Wildhoney Gets Deep

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Lauren Shusterich of Wildhoney takes a breath at the Rebel Lounge. All photos courtesy of Nicole Neri.

Wildhoney Gets Deep

by William Weinstein

 

Imagine a sand castle on a beach wherein lives a siren, her song rising above the spiked ramparts. That sort of dreamy image is one of many called to mind by Wildhoney, a staple of the Baltimore music scene who performed on Tuesday, September 27, at the Rebel Lounge in Phoenix. Their wall of sound and introspective lyrics moved the small crowd that gathered for them that night in a very intimate setting – the small raised stage could barely fit the five musicians. The lineup of the band has changed constantly over the years, but the members that night included Joe Trainor, the original member on lead guitar, Nate O’Dell on rhythm guitar, Zach Inscho on drums, and Lauren Shusterich on lead vocals. The band had their friend Kyle play bass for the evening, which he did in a big black trench coat. The band lost themselves in the music every time they began a song, and seemed to awaken once the last note had reverberated. After their set, we interviewed them in an alley behind the venue.

 

WILLIAM: What’s different about (this tour) than other tours you’ve been on?

JOE: This one’s just been different ‘cause it’s a whole different crowd than we’ve played for. All of the tours we’ve done have been pretty all over the place and not really within our particular wheelhouse, which is fun and challenging and more interesting than just playing to the choir. You know, we’ve toured with hardcore bands, we’ve toured with post-hardcore bands, we’ve toured with pop bands, we’ve toured with indie, emo bands. We’ve done so many different types of tours that it’s more fun to challenge ourselves artistically with those sorts of crowds than just playing to a whole bunch of people who already are like, this is their sort of thing.

LAUREN: I think for smaller bands, too, we have been kind of intentional about touring with bands that would have a different fan base, ‘cause we want to be exposing ourselves to new people and playing for people who have never heard of us and growing our own fan base. We’ve done a lot of very different types of tours, like our first national tour we did headlining, it was more of a DIY-style thing. And we have done a tour with a lot of spew where we’re playing 600 to 1,000 people every night, and then-

NATE: Touring a ceremony, which is a hardcore gig-

LAUREN: – Where it’s just crazy, like people moshing and stage diving, going crazy, but I think the diversity of those experiences is really valuable.

WILLIAM: Everyone always seems to try to put you in a box. They’re always like, “Oh, they’re dream pop, they’re shoegaze, they’re emo, they’re whatever.” What do you think about that?

LAUREN: People have been calling us emo?

WILLIAM: Some people have been calling you emo, a little bit.

ZACH: Weird. That’s very strange.

WILLIAM: What do you think about that?

JOE: We’re just, you know, we like things that have a psychedelic element in them. And for music journalism, it’s easier to just kinda put a tag on something and just be like, “Okay, here.”

LAUREN: Usually the first instinct is to label something, which is understandable because you’re trying to explain it to someone and labels are helpful for explaining things. But I don’t know, we’re also still trying to figure out what our sound is, and what our statements as artists is, and that is constantly evolving. I think some of our older stuff used to be more shoegaze-y, so I understand where that came from, but the stuff we’ve been writing for the last couple of years really doesn’t have a whole lot in common with that other than maybe the wall of sound element.

NATE: But that’s also Phil Spector

LAUREN: Yeah, like Phil Spector, all the girl groups from the sixties and early seventies, that whole recording technique is at least as much of an influence as shoegaze stuff.

JOE: I mean, shoegaze isn’t even really, like…

LAUREN: Also, I don’t know if you’re referencing – I think in interviews, we’re really trying to shed that shoegaze thing because there’s been this really trendy revival of that, and we wanna write songs that transcend that.

JOE: We just want to make timeless pop music.

LAUREN: We just want to make something that you can listen to twenty years from now and still feel the same types of feelings that you would now.

NATE: And there’s only a handful of shoegaze bands that even stand the test of time anyway.

WILLIAM: My Bloody Valentine is pretty much the only huge name that people know, off the top of my head.

NATE: That and if you count the Cocteau Twins as being sort of a proto-dream pop, shoegaze band. But yeah, those are the two. Everything else is much more all over the place.

LAUREN: And those are incredible bands. We’re not trying to shed shoegaze because we don’t like those bands; like I don’t really mind being compared to those bands. It just doesn’t really describe what we’ve been doing for the last long while.

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Nate strums in thought. Photo by Nicole Neri.

