Story By Denice Patterson
The hot July sun welcomed Molly Stevens and Whitney Layne last summer as they cruised over the crest of the Ocean Isle Beach bridge. It was their first trip to the island, and the country music singers and songwriters were ready for a rest after a few weeks on the road. Windows down, salty breeze whipping their hair and their keyboardist Minnie Murphy in the back seat giggling, “Are we there yet?” the group was more than ready for the long Fourth of July weekend.
They quickly found their destination — a beach house owned by Layne’s friends Larissa and Michael Green. Then a moment of clarity hit when they saw the name of the house – Broke but Tan.
“Molly and I saw that sign and looked at each other and agreed, ‘That’s a song!’” Layne says. They ran up the stairs with their instruments, said their hellos and started writing immediately. For the next few hours, Stevens, Layne and Murphy played, sang and wrote, and then everyone got involved.
“Larissa even wrote a few lines — and she had never written a song before!” Layne says.
Stevens and Layne met in Nashville in 2010, when mutual friends introduced Layne to Stevens, who had just relocated from Macon, Georgia. Utah-native Layne had been in Nashville for a few years and had recorded a solo album and opened a few shows for the likes of Kelli Pickler and Lori Morgan. When the two met, they both realized their writing styles and voices complemented each other.
“We write really well together,” Layne says.
Layne has been singing and performing since she was 4 years old. Stevens, granddaughter of a Baptist minister, has been singing since she was 2. The writers describe their sound as country soul with a twist of Americana fusion. Stevens and Layne have toured all along the East Coast, separately and together, from Florida to New York City. To date, they have written more than 100 songs. Some of those songs are on reserve for other artists, some have been released by Stevens and Layne as singles and EPs on iTunes and Reverbnation, and a few are available for download from their website, stevenslayne.com.
Their new song “Broke but Tan” brought it all together for the songwriters.
“It was a great way to celebrate the Fourth of July,” Stevens says.
The day after their arrival on Ocean Isle Beach, they were enjoying the beach and finishing up the song. Everyone who heard it wanted to know what the song was and where they could find it. Inspired by new fans, the duo decided to do a quick iPhone video for Facebook. It got 30,000 views in the first 24 hours. By the second day, it reached more than 70,000 views. That weekend, they played shows at Drift coffee shop and the Inlet View Restaurant.
Rested and energized, they returned to Nashville and played their new song for friends.
“Everyone agreed that it had ‘something,’” Layne says.
Friends introduced them to Nashville producer Neal Cappellino, who has produced albums for Allison Krauss and Union Station and Brad Paisley. He liked “Broke but Tan” and wanted to produce it. He took them to Zac Brown’s recording studio, Southern Ground, to record the single.
“It was magical being in such an incredible studio with the best musicians in Nashville,” Layne says. “The energy was intense.”
Layne plans to release the single in March and celebrate Ocean Isle-style with a kick-off show at Inlet View Restaurant.
“I am so excited to take ‘Broke but Tan’ on the road and introduce it up and down the East Coast – starting with Ocean Isle!” she says.
The Greens are excited about the new song as well. The couple has created a Broke but Tan brand, producing and selling beach items such as T-shirts, beer huggers, sunglass straps, hats and more.
“Our products are available at Surf Unlimited in Ocean Isle and brokebuttan.com,” Larissa says. They have sold hundreds of shirts all over the country.
“Broke but Tan seems to resonate with everybody!” she adds. “We plan to add beach towels and beach bags to our product line this summer.”
Layne says it has been great to work with the Greens.
“To be able write and perform the song is one thing,” she says, “but to have them create a brand around that song has just been awesome.”
The process has been rewarding for the two songwriters.
“We wanted to record this song,” says Stevens. “We wanted to do it for ourselves and for our fans, and to continue telling our story through songs.”
Layne adds: “We believe we have a lot to say about this crazy life we are all walking through.”
As they tour the country and meet new people, both women are inspired by real life stories. Their ballad “Austin’s Song” was released last Christmas. It is a poignant song about a young man, a special friend and fan who succumbed to a terminal illness.
“For the past four years, we have been working relentlessly to build long-lasting, lifetime relationships with our fans and folks in the music industry,” Stevens says. “We decided long ago that honesty and authenticity would carry us through all of the ups and downs that come with this career path, and it has.”
The two are very serious about their work.
“We aren’t doing this just for the fun of it — although it is a lot of fun,” Stevens says.
The performers have returned to Ocean Isle Beach three times since that momentous first visit. They played a gig at Surf Unlimited after Labor Day and another show at Inlet View Restaurant.
“We heard that more than 500 people showed up at Inlet View that night,” Layne says. “That’s a great fan base.”
Layne returned to Ocean Isle Beach after Thanksgiving and participated in the annual Flotilla. “I ate oysters, drank hot chocolate and even found my first sand dollar!” she says. “I love Ocean Isle — the people are awesome, the beach is exquisite and the energy is incredible!”
You can find them online at stevenslayne.com and whitneylayne.com and on Facebook. You can purchase their music on iTunes and Reverbnation and view their “Broke but Tan” videos on YouTube at www.youtube.com/user/StevensLayne .