Who are the Wilders and why should you care?
The four piece Wilders come from Kansas City and are regular visitors to the UK; but remain one of those bands that you think you recognise the name but don’t know quite where from.
I caught up with the band during a sound-check on their recent UK tour and as the band tuned instruments and got changed into their stage outfits I asked my questions and whoever was nearest, answered.
“What is the background to the band?”
Nate took a swig of his well deserved cold beer and pushed the brim of his ‘Oklahoma Trucker’ cap back on his head;
“Ike Sheldon; who is the singer and lead guitarist; was in a variety of Hippie duos and Nerdy Pop groups around the Kansas area in the 90’s and knew Phil and Betse from the coffeehouse circuit and when he was thinking of starting a Bluegrass style band he knew that they were already playing Hillbilly music so he invited himself along to play a few gigs with them and over a few weeks they gelled and with an assortment of nomadic double bass players over the next five years the Wilders were born.”
In that format the Wilders recorded three albums and toured relentlessly around the US until 1999 when Betse played fiddle on an album by a Country Rock outfit called the Sandovals who had a bass player called Nate Gawron. Betse asked Nate to fill in with the Wilders at the famous Rural Grit Happy Hour at the Brick in Kansas City one night and Nate’s naturally jolly demeanour fitted in with the other three and he hung around for a few months before being asked to officially join the Wilders and there he remains today 11 years later.
“Your music isn’t really Bluegrass anymore,” I asked, “how would you describe it now?”
Betse took up the mantle as Nate considered his answer.
“It is American music; NOT Americana!” She insisted. “What we play is all over the map; it’s rooted in a lot of different scenes – folk, Country, Old Timey, Bluegrass…..rock and roll….even Gospel. It really is ‘roots music’ because we take the roots of every type of music you find across America and give it our twist until it becomes Wilders music.”
Nate and Phil looked bewildered by Betse’s sudden passionate outburst but grinned and nodded their agreement.
“We play an assortment of instruments from my fiddle and Nate’s bass to Ike’s guitar and Phil’s box of goodies; and because we have so many songs and tunes to choose from now, we can do a pretty good job with any type of tune the audience wants to hear.
About 80% of what we do is original but depending on our mood or the mood of an audience we can throw in something by Hank Williams, Lefty Frizzell, Robert Johnson or even an old Gospel song to get the night moving along; so it is pretty hard to pin our ‘sound’ down. ”
Betse then had to put her make up on and get changed for the gig so Nate took up the theme.
“All four members write the songs and we all have different backgrounds – I’ve played in funk, punk and rock bands, Phil is pretty much the Country fan, Betse loves Punk and folk music and Ike will listen to anything, so the writing process is a melting pot but there is no real hierarchy when it comes to choosing songs for an album; we only choose the best, regardless of who wrote it. On the last album (SOMEONE’S GOT TO PAY) Ike wrote the majority of stuff but we are pulling things together for a new album later in 2011 and it looks like a pretty even mix at the moment. It’ll be called THE WILDERS, which is the same as the original bands’ second album but it has been out of print for so long we don’t think that anyone will get confused!” Both Nate and Phil grinned at the ‘joke’.
Phil then joined in, “We’ve played a lot of music over the years to get to this point and this is going to be the sound of the Wilders NOW. We are all proud of everything we’ve recorded previously but this album looks like it will be the sound that we’ve been looking for, for a long time. Everything will be original and some of the tracks will be very personal and will show how we’ve all grown as musicians over the years.
I’m being producing it with a friend of mine called Chad Meise; who is a really talented guy and is ‘engineering’ it for us. He’s really captured the sound and feeling that we wanted.”
At this point Ike Sheldon made an appearance telling the others that we only had 5 minutes before they had to make their way to the stage; so I took the opportunity to ask about the guitar that he plays; in fact the guitar that he’s always played!
“It’s an old Silvertone model from the 1940’s that I bought off a friend’s brother many years ago for $80.” he smiled; “In the 40’s and 50’s, if you didn’t have cash to buy something you had to buy it from the Sears-Roebuck catalogue and pay weekly. Their brand name was Silvertone; but occasionally they would buy some faulty guitars from Gibson or Epiphone and re-brand them under the Silvertone label; so some people got lucky and bought a faulty ‘good’ guitar for a knock down price and that’s what this is – a real genuine faulty Epiphone – Silvertone guitar!” Everyone in the room laughed at the well told tale as they prepared to leave the changing room.
(#NB there is another more romantic tear-jerking version of the ‘guitar story’ on the internet; but this is exactly how Ike told me the story!)
“Can I steal a set list at the end?” I asked, and Phil chuckled.
“We don’t have a set list; being in the Wilders is like being in a Performing Arts Group – we just judge the mood of the crowd and play whatever seems appropriate!”