Austin band The Wheeler Brothers released their debut album, Portraits, in June 2011, and since then the band has toured the country relentlessly. They return to Texas tomorrow evening for a show at Dan’s Silverleaf in Denton. D Magazine editorial intern Michelle Saunders caught up with the band.
FrontRow: As a relatively new band, your fan base has grown quite rapidly. Did you expect to become so popular so quickly?
The Wheeler Brothers: Well, it’s all very new to us. You really don’t go into making music with immediate expectations, besides writing and performing and doing what you love to do. Austin, and Texas as a whole, has treated us very well. No matter how far away we go, when we cross back into Texas and our hometown for shows, it is reviving. We love our fans and we love our roots. It’s a self-nurturing and romantic relationship.
FR: What was it like having local Texas swing legend Ray Benson back and promote your debut album, “Portraits?”
WB: Having Ray and the Bismeaux team at our backs has been such a valuable component to our growth, both personally and professionally. Ray is the kind of person that, even with all of his years of success, is willing to sit down and have a cup of coffee and offer you some honest, road-worthy advice. He is a hard-working dude. Hell, The Wheel has more gigs on the books than we do! The man has an incredible ability to keep a lot of projects in the air and still have time to be straight forward with the people and bands he cares about. There is a lot of mutual respect in the air, which is really the only way to go into a new project, regardless of your practice. That’s a “life” thing, not just a “business” thing. When a guy like Ray wants to get involved, you soak up as much as possible. We feel really lucky to have had his attention.
FR: What is the craziest thing that happened on your first national tour this past summer?
WB: The first tour was so exciting! It has been our dream for a long time to get on the road, and we are finally doing it! That being said, we quickly learned a lot of lessons about what you should and, more importantly, should not do on the road. For example, probably not a good idea to stay out partying until 5 am in New York City when you have three consecutive shows in three different states over the next three days.
Really, we were a travelling Animal House on the first tour, and wouldn’t have it any other way. We were so focused on the writing and arrangements of the music for so many months leading up to touring, that finally getting out was an incredible release of tension. It’s kind of like being extremely well prepared for an exam. We try to be as excessive and as accessible as possible to our fan base on the road, while still maintaining our chops, health and sanity. We busked on the street corner in almost every city we visited; took fans who were waiting in line to dinner and bar-hopping in Chicago; hand delivered records to people’s homes who bought them online in Virginia and Tennessee; moved a car with our bare hands in Denver; played acoustic sets at house parties all over the place; listened to local music; ate local food; drank local beer. To be clear, the music ALWAYS comes first, but we really do care about being caught up in the moment, and we really do want to know all of our fans names.
FR: Your music has been called everything from “Indie-rock” to “Folk” to “Country” to “Americana…” how would you describe it or what genre would you place your band in?
WB: That’s the hardest easy question ever! When Portraits first came out on iTunes, they placed it under, “Other.” We all had a good laugh and totally understand. The way we see it, people don’t just listen to one genre of music. Our music is not for people that JUST want to hear Americana or JUST want to hear indie rock. We certainly don’t go into rehearsal thinking, “Let’s go write a folk tune.” Our iPod’s are a total clusterf**k. Woke up listening to Harry Belafonte, ate lunch listening to Dr. Dog, partied to Jay-Z and LCD Soundsystem, and went to sleep listening to old Animal Collective and gospel tunes.
The music that we have been writing lately is a little more cohesive, and maybe that’s a good thing, maybe not. Either way, we are perpetually developing our sound and hope that aspect never stops. “Americana” or “Indie Rock” is a good start. It’s easier to just say “Rock.” I hope we are still having this conversation next year.
FR: What’s next for The Wheeler Brothers?
As for now, things are busier than ever. We have slept in our beds a grand total of 17 of the last 81 days. Our friends and family think we are kind of crazy. In March: SXSW Showcase & day parties, three music festivals, as well 12-plus out of town dates, writing and rehearsal. In April, a bunch of dates in Texas (finally!) and Old Settlers. Much of the same in the months to come. Hustling!
Separately, we are in the process of writing and arranging the next record, which has been great! We should start recording within the next few months. Oh, and drinking a lot of coffee lately.
FR: Here’s a bonus question. Danny Matthews, tell us about that hair! Does it take you a long time to fix before shows? Any tips for gals (and guys!) interested in maintaining equally shiny & healthy locks?
WB: Well, Michelle, it is tough to maintain this kind of shine and bounce on the road. For starters, don’t cut it for about a year and a half, even when you get to that “awkward” stage where you look like the cover of Mad Magazine. Next, go out and play shows every night, and be sure to only wash it every 3-5 days. Hotel shampoo and conditioner works great. As far as pre-show routine is concerned, whiskey is good for your hair, brushing it only makes it angry. I would suggest a combination of the two.
Photo: Pat Cassidy (Courtesy of The Wheeler Brothers)