Us Against The World: A Conversation With The Wild Feathers
Originally published on Slant.
When I met up with Joel King, Ricky Young, Taylor Burns and Ben Dumas in Austin, TX, they were gearing up for a extensive tour to support their new LP, Lonely is a Lifetime. There were traces of the fatigue that comes with a cycle of constant promotion (and it was pretty early in the morning), but more than anything, The Wild Feathers seemed psyched to have put out such a strong record and be able to share it with an ever-expanding fanbase.
The band has shaped its sound by logging in countless hours on the road, getting to see the world and strengthening their bonds with each other as songwriters, musicians and friends. Their debut self-titled LP that dropped in 2013 is full of classic Americana and AM-radio rock 'n' roll, a Wallflowers/Black Crowes hybrid raised on Neil Young, Tom Petty and barrel-aged Tennessee whiskey.
But this new record takes a huge leap forward in terms of composition, production and overall scope, taking risks with jams and genres. If The Wild Feathers was their attempt to make a splash as the next great Americana rock band, Lonely is a Lifetime is a statement that they're the next great band, period.
Amidst the beautiful chaos of SXSW, I talked with The Wild Feathers about staying sharp on the road, collaboration, and golf.
SD: How’s SXSW treating you so far?
RY: It’s been hard work. It’s been good. It is what it always is: a marathon. That’s what 10 shows a day feels like, and then we’re exhausted. But we’re getting our 18th wind.
SD: When did you guys originally all come together?
JK: We started hanging out and realized we were all songwriters, and it kind of just snowballed from there.
TB: We wanted to try something new and different, so we just went for it.
SD: What’s it like having multiple songwriters in the group? How do you guys keep that balance and manage the different voices and ideas?
JK: We always say we don’t really try to manage it. I know we have a sound or whatever because of our voices and we’re obviously into that to some degree, but it really just seems to work out naturally.
That’s one of the things when we started writing songs that was evident, which was cool. It’s awesome to have two other songwriters in the band because I feel like everything is elevated to a higher level than what I can do on my own or vice versa.
RY: We couldn’t play as many shows if we didn’t trade off the singing a bit.
SD: I read that you guys recorded part of the album in Muscle Shoals and then went to Barcelona. How did those changes in location help shape the sound of the record?
JK: We were on tour and had a week off when we were playing in Germany and Spain. As opposed to flying back home and spending all this money, we decided to just go chill in Barcelona for a week or so as an excuse to write some songs. We pretty much compiled all of our ideas from the road. Then we did the same thing in Muscle Shoals after we finished the tour.
We’re like, let’s go sort out all of our ideas and go to somewhere with some magic in the water. We always have to check out and go somewhere where there’s no phones, there’s no nothing and we just bust out everything before we go into the studio.
RY: And after we did that, we went back to Nashville and recorded all the songs that we came up with.
SD: How much collaboration is there in the writing process?
JK: 100 percent collaboration for the most part. There are songs where each one of us will write by ourselves, but normally only like one or two a record.
TB: And even still, there’s collaboration because you might have everything, but the instrumentation can be fully collaborative.
JK: Yeah, I think it’s a pretty democratic band, but we also have the same kind of mindset. It’s pretty easy for us to see the vision of the group and we have a pretty distinct sound. We push our limits, but then again, we know exactly what we want to sound like.
SD: What kind of music were you guys listening to while you were writing this record?
RY: We got into a lot of different stuff on the road. You’re seeing different bands play, you’re in different areas. You’re on the bus and you feel like listening to something because it makes you feel something.
We listened to a lot of The Replacements. I listened to a lot of Sparklehorse. I kind of got into the more noisier kind of stuff.
JK: Beck was a big one.
TB: Anything with a lot of guitars.
JK: The War on Drugs. I know we listened to them a lot when we wrote that last record. When we’re all together, we’re usually listening to the same thing.
SD: It’s very evident at SXSW that this [business] is a hustle. I found your music originally through Spotify and I feel like a lot of people are finding you and discovering you that way. What are your thoughts on streaming? Does it help the art or does it stifle the art?
RY: I think both, man.
JK: At some point you just want your music to be heard, and that’s fun and good. But when you’re doing stuff and we’re putting our bodies on the line, our lives on the line, and playing 200 shows a year and missing our families and everything, you wish you were compensated fairly. It’s a double-edged sword. It’s good and bad.
TB: The art will survive anyway. People won’t stop making music because they’re not making as much money. The more broke you are, the better the art is sometimes.
SD: How does being on tour for so long affect your psyche?
TB: You’ll have some low days, but you get into this weird zone where it’s us against the world. I’ve always had the analogy of a cowboy in the Wild West. You’re just riding down the trail. It’s an adventure, man. I love it.
I think if we didn’t love each other so much and weren’t all so tight, it would be really hard. We always stick together and don’t let anyone get too far down. It’s good, but after a while you’re just ready to shower in your own shower and sleep in your own bed and see your dog.
SD: Is there anything you guys do to entertain yourselves outside of writing and playing shows?
RY: Drink heavily. Keep your mind limber. We love to eat at good restaurants. We’re always on the hunt. We’ll throw a football, frisbee. I think we always try to take advantage of the city. So in Chicago, we’ll get a Chicago dog or if we’re in New York, we’ll go have ramen. Trying to get out of a venue or bus just to walk around.
TB: Next tour we’re going to bring the golf clubs.
JK: We play a lot of golf. Hell yeah.
This interview has been edited slightly for clarity.
Cover photo: Frank Maddocks