|the Sound of Wilderness in the Big Apple
Paul Jordan Talbot - August 7, 2013
Wild Leaves brings comforting, warm songs into an often fast-paced and cold city. It's a quite welcome sound. The mid-westerners share some sound with folk stars Fleet Foxes. In a time when psychedelic music and folk are having huge resurgences in popularity, Wild Leaves already have strong foothold in the NYC scene, playing both folk and Indie-rock bills alike. Wild Leaves was kind enough to share their history and creative process with the Deli, which sheds some light on their hazy-folk music.
Your music doesn't sound like it came from the city. How did where you grew up influence your band's sound now?
We were all raised in (or not far from) very rural areas. Nature was our sanctuary. A place we could run free, with no one to tell us what to do or how to act. Imagination allowed us to cross boundaries of time and place. Creek beds flowed with boundless hope and optimism. Anything was possible.
Like many people our age, we were shepherded into metropolitan areas as we we grew up. In the city we could get a "good education" and have "endless opportunities." But, with all of that comes noise, distracting us from what's truly important.
There's immense value in silence. Many people forget about that. They get lost in the opposite spectrum a sea of distraction. For us, the music is a reminder to slow down to spend quality time with the ones we love and to learn from struggle rather than succumb to it. It's a reminder that we should appreciate each breath we take in this brief moment we have on this beautiful earth.
We made a conscious decision at the beginning not be a traditional folk band. A lot of the songs start out that way, but evolve into a sound that is more relevant to now. We want to speak our own language rather than the language of those who came before us. So that means acknowledging that we exist in this massive city but can tell you what lies beyond it.
New York is perfect for gigging with its seemingly infinite venues, but it can be pretty distracting. Do you prefer to write in NYC or out in a quieter peaceful environment?
I think a mixture of both is necessary for us. We try and get out of the city often and set our souls free, but we moved here to be immersed in the culture and to see what it's like to feel the world spin.
It is our job as young folks to study the way our country works and decide if it needs changing. I don't think it's fair to judge anything without experiencing it first. So, we try our best to understand what's happening around us before retreating inward to write about it.
Most of our writing is done in our living rooms. The intimacy of those spaces bridges the two worlds, allowing us to slow down and think about what we've learned.
One of these days, we'd like to try holing up and writing an album in a secluded place. I'm sure that would offer an entirely new songwriting perspective and put us closer to the imagery we're interested in, but until someone out there decides they want to gift us that lakefront property, we'll have to make due with what we have!
How collaborative is the writing process for Wild Leaves' music?
Collaboration is essential to our writing process. While individuals may sprout the initial idea, it's not until we've passed it around the room and let everyone work out their part (or air their grievances!), that the song really starts to blossom and gain nuances.
Harmony is a big part of our approach to every song. Getting five people to form one voice takes devotion from each individual. So, that means believing in what we're singing. For better or worse, we can't play a song that we don't all believe in. This isn't theater. It's a passionate expression of self. If someone is unhappy with their part, it comes through and changes are in order.
If you've ever listened to the reissue of The Notorious Byrd Brothers by The Byrds, there is a great bonus track featuring an outtake from the recording studio. That album was noted for leading to the departure of David Crosby and drummer Michael Clarke. This particular track offers insight into the mood in the studio leading up to the dissolution.
They are trying to work out the rhythm section for the song Natural Harmony. They start, stop, argue and repeat a few times. Clarke keeps saying he doesn't think the song is working, so Crosby starts in on him saying "you're just not feeling it because you don't like your part!" Producer Gary Usher finally comes on the mic and offers Clarke a few suggestions of things to try. They start again and Clarke nails the beat. Everything falls into place and the song is born. The whole scene is a great example of how important it is to have each member on board for a song to truly gel.
Your lyrics have a lot of nature imagery. What is it about folk musicians that makes them so frequently inspired by the natural world.
I think folk music is characterized by it's beautiful simplicity. In it's purest form, it is a universal language of the common man. It requires no previous education, or socio-economic background, only that you are a living, breathing soul.
Nature is a universal theme. Awesome in it's expansive beauty, and crippling in it's immense power. It is the force that runs our lives. Sunrise, Sunset, the changing weather patterns. From dust we come and to dust we will return. No matter where you are in the world, those are things we can agree on.
A lot of pop music is escapist and pretends that those forces don't exist. Escape is a handy tool, but it can be a crutch. We are here to acknowledge the beauty and some of the scary things as well because they are what ultimately form a rich and beautiful life.
Your record "Wind and Rain" works great for me as rainy day, bedroom with the headphones on kind of album. Have you found that your music is better received live or on the record? How do your live shows differ from the record?
I love this! Those songs were written for rainy days. They are songs of introspection. For me, there's nothing better than being trapped inside on a rainy day. It forces the whole world to slow down and allows for clarity of mind and vision.
It was important for us to capture that mood on the record. That's why we went up to the little cottage in Narrowsburg, NY to record it. We knew our approach would be different if we tried to record in between the distractions of our daily lives. Instead, we wanted people to slow down and feel like they were in the cottage with us, listening to the rain on the tin roof and drinking coffee by the wood stove. I think we achieved that.
When it comes to playing live, our approach depends on the venue. We did a private house show last week with our friends, St. Claire and Thick Wild. Playing in a small living room allowed us to reign in the silence and really channel the mood of the record. But, when we play venues like Mercury Lounge or Cameo, the songs take on a stronger personality. In those spaces, we try to connect with each individual in the room and sing along with them, rather than AT them. Instead of hushed reflection, the songs become declarations. That's where our harmonies come in. We're not a single performer telling you what we know, we are a collective human voice saying "we're all in this together, so lets celebrate being alive in a communal way."
I read that you all have been friends for a long time. Was that before you were a band, and if so, how has the touring and playing affected your relationships?
The other day, we did the math. Most of us have known each other for over eight years! As a band we've only been together for about a year and a half. It's definitely been a learning experience, but all the rehearsing, touring, and collaboration have deepened our respect for each other as friends and creative individuals. There are definitely days where it's like "can we just hang out and not talk about the band!?" But we're all pretty good about making sure we step away from time to time and remember that at the end of the day, we are just a bunch of pals playing music because we love it.