By: Thomas D. Mooney
Typically, you know it’s going to be a memorable night when you end up getting a chipped tooth. Last time the Wheeler Brothers were in town, Tyler Wheeler, experienced this firsthand while out in the crowd at The Blue Light. Although I’m sure it’s a memory and feeling that Tyler won’t forget any time soon, I’m even more positive that it’s a night that The Blue Light crowd (and Lubbock in general) will remember even longer.
As people piled into the building to see Emory Quinn later that night, they were treated with one of the best bands to grace the stage in the Wheeler Brothers (and we all know there’s been some greats).
Charmed. That’s essentially what they left the crowd.
What started out as a somewhat hesitant crowd turns into one charmed by the captivating up-and-coming Austinites. A few songs in, you know they have some promise with that balance of alt-country/folk, rock, and pop-sense.
They craft songs in the same fashion as alt-country media darlings Wilco and The Jayhawks, especially on songs such as “Portraits,” “Save the Nightly,” and “Home For the Holidays.” In saying that, there’s definitely a “rough” and whiskey-shooting, barnstorming streak in the band’s music.
They’re definitely been able to relate to numerous and varying crowds.
After their show, I told them, that without a doubt, they won over the crowd rather easily with their blend of twangy rock’n’roll and rootsy Americana. You could see faces in the crowd that just really wanted more.
Earlier that afternoon, we met up to shoot what would become New Slang’s first Under the Influence band and to discuss the band’s future and recent success.
The Wheeler Brothers will be back in Lubbock on Saturday December 3 with The Dirty River Boys at The Blue Light.
New Slang: What’s been going on the past few months? Have you guys seen a huge rise in fan totals (Their debut “Portraits” was released in late June)?
Patrick Wheeler: Umm…no not really. Seems like it can be hit or miss. Sometimes we will play a show and I’m like “Wow, eleven-hundred people showed up.” And other times, 25, 50. But it all has different dynamics. Sometimes you’ll go and play in front of 50 or 60 people and it’ll be a really awesome show because it was a small venue and you’re crammed in there. It’s interesting.
Nolan Wheeler: We were on tour in August, playing around 18 dates. We were gone the whole month through Colorado, up through the Midwest, Chicago, New York City, back down the coast, and eventually back into the hill country in Texas.
NS: As far as fans go, what are some of the huge differences among those different regions?
NW: The biggest difference was when we went through Colorado. Definitely more of a tie-dyed kind of crowd when you look out into the audience. A lot of Grateful Dead t-shirts. That’d be the biggest difference, but we’ve been lucky, especially for our first time to go outside of Texas. We did pretty well in Colorado and Chicago. And of course in Ohio, where most of our family is from.
Danny Matthews: We really loved Colorado, but we were kind of nervous since it’s really a jam-based community. And that’s great–we love that too. We have just enough twang, just enough of it, where they were open with it.
A.J. Molyneaux: We did one show in Iowa, which I think was a great example of the total opposite of what we’re used to. In Austin, we’ll have these huge parties and get a great crowd out. Our fans really come out and everyone is pretty well boozed up. Well this show in Iowa and it was at this art collective and it was no alcohol on the premises. It was supposed to be a real clean environment. Everyone was seated. It was the first show we had ever played where no one was standing. But, they really dug it. And, I guess they didn’t need the social lubrication of booze, so I think it was a testament to ourselves. Not to toot our horn [laughs].
NS: Has there been a moment so far where you guys go “Wow, this is really working. We can make a real career out of this band thing.”
PW: Small wins. I think it’s been small wins so far.
NW: Well, it’s hard to have one of those moments when there’s not a ton of people who have heard you’re record. But at shows where we sell seven or eight CDs, we’re positively thinking that they’ll lend it out or at least show a few of their friends our music.
AM: It’s cool to see how different mediums work. Like we’ll have a show and someone will come up and be like “Oh, I heard you guys on the radio,” or “I saw an ad for you on Facebook,” or “I heard you guys on Spotify or Grooveshark,” or whatever. You kind of think, “Oh those things don’t work until they actually do.
DM: As far as “a-ha” moments, I think we’re still working up. We’re still traveling, eating a lot of breakfast tacos…”the paying your dues.”
NS: Let’s talk about “Portraits” some. Where’d you guys record it and what was it like?
NW: [We] recorded it in Austin at Congress House Studios. And, we worked on it for close to a year and a half…like from start to finish. We spent a lot of time just sitting at the table shooting out ideas. We’d be upstairs and toss around a few ideas. Write it out on notebook paper, go downstairs and work it out in full band recording songs slowly, one at a time, then to the next until we had the full album.
NS: How’s the writing process for you guys, especially since there’s five of you?
NW: Anyway and whichever way we can get it [laughs].
PW: We kind of get together and do a roundtable kind of thing where the whole band goes over lyrics and different ideas we have for songs. We all really try to work together with more group writing. Which, I think keeps it more well-rounded.
DM: We have to do it that way because we’re all really opinionated.
NS: As far as you guys reading features and articles about yourselves, has there been anything that you guys just thought was ridiculous or just plain inaccurate?
DM: Well, one weird comment we saw was this guy who finally saw a picture of us and was kind of depressed with what we looked like. Apparently he expected us to look a little more rough and tough.
NW: And the word “country.” I don’t know, I don’t think we’re really country. It’s definitely more rock’n’roll.
PW: That’s one of the reasons why we’re writing in a different way. When we first started writing, it was more acoustic driven and more singer-songwriter kind of format. And now, we’re trying to experiment with making it full band being involved from step one. It makes it less singer-songwriter.
NS: Are you guys scared that you’ll get typecast as a country or “Texas Country” band just based on who you’re playing with and where (especially outside of Austin)?
DM: I don’t think so. Especially after the second album comes out and the direction it’s going.
AM: We were sitting down with Ray Benson one day. And he was talking to us about it. Like when the first album came out and all these people are asking us these “deep” questions about who we are. Like who we are as a band and what’s are sound. And we were saying, “well, we don’t really want to be lumped in with any genre in particular.” That kind of answer, but what he said was that you can’t really choose that. It’s wherever the fans come from really. I mean, really we’re thankful for whoever is digging out music [laughs].
NS: So what’s that next step for you guys? You mentioned new album.
NW: We’re working on new tunes for the album and we’re gearing up for our little “Christmas/Winter” tour that will probably last into early spring. We leave around Dec. 4 and will probably be back around late February.
NS: Do you think that maybe festivals are really that gateway to being a bigger band, since there’s just so many people, even if they’re just walking by?
NW: Yeah, but I do have concerns with that too with just how many people are there and how they shuffle bands on and off the stages. I mean, if you have a really great show, it’s great. But, if you have a really bad show, so many people see it.
AM: It’s kind of like that old restaurant adage. If you go to a restaurant and it’s great, you tell one person. But if it’s horrible, you tell ten.