Wild Feathers: Blowin’ In The Wind

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The Wild Feathers have spent the past 20 minutes in the lobby of their Nashville apartment building. It’s noisy. Neighbors keep walking into the room, checking their mail and walking out. A bulldog huffs by, dragging its owner toward the front door. We’re supposed to be talking about the band’s debut album, but the Wild Feathers haven’t been home in weeks, and it’s difficult to focus on the important stuff – the gigs with Bob Dylan, the inspiration behind the band’s heartland rock and roll, the challenge of having three lead singers in one band – with so many distractions.

Do I want to go upstairs and have another drink, where it’s quieter? Sure.

We pile into the elevator and head toward the band’s two-bedroom loft. Lead guitarist Preston Wimberly, who leases the place with bandmate Taylor Burns, walks into the apartment and immediately picks up an acoustic guitar. Ricky Young searches for a bottle of whiskey, and Joel King pulls a handful of PBRs from the fridge. We toast. The night officially begins.

By 10:30 p.m., we’re all best friends. We’re playing Hank Williams songs, trading harmonies on Tom Petty’s “Listen To Her Heart” and talking about the Black Crowes’ recent gigs at the Ryman Auditorium. Young whips out a harmonica, and someone yells, “Get it, Popper!” A downstairs neighbor – the same guy who recently called the cops, looking to file a noise complaint against the band – knocks on the front door and walks inside, angry. Someone hands him a drink. Within 20 minutes, he’s our best friend, too.

It’s hard not to warm up to the Wild Feathers.

“We’ve become this singular thing,” Burns explains. “There are multiple songwriters in the band, and we’ve all led our own bands before this one. At first, it was hard for me to relinquish some of that control, because I’ve always been the guy who writes the songs and comes up with the setlist. But we’ve spent so much time together since then. We’ve grown into a unit. Everyone works, everyone pitches in, and the best songs float to the top.”

On the band’s self-titled debut, the best songs tend to be the ones that were written by all three singers. Burns, Young and King share the spotlight on “The Ceiling,” each frontman crooning a few lines before handing off the mic to someone else. “Left My Woman,” a road anthem disguised as a drinking song, repeats the trick. The harmonies are a bit rough at points, and some singers sound better than others. Still, it’s the mix of personalities – folk crooner Young, garage rocker King, bluesman Burns – that make the Wild Feathers stand out, and rough edges are part of the appeal.

“We were originally signed to Interscope, and we got halfway through a record with them before they dropped us,” Young says. “It wound up being the biggest blessing. I won’t name the producer, but he had us recording to a click track and sounding too slick, too precise. It was sterile.”

The Wild Feathers found another producer, Jay Joyce, and hatched plans to re-record the songs in Nashville. On their first day in the studio, they also signed a major-label deal with Warner Bros, who agreed to stay out of the picture while the guys worked on the album.

“We wrote 60 songs, whittled that list down to 35, then recorded 16 of them with Jay,” Young continues. “We did it live, to tape, with everyone playing at the same time. When you record a new song each day, you really see the reward at the end of that day, like a freshly cut lawn or something. The most important thing is we got to make the record that we wanted to make, which is hard to do these days. Especially on a major label. Especially when it’s your first record.”

Classic-sounding American rock and roll has experienced a renaissance in recent years, with groups like Dawes leading the charge. The Wild Feathers may seem like newcomers, but they’re catching up fast. Earlier this spring, when Dawes cancelled two shows as the opening act for Bob Dylan, Wild Feathers got the gigs instead.

Meanwhile, back at the apartment, the party is winding down. I sit at the kitchen table with Young, who laughs and pours me one last drink when I ask where I can find his last solo album, Learn To Steal.

“I don’t know,” he admits. “My parents’ house?” He pauses, then adds, “It can be tough to leave some of those old songs behind. But this is the dream we’ve all had since we were kids. You start to see a little bit of it unfold before your eyes, and it’s so surreal. It’s work, but it’s the good kind of work.”

Sounds like the party is just starting.

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