Interview: Joel King of the Wild Feathers on Team Efforts, Quality Burgers, and Being Born After a Person’s Time

Interviews

The Wild Feathers band has a new album out: Greetings From the Neon Frontier (Warner Brothers). [For more about this album click any of these bolded words right here.] Americana Highways recently talked with bass player Joel King of the Wild Feathers. Their new release was produced by Jay Joyce (The Wallflowers, Emmylou Harris), so we began by analyzing the extent to which record production is a team effort. “It’s totally a team effort,” King said. “It starts with the idea that your producer has to understand what you’re trying to achieve with each album. Our three albums have all been different, but Jay has been able to understand each one of them. He can produce a wide range of styles. Old time producers might have been able to pick songs for the artist to do, a few years back. But we showed up with 20-30 songs and we use the studio time to pick the ones that fit together to make an album. So our process is partly accomplished fluidly once we’re in the studio. Jay can work that way, he can catch he same vision we have for the album, so in a way he’s like another band member.”

“We know each other, we’re comfortable together so it’s easy to talk through ideas. What’s awesome about Jay also is that while some producers are heavy-handed, he does a good job of working through songs that are all in different degrees of readiness too, in a relaxed way. For some songs, we just need to capture one great performance in the studio and they’re finished. But there are other songs like “Daybreaker,” one of the last songs on the album. That used to be a classic Wild Feathers song before – with strumming chords in our signature way – he proposed a totally different drum beat. At first it felt weird, so we recorded it both ways, and when we listened to them there was no doubt that his concept was the right one. He’s also great about getting out of the way on other songs that we’re more definite about, just helping us to stay on key and record a good take. The process is a little bit of test and guess, and being in the studio is a completely different step, after writing the songs.”

I was wondering about their songwriting process and what the stages are from song inception to album production. King said “For us recording the album works in three stages. We write the songs, and record to voice memos just to share among ourselves; then we get together and play them; and record them at a home studio just to try to get the parts worked out. We send that to Jay and then the third step takes place in the studio. “

This team effort seems to be a basic foundation for the Wild Feathers’ style in other aspects as well. “We’re a band in the truest sense of the word. Everybody is in it all together. Hopefully that shows up on the instrumentation – we all offer opinions to each other. Sometimes we suggest that one, or all of us, play something, or sing something, less precisely, too. Like maybe one of us should just yell over the top of something the way Danko or Keith Richards would. We really just play by ear, and figure it out that way, and trust our ear and our instincts.”

King added: “Another cool feature of being in a real band is that it’s always a special thing, a special sound. It’s always an “occasion” because we’re always making it together. And the music is about all the instruments together and the sounds they make, which is just not the same solo.”

I was imagining how these guys found each other, and King recounted the sequence of events leading to the band’s formation. “Ricky and I met each other at the Mercy Lounge in Nashville. We played in different bands but different bands would hang out even if we weren’t playing, it was a big hang. We wrote a few things together and it felt like those were better than what we were coming up with separately alone.   So then we were looking for another guy, and on my birthday a few years back we met Taylor, and we hit it off right away. We’re all hardcore musicologist dudes –“record collection” guys — and now all three of us are best friends. So then we moved out to Nashville, and it really took off, and overall, it has really been about the songs. Our ears together are able to create songs that are better than any of us could do alone. I feel like that’s the secret to the Wild Feathers’ unique style.”

We started discussing the interesting, yet odd, process of naming a band. He said “It’s weird to have a name, its really just us guys, it’s weird how significant a name becomes.   Ricky came up with “The Feathers” and we kept trying words that went with “feathers” and Wild Feathers just stuck.   It’s earthy, and the concept of wild and feathers are kind of opposite concepts together. But a name is a weird thing.”

I was wondering what King’s thoughts were on the state of music in society today, and how much people care about music? King’s perspective was this: “We talk all the time about whether we might be the only ones who really care about music anymore. Sometimes it seems like it’s such a throwaway commodity to most people, it’s just the background. And to us it means everything. I worry about that.   The quintessential way I feel is that maybe I was born after my time. Music used to have more significance historically.  The song on the new record “Golden Days” is our attempt to capture that: “I think I was born a little too late, after my time, a little too late for a heart like mine.” Music was respected around the 1940’s for a few good decades. In ancient times musicians were just there to please the king, and now it’s something that’s gotten easier to make but it’s hard to make a living from.”

King added a little more to his nostalgia for an earlier time. “If it’d been even 30 years ago and we’d had even medium success we’d probably be well off. But on the other hand, it’s like Bob Dylan said: “an artist has to be careful never to arrive at a place where he thinks he’s somewhere… you have to realize you’re in a constant state of becoming.” So maybe this will keep us creative, and on the straight and narrow. I have heard though that attendance at live shows is at an all-time high, at festivals and things. So maybe that’s the response to nobody buying music anymore.   I feel bad for people who paint, or like what blacksmiths for horseshoes had to got through once the automobile came out. Because at least musicians can perform live if they can’t sell their music anymore.”

The conversation turned again, and King offered a perspective on issues of quality music today. “I think of it as an analogy to a burger place. You could be making great burgers, but if they’re a little different from McDonalds’ you’ll never sell as much as McDonalds. The McDonald’s burgers have become such a mainstream model. So I think comparing ourselves to successful people like Taylor Swift is pointless. We’re just making our local burgers, and offering something a little different. And I mean, I like McDonalds every now and then, but I like something different as much as I can get it.”

The Wild Feathers were just on The Today Show on July 12th. If you’re wondering what else is coming up with the Wild Feathers, check here http://www.thewildfeathers.com/

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