Joel King and the Wild Feathers — Interview and Show Review by Brian DeSpain
Coming off their first stage performance at Red Rocks in Morrison, Colorado, opening for Blackberry Smoke on the Spirit of the South tour, The Wild Feathers made their final stretch to St. Louis to close out a three and one-half week leg of their Alvarado tour.
Taking the stage at Red Rocks was a high point for The Wild Feathers, joining a few other moments like opening for Bob Dylan in 2013.
The band maintained their performance energy in St. Louis and seemed to take an en route tire blowout east of Denver in stride.
After a summary of the setlist at Off Broadway on Oct 30, an interview with the band, primarily with Joel King, follows.
The band starts out with the title track from the new album Alvarado released October 8th. Eight songs from the album were represented on the 19 song set. “Quitting Time” is next, one of two songs played from Lonely Is A Lifetime.
The bouncy fanbase favorite “Backwoods Company” rocks out before the aspiring “Happy Again”, “Over the Edge” and a cover of The Jayhawks’ song “Blue” which has factored as a staple on the tour. “Blue” is on the private-released album Medium Rarities (2020).
The persevering “Hard Times” strums out before a string of three tunes from Alvarado, “Midway,” “Sidestreet Shakedown” and “Out On the Road” followed by a cover of “Handle Me With Care” (Traveling Wilburys).
An Alvarado song, “Top of the World” makes an appearance and has emerged in set lists in the last week of the tour with St Louis joining Omaha, Chicago and Bloomington, IL. “Overnight” is followed by “Off Your Shoulders” which has moved in and out of setlists on the tour.
The broken-heart anthem “Left My Woman” precedes “Stand By You” from The Neon Frontier, the roof-raising “The Ceiling” and the eighth Alvarado song appearance “Ain’t Lookin’.”
The band rounded out the set with a campfire-style, in-crowd performance of “Tall Boots” from their 2013 self-titled album. We then had a chance to chat with Joel King and, briefly, Brett Moore and Tyler Burns too.
Americana Highways: Tell us about the Red Rocks experience.
Joel King: it was the most fascinating experience ever. When we started the sun was still up and we could see everybody. As the sun was going down, it looks just like people fade into blackness. So we got to experience the best of both worlds, I thought, because of that time of year. It just felt really good. And you try to soak it in as much as you can as it’s happening.
The first time I saw a show there was that night as we were playing from the stage. I’ve never been in the audience at a Red Rocks show. I’ve been to the Ryman like about a thousand times before we ever played the Ryman. And we never opened for anyone at the Ryman. We just played our own show the first time.
AH: What factors came into play with the song sequence on Alvarado?
JK: “Alvarado,” we had it for a long time. Our demo for it was badass. We almost did the songs in the order of when they were written. The first three or four songs we already knew those would be on the album like “Ain’t Looking” – we found an old demo that we also played in the basement. There were we knew and a few we never played live. The first few were anchors.
AH: When you say “basement” is this in someone’s home?
JK: Yes, we always rehearse at my place and we did all the overdubs for Alvarado there. Before the band went out to the cabin to record we rehearsed there.
AH: I caught part of your conversation after the show at The Bottleneck in Lawrence, Kansas on September 16. You were talking about how the technology has changed with recording. Would you elaborate?
JK: Universal Audio has pre-amps built into the user interface, all the classic ones we use.They don’t bog down your computer. It records realtime, no latency and it’s super fast. You can use some of the classic elements you always love, a simulation of it, and I can’t tell the difference. Like Black Rebel Motorcycle Club.
AH: Staying on a budget.
JK: Yeah, and most of the time people are listening to an mp3 bounced down all the way, like, so it really doesn’t matter when it is being streamed.[In the recording process] It’s better to go for vibe and just capture it. How you capture it doesn’t matter what it’s on. It’s about capturing the moment you’re doing it.
AH: You were going to make a comment about BRMC.
JK: Black Rebel Motorcycle Club record, they just plug it in and do it “all in the box” – DIY, do it yourself. You would think they’re playing vintage everything. Not really, they are just using their ears and picking it out. That’s what we try to do.
AH: How long were you guys in the cabin recording for Alvarado?
JK: Four or five days. The songs are all pretty self-explanatory. We don’t really have any that are ambiguous [on Alvarado]. And we didn’t get too psychedelic on this album like a few others [in the past]. Like we didn’t have a “Walrus” song [referring to the Beatles].
AH: Since the release of Alvarado, have there been any changes to how some of the songs get played live?
JK: There are a few songs that have evolved a little bit by playing live since the record came out with just a month of playing. “Top of the World” we pieced together like Jeff Lynne had taken a million different things, by taking it down and taking it back up and tried to piece it. It was just kind of like a lot of [elements] that work at the right times. Like the way Jeff Lynne produced “Fool Moon Fever” (Tom Petty) and [Traveling] Wilburys records. But playing it live it can’t be just like the record, there’s a lot of parts and we have to form it different and it kind of shoves along like an indie rock type show. Now that we’re playing it like that, “Oh, man, we could record it like this now” more of a U2 type of [production] which is kind of like that on the record.
AH: “Top of the World” does seem to have a “With or Without You” vibe. If U2 got an Americana transplant, they might do song like this.
Brett Moore: ”Top of the World” has a lot more space in it than the other songs.
Taylor Burns: The song sounding like that lends itself to that particular arrangement.
AH: How have other songs changed?
JK: “Over the Edge” is now kind of ripped a little harder. On the record everybody [in the band] really likes the attitude [of the song] and plays it with a little more aggression now than we did playing it the first time.
Songs just evolve. If we were to play a song like “The Ceiling” on the radio, it would be like “Is that how we play it?” (laughs). When you start playing it forever, it starts morphing and it grows and you take a part longer one time and do it again, and now you forgot it was two bars and have been playing it four bars for eight years. So we’d have to think: “Oh, we go right back into the verse [on the album].” “We’ve played that for like sixteen bars now because every year it gets longer.” [laughter]
AH: How did you occupy yourself when touring had stopped during the pandemic?
JK: What I got into during the pandemic were all the demo versions of everything, all of my favorite records. Anthology or Bob Dylan bootleg? Like with Oasis a deluxe version with random covers, like an acoustic version of “Help” (The Beatles), f*cking awesome.
Because I was missing live music. When you hear the same old thing the same old way, you want to hear something familiar with a cool version of it. I used to not understand box sets, “I can go to the used record store and get the regular version. Now, I’m in that demo phase, the rough recordings.
AH: A lot of artists released “pandemic” albums of cover songs. The Wild Feathers put out an album of songs that didn’t make it on previous albums.
JK: Medium Rarities is the only album not on a record label or anyone attached to it. Putting out these extras [from past recordings] gave us something to do and also it releases it out there. We get it out and instead of it being like, “Remember that song?” now it’s out and cathartic.
AH: Last comment: is it true your tour van needed a tire change on the trip to St Louis?
JK: Yes. The tire was bobbing for a little bit and all of a sudden it blew. We were out in the middle of nowhere. We were just talking how awesome the weather was and how great Red Rocks was the night before and then BOOM!
Enjoy our earlier interview of Joel King here, from 2018: Interview: Joel King of the Wild Feathers on Team Efforts, Quality Burgers, and Being Born After a Person’s Time