WILLIAM: What does it take to make a timeless pop song?

JOE: I don’t know if we’ve figured that out yet. We’re still constantly evolving.

WILLIAM: What kind of stuff do you look for?

JOE: Just if we feel good in the practice space. I think if all of us are looking around at each other and vibing, I think that’s what really ultimately matters. If we’re in a room together writing a song.

ZACH: When you’re in a practice space and you write a song, and there’s this moment where it all comes together and you all look at each other and you immediately know that’s the way it should sound or you’re onto something. I think that there’s this moment that happens and there’s no way to describe it.

LAUREN: It’s like an energy.
ZACH: It happens and you’re like, “Oh, this is happening from now on.” Then you formulate a song structure based on that.

WILLIAM: Where do you think that comes from? Is it a shared philosophy, or is there something between you guys that comes together? Is it like spirituality? Is it just drugs?

LAUREN: (laughter) Sometimes…

JOE: I think spirituality, in a sense of the connection that we have together as a group. Because if not everyone is down with what happens in that moment then it’s not gonna end up being the way that that is.

LAUREN: Yeah, I mean, I think… I don’t know, I’ve gone in and out of little new-age types of feelings about things but I think energy is definitely both a spiritual and scientific concept that is really apparent any time you’re dealing with someone on a personal level. Especially when you’re dealing with sound and music, like when it clicks, I think there is a light spiritual element, however you want to define that.

JOE: Something that’s beyond the four of us happens.

LAUREN: I think in general, too, making something that’s genuine and not too contrived is a good pop song.

ZACH: Yeah, if you’re sitting around like, “How can I make a million dollars with a song?” That’s obviously not what we do. I’m sure some people do that, but that’s not what we do. We don’t have that process.

LAUREN: Good pop songs have been written that way, though.

NATE: There’s a formula, like chord structures that are pleasing to the ear. Like this Taylor Swift song has the same chord progression as this super old sixties song, and songwriters will continue to do. There’s that way to look at it, too.

JOE: You can find beauty in simplicity and beauty in dissonance and beauty in complexity. It’s just – it’s hard to pin down. There’s a lot of different factors, but usually you just know for that moment where everyone kinda feels it.

LAUREN: I think it is inherently fleeting and kind of hard to pin down.

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Zach brings the rhythms that jump beneath Wildhoney’s dreamy sound. Photo by Nicole Neri.

WILLIAM: Is that what music means to you, then? It sounds like it’s something beyond just catchy tunes.

JOE: Yeah. I mean, music is… I guess I can’t speak for everyone, but I feel like without music all of us would probably not be – I don’t know, the darkness would overtake us, probably a little easier.

ZACH: At this point, we’ve all devoted our lives to music. We all work shitty jobs at home to get by, and enough to be able go on tour. This is our career. At the same time, though, we see it as a career, but also we see this as an art form and the art that we’re making. We see ourselves as artists, not just somebody trying to make money off of music or whatever.

JOE: It’s like art first, and then if the other thing happens, by some stroke of-

ZACH: Yeah, if we can pay our bills with the art that we make, that’s great, but if not then we’re still gonna do this. We’re still gonna make the art we make.

LAUREN: On a darker side of that, too, sometimes I feel like being a musician, having that compulsion to continue making music and art is almost a curse, in a kind of way. Because I think from the outside, being in a band and going on tour looks really glamorous, but it’s really challenging depending on who you are. Like for me, I love it, it’s deeply fulfilling and special and this unique experience that I’m so grateful to have, but it’s hard. I’m struggling to pay bills all the time, and I have three part-time jobs that I’m constantly juggling. I’m also very introverted, so sharing a space with five people for a month, twenty-four hours a day, is difficult but also really cool in certain ways, too. It takes a lot of sacrifice and it makes a lot of other aspects of life a lot more difficult, but it’s just something that I can’t walk away from. And I think all of us are kind of in that position. We’re evaluating, “Is this worth it to let go of this many other aspects of our life?” And we keep coming around to, “Yeah, it is, it’s the only thing that we can do.” Or not that we can do, but it’s the only thing that fulfills that space, if that makes any sense.

NATE: It’s a spark.

LAUREN: Yeah, you just can’t lose it, it’s just there. It’s a curse.

WILLIAM: Do you think there’s, like, a background influence to your music? Like do you write about politics, do you write about feelings, do you just make up a story and let the music flow?

