The Wild Feathers — Alvarado interview
With their latest album Alvarado (out today on New West Records), The Wild Feathers have put themselves in a position to control their own destiny. Self-producing the record with their creative vision front and center, the decade-old band is enjoying a return to their roots, embracing the DIY vibes that predated their success and spurred their mutual gratitude for it once it did arrive.
I recently sat down with singer-guitarist Ricky Young to discuss doing it their way, appreciating artistic aberrations, and the taquito upgrade.
American Highways: From what I understand, you guys were at a bit of a turning point prior to Alvarado coming together. You went back to the basics and produced the album yourselves, so would you say that reinvigorated the band?
Ricky Young: Yeah, for sure. At the end of 2019, we parted ways with our booking agency, our management, and record label, which was kind of scary, but kind of exciting too. And the future was uncertain and never could that be more true since in 2020, our little central neighborhood was pretty much flattened by a tornado and then the pandemic started. So, we were just kind of like, “Wow!” We just decided what else could we do but write and record more music? During last year we decided to put out a bunch of rarities and covers and stuff like that on a record we called Medium Rarities. It was already prerecorded and all that, so we just kind of compiled it and put it out. And then we started writing a new album and our goals were to prep and record a new record by ourselves, produce it ourselves – do everything ourselves – and then take it and shop it. We had our eyes on a couple of different labels that we really liked as far as the roster and how they did things, and the first one that we shared it with was New West Records and they loved it and they said they wanted to put it out. We were thrilled about that.
We were just determined to do it our own way. Not that we were ever forced at gunpoint to do anything we didn’t necessarily want to do, but a lot of times, especially with a major label, you’re kind of encouraged to chase after something and we just kind of got tired of that. So, we just kind of went with it and so far we couldn’t be happier. We’re just hoping and praying that everything continues to smooth out and everything gets back to normal on the touring front.
AH: The album’s amazing and what I thought was so cool about the title track is that you guys originally wrote it nearly 10 years ago. That seems fitting given that you’re taking this new/old approach to how you do things.
RY: Yeah. It’s kind of a crap shoot what’s going to end up making it on any given album and that song was always kind of special to us, but it just didn’t really have that timing element to it as far as how it fell into another collection of songs. But we knew we wanted to put it out one day on a proper album. And that’s why we didn’t put it out on Medium Rarities. Plus, we had never recorded it. Everything on Medium Rarities was already recorded in the studio. But we’d always jam it at rehearsals or at soundchecks and we just kind of thought, man, now’s as good as time as any, so that’s what we did.
And it’s actually the first song we tracked in the cabin when we set everything up and it just set the tone for the rest of the songs. I think that’s why it ended up being the title of the album too. It’s weird because it’s been around for so long floating around and then we come to it full circle and focus on it and then it kind of inspires another album. So it’s kind of a cool thing for us that we didn’t let that one slip through the cracks forever.
AH: What did self-producing the album do for you guys creatively?
RY: Well, we’ve been doing this for a long time. Even prior to The Wild Feathers, we’ve all been in studios and making records and writing and being in different bands. We just kind of came to this realization of, “Hey, we can actually do this.” We just thought you had to have these big studios and these producers or these big name producers, which is all great and those are all amazing things and opportunities, but we just realized over all these years that we were paying attention to what was going on and had a knack for it – especially with arranging. So we just said, “Hell, let’s give it a shot and worst case scenario we’ll have some really good demos and then take it into a proper studio and make another record.”
Prior to this one, we’ve always gone to a cabin somewhere far off and remote with no distractions to write and demo and then we would take them into a studio and record them. By then they’re very rehearsed, they’re smoothed out. When you get in the studio with all this incredible gear and technology, and then you realize, “Oh, we could do all these things to it,” it kind of loses its heart and its soul, sometimes. Most of the time, not all the time, but a lot of times it does, at least for us. We wanted to keep that magical part of it with five guys in a room playing with mistakes and not everything is to a click, it’s a live performance. Of course we overdubbed stuff and we’re not sitting here saying that “What you hear is what we did.” That’s not true at all. We fixed things but we left a lot of stuff that needed fixing unfixed on purpose because we wanted to sound like humans in a room playing music together.
