Wheeler Brothers

Austin via Baton Rouge Americana indie rockers Wheeler Brothers released their debut album Portraits on June 21 on Bismeaux Records. Brothers Nolan, Tyler and Patrick met Danny Matthews at LSU where they spent much of their time picking guitars and swapping stories in the bar rooms of Baton Rouge and New Orleans. A move back to Austin led to the addition of longtime friend and singer/songwriter A.J. Molyneaux. With their line-up solidified, Wheeler Brothers began performing at bars and clubs while working on their debut release Portraits with producer Mark Hallman at The Congress House. Establishing a loyal, local fanbase, Wheeler Brothers began 2011 with a sold out performance at Austin’s esteemed venue The Parish.  Glide recently chatted with the band via email for a get to know the Wheeler Brothers session,

Can you tell us a little about The Wheeler Brothers to people outside of Austin who might not be familiar with your music?

We are a band of brothers; a family who loves music and feels really fortunate to be part of this industry and this local scene. Austin is a playground for a lot of great writers and instrumentalists, we are proud to call it home. We have been gigging for just over a year now and just released our first record of any kind, an LP called Portraits, on June 21st. It blends all of our varying tastes in music, mostly combining elements of folk and indie rock. We love to tell stories and be around our friends and family, so hopefully that shows through in the work. 

You were already packing clubs in Austin prior to even releasing an album – what do you attribute to your following to?
Honestly, we are shameless self-promoters, lol. In a town like Austin, you almost have to be. We have flyering sessions, call sessions, send out emails, we even sent out a few hundred hand-written postcards with demos, facebook, myspace, etc. We try to put a lot of work into promotion. It is kind of guerilla street team style. Also, we also maintain a fairly busy rehearsal schedule. So, I guess: Promote hard and play tight shows. Separate from that, we try to throw a party every time. At the first four shows we played, the venues had sold out of light beer by the end of the night, consecutively. We have definitely embraced that quality of our current fan base, try to keep it light hearted and fun. 

How has getting your start in the “live music capital of the world” helped the band develop? What venues have you felt have provided you the gigs that have most taught you how to play together as a live band? Are there any particular shows that stand out as breakthrough gigs such as SXSW?

Austin is changing a lot, but it is still such a tough market musically. Because of the sheer volume of local artists alone, you can pack a show one night, and still no one in town knows who you are. There is so much talent in this town it is scary. Very humbling. There is this strange comradery among local bands: You are competing for slots with your brothers and sisters. It is a very tight-knit local scene, we all want the same thing. That local vitality has helped the band develop a sense of ownership and love, pride in our friends and family who work and play around Austin. Venues like the Parish and Momo’s have both been very good to us. The Parish is notoriously a treat for artists to play because the sound quality is absolutely phenomenal in that room, not to mention a comfortable space with very dedicated sound engineers. That venue is our kind of “yardstick” for what on-stage sound should be like. Shows at places like Momo’s have great sound as well, but probably taught us more about our live presence: Being up close with the fans, dealing with the occasional technical difficulty ourselves, really sweating your ass off on stage.

I don’t think we have done what people would call a “breakthrough show,” yet. We haven’t had an official SXSW showcase, we have not done ACL, or Blues on the Green series, or any of the big local landmarks. But, we have put on some damn fun parties. During SXSW, we quickly realized we would not be a showcased artist, which is completely understandable: We had no record out, we are local, etc. Instead, we decided to throw our own party, complete with RSVP’s, some great acts (Little Lo, Sons of Bill, Nate Nelson), 10 Briskets, 30 Chickens, free beer, free everything, and no permit. We packed 400 sweaty kids into our backyard and just did it guerilla style for a few hours. That was something. We have also had max capacity shows at Parish, Momo’s and Scoot Inn that were a real treat to play.  

You have just released your debut album Portraits. What was the writing process like for it?   How long have a majority of these songs been floating around?

It was a work in progress and we definitely don’t have any sort of formula for what works just yet. On a typical day, you can find the full band hunched around the kitchen table with acoustics and cajons and such in hand, arguing about why this bridge works better than that one. Ultimately, we write in a collective fashion. We value each others opinions heavily and rely on each other to write and perform.We also try to make it to a lot of shows and listen to a ton of music as a group. There is also a lot of late night jamming, front porch songwriting. We are pretty good about writing EVERYTHING down whether it works or not. Our house is just littered with old scribbled out note pads and yellow pads and chalk boards and sheet music. Don’t worry, we recycle.

Portraits was written and recorded over the course of the year last year. We would go into Congress House for 5-10 days at a time, knockout some songs, then come back next month or two, or whenever we were ready. We try to take the writing as it comes, not force it. Still, we never went into the studio without having an idea of exactly what we wanted out of the session. In that sense, I guess it was pretty deliberate.

What songs do you feel most conjure the Wheeler Brother’s sound. If you have to play two live songs on national TV – which two would you choose?

That’s tough. Our sound is kind of wonky just because of all the different types of songs and influences and personalities on the record.  "Portraits" and "Save the Nightly" probably for national TV, although they are kind of long. 

What bands do you consider your contemporaries and would most like to tour with?

Again, the five of us have fairly different taste in music, but there are some bands that we can all agree on, most of which are way, way out of our league to tour with: Wilco, Arcade Fire, Beck, The Givers, Dr. Dog, The Walkmen, Edward Sharpe, Blitzen Trapper, My Morning Jacket. Just to name a few. Still, if you looked at our music libraries separately, it would be pretty confusing.

Can you describe a live show for people that haven’t seen or heard it?

Live shows are all about the audience. As a band, that is all you have. We try to keep it lively, high energy. We rehearse a ton, just because we want things to be as tight as possible for live shows. It is a real bummer when you go see a band live and they can’t reproduce, so we try to get as much practice in as possible, take the guessing and mistakes out of the equation, getting to know our equipment well and really enjoy the moment. Let’s just say there are usually a lot of cabs being called by the end of the night. There are also a lot of instruments on stage, which can keep things interesting, although we have managed to cut back on that a little bit. Oh, and we sweat a lot. We like to hang out after gigs and meet people and listen to the other bands, too… We are usually in the audience before and after our sets, unless we have to be on the road. Our shows are kind of like a one night “team-building” exercise. 

What are your thoughts on the rise of the Americana scene today and where do you see the Wheeler Brothers fitting into it?

It’s funny. No one seems to really know what Americana, Country, Alt. Country, Indie Rock, Folk, Psych etc. sound like anymore. There is no rulebook or criteria, nowhere to really draw the line. So many bands are such a blend of these categories that it is tough to place them – And that is a hell of a good problem to have and a sign of a pretty healthy musical economy in general – But folks don’t seem to be as concerned with putting labels on music as they used to be. The fact that listeners are developing such a broad taste in music is a good thing, worth encouraging and celebrating. 

As a band, all we can hope for is to put on fun live shows and make it as close of a fit as possible. It is more about putting together a solid bill. We usually have everything from dudes in cowboy hats to guys in their girlfriend’s blue jeans, 17 years old to 70 at our shows. That is our genre. Let’s call it “Ecclecticore.” At any rate, we love it all.

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