Long before it got broken up into a million sub-genres, rock & roll was just rock & roll. Pure, true, organic. Six strings, booming harmonies and the call of the open road. It’s a singularly American tradition that Nashville’s The Wild Feathers are full-force dedicated to not only preserving but also – more importantly – evolving. Their sound melds the four unique voices of Ricky Young, Joel King, Taylor Burns and Preston Wimberly, taking inspiration from across the musical spectrum – country, blues, folk and rock – and spinning it into a roaring web of warm, cosmic melodies with vintage roots and modern tones. The Wild Feathers are a rock band that feels impossibly fresh with the air of having been here all along.
Ricky, Joel, Taylor and Preston were all lead singers before they came together as The Wild Feathers, fronting their own bands and writing songs with their own distinct sounds. All hailing from Texas with the exception of Joel (Oklahoma), each member grew up with a deep sense of southern musical traditions, while at the same time being raised on records like Led Zeppelin, Neil Young and Tom Petty. As kids, their moms played them the Rolling Stones instead of lullabies, literally and figuratively rocking them to sleep.
Eventually Ricky and Joel both migrated to Nashville, where they connected in 2010. Occasionally, they’d get together to write music and play: Stones songs, riffs they’d written, ideas here and there. “Ricky and I wanted to do something with a bunch of singers, not just one lead,” Joel says. Their vision was of a group where each member is as indispensible as the next; a solid set of four, not just a front man backed by session players. Of course, finding the proper matches for something like this is no easy task. With strong voices can come stronger egos – just the thing to rip a fledgling band apart. Somehow, The Wild Feathers found their missing pieces, leading them to become what Joel calls a “four-headed monster,” not four separate monsters, butting heads.
Mutual friends suggested a man by the name of Taylor Burns with a strong electric-guitar rip and bluesy growl. He seemed the perfect thing to complement Ricky’s smooth, folk tone and Joel’s rock & roll bellow. Next came Preston Wimberly, who rounded out the loose, bright harmonies and added an occasional country twang through some masterful pedal steel. The four gathered to play music in Austin, and it clicked nearly instantly. Instead of a battle of wills, it was effortless. The Wild Feathers was born that day. “It was a match made in heaven,” says Joel. “Or hell,” he adds with a smirk.
“I wanted to do something greater than I could on my own,” Ricky says, but every member of the band could easily echo the same sentiment. “To create something bigger than any one of us individually, and write great songs that last the test of time.” While some of their influences come from deep in the 60’s and 70’s, they’re still thoroughly modern, fusing and evolving their pedal steel and Laurel Canyon harmonies rather than regurgitating and repackaging what’s already in existence. So it’s no surprise that they’re more likely to simply call themselves American than Americana. “We like folk music, but we’re going to have a distortion pedal on when we do it,” laughs Preston.
For their 2013 debut, The Wild Feathers, the band enlisted Jay Joyce (Cage the Elephant, the Wallflowers, Emmylou Harris) as producer, who encouraged the band to tap into their innate sense of harmony and true rock & roll sound. Their days in his Nashville studio were full and tiring (“like we’d been waterskiing and drinking beer in the sun all day,” says Ricky, “but so inspiring”), recording most tracks live, one at a time. “It was kind of like the old days with Elvis at RCA,” says Joel, “recording one song per day, really living in each one.”
The resulting record is a display of four unique talents effortlessly unified: bluesy, hard rock tunes like “Backwoods Company” live effortlessly next to harmonic stunners like “Hard Wind” and slow, folky love songs like “Tall Boots.” “When Rick Danko (of The Band) would sing harmonies, it was like he was singing lead,” says Ricky. “That’s what we try to do.” And it shows. Songs like “Left My Woman,” allow Ricky, Joel and Taylor to sing a few solo bars each in the opening, before joining with Preston on the chorus. Visually, they are united, too – playing shows standing in a line straight across the stage, as one.
“We make songs that I could never write on my own,” says Ricky, “even if I worked from now until I die. But with these guys and what they bring, it’s easy.” Adds Taylor, “we’re making something better than we could have ever done by ourselves.” What they make is modern rock & roll, laced with nostalgia, built for the new millennium. What they are is The Wild Feathers.