AH: I think that’s kind of lost these days because those are some of my favorite things about listening to old records. You can pop on an old vinyl and you can hear a mistake and it’s wonderful most of the times.
RY: It’s more endearing and it makes you appreciate it more, I think. There’s obvious things like, “Well, that guy obviously can’t play guitar.” That’s not good at all, but when you hear a guitar slightly out of tune or something… Listen to any Stones record. All the guitars are out of tune. Zeppelin speeds up and slows down all the time. It’s awesome.
AH: It’s real.
RY: Right. Just because you can fix things in a studio and there’s all this amazing technology and whatnot, it doesn’t mean you necessarily should. It’s okay to be a human and like you said, with other bands, I really like it. So that’s kind of what we set out to do.
AH: What I love about the album is that it feels like a classic record in the sense that you can just put it on and let it run from start to finish.
RY: Yeah. I think so. Talk about a lost art. We take a lot of time on sequencing and stuff like that. Of course we like to put our music out on vinyl, so it’s important what the first and last song of Side A is as good as Side B. But again, we didn’t overthink it and we didn’t get in heated debates. A lot of that stuff just kind of happens naturally for us because it’s so democratic and we’re all just on the same page, especially on this album. We were just hyper-focused on it being the best it could be and not getting in the way of it.
AH: Nobody knows your music better than you. From your perspective, how has the band’s songwriting point of view changed most since you first got together?
RY: Honestly, I don’t know that it has. We’ve been doing it for so long. If we haven’t gotten better than we’re just not good because we’ve been doing it for so long and we do it so much. I just feel like it’s just gotten better and stronger. We’re more confident. And you go through seasons where you write a lot and when you don’t. That never changes. But when we’re on, we’re pretty on. And for every 10 or 12 songs you hear on one of our albums, there’s 30 songs that didn’t make it or we just didn’t put on there, which we’re pretty proud of because we can put out other releases from B Sides and stuff like that, which we’re big fans of with bands that we like. We like getting those box set kinds of things – the outtakes and stuff like that.
AH: The band’s been together for over a decade now. What’s the biggest pinch me moment that 12-year-old Ricky would have a hard time believing came true?
RY: Sharing the stage with Bob Dylan probably. Touring with Paul Simon and Bob Seger was really cool and hanging out with them like peers. Still, it doesn’t even make sense to me. Our last tour before the pandemic was with Bob Seger and he hung out almost every night and would come out to our soundchecks and just hang. I was like, “Dude, fricking Seger, man!” You just can’t get past those kinds of things. But he was such an incredible human being and his whole band and crew were awesome. I never would’ve guessed that I’d be doing what I’m doing for this long and loving it.
AH: Well, what’s so cool about that is the full circle that music can take you on, because to somebody out there, you’re their Seger.
RY: Yeah, I hope so, man. You still think of yourself as that 12-year-old punk kid with your little Squier Stratocaster trying to figure out Nirvana songs. But I do hope that we can be an inspiration. Really, more than just us, I just hope that people keep making Rock ‘n’ Roll music because I don’t think it’s ever going to go away, but it’s nice to know that bands are out there struggling and doing it as a group, not just one guy that’s super good-looking and he’s got a bunch of hired guns and they jump immediately on a tour bus and they play in front of a thousand people every night. You’ve got to sleep on the couches, you’ve got to eat gas station corn dogs. All these things… it’s very important. And I’m not saying you have to do that, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything because the reward is so sweet, I think, when you finally get to a point where you’re like, “Hey, this is actually my job. I can actually afford Subway now as opposed to the 99 cent taquito at Love’s.”
AH: Just don’t give up on the jars of peanut butter that sustain touring musicians while physically on the road.
RY: (Laughter) Yeah, well that’s just good stuff.
To add Alvarado to your collection, visit www.thewildfeathers.com.