’s gonna be,” says Amanda.
And that “be” was a hit.
Small Town Pistols was nominated for Album of the Year at the 2014 Juno Awards, won Album of the Year at the 2014 Country Music Association of Ontario Awards, and then won the big one, Group of the Year, at the CCMAs.
“With the first album and us rebranding ourselves, we had no idea how people were going to accept it,” says Amanda. “You don’t need award recognition to justify why you’re doing something, but it tells us to keep doing what we’re doing. Tyler and I haven’t played by the rules. We definitely had that mantra from the very beginning. We’re going to do what we want to do after all these years of making music together.”
And that sums up Pistology.