Preston Wimberly of Wild Feathers: "Every time we're in Denver, it's just a fun, carefree time"
The Wild Feathers (due at the Bluebird Theater this Friday, February 21) don't hide their love for classic folk, rock and country. The Nashville quartet has made a kind of musical mission statement out of paying tribute to giants like Neil Young, Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones. The act's self-titled debut shows clear signs of these roots on tunes like "The Ceiling" and "Got It Wrong," which opt for clean harmonies and unadorned mixes in lieu of studio effects. We caught up with guitarist Preston Wimberly for a chat about the group's love for the foundations of rock and more.
I want to start by getting an idea of your schedule in the past year. Have you had time to play the scene in your native Nashville?
We've been on the road pretty steady for the past year, really. We were off for a couple of weeks over Christmas. We had New Year's in Nashville. Other than that, we've been gone. We played 250 shows last year, and we're playing almost every night of the week. It's tiring, but it means there's something going right.
On that note, two years after its release, the band's debut album is starting to take off. What has that success looked like for you guys?
It's pretty surreal, man. The past few months we've been doing this headlining tour. We've been on the road opening up for amazing bands and music legends. This is our first headlining tour, so it's starting to feel real now. This is our show. We were in Toronto a couple of nights ago, and we had people singing the words to every song. It's really a crazy feeling to be in a different country and have people singing along to all of your songs. It's never been like that before. This is the first time it's felt like, 'We are really reaching some serious crowds.' We sold out tonight. We sold out last night in Indianapolis. It's really been crazy.
You've said that the band is about returning to the roots of straightahead rock and roll, and you've cited influences like the Band, Led Zeppelin and Gram Parsons. What do you think your success says about the market for a return to those kinds of musical roots?
It's kind of a dying breed. You don't see many real bands these days. I guess we're all old souls. That's the stuff we grew up listening to -- the Band, the Stones, Neil Young. It's all of that real music, you know. It's not about a bunch of AutoTune and backing tracks. It's just what we grew up listening to. And we don't know what we're doing, which is kind of the beauty of it.
What do you mean by that?
None of us are classically trained. None of us went to school for music. We just sing what sounds good to us. I think ignorance is bliss when it comes to our harmonies. There's no theory. We try to sing and play what we grew up listening to, and I think it works well for us. Hopefully, we're doing a good job of carrying the torch. It's cool that people are finally starting to pick up on it. We made that record -- it's almost been three years. Now it feels like it's finally starting to catch on. It's cool to see people who still appreciate rootsy, raw, rock and roll music.
But it's not only the audience that's tapped into that sound. The Wild Feathers didn't sign on an indie label, right? You have a pretty big name behind it.
Yeah, it's pretty amazing that Warner Brothers is still behind us. It's the best place you could possibly be. It's my first real experience with a major label. It couldn't be better. They have Tom Petty and Neil Young and the Black Keys -- all of the bands that we really respect and admire. It's cool that they still love and support our style of music and continue to keep this kind of music alive. There's really not much of that these days. We lucked out. Warner Brothers is the perfect home for us. It's been real cool seeing how much they support what we're doing.
You mentioned that it seems like the album is starting to catch on. Has the label been pretty supportive? It seems like they've given a big push to The Wild Feathers and singles from the record like "The Ceiling."
You hear all of these horror stories of major label record deals and how they screw you over. It's nothing like that. We were there just a few weeks ago in L.A. in the Warner office. It's just a big family of people who care about each other and really want each other to be successful and have a long career.
It's pretty rare, but we've just become really close friends with everybody there. It's hard in the early days. You feel like you're just busting your ass every day and it's not paying off. Then all of a sudden you show up in a different country and people are singing your songs. And it's working, whatever they're doing, it's working.
Who were some of the bands you got to open for before you started headlining?
We've been lucky. We've opened for some legends. Paul Simon was the first. That was huge, and we were pretty green at that point. We didn't even have a record deal. Then we opened for Bob Dylan. That was pretty epic. We didn't get to meet him, but sharing the stage is pretty surreal.
Then Willie Nelson. Three of us are from Texas, and he's pretty much God in Texas. That was probably my favorite. We did ten shows with him. Seeing the way he operates everything -- he's had the same crew for 40-plus years -- it's really cool. He called us up on stage the second night of the tour. We were down in the casino losing all of our money, of course. We got a phone call: "Hey, Willie is looking for you." He wanted us to sing four songs with him. We went running through the casino and showed up.
There he is, waving us up on stage. It was just surreal, the way he operates, the whole thing. He's 81 years old, and to call up a new band he probably doesn't remember still -- it's just really a cool welcoming, a cool feeling. That's the way we try to operate, too. It's just about having fun, and there are no egos, no arrogance. It's about being good guys and having fun. That's the way he runs his tour.
Speaking of your Texas roots and your current homebase in Nashville, does country music play a role in your songwriting and your sound? You mention all these rock legends, but it seems like vintage country has a pretty big place in your collective backgrounds.
That's a good question. We draw from the old-school country. There are just so many different styles of country music. I prefer the classic, old-school country, I mean, like the Willie Nelson and the Hank Williams and the Merle Haggard. That's what we grew up on. There's a lot of watered-down country that I don't think has a ton of soul in it, but shit, we grew up in Texas and live in Nashville. We're surrounded by it all of the time.
Some of it's good, some of it's pretty bad. I think the average audience knows when it's authentic and when it's not. But Nashville is a funny place. You get everything from the Black Keys to the Kings of Leon to cheesy country stuff. It's a big melting pot of music, which is what makes it so great.
Do you think the scene has had an impact on the band's sound?
Yeah, definitely. For me personally, I'm the lead guitarist. I grew up in Texas, and there was a lot of Texas blues. I grew up listening to a lot of Stevie Ray Vaughan. Moving to Nashville, it was, 'Damn, these guys are good. These guys are real good.' It set the bar a little higher. Also, you just see more people who are really successful -- bands and songwriters. You have to step your game up. It's competitive but it's collaborative at the same time. It's a Mecca of music right now, and it's definitely made us even hungrier to go out and be successful.
How does that compare to what you've picked up playing in Colorado? Has your push toward a classic rock sound resonated with audiences here so far?
It did. We went to some Grateful Dead bar on Colfax, Sancho's Broken Arrow. [laughs]. We were up until about 3 a.m. and had a great time. Every time we're in Denver, it's always just a fun, carefree time. I'm excited to get back.
Almost three years after the release of the debut, are you making plans to record a follow-up?
We have plenty of material. That's the beauty of this band is that we have four, really five, songwriters. Man, we probably have the next five records already written. We all write, all of the time and just have millions of songs that are ready to record. That's the nature of the business though, you record and then tour for the next year, year and a half in support of that record. But we have tons of songs ready to go. I think by the end of this year we'll be back in the studio. I'm excited, and hopefully we'll get back with Jay Joyce who produced the first record. He's just a genius. The songs are there, we just have to tour right now.