How close are the members of Wilmington hard-rock band Open Wire? For years, whenever one of its members was facing a major life decision or having relationship troubles, the band would gather atop a discarded skateboarding ramp behind its Monkey Junction rehearsal space to hash things out.
“Someone would announce, ‘It’s time for the halfpipe of truth,’ and we would lay out there with our drinks and just, like, brutally break things down,” says guitarist Dan Wuensch. “And that was how we worked through our problems together.”
The band’s rehearsal space, in the childhood home of drummer Phil Milligan, doubles as a de facto clubhouse. On most Tuesday nights since 2011, Open Wire bandmates—frontman Matt Thies, Wuensch, Milligan and bass player Eric LeRay—are all there, as are Milligan’s parents. In the band’s early days, it wasn’t uncommon for up to 40 people to gather at the house, drinking, playing music and generally raising hell. Eventually, those jam sessions led Open Wire to begin playing shows around Wilmington.
“It was, ‘Let’s take this format,’ which was partying, playing music, ‘and bring it to the world,’” Wuensch says. “We were playing packed shows at [now defunct downtown venue] Ziggy’s to 1,000-plus people, but it was still a bunch of guys fucking off and having fun. The same show you get in the room is the same that you get on the stage.”
That all-for-one, mischief-seeking spirit is prevalent throughout Open Wire’s 2012 debut, “Naked Dreams.” The album was recently rereleased to streaming platforms, and serves as a mission statement for the band’s hard-partying lifestyle. Opener “10 on 2 (And a Pack of Reds)” was written after Open Wire played a wedding in Crossville, TN—notable for being on the timeline between Eastern and Central time zones. “We had just gotten past last call,” Wuensch says, “and had the realization we had a drinking time machine in our grasp.”
The band’s hometown plays a prominent role in its songs, too. “Armed & Hammered,” for example, contains the lyric, “We’re not drunk, we’re from Wilmington!”—inspired, in part, the band says, by Urban Dictionary’s definition of Wilmington (“90,000 alcoholics camped out on a sand dune”). Another unreleased track, “Oleander Drive,” recounts the time Thies passed out for several hours in the major Port City thoroughfare, causing police to shut down traffic in both directions. (“That’s a power nap!” LeRay jokes.)
“When we’re on the road, we’re basically preaching the gospel of Wilmington,” Wuensch says. “The culture, the drinking, the ridiculous shit we’re always doing to entertain ourselves.”
They wear that pride when closer to home, too. While the band laments the ways in which Wilmington has changed over the years (“A lot of developers have come in and tried to turn it into some weird Charleston hybrid,” Thies says), they are quick to praise venues such as Reggie’s 42nd Street Tavern for keeping the spirit of rock ‘n’ roll alive in town. [Ed note: Open Wire’s March 21 concert at Reggie’s has been postponed until further notice.]
“It’s the last place you can go and play a real show,” Thies says of Reggie’s. “When you go to a show, there’s lights, there’s sound—it’s a whole experience. It’s not a lounge act.” He cites hard rock and heavy metal bands Black Label Society, Van Halen, KISS, Mötley Crüe and Guns n’ Roses as influences both onstage and off. “We’re not playing the fucking Holiday Inn. We’re not there for background music; we’re the entertainment.”
Open Wire has been writing material for a new record, which they hope to record as soon as they’re able. In the meantime they’ll continue to gather for regular rehearsals and events like “Steakokalypse,” a seminannual steak cook-off held at LeRay’s house “whenever meat goes on sale at Harris Teeter.” The band admits its “boys first” mentality can sometimes make maintaining romantic relationships difficult. ”If they can’t come to band practice and have a good time, if they can’t come to a show and have a good time, they’re not going to last,” Thies says. But it also keeps their bond afloat.
“I always describe Open Wire as a brotherhood,” says Wuensch. “It’s not necessarily just about being a band. We’ve always said, if circumstances changed and we didn’t do this anymore, it wouldn’t really fundamentally change things.”
And though the halfpipe is no longer there, the spirit of openness and honesty within the band remains. Says Thies, “The halfpipe of truth is within us now.”