For over a decade, The Wild Feathers have forgone the rules and regulations set by the rigid music industry, making the records they want to make and releasing them as they please. Today, October 7, the pioneering band premieres their fourth studio album, Alvarado on American Songwriter.
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Due October 8 as their New West Records debut, the 12-track collection sees The Wild Feathers stepping confidently in a new direction, resulting in some of their most realized recordings to date.
After a major tour with Blackberry Smoke was postponed due to the pandemic, the band hunkered down in a small cabin northwest of Nashville in VanLeer, Tennessee. Only an hour and a half from their Music City home, the lush natural setting feels like a world away.
A remote writing retreat has long been the standard for the group. With partners and children now in the mix, the distance from domestic duties is critical to their creative process as songwriters. The band wrote and readied their most recent record, Medium Rarities, in the same space. But rather than bringing the prepped project into a fancy studio, The Wild Feathers put on their producer’s hats and recorded Alvarado in the cabin.
“We made every previous studio album with Jay Joyce in these big magical Studios which was awesome,” singer-guitarist Ricky Young tells American Songwriter over the phone from his home in Nashville. “But over the years, we’ve listened back to old demos like ‘Man, there’s was really nothing wrong with that.’ It’s kind of cool that there are mistakes — there’s noise, chairs creaking, there are guitars slightly out of tune—but those things make it unique, and human.”
Emphasizing this human element, The Wild Feathers aimed to capture the spirit of their sonic cohesion as it sounds at the very moment of inception. They wielded the confidence gained from self-producing three new songs found on the Medium Rarities compilation and knocked out 14 songs in just four days of work.
“We would get up in the morning, maybe made some breakfast, and just started tracking and playing the song all live in a room together with the sole intention and purpose to get one component—maybe the drum tape, and hopefully get the bass as well,” Young explains. “We were pretty rehearsed and really well locked in, so we’re just started knocking them out really quickly.”
The wooded interior and high ceilings lent themselves well to their instrumentals, so they focused on guitars using scratch vocals. The finishing touch was vocal overdubs at bandmate Joel King’s studio in Madison. “We didn’t want to make things sound like magical or like studio trickery,” says Young. “There’s nothing wrong with it, I love stuff like that. But on this one, we just really wanted to sound like a band recording, and I think we accomplished it.”
Young’s mantra following this recording experience is: “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.”
He expands upon this concept, adding, “Just because you could add some chimes here or some synth-y thing or strings or whatever and it would sound awesome, doesn’t mean that you necessarily should. It’s cool to let the song breathe and let there be air there. You don’t have to fill up every second with sound.”
Practicing this type of restraint is a sign of a true veteran. In the past, Young admits they would have surrendered their project to the producer to perfect the sound for a shiny record, free from flaws. Acknowledging this, Young feels the new album exhibits growth as a band into a poised group of artists willing to push their sonic bounds for the sake of evolution and creative curiosities. “When we were deciding if we wanted to produce it ourselves, we realized we’ve been in studios more than half of our lives, and we know how to do this,” says Young. “We just needed to get over our fears and have some confidence.”
And that they did. Alvarado is comprised of intimate moments between dear friends and creative collaborators. Rather than editing out ‘errors,’ the record reflects the undeniable simpatico that has defined their live performance career. According to Young, what you hear is what you get. “I was in that room, and I know exactly how it sounded,” he adds. “And it’s damn near the exact way what you’re hearing it now.”
Unadorned with studio technology, the soundscape leaves space for the vocals to shine. This emphasis invites the listener to lean into the lyricism. As storytellers, The Wild Feathers were able to convey the honesty that’s threaded through their previous work with more clarity. Young describes their songwriting as “honest.” Rather than employing characters and metaphors, the band does not hesitate to employ candid, personal content.
“You have to make yourself a little more vulnerable, but that’s what imagery and stuff are for because I don’t like being completely black and white,” he says. “When I listen to a song, I wonder what they what they’re thinking here. To me, it sounds like this. So I’m going to apply that to how I think and how I feel about it. So everyone can kind of take what they want from it and hopefully make a connection and relate.”
To the band, Alvarado feels like a natural next step in their steady evolution. The title track is the oldest song on the album. Originally penned for their self-titled debut in 2013, the rollicking alt-rocker brings the project full circle from the start. “Some songs just can’t find their way onto the actual album, but we always loved that one and wanted to record it someday,” says Young. “So when we got to the cabin, that first night, I went into that song, and then the band kind of fell in. And then it just took on a whole new life of its own. Being the first song we did, it paved the way for the rest of the album. And it ended up being the title because it had this lasting power and this special thing to it that we all love.”
Other tracks reflect the pandemic-stricken storm that brewed outside the sanctuary of the cabin walls. “Over The Edge,” contemplates the unraveling of socio-political systems to the point of no return. Rather than returning to a template that failed so many, the lyrics consider the implications of leaning further into the unrest in order to facilitate meaningful change. “Top Of The World” is another rejection of a culture of individualism. Written from the perspective of someone who puts forth a front of having everything together, the song resounds with a sarcastic tone. “It’s like you know, and I know, that I don’t have my shit together whatsoever,” says Young. “And it’s like, basically lying in the choruses. Then, in the bridges, there are these moments of vulnerability where the subject is like, ‘If I’m being honest, I’m falling behind, and I really could use some help here—but I want you to think that I have it all together.”
Alvarado, Young says, “is about us, taking the reins and being in control and doing exactly what we want to do, and taking it where we want to go—putting a blindfold on and hoping it works out.” He adds, “By taking control musically, we can last a lot longer than just having a hit early on and trying to chase that for the rest of your career.”
Pre-order The Wild Feathers’ new LP, here. Take an exclusive first-listen to Alvarado, below.
Photo Credit: Alex Justice