with special guests The Wild Reeds
Wild Child won't settle. For seven years now the Austin-based ensemble has carried its infectious blend of indie-pop and infectious melodies across the international music scene, charting viral hits and wrapping their arms around a diverse and dedicated fan base. But earlier this year when the band set out to make their fourth studio album, they found they had their hands full: After half a decade of maturation, the group had grown beyond its traditional writing and recording process.
“We had too many ideas for how we wanted to make this record” says Kelsey Wilson, the group’s lead vocalist and violinist. She shrugs. “So we said, ‘Why not just do all of them?’”
The group realized this offered an exciting opportunity to make a kind of record bands rarely get right: To take a new, multispectral approach to writing and recording that went beyond simply trying to engineer success. The band made a list of their favorite musicians who were also great producers in their own right — choosing ones they thought would shine a new and unique light on specific compositions — and then Wild Child set about chasing their album from studio to studio all over the world, never saying no to an idea.
The result — the band’s fourth album, Expectations — is Wild Child’s most creative, colorful and intellectually engaging album to date.
Now a seven-piece pop mini-orchestra (Wilson on violin and vocals; Alexander Beggins on ukulele and vocals; Sadie Wolfe on cello; Matt Bradshaw on keyboards, trumpet, and harmonica; Tom Myers on drums; Cody Ackors on guitar and trombone; and Tyler Osmond on bass), Wild Child formed in 2010 when the group's core duo of Wilson and Beggins wrote and released their first album, Pillow Talk.
Wild Child shaped their last record, Fools, in the shadows of more than one failed love, and Expectations, as the title suggests, is a continuation of that personal experience into an awakening. Wilson and Beggins, whose voices fit each other as naturally as any family act, pushed their boundaries as writers, drawing freely from the stories they've lived as well as the artists around the world that have inspired their growth. Their rate of output over that last year got them thinking differently about producing, focusing on one track at a time. “We’ve always focused on the record as a whole. We wanted to think about each track as it’s own piece- but somehow it all fits together” Wilson says of the approach.
That route took them around the world — from Chris Walla's (Death Cab For Cutie) studio in Tromsø, Norway, where the Northern Lights are the brightest in the world, to a home-built warehouse studio on the outskirts of Philadelphia, where Dr. Dog's Scott McMicken picked up the bass and “joined the band for a week,” arranging harmonies and sharing living and recording space. Back in Wimberley, Texas, Matthew Logan Vasquez (Delta Spirit) set up a makeshift studio in Kelsey Wilson’s beloved childhood home — abandoned since the floods of 2015 — where they found the muses were eager to resurface. The group also tapped the talents of frequent tour mate Chris Boosahda (Shakey Graves), Atlantic Records recording artist Max Frost, and Grammy-winning producer Adrian Quesada (Groupo Fantasma, Brown Sabbath, Spanish Gold).
The result is a theater of possibilities, with arrangements that reflect the range of tastes of the producers, from scruffy lo-fi tape hiss, to smoothed out precision-cut electronic pop sounds. Smartly, the album avoids defining itself and kicks off with a child’s voice telling Alexander Beggins, "Don't think that way." The track that follows (called "Alex") is a hook-spangled opener which in its three breezy minutes builds from a single ukulele to a lush and playful arrangement reminiscent of Beirut.
The record almost immediately settles in to find the band at its most expansive. Songs like "My Town" and the deep-breathing "Eggshells" stretch the spaces between beats like a Chinese finger/time trap. They stop for more than one layover in Detroit, with "Back and Forth" evoking the horn charts of Arthur Conley and Jackie Wilson (or even Jens Lekman), and "Think It Over" throws an unexpected nod to Sly and the Family Stone.
The closing track, “Goodbye, Goodnight,” is also the first the group recorded, and the one they believe best epitomizes the journey of making this album. At first, Scott McMicken’s production caught the band off-guard: He slowed the waltz down to the tempo of a dirge — or a dirge with the levity of a waltz — and built the track up at an almost excruciatingly slow pace that in the end gives you what you want from it, but only gives it to you once. “At first we were all just trying to understand where he was coming from,” Wilson says with a laugh. “And it took us a while to get there, but the arrangement works out so well — with what the song is about and how we felt when we wrote it — that it ended up being one of my favorite songs on the record.”
And the more you listen to Expectations, the more the many worlds of this project begin to cohere around you. After all, one of the great joys of traveling the world is discovering surprising connections: A skyscraper in Barcelona reminds you of a spire in the Utah desert; the Northern Lights in the Norwegian sky look like an oil slick on the Philadelphia pavement. Expectations, an album which can by turns be bitter, wistful, angry, and flirtatious, is rich with these surprising rhymes across the record.
“We’re all growing and changing and learning new tricks,” Beggins says. Wilson responds, “Yeah, there’s no right or wrong way to do anything.” Her own record, though, is proof she’s wrong.
