Sat., May 5th • 10 p.m.
Soapbox • 255 N. Front St.
$8/adv. • $10/door (+$3 under 21)
I say this knowing it’s sort of trendy to “genre bend.” Current groups like to say they pull from every class of music, and I’m sure they do. Still, it seems each of their songs follows a certain style that can be attributed to some kind of combination: electro-pop, indie-rock, rootsy soul.
The Wheeler Brothers don’t play the game that way. Rather, every one of their pieces runs over peaks and through valleys, presenting morsels of their influences to fans. Lead singer Nolan Wheeler (guitar, piano, glockenspiel, harp) has just the right pipes for the crew to find balance and solidify their sound. He croons with a sweet and polished quality. He manages to mold his dynamics to match the intensity of his lyrics: soft whispers escape when necessary, or a bellowing fortissimo rolls forth when the power’s called for. His sound is at times elegant, and at others, freely delightful.
Nolan is joined by his brothers, Tyler (bass) and Patrick (drums), and the band is filled out by A.J. Molyneaux (lap steel, guitar, harmonica and vocals) and Danny Matthews (guitar, vocals). Based in Austin, Texas, the five-piece is only a few years old. Yet, they managed to light up the month of March with accolades galore.
There was an appearance on “Last Call with Carson Daly,” a welcomed performance during SXSW, and a complete sweep of Austin Chronicle’s Music Awards. The Wheeler Brothers took home not only best new band but also best acoustic guitar (Nolan), best bass (Tyler), best miscellaneous instrument (A.J.), and best roots rock. Mark Hallman was the runner-up in producers for his work on their album, “Portraits,” and the group was runner-up for best folk band. Nearly all their reviews claim they’re the best thing coming out of Austin right now.
What I love most about The Wheeler Brothers is that their songs hook the listeners and make them beg for more. They tell stories of voyages, trials, conquests (and late-night drinking). There’s magic in their music that transforms every reviewer into a fan, yearning for their next endeavor—an album that should be out this year.
Wilmingtonians will be able to sample the Wheeler Brothers on Saturday, May 5th (an appropriate way to celebrate Cinco de Mayo) at the Soapbox. I was lucky enough to have a few questions answered by Matthews, Molyneaux and Nolan Wheeler prior to the show. Should readers have more questions for the band, they encourage calling their fan line: (512) 983-5934 (no joke!).
encore: So do you think growing up in Austin made music unavoidable?
A.J.M.: You would really have to go out of your way to avoid the music culture here. All of us grew up playing instruments, so I think that initial interest, combined with Austin being such a harbinger for music, laid out a pretty clear and beaten path for how to take what started as a hobby to a full-time thing.
e: What song do you think best represents the band?
DM: “Portraits” is an example of one of those songs that kept on growing. It is at times mellow and smooth, at other points loud and brash, even heavy. Everyone in our band has a wide range of musical tastes, many of which we tried to fuse in the tune. We felt like it came out to be a really nice, appropriate blend of our separate and unique styles.
e: Speaking of, it seems there’s a lot of Latin influence in your work.
NW: Growing up in Texas, you hear country and Tejano music all your life. Everyone [here] knows some Spanish. It’s definitely the nature of the beast, and a beautiful, fun component to our culture which we fully embrace. A.J. lived in Spain for a year practicing Flamenco guitar. Danny is the singer in “Ghost in the Valley.” That song, in particular, speaks about the nature of border towns. In Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona, these are very real things you can hear people talking about.
e: Your lyrics are full of imagery and references to important places, and even back to other songs. Can you provide some insight into the songwriting process?
DM: Sometimes we tell stories about ourselves with specific goals, often separate from the actual lyrical content. Other times, we have more direct, fictional imagery. Since we write all of our music collectively, the personality of the song is often affected by the songwriter. If, for instance, Pat has something on his mind that he really needs to get out, then we all talk about it; we start writing, molding.
There are some common threads which are a reflection of our lifestyle and upbringing. Lots of references to late nights; about finding time and energy to straighten out your own mind; about working hard and being passionate and protective of things in which you believe; about being comfortable in your own skin.