How The Castellows Use Passion For Horses To Blaze Trails In Country Music

Photo: EB Combs

Ellie, Lily and Powell Balkcom reminisced on their experience growing up in a small town in Southwest Georgia. They were surrounded by music, family and horses for as long as they can remember.

The sisters were often surrounded by family. They played music at their hometown church, took the mic during family karaoke nights, and sang “happy birthday” to one another in “full-on harmonies.” They “just did it for fun and didn’t know any different because it was something that we were always surrounded by,” the group said in a recent interview with iHeartCountry. Their professional aspirations shifted, however, when they began writing their own music rather than solely covering songs by other artists.

Lily remembered getting a call from Ellie, who was away at school in Athens, Georgia.

“She called me, and she was like, ‘Lily, I wrote a banger.’ It’s like 8 o’clock in the morning,” Lily recalled. “I thought she was talking about like an essay for school, and I was like, ‘oh, let me hear it,’ and she started singing (and playing) on the guitar. And the service at home is really bad because we live in the middle of nowhere, but I could hear the lyrics — not quite the melodies — but I could hear what she was saying, and I was like, ‘we got a gig coming up at the Georgia Theatre in like two weeks. Teach it to me, and let’s sing that song.’ And in between that time that she wrote that song and sang it to me, and we played [the opening gig] at the Georgia Theatre. …We thought it was so much more fun singing original music than it was (performing covers).”

Now, the sisters are known as neo-traditional country trio The Castellows. They've since moved to Nashville, Tennessee, and released their debut EP, A Little Goes A Long Way, earlier this year, introducing themselves with an authentic project that harkens to traditional country sounds with a modern twist. Ellie (lead guitar), Lily (vocals) and Powell (banjo) are also looking ahead to joining Little Big Town and Sugarland on tour in the fall. In the midst of it all, the sisters are still writing music together and drawing inspiration from their everyday lives and upbringing, including incorporating their love for horses in a unique way.

Ellie, Lily and Powell blended their passion for music with their lifelong love for horses when they teamed up with songwriters Erik Dylan, Brandon Hood and Ava Suppelsa to pen three original songs that serve as a tribute to the bond horse owners share with their beloved animals. The six of them went on a retreat on a Tennessee farm – writing music and horseback riding – to pair their passions for storytelling through song with caring for horses to create the “Everything for the Ride” soundtrack. The Castellows and horse care experts Farnam joined together for the music-led initiative to bring the original songs to life, including with a photoshoot and music videos filmed at a Middle Tennessee farm, outside of Nashville.

The Castellows, part of the CMT Next Women of Country Class of 2024, said as they grew up in Southwest Georgia, they took breaks from homeschool to meet up with nearby cousins and ride horses together. They told iHeartCountry that horses have always been a part of their lives, and they’ve been riding horses since childhood. They fondly remember it as “a really great, awesome way to grow up.” Lily said caring for horses throughout their lives taught the trio “a lot about dealing with situations that are bigger than yourself. … we broke bones and we fell off and got back on. I feel like it teaches you a lot of patience,” and responsibility. A press release from Farnam notes that “the sister trio learned the hard work, grit, joy, and accomplishment that accompanies being a songwriter,” thanks to their upbringing around horses. The Castellows will debut the new songs written with Dylan, Hood and Suppelsa throughout the summer.

Ellie, Lily and Powell wrote or co-write six of the seven tracks on A Little Goes A Long Way, apart from one cover, “Hurricane,” which was released by Levon Helm more than four decades ago. The Castellows have performed their rendition of the song during live performances for several years; however, it was a “completely different” experience recording it in the studio. Ellie said “the studio has really made us better live performers,” crediting the process of getting “nitty gritty” with arrangements and “the meticulous nature” of recording the project. The Castellows also expect to learn a lot from Little Big Town and Sugarland when they join the two groups on the road on the “Take Me Home Tour,” kicking off on October 24 in Greenville, South Carolina. See the trio’s 2024 tour stops below.

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