The Wild Reeds’ sound is highlighted by the interweaving vocal harmonies of three phenomenally talented front-women - Kinsey Lee, Sharon Silva and Mackenzie Howe - who swap lead vocal duties and shuffle between an array of acoustic and electric instruments throughout the set. They are backed by a rhythm section of Nick Jones (drums) and Nick Phakpiseth (bass).
Each with their own style, The Wild Reeds' three songwriters make music that is dynamic and unpredictable. They write lyrics and melodies with the thoughtfulness of seasoned folk artists, and perform with the reckless enthusiasm of a young punk band in a garage. Warm acoustic songs and harmonium pump organ seamlessly give way to fuzzed-out shredding and guitar distortion.
With the upcoming release of 'The World We Built' on April 7, the Los Angeles-based quintet continues a national breakthrough that has been rapidly growing since the release of their EP ‘Best Wishes’ this summer. NPR Music critic Bob Boilen championed the band, saying “great singers aren’t easy to come by, so finding three in one band is something special." The New York Times praised their live show, saying “the communal experience was amazing,” while KCRW (Los Angeles) called them “top-notch vocalists."
The first single from the new album, "Only Songs," is catching the attention of radio programmers around the country, like John Richards of KEXP (Seattle), who after listening to the track declared, "we just decided this is the best song ever."
"Only Songs” was written by Howe, and highlights her rock-centric approach, inspired by the '60s and '70s rock songs her mother raised her on. "It's about the feeling that music gives you," she told NPR in an interview. "There's a freedom in music found nowhere else and it doesn't discriminate, it's in the garage and the cathedral."
Lee penned the second song on the album, "Fall To Sleep," a lament to her own mental health under the strains of both a nine-to-five job and the extremes of a touring musician's life. True to her roots in folk music, it begins on a soft note, as a dreamy acoustic ballad, before taking a slightly darker turn, breaking into distorted guitar parts and a Pixies-esque chorus.
Silva's contemplative, complex lyrical approach is best represented on the anthemic standout track "Capable." When asked to describe her songwriting style, she explains, "lately, my songs have been like stories with high highs and low lows - sort of like yelling at someone and then whispering an apology."
Despite their distinct viewpoints, each songwriter complements the next, with each song building on the anticipation created by the last. "What brings us together is the three part vocal harmony," says Howe. "When we're all singing together, it really becomes one unique voice."
The band takes a humble approach to their recent success. "I think that when you write earnestly and honestly, people will relate," says Silva. "But there are lots of bands who do that and don't receive any attention, so I think any success we've had must just be pure luck."
When watching them perform live, it quickly becomes obvious that luck has nothing to do with it. Each of The Wild Reeds is more than talented enough to front their own band, but when all three are singing at once in harmony, their music reaches its emotional apex.
"I don't think that we have figured out how to detach from our emotions yet. We take it all on stage. The voice is such a personal and vulnerable instrument," says Lee. "We aren't as concerned with sounding 'pretty' as we are with sounding real. Everything we do is very raw and I think that's why people tend to find comradery in our lyrics."
Recreating that feeling in a studio environment is an ambitious task. Recorded by producer Peter Katis (The National, Interpol, Local Natives) at Tarquin Studios in Connecticut, 'The World We Built' captures it perfectly, and elevates their sound to a whole new level.
"Our sound has evolved as we have evolved as people. We've grown to love a lot of records on the road, sharing music with each other during the hours we spend in the van, which has broadened and united our taste," says Howe. "We've also grown as musicians and it's allowed us to explore new instruments and sounds. This new record is a much more accurate depiction of what we sound like live. It's got more punch and depth."
Along with musical growth, the content of their songwriting has changed with the band's life experiences since they started out. "The songs on the album were written over the last three years, and it's apparent that we are more empowered now as women," says Howe. "The title 'The World We Built' refers to the social constructs we've had to face during the last three years touring as a female fronted band. A lot of these songs illustrate our disillusionment with the myths we've been taught in a patriarchal society, and how we've experienced them in different aspects of our lives - love, success, self esteem, etc."
"As we got older and started to witness the world from a different perspective, we started to write about human issues in a different light," explains Lee. "It's so easy to write about love when you're young because that's the only thing you have to worry about. Now we have a lot of other things in life to occupy our thoughts and songwriting, like experiencing the struggle and exhaustion from following your dream, coming of age, and doubt."
"Releasing music and touring the country have been amazing and eye-opening experiences," says Silva. "I'm still majorly pumped and grateful that I get to play music for people every day."
That optimism resonates with audiences. When they perform live, their passion is infectious. They look like artists living out their dream on stage - the kind of band you idolized as a kid, and as an adult, the kind of band that reminds you why you loved music in the first place.
"Our live show has been how we've gained most of our fans. We've learned that people are just looking for authenticity. If we're vulnerable, people feel it," says Howe. "We always want to put on a show that has energy and leaves peoples feeling more hopeful than when they arrived."
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