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Anna G. Larson, Published August 14 2013

Homegrown talent: Hazen sisters pursue country music career

HAZEN, N.D. - Two North Dakota sisters hope singing will lead to success.

They’re well on their way.

Hazen teenagers Kendra and Krista Slaubaugh of country-pop duo Tigirlily have 37,000-plus Twitter followers, and their cover of Phillip Phillips’ “Home” accrued more than 170,000 views on YouTube.

The girls, known as Tigirlily, have opened for pop-country band The Bellamy Brothers, country artist and fellow North Dakotan Gwen Sebastian and Fargo-based country rock band 32 Below. By early August, the duo had racked up 20 summer performances.

“Right now, with our career is going as fast as it is, we do hope to be at Taylor Swift’s level or with a major record label,” Kendra says. “But we still feel like normal people just doing what we like to do.”

Tigirlily is gaining fans beyond their hometown of 2,500 residents, but the blond sisters say they couldn’t do it without the support in Hazen and the rest of the state.

“In Nashville, everyone’s doing this. We know that being small-town North Dakota girls, our hearts need to stay humble and we need to stay grounded. That helps us a lot, and shapes us to who we are today,” 17-year-old Kendra says.

Kendra and Krista, 15, describe themselves as “normal teenage girls” who like to shop, hang out with friends, participate in high school sports, go to the lakes and be involved at church.

They recently returned from a weeklong church trip to New Jersey and New York to help rebuild areas that were affected by last year’s Hurricane Sandy. When they landed back in North Dakota, the duo started shooting a music video for their latest single, titled “North Dakota,” which is set for an Aug. 20 release.

“We’re really excited to show people because it’s who we are,” Krista says.

Some of Tigirlily’s most popular videos are their “Kitchen Covers.” Fans named the videos shot in the family kitchen “Kitchen Covers” for their casual nature.

“Everyone seems to like them because they’re calm, and they’re real, and they’re just us in our kitchen at home. They’re not us trying to be all fancy and glitzy and glam,” Kendra says.

Mychal Fabela, a radio personality at KAT Country 100.7 FM in California, heard the “North Dakota” single and says it has everything needed to be a “massive hit.”

“I could even see it having CMA (Country Music Awards) potential. It’s the ‘Cruise’ (a song by Florida Georgia Line) of the fall,” says Fabela, who learned about Tigirlily through the song’s Californian producer at Imagine Recordings.

An artist consultant closer to home also remarked that Tigirlily has potential to make an impression on the national music scene.

“They have that ‘it’ factor that mixes abundant talent, a fresh sound and a wholesomeness that the music industry cannot overlook,” says Steve Bakken of country radio station KQ 94.5 in Bismarck.

Many songs the sisters write are based on other peoples’ experiences or how they would feel if a major life event happened. The lyrics accompanying the country-pop sound of Tigirlily are sweet and age-appropriate, and that’s the way the sisters intend to keep it.

“We have some sassy music in there, but they’re all appropriate. We definitely want to keep things PG,” Kendra says.

Speaking of sassy, 15-year-old Krista is the “feistier” of the sisters, says mom Brenda Slaubaugh.

She describes Krista as the more competitive sister who favors upbeat pop music. She’s usually the harmony on songs while older sister Kendra takes the melody.

Their mom says Kendra is more sentimental with a soulful, bluesy song style. The sisters’ personalities are also reflected in their band name, Tigirlily. Krista is the “Tigir” and Kendra is the “lily.”

Tigirlily is influenced by musicians like The Civil Wars, The Band Perry, Carrie Underwood and Gwen Sebastian.

Sebastian invited the sisters to Nashville so they could learn more about the music business, and her producer-fiancé may even produce Tigirlily’s next CD.

“To have someone like that believe in us has been really uplifting,” Kendra says.

On their way back from Nashville, Tigirlily stopped at a Noodles and Co.in Fargo and had a taste of fame when a group of teenagers whispered for a few minutes before finally asking Kendra and Krista if they were “them.”

Mom Brenda says they handle public recognition well and remain humble. She jokes that if they become divas, they won’t be able to go to shows anymore.

A glance at Tigirlily’s Twitter profile solidifies Mom Brenda’s assertion that the teens are humble. Their profile contains a quote that reads “Keep your head in the stars but your feet on the ground.”

“Around here, all of our friends treat us the same. We wouldn’t want it any different,” Kendra says.

Online, Tigirlily interacts with fans via YouTube, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, often replying with smiley faces and thank-yous.

Brenda and her husband, Kendall, talk with Kendra and Krista about being safe since they’re in the public eye.

“As teenagers they don’t always realize that it’s good to be friendly, but you need to be cautious,” Brenda says.

Some online commenters compare the sisters and say they like one better than the other. To that, Kendra and Krista laugh.

“We’re so different, and that’s their opinion,” Kendra says.

Krista adds, “We are who we are, and if not everyone likes our music, that’s fine. We’re going to be who we are.”

Fans and family keep Tigirlily moving forward. Mom Brenda acts as manager, younger sister Karly is their biggest fan, and dad Kendall is their sound guy, although Kendra and Krista say he has a “terrible ear.” Chris Harvey, the sisters’ band teacher, has also been instrumental in helping Tigirlily’s career by shooting their YouTube music videos.

The money the girls raise from performing goes to purchase new equipment and other items related to their career. The amount per show varies, but it’s usually between a couple hundred and a couple thousand dollars, Kendra says.

Tigirlily isn’t sure what the future will bring, but they intend to continue pursuing their career as a country-pop sister duo.

“You have no idea if you have what it takes to make it. You hear you do, but then you see all these other really, really talented people and you’re like… can I do it?” Kendra says. “Along the way, you get surprised with these different opportunities and you meet so many people on the way. Music brings people together.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Anna G. Larson at (701) 241-5525