LAUREN: Well, that has changed. I think there is certain types of experiences and energies that go into the instrumental aspect of the writing, and that kind of depends on where we’re all at in different points of our lives, and that kind of fluctuates. I think depression and anxiety tends to be something that cycles through repeatedly, unfortunately, but lyric-wise, in the past, everything has been pretty personal and maybe not autobiographical but more about inner things and the stuff that I’ve been writing lately is kind of a little more narrative. Like I was saying before, I’m writing about other people. I’ve been trying to write songs from the perspectives of other people, like people that affected my life in a positive or negative way and trying to see that situation through their eyes and write like that. But it’s hard; I’ve had writer’s block on and off really bad throughout my writing attempts.

WILLIAM: How do you get over writer’s block?

LAUREN: I don’t know. If you figure it out, send me an email. (Laughter) I started actually researching writer’s block, reading about ways that different people have overcome it and I think – there are kind of vague prompts people use, but sometimes those things just don’t ring true. I tried writing something about someone from history or a character from a fictional book or something like that and never really clicked, so I don’t know. That’s an age-old question.

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Nate brings down the house with a powerful wash of reverb. Photo by Nicole Neri.

WILLIAM: Do y’all have any rituals you do before you sit down to write or before you perform or after?

JOE: A lot of the songs start off with me at home with an acoustic guitar. I get some basic things, come to practice, arrange it, and figure it all out. I’ll turn the lights down, light some incense. For me, when the embryo of the song is happening, it’s usually just me messing around on a guitar at home, not really trying, and then I hear something and it kind of bounces from that, and then we come to practice and either it flourishes or fails miserably.

ZACH: For the most part, every time we’ve written a song, it started off with an embryo of Joe coming to rehearsal, and then we write our own parts around that, form the structure of the song, and eventually it becomes a song. Sometimes it gets aborted.

LAUREN: I definitely subscribe to the muse way of looking at creativity, where sometimes this portal in the sky opens up and I can grab it and put it down. Sometimes I will spend three hours ripping pages out of my notebook, throwing it away and berating myself, questioning everything that I’ve chosen to do with my life, and then sometimes I’ll write the best song I’ve ever written in thirty minutes and that’s it.

JOE: When I have writer’s block I just put my guitar down. Unless I’m in practice, I don’t touch it outside of practice. I just let my brain turn off for a little while outside of it. Usually, after month, I’ll unintentionally just have a bunch of things that flow out. We’re trying on our next record to start songs more focused on the vocals, as opposed to almost every Wildhoney song that’s been recorded – maybe every Wildhoney song that starts with the music and then Lauren riding on top of that, which can be sort of difficult with the barrage of constant sounds. Now we’re trying to pull it back a little bit more. Give it more space. She’s an amazing singer, so on the next record we’re trying to let her – all the other records have been very like guitars, guitars, guitars, guitars. I think this one we want to definitely let Lauren to explore her voice more so than she has been able to on other recordings. And I think that’s really important for great pop music: the music is always good, but the vocals and the way that you relate to it emotionally, not just sonically, is very important. Hopefully that’ll shine through a bit, instead of just punishing you with sound. ‘Cause that gets old, too. I mean, it’s fun to do that live, but if you want to write a nuanced, beautiful record, it’s kind of hard to just write punishing music constantly.

LAUREN: Volume can be a really useful and effective tool, but if that’s all you’re relying on, I think it gets sort of gimmicky after a certain point – which, hopefully, we don’t need to rely on it.

JOE: Forever.

LAUREN: Right! But sometimes you need to be loud.

JOE: And there’s something visceral about just destroying a guitar with your hand and a pick. The end of our set is a very visceral release of everyone. That’s a moment where you can let everything out from throughout the day that’s good or bad. Lauren has the opportunity to really build things vocally with the loops and all the instruments are just kind of flowing in and out of each other and vibing on each other. That’s when the volume recently is very fun to play with.

 

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Lauren sings her way through “Horror.” Photo by Nicole Neri.

Wildhoney live is a psychedelic experience; the audience seemed to fall into a trance without ever being put to sleep. Their poppy drums and guitars worked together to create a driving sound that blocked out everything else. At times it was difficult to discern where Lauren’s voice was amid the noise, but she always seemed to find her way back to the forefront to continue to build on the band’s texture. As to where the band will go in the future, who knows? The only certainty is that they will bring their true artistic spirit with them.

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Reach the writer: @WilliamWeinst1

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