The sister duo rides a wave on the rowdy honky-tonk song and their summer EP, 'Blonde,' that celebrates a "Dolly state of mind"
Kendra and Krista Slaubaugh — aka Tigirlily Gold — are quickly learning a less-than-sobering lesson these days. Having a buzzy single like “Shoot Tequila” comes, as Krista says, with its own “occupational hazard.”
Onstage the sisters can’t get through it without people foisting tequila shots on them — and what else can they do but what the song says: “Mama didn’t raise no quitter.”
“We have to live our truth,” Krista, 25, says mock-earnestly. “You know, we can't be frauds.”
“We’re pacing ourselves,” says Kendra, 27.
“You never know what you're gonna get,” adds Krista. “How big of a shot, what kind of tequila.”
“We save it for the last song for a reason, obviously,” says Kendra.
Yet all things considered, getting a little tipsy seems a small price to pay for the attention that the single is now attracting. It’s just the latest momentum that the duo has been gaining these last couple years after blowing up on TikTok (691,000 followers and counting) and scoring an all-genre No. 1 on Apple Music with the inspiring anthem “Somebody Does.” More recently, they’ve been celebrating their EP, Blonde, released in June, a pre-telecast ACM Awards appearance, and an Opry debut with return dates.
“If we think about it a little too much, we get really emotional because this is obviously all we've ever wanted to do,” says lead singer Kendra. “We’re just trying to enjoy every part of the journey because there’s no end destination. We know we’ve hit a lot of milestones already, but we still have so far to go.”
Just getting to Nashville — 1,292 miles from their middle-of-nowhere hometown of Hazen, North Dakota — was its own challenge. The older two of three daughters, both were musically inclined as little girls, putting on living-room shows for their parents and singing together in church in their tiny town (pop. 2,500). But Krista recognized early on that her sister was the one with the distinctive voice. When Kendra was 13, their grandmother entered her in a town talent competition, and she won.
“I hated the competition part,” recalls Kendra, “but I loved the winning part.”
Says Krista, ever the proud little sister: “From then on, she knew the stage is where she belonged.”
Yet where did that leave Krista? She loved the stage, too, but she was an also-ran in competitions. Fortuitously, Kendra had left the door wide open: As much as she loved the lead, she also felt most comfortable sharing the stage. So, Krista set out to develop her own strengths. She already was the first of the two to write songs — “the most satisfying part for me at that age,” she says. She also took up the guitar, and she taught herself how to sing harmony by listening to country favorites like Rascal Flatts, Sugarland and The Chicks.
“It wasn’t like we woke up one day and said, ‘Hey, let’s be a country music duo,’” says Krista. “It was a very natural progression.” From the start, she adds, she’s been content with her harmony role: “I don’t feel like I need to be the lead singer to be an equal part of the band.”
In middle school, Krista remembers, she had an assignment to make a time capsule to be opened in a decade, and she wrote to her grown-up self: “You better be in Nashville, a huge country star. You better be following your dreams.” Even then, she confirms, that “you” was plural. This was definitely going to be a sister act.
By ages 14 and 16, the two had picked the name “Tigirlily,” a nod to the flowers in their parents’ backyard; the altered spelling expressed their passion for female anthems and empowering music.
Over the next few years, they built a regional fan base with gigs around North Dakota and surrounding states. Kendra tried a semester away at college before dropping out to wait for Krista to graduate from high school. Then, in 2017, after a year of performing and tucking away earnings, they were finally ready to head to Nashville.
The two quickly enrolled as music business majors at Belmont University, determined to better equip themselves for their career. After a year, their savings ran out, and a friend suggested they audition at the honky-tonks on Nashville’s Lower Broadway. For unknown artists, the grueling four-hour sets and late-night shifts are just about the only option to make money doing music in the city.
“We had to think about it a little bit,” says Krista. “It wasn’t a no-brainer for us.”
Indeed, just to prepare for an audition meant facing a musical crash course. Honky-tonk crowds expect a repertoire of ’80s and ’90s country hits, and the sisters — who grew up with 2000s music — didn’t begin to know them. “We had to learn 60 to 80 songs,” says Kendra, “and I just remember crying. I’d be like, I cannot do this. This is way too much.”
Krista knew her sister didn’t want to perform a less-than-perfect set, and she offered a quick reality check. “This is gonna be a long learning curve,” she counseled big sister. “It’s not gonna be perfect right away. It’s not gonna be pretty at first, but we have to do it, and you can do it.”
That moment of tension, both women say, perfectly reflects their offstage roles, with Krista often the one who takes the lead.
Says Kendra of her little sister: “Her determination and confidence and motivation is really next level. She’s not gonna let anything get in the way of what we want to accomplish as a duo, where I can sometimes be a little nervous or fearful. She’s not fearful at all. She gives me my confidence a lot, honestly.”
After stints at two honky-tonks, the duo settled into a weekly residency at Dierks Bentley's popular Whiskey Row, singing three weekend nights. By Monday morning, they say, their voices were sometimes so spent they could hardly speak, but it was worth the growth they were experiencing.
“If you listen to our voices pre-Broadway and after Broadway,” says Krista, “we sing with much more emotion, and we let the lyrics carry us vocally. We also sing a lot less ‘proper,’ which actually is better for country.”
Krista says she also sharpened her guitar skills and learned the seemingly inscrutable numbers system that all Nashville musicians use. Kendra says the experience turned into a huge confidence boost. “If someone requested a song that I didn’t really know, I would still take it on and give it my best,” she says. “I just felt more comfortable onstage.”
By then, their vocal blend was already on point — the result of that quintessentially country tradition of blood harmony. The more they’ve sung together, the more they’ve realized “that’s where the magic is,” says Kendra. “We don’t have the same singing voices. If we sing separately, we don’t sound the same at all. But there’s something about our genetics that, when Krista sings with me, it literally feels like a perfect puzzle piece going together. I’ve had other people sing harmony with me, and it’s just not the same.”
Krista is even more adamant: “I don’t like singing harmony with other people!”
In 2020, the sisters had their college diplomas in hand, connections in the Nashville music community, some looks from labels, and a catalogue of original music — they co-write it all — that exudes their pop-country sound. But by then everything had ground to a halt with the pandemic.
“For a couple weeks, maybe a month, we were at the end of our rope,” Krista confesses. “Like, was this our sign to give up? Were we supposed to be doing this?”
During that stressful time, Krista was the one who thought TikTok might offer new opportunities, though she had to persuade Kendra to give it a try. Soon, their acoustic covers — up to three a day — were going viral, sometimes toting up millions of hits. The videos also caught the attention of Shane McAnally, Nashville songwriting wizard, producer and co-president of Monument Records, a Sony imprint. He stepped up to executive produce “Somebody Does,” the duo's pandemic-inspired single that went on to top Apple Music in February 2021. A month later, he signed the duo to the label.
“The pandemic was a reason a lot of things have happened the way they have,” says Kendra. “I would never want it to happen again, obviously, but there were silver linings for us throughout.”
Still, they had to deal with one hiccup: the band name they’d picked as teenagers. With so many stores, brands, and artists carrying similar names, management pressed them to distinguish themselves with an additional word, “almost like a last name,” says Kendra.
“Right away,” she says, “we weren’t sure about it ourselves.”
“We sure as heck weren’t gonna fully change our name,” Krista interjects. “That was never in question.”
“But then, as we thought about it,” says Kendra, “we were more like, OK, we have to do this, and how do we make sure it’s kind of this new era?”
The two women finally settled on the addition of “Gold.” The word, they said on their Instagram announcement, evokes abundant images, including “sunrises, sunsets, wheat fields, summer, fall, sparks flying off a campfire, glitter” and “all good things.”
One more obvious image that somehow didn’t make the list is the striking blonde of the sisters’ hair — though it currently exudes a more platinum tone, not a bad look for two women with million-selling ambitions. Their latest shot is their new on-brand EP, Blonde, a delightful appetizer to a planned album in 2024.
The sisters consider the buoyant title track their “windows-down girl anthem" that kickstarts the four-song project.
“We say blonde is a state of mind,” says Kendra.
“A Dolly Parton state of mind,” Krista amends, quoting “Blonde” lyrics.
“You don’t have to be technically blonde to be blonde,” adds Kendra, who readily admits what grows out of her head probably isn't as blonde as the rest of her hair. (The keeper of their color, their hairdresser, is actually namechecked in the song.)
“My hair might start falling out in the next couple years,” quips Krista, who took the platinum plunge more recently, “but it’s gonna be worth it for a while!”
Another song on the EP speaks to yet a different kind of roots. “Hometown Song” addresses the sisters’ feelings toward Hazen, and Kendra says, it’s “probably the most special one to us.”
But it’s not all nostalgia. “We grew up in a town that we love and that really made us who we are,” says Kendra, “but if you’re in the same place for a long time, there are gonna be some bad memories along the way. I have memories that I’m not too fond of, and I have memories that I love, and so we wanted to write that mixed feeling.”
“Move On” is the duo’s nod to their sultry, sexy side (“already been waitin’ too long / for you to make a move on, move on me”). Then rounding out the EP is “Shoot Tequila” — a song they wrote to capture the rowdy energy of Lower Broadway.
“We really wanted to have our own honky-tonk anthem,” says Kendra, “and hopefully, we can be driving down Broadway and hear ‘Shoot Tequila’ being played someday.”
That day may well come: The song earned 43 million views and streams across digital media before it arrived at country radio, and it's since made an appearance on the Billboard chart.
In fact, the sisters are feeling so confident about the song’s potential that they’ve begun calling it the “Move Krista Out Fund.” But they also admit it’s still more of a joke than a plan.
Except for Kendra’s semester away at college, the sisters have happily shared quarters since the day Krista was brought home from the hospital as a newborn — even in recent years, as they’ve added a housemate, Kendra’s husband. She married her childhood sweetheart, Jared Olson, now a Nashville photographer, in 2019, and he’s a full partner in their household, which also includes the couple’s “pandemic dog,” a golden (of course) retriever named Nala. (No doubt the duo’s biggest fan, Jared makes cameos in their videos, on TikTok, and he recently bleached his own hair.)
How do they all handle this “Three’s Company” arrangement? Remarkably well, say both sisters.
“Krista and I are gone so much,” says Kendra. “Jared and I have the upstairs and Krista has a room downstairs, so it works out.”
And, Kendra confesses, losing her sister as a housemate “would probably be harder on me than it even is for Krista — and I’m the one who has the husband! It’s gonna be really weird.”
Little sister probably knows best. “What's gonna happen is I'm gonna move out,” says Krista, “and we're still gonna be at each other’s houses all the time.”
No doubt if the two women have learned anything on their musical journey, it’s that sisterhood is powerful.
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