The Wild Feathers:
The TVD Interview

Whatever happened to good ole-fashioned American rock n’ roll? To raw, wispy-one-minute-raucous-the-next, hand-clappin-feet-stompin-or-hangin-loose-with-a-brewski goodness? To grit and soul and pure, quality songwriting? As modern technology has allowed musicians to diverge from our roots, it’s become easy to look longingly at the organic properties of 20th century rock, to label its authenticity a thing of the past, eclipsed by our alt-rock subgenres and revived only by The Band and Bob Dylan records.

Then a force like The Wild Feathers comes along and reminds you that true, American rock n’ roll is still alive and kickin’. And that there’s hope yet for our kids’ kids long after today’s Dylan fans are no longer here to pass on good, unadulterated music.

The Wild Feathers fuses the distinct talents of five musicians—that is, Ricky Young, Taylor Burns, Joel King, Preston Wimberly and Ben Dumas—with a common passion for vintage rock and a shared desire to preserve it. When the band came together in Nashville in 2010, all they wanted to do was make “good songs and good classic American rock n’ roll.” They envisioned a group in which no one member held the lead, but rather each figure would contribute to producing a quality of music greater than one could alone. The result: a warm, multi-faceted sound firmly rooted in the past yet propelled forward by modern tones.

Since signing with Warner Brothers Records, The Wild Feathers have been steadily gaining momentum. After touring with Willie Nelson and ZZ Ward earlier this year, the band released their eponymous debut album in August and are now preparing for their premier headlining tour. Their first show takes place in Austin this Wednesday, in front of an already sold-out crowd, before they arrive here in Dallas on the 24th.

Before hitting the road, Texas-born vocalist and guitarist Taylor Burns took the time to chat with us. In this TVD Interview, Taylor talks with us about his cherished vinyl collection, the driving forces behind The Wild Feathers’ sound and the challenges and rewards of the band’s collaborative approach to rock n’ roll. Some seriously solid rock n’ roll at that, if you ask us. 

You guys are about to get going on your first headlining tour. You’re coming from your base in Nashville, right?

Yeah, we’ve always kinda been based out of Nashville. For a while we were splitting time between Austin and here. Back then, Preston and I were living in Austin when I met Ricky and Joel, and we were going back and forth for a while there.  Then, finally Preston and I got tired of making that long drive, like 16 hours, so we decided to just move to Nashville, in like 2010 or something.

So, it’s been a good while.

Yeah, yeah.

How do you like it out there? I mean with living in Nashville among some of the biggest players in the music industry?

It’s been good, you know. I love Austin and there’s a great music scene there too, but it’s really competitive here in Nashville, in a good way like everyone is so good, so it really makes you want to raise your level of songwriting and musicianship and everything, just so you can kind of keep up with everyone here.

And I’m sure that the city’s folk and Americana influences, styles that are really prevalent there, have had an impact on you guys as well.

Yeah, I guess. I guess everyone is a product of their environment to some extent. Whether it’s conscious or subconscious, I think it could influence your songwriting, you know, whether you’re in a cabin or a beach or wherever you are. But I think what mainly influenced us was just what we grew up listening to with our parents and everything like that. Like Neil Young, Tom Petty, Bob Dylan, just really good songwriting and American rock n’ roll. The stuff we grew up listening to was the biggest influence on us and the type of record we wanted to make. We just wanted good songs and good classic American rock n’ roll.

That’s definitely the vibe I get. It’s hard to find that in today’s world where Justin Bieber constitutes popular music.

Yeah, it’s kind of a shame sometimes.

[Laughs] It definitely is a shame. So how do you guys maintain that sort of raw quality to your music that’s so rare?

You know, I don’t know, I think because all of us are so like-minded. Preston and I grew up together, but we all just sort of met and came together randomly. But I think we were all on the same page in that we all really loved that music of the ‘60s and ‘70s and appreciated pure songwriting, songs with meaning and not just a hook you can shake your ass to. It’s weird how it all came together that way. So that’s always been the focus. And I don’t know if we’re always doing that, but we always strive for that.

