Americana outfit the Wilders are back with their 10th album, The Wilders. It sees the quartet expanding their gaze sonically while remaining true to the roots music that has defined them for the past 15 years. We recently caught up with guitarist Ike Sheldon to talk about the evolution of the band's sound.
The Pitch: What's new on this new album?
Sheldon: The last album we did, I wrote a lot of the songs on it, and Nate [Gawron] just wrote a few. On this one, Nate wrote most of the tunes. It just kind of shows where we're going. We're doing all originals. Some of our early originals were more similar to old country stuff. Now we're just writing songs and not worrying about what kind of song it is or whether it's country enough, or if it fits into any kind of genre or anything. We're trusting what I call "the Wilders Machine," which is basically the idea that any song any of us brings in will end up sounding like a Wilders song, because that's just what we do to it.
It's interesting that there are some more ornate pieces than you've had in the past.
We had the luxury of getting to spend some more time in the studio. All the albums before this, it was basically, "Go somewhere, wherever it is, and record an album quick." A couple of our older albums we basically recorded in a day. Even with Someone's Got to Pay (2008), we went down to Louisiana, to our friend Dirk Powell's studio, for a week. It was really intense, recording all day, every day. This was the first time we recorded in Kansas City and didn't worry about cranking it out. It was more like, "Let's go record this weekend" or "Let's go record now." We really took our time with it. And the more you get to listen to something, the more ideas you kind of get. So I think that's where those more ornate kinds of arrangements come from.
Maybe it's just me, but The Wilders also seems to be a bit more sedate than your past releases.
It is, yeah.
What led to that less honky-tonk — I don't want to say "country-politan" but ...
I know what you mean. There's definitely a feeling of road weariness to this album. You have some songs that touch on that and some songs about trying to put relationships together, which also relates to being on the road. We've been on the road for many years and played a lot of time and sacrificed a lot of our personal lives to follow this dream. And I think some of these songs reflect that: what being a working road musician can do to your life. There are a lot of really great things about it, but it's also a really weird way to live. It's a very unusual style of life, and it can be hard on you. I think that's where this more kind of chilled-out thing comes from.
Where did the final track on the album, "Lay Down Our Guns," come from? It seems like it's in the vein of epic anti-war songs like "The Band Played Waltzing Matilda" or "Shipbuilding."
I don't want to speak for Nate because he wrote it, but I think it's more of a love song. Two people who just hurt each other over and over and over, and after a while, it's just like, "Can we just lay down our guns for a while? Stop blazing away at each other? Just have some time together? A truce?" But you can look at it on a micro level or a macro level. Nate's sung it in Northern Ireland, which has a real history of violence and guns and bombs. To those people, I think it had a very different meaning than it might have to someone who's just thinking of it as a love song. I think that's what makes any song a strong song — when it can have many different meanings and relate to different people.