Friday, May 6, 2016

Sharing a Six Pack with Wild Ponies

About three years ago, Wild Ponies released their raucous and compelling Things That Used To Shine. Though the album's songs varied musically, the ever-present theme was one of candor. Dark memories from some very tough experiences needed to be shared, and the songwriting duo of Doug and Telisha Williams did so wonderfully.

With three more years of touring under their belts, Doug and Telisha have returned with a new, eleven-song release, Radiant, to be released May 13th. Though the scars remain from the experiences that shaped much of the previous album, Radiant is much broader - lyrically and musically.

Doug (Twitter) and Telisha (Twitter) are joined by drummer