And you guys were all lead singers for your own bands before, is that right?

Yeah, Ricky, Joel and I were. Preston and I were in a band together and he was the lead guitar player.

Out in Nashville?

No, that was in Dallas. He and I grew up in Richardson, Texas, and were in a band out there all through high school and then moved out to Austin and had a band out there for five or six years.

So, you guys, I’ve noticed, share the “voice” of The Wild Feathers. Is sharing the spotlight ever tricky since many of you once held the role of lead? Or does it work well for you?

Yeah, it can be tricky, not in the ego sense like “oh, I want to sing all the songs,” just as far as, like, we all write so much and of course we all want to, you know, get to play our own songs. There are so many good songs to choose from. It’s a good problem to have, it’s just like, how are we gonna fit it all in and what’s gonna be a Wild Feathers song as opposed to an individual person’s song. And I think the songs that resonate with us and with most people are the ones where there are multiple voices. It kind of gives a different flavor than, you know, everything else you hear.

Definitely. So, you guys all wrote songs on debut album, then?

Yeah, Ricky, Joel, and I wrote the majority of it.

Can you tell me more about that process? The album came out this summer. How long were y’all working on it?

We had some of those songs for a couple of years. We have kind of a crazy story. We were on Interscope Records for about a year. We started making the record and we got halfway through and they dropped us. We floated around for about six months, went on tour with Paul Simon and some other really cool tours. And then Warner Brothers signed us about six or seven months later, so then we started making the record immediately after that.

So, some of the songs have been sitting around for a while, but to get those we held up in a cabin in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, in the dead of winter. We actually got snowed in for like three days. We couldn’t even leave. So we just demoed like 38, 39 songs, in two weeks. And we had another probably 20 or so. So we had a bunch of songs just because, like I said, we all write so much, and we had a lot of songs from our own projects that we brought in, you know. It seems like the ones which work the best are the ones we ended up writing together. Me, Ricky, and Joel, in the cabin, just a stream of consciousness kind of thing.

So it sounds like writing is a very collaborate process for the band?

Yeah. Mainly whoever has the idea will kinda steer the direction of a song, but it doesn’t always work like that. It can change. It varies depending on the song. Sometimes we’ll be trying to work up a song that, say, I have and Ricky might say like, “Dude, I hear a really cool melody over this bridge, what do you think?” and I’m like, “That’s awesome, that’s great, let’s try that.”

How did you decide on making “The Ceiling” the first single off the album?

I don’t know, it seemed like just the most powerful song. It kind of encompassed what we’re trying to do, the multiple singers thing, the best and was one of the highest energy songs on the record so I think that’s sort of why we went with it.

And you’ve opened for some pretty major artists there—Willie Nelson and Bob Dylan. What’s been the response as far as the album goes and the band’s touring thus far?

Yeah it was… incredible. I think the response has been good. Now this is my first release on a major label so I don’t really have anything to gauge it, but the shows are getting bigger and we’re going on our first headlining tour, starting in Austin at Stubb’s. That first show is sold out, and I think our Dallas show is almost sold out, so you know I think it’s been really good.

The opening spot sure helped whip us into shape. I can’t believe we got to share the stage with legends like Bob Dylan and Willie Nelson. It’s the kind of thing you dream about as a kid but you never ever think it’s gonna actually come true. I never would’ve thought in a million years, a year ago or even six months ago, that I would be opening for two of my idols. So 2013 was very good to us.

Speaking about your idols and your experience growing up with music, it wouldn’t be TVD without asking you about your vinyl collection. Do you collect?

Oh yeah. I’m staring at my records right now actually. Yeah, I don’t know how many records I have, maybe 200 or so. A lot of them came from my grandmother, my dad’s mom, and my grandfather, my stepmom’s father. I’ve inherited a bunch and have been adding to it through the years. And they had pretty good taste, so it’s a pretty good collection if I do say so myself [laughs].

What draws you to vinyl? I mean when today, you can just have new music with just a click of a button on your computer, why records?

I think it’s the opposite of that that draws me in. I mean I don’t hate to buy a single, I do it every once in a while.  But I love to hear a record as it’s intended from start to finish and vinyl is the best way to do that. I mean you can’t skip to each song, but it’s way easier just to let it play and hear it out. I just miss the days where albums were, I don’t know, a work; the whole thing was a single unified thing. It’s not just like, pick and choose what you want you know? Our culture’s become so about instant gratification. You just choose what you want. But I like to hear the progression, the slower songs going into the single hit, you know. I think you learn a lot more about an artist when you hear the whole record. And just the interaction too, like, actually turning it over and flipping the record, reading the inside and seeing who played on what songs and who produced it and everything, I like to know that kind of stuff.

Is there any record in particular you like to unwind to? Or do you have a favorite?

George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass is one of my favorites. Probably one of my favorites in my whole collection is a Bo Diddley record. It’s just self-titled, Bo Diddley, I think it’s from the 1950s or ‘60s. There’s just an energy on this record that I love. I have a bunch of favorites. I mean if you ask me tomorrow I’d probably give a different answer, but yeah, All Things Must Pass is one of my all-time favorites and Bo Diddley. What else I got in here? Those are the two I can think of right now.

Solid choices. Are there any more modern artists or bands you enjoy listening to as of late?

Yeah, I’ve been really digging Dawes and the last few records they’ve put out. My Morning Jacket, Jim James’ solo stuff, Band of Horses, the Black Keys, all those cats.

So, a little blues, a little folk in there.

Yeah, my dad was a blues guitar player. So I tend to go toward the bluesy side a lot. He kind of played in bands all through my childhood. He grew up in Oakcliff, Texas. He ran with Stevie Ray Vaughan and Jimmie Vaughan and all those cats, so I listened to a lot of blues from him and I think when I was younger I didn’t like it that much, but as soon as I was old enough to appreciate it and started playing guitar I really dug in. I’m glad that he schooled me in all that stuff at an early age because I really appreciate it now.

How old were you when you started playing guitar?

I didn’t start too young, I mean I think I was probably 12. I only learned a few chords then. But when I really started playing I was about 14. That’s when I started practicing like five or six hours a day.

Getting back to talking about more recent times and the success you guys have had this year, what’s it like starting your first headlining tour?

It’s flattering, and really cool and exciting, but there’s also a little bit of pressure because it’s all on you. Opening is just the easiest thing ever, cause you know you’re not responsible for getting that many tickets in and selling out; it’s just about putting on a good show and doing what you do. But with a headlining tour you have to take a little more care, obviously play longer and more songs, and it’s all on you. But it’s really cool and a good judge to see where we are in our career, so hopefully this tour does well. I think it will.

So you have a show in Dallas with Saints of Valory and Jamestown Revival soon. Had y’all played with them before at all?

We hadn’t. I met the Saints of Valory guys in San Francisco and they’re just really good guys. I believe they’re also from Austin.  We dig their music, so we asked them out. We could have easily done a co-headline thing but they graciously let us headline. And then with Jamestown Revival, I actually knew Jonathan Clay back from my Austin days. He said, man, if y’all need another band to go on the road, we’d love to be there. So we said, c’mon.

Yeah they’re awesome, definitely looking forward to seeing them at the show. So what can people expect from a Wild Feathers concert?

A high energy show. Hopefully we get ya up and get ya movin’.

Can’t wait for it, and to see what’s next for the band. As a final note, what as a whole do you guys want to be known for? For doing, for bringing to music?

I just want to be respected by our peers and known as good songwriters and live performers. That’s what I personally want to be known for. It would be great to, you know, win a bunch of Grammys and sell out arenas and everything, but I just want to write quality songs that resonate with people and stand the test of time, songs that people listen to 10, 15, 20 years from now. God willing.

The Wild Feathers’ Dallas show, featuring Saints of Valory and Jamestown Revival, takes place this Friday, January 24, at Gas Monkey. 

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