When a band hails from a small suburban town called Taunton, Massachusetts, it has no choice but to bust its butt on the road and build a fan base from the ground up. For the members of eclectic/acoustic-based trio Wheat, touring and creating impressions about their band was the only means of sanity throughout their teens and early 20s. Following formation in singer Scott Levesque's bedroom, the guys released a pair of indie albums that shot straight to the heart of college kids across America. They even popped up on the radar screen of Bush's Gavin Rossdale, who gave their self-released single "Death Car" major public props. The results of celebrity endorsement, fan base cultivation and solid work ethic have most recently landed Wheat on the Aware/Columbia roster- the home of its latest effort Per Second, Per Second, Per SecondÖEvery Second. Here's more from a phone call conversation with guitarist/vocalist Ricky Brennan.
Livewire: What was the main point of attraction for you to Aware/Columbia?
RB: Everything just sort of fell into place. We really like their philosophy and approach to putting out records- actually everything about the way they operate. They have a small roster and a grassroots style of building artistic identity and fan bases. Aware also has the advantage of Columbia's resources behind them, so it's a very encouraging situation.
Livewire: What were some of the challenges involved? Was there ever a risk that you'd be placed in the college rock heartthrob category as a result of label mate John Mayer?
RB: I think we're all aware, no pun intended, of that but we've been really lucky overall. We were certainly prepared for how a small handful of our fans and some indie press may have felt about it, but we faced a similar thing when our second record went in a more poppy, upbeat direction than our first. There's always going to be a risk when you try something new.
Livewire: Why has touring always been so important to your group?
RB: Early on we didn't tour that much because we couldn't afford it, but as more opportunities presented themselves, we were all over it. It was what we always wanted to do. I think it's important to have interaction with listeners and bring a personal aspect to the music. Touring for a while was a primary method of exposure. We didn't have opportunities to do as much press and TV when we were just starting out.
Livewire: What was it like trying to break out of the suburban lifestyle?
RB: I'm not sure it was so much breaking away, maybe more like not getting caught up in a scene. We didn't want to leave behind where we came from, but we didn't want to just get caught in the same circle of doing the same thing and playing to the same people. There's really only so far you can go around the Boston area, and until we left and played all over the U.S. and Europe, we were just considered a local band that wasn't getting much local press attention. We learned it sort of works on perception- coming back from Europe and then playing a hometown show sounds so much cooler than hanging out at Jim's Pub every week.
Livewire: How is your small town upbringing reflected on Per Second?
RB: A lot of the subject matter is almost celebratory. "Hey So Long Ohio" can go out to anyone who grew up in a suburban area. They can relate to late night keg parties and lots of relationships.
Livewire: Who were your main influences on the record and Wheat's musical dichotomy in general?
RB: It was very lo-fi quasi indie rock at the beginning, but I think we've drawn from a huge array of tastes. It's funny because we listen to everything from current indie rock to hip-hop to classical to classic rock. The biggest thing we're fans of is a great song, which can come from all sort of styles. We'll look, for example, at a record from 20 years ago- say Steely Dan or Stevie Wonder- and go through the presentation to see how each song was constructed. That brings several dimensions to what we do, so hopefully people will listen to our music and say ëhey, how'd they do that?' just like we do with those classic albums. The groove is really important too. We half jokingly say Wheat's "sexy rock."
Livewire: What was it like working with Dave Fridmann as a producer? I've always loved his work with The Flaming Lips.
RB: We love to talk about how much he's become a part of our family. He's almost like a fourth member in the band! When we've thrown everything and the kitchen sink in and we're not sure what to do, he'll be there to take us where we need to go. It's a nice push. Even when everyone in the band may not be comfortable with something, he'll bounce around ideas to make it work. Sometimes that tension and contrast makes for the best music. He's really supportive and understands what we're going for.
Livewire: What are you looking forward to most about sharing a Chicago bill with Liz Phair, who also happens to be an Aware management client?
RB: Having done a couple tours with her already, we're very comfortable, We know her entire band and crew and they're all great. They've become friends that we always have a lot of fun around. It's just great that she asked us for the third time around. She's a big fan of us and we're big fans of her stuff. Plus, a lot of ladies go see her play, so that's the best thing to look forward to!
Livewire: What do you hope listeners will take away from each live performance?
RB: These are the people who are buying and listening to our stuff, so it's important for them to feel our energy. Connecting is really important to us and it's always exciting to see what a cross section of people feel something from our music. We're happy and thankful to be able to deliver for them!
Wheat comes to the area on an opening slot for Liz Phair Sunday, March 24 at House of Blues Chicago. For additional information, log onto www.wheatmusic.com or www.ticketmaster.com.
CD Review - Per Second, Per Second,
Per Second...Every Second