A band’s second album is often harder to conceive than their first, especially if that debut caught a lot of people’s attention. The pressure is on – should they keep metamorphosing or stay the same, write brand new songs or pull out some from their past to tweak, do they stay out on the road a little longer and put the CD together in bits and pieces or jump into a studio and knock it out as quickly as possible. If the stress was high for record #1, it’s got nothing on producing a #2.
But for The Wild Feathers, whose sophomore collection of tunes, Lonely Is A Lifetime, dropped earlier this month, they were more than ready to showcase the juices of their recent life experiences. “When we wrote our first record, we knew what we liked but we didn’t really know who we were yet,” said Ricky Young, one of three band members who share the lead vocals. “We wanted to preserve the essence of The Wild Feathers with the multiple harmonies but we also wanted to take this step forward and experiment,” explained vocalist/guitarist Taylor Burns upon the new album’s release. Their goal was certainly achieved, as Lonely Is A Lifetime finds the band wringing out emotions such as loneliness, isolation, weariness and every now and then joy. It is a fascinating portrayal of four young men on a mission to rock & roll but keep an emotional heart at it’s core.
“The story of this album starts with all of the touring we did,” explained Young. With the success of their first record three years ago, the band spent a lot of time on the road. But 2015 was spent reloading, getting songs together and relaxing with family and friends; and now they are excited to spread the spoils of their re-energization. Songs such as “Sleepers,” “The Goodbye Song,” “Don’t Ask Me To Change” and “Overnight” propel the album, not to mention the band itself, to new heights, avoiding the pigeonholing a first album can create.
With a triumphant return to SXSW a few weeks ago, The Wild Feathers are back on the road for what they hope is a good long time. Having been together since meeting up in 2010, they have made their home in Nashville, the fashionable new crash pad, it seems, for rock & roll. Glide spoke with Young as they were on their way to Birmingham, Alabama, following a fun night in New Orleans. “We didn’t get too out of control, which is surprising,” Young said with a laugh.
You guys certainly know how to start off a new year: you have a new album, you just played SXSW, you’re starting a tour. Is that indicative of how 2016 will be for The Wild Feathers – busy and fun?
Yes, yes, yes, yes (laughs). We had so much time off in 2015, which was much-needed and well-received. We really needed a break but we’re completely physically and mentally rested and ready to do it again, even harder. It’s what we do best, I think. Being a band on the road touring and playing live. It’s our favorite thing to do so we’re excited about it.
How long is the tour going to last?
We go all through the States and then a couple of dates in Canada. This one ends, I want to say, May 3rd or 4th and then we have like a week off and then we go to Europe for a while and then we come back and I’m sure it’s going to be 100% right back at it and I hope so. We don’t want to stop.
The new album is wonderful but why did you do it in three different places?
We recorded it in Nashville but what we did was we wrote and arranged it in different areas. Like we were in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, and we were in Barcelona. We just had the time so we went and did it.
What would you say is the most different about this album from the previous one?
I think we’re a different band. I think we’ve evolved musically, personally, and I think we have more of an ambitious outlook on what we wanted to do. We didn’t want to make the same record that we did previously. We wanted to grow and evolve so I think it’s just a different chapter and it’s exciting because we can go in a lot of different directions musically. We didn’t want to pigeonhole ourselves and put us in one sort of category and have to keep making the same record. We want to be able to grow and do different things. So it’s definitely a step forward and we’re really excited about it.
Weren’t a few of these songs older?
Older, yes, but not old. Like the title track, we had written it a couple of years ago and we always knew it was special. It felt like it was time to kind of dust it off and reapproach that and it ended up being the title track. So it set the tone for the theme for a lot of the songs on the album, which kind of deals with loneliness and desperation and traveling and being away from the comforts of home. So it ended up being the perfect time to record that song and put it out there.
I heard that you wrote that in Joshua Tree. Is your admiration of Gram Parsons that strong or was it just a cool thing to do at the moment?
Yeah, we’re big Gram Parsons fans, and especially on that first record where we did that kind of California cosmic American music, like the Byrds and the Burrito Brothers. So it happened to be his birthday and we thought we should go out there and stay in the room that he died in. We were in LA so it was only like three or four hours away. So I called up the hotel thinking for sure it was booked, you know, and they were like, “Yeah, it’s open.” So we drove out there and wrote that song in the room. It’s pretty special to us.
What do you think it is about his music that still resonates with people today?
That’s a good question. I don’t really know. I think it’s like if you get it, you get it; if you don’t, you don’t. And I think that’s how a lot of things should be. It makes you feel like you’re a part of something when you do get it. I feel that way about a lot of things and a lot of artists, like they appeal to you and you don’t know why but it’s special to you and you love it.
Out of all the songs on this new record, which one would you say changed the most from it’s original composition to it’s final recorded version?
Maybe “Sleepers,” because “Sleepers” I wrote on my back porch on acoustic guitar and it was like a folky ballad. But I knew I wanted it to be a lot of production and I wanted the arrangement to be big. So we went in there and I wanted big guitars and I wanted it to be noisy and stuff like that and it kind of took on a life of it’s own. And it ended up leading into “Goodbye Song,” which definitely took on a life of it’s own and ended up like eight minutes plus of craziness. So the song starts out a certain way and then you end up letting them go where they want to go and it’s pretty fun.
“Into The Sun” has a Beatles-esque sound to it
Yeah, Joel is a freakish Beatles fan – we all are – but with him, it’s almost scary (laughs). But he had been messing with that melody for a while so that’s how that kind of came from and it makes perfect sense that it has a Beatles-esque vibe to it. We just all kind of wrote it with the intention of it being more of a positive where everything else is sort of sad and depressing.
What about the song “Don’t Ask Me To Change”
That was kind of a spur of the moment thing at rehearsal right before we went in to record. Someone started playing something and someone started playing something else and next you know we had arranged the music with the full band and then Joel [King, bassist], Taylor and I went and done some acoustics and kind of tamed back the lyrics. It was one of those typical Wild Feathers creative moments. It lasted about forty-five minutes and then it was done.
What is the rhythm to your madness of everyone writing songs together in this band?
You know what, now it’s very uncomplicated. Someone has an idea and we just kind of move with it and if it goes somewhere, it goes somewhere; if it doesn’t, it doesn’t. We don’t really look at it too much and try to figure it out. We just kind of let it happen and so far it’s been working. So right now it’s pretty easy. There’s no madness for sure (laughs). It’s a lot of hard work, we work really hard at the writing and trying to do the best we possibly can. Maybe it might get more difficult down the road, I don’t know, but right now it’s pretty easy.
Do you prefer for all of you guys to be together when you’re writing a song?
Yeah, but we never really know when it’s going to kind of come and go. Some things happen and they happen quickly but I think we prefer to write together because it definitely makes it more unique and more of a Wild Feathers kind of sound.
What came first for you – guitar playing or songwriting?
It came at the exact same time. I basically used the guitar to kind of make up little songs. I was fourteen, fifteen, something like that. More than half of my life I’ve been trying to write melodies and things (laughs).
Did you start out on acoustic guitar?
Yeah, my dad had a couple of old ones that he would strum on. He never took it seriously or anything but he had them around and was playing like old Willie Nelson songs and Eagles songs and stuff like that. It was just always around. Plus, I was really into the radio, Classic Rock stations, when I was growing up. They intrigued me so I started making them up myself.
What would you say your first songs were about?
I couldn’t really tell you. I was basically trying to make words rhyme (laughs).
So you’re saying they weren’t very good
(laughs) Oh I can guarantee that.
What was your first “I can’t believe I’m here” moment?
I think it was probably walking up onstage for the first show we did with Paul Simon years ago. It was like a beautiful huge theatre and we hadn’t even put a record out yet and we were like, what is going on? We did a couple of weeks with him but that was a very surreal feeling.
You’ve toured with Willie Nelson. What is the biggest thing you learned about being a performer from him?
I think as far as Willie goes, his whole crew and team, they’ve been together, most of them, for thirty-plus years, the same people. They really treat people with respect, they love each other and they love what they do. So we kind of took away that we want to run that same kind of operation and given the opportunity to have a career that long, to treat people well and have the best possible time we can out here.
And you did Jam In The Van a few years ago with Mickey Raphael, Willie’s harmonica player, who is wonderful.
Yeah, it was fun. He’s a really good guy and that proves my point. They do stuff like that.
Who was the artist that literally changed your life when you heard them?
Overall, I’d have to say Bob Dylan. He’s always been ever-changing and obviously an incredible songwriter as well as a cultural icon. He influenced me the most, I think, as an individual.
What is the meaning of the new album cover?
You know what, we kind of want to leave it open for anyone to take what they want from it. But you’re looking out at these galaxies and it’s like, what is really out there? There is so much out there, and even though you might have a lot of internal loneliness, and I don’t mean that in a sad way, even in a crowded room kind of thing, it’s kind of a desperation to feel not alone and accepted. That kind of thing. But there are a lot of different ways you can look at it, the title and the cover and all the songs have the same kind of theme.
To you, what is rock & roll?
Rock & roll to me, I think it’s just being exactly who you want to be and what you feel like being. Whether that’s good or bad or whatever, to me, it gives you the right to be just who you are and that’s a powerful thing. So many people are kind of slaves to society and their jobs and their careers where rock & roll allows you to be yourself and do exactly what you want to do. It’s a freeing feeling.
Top photo by Frank Maddocks and live photos by Marc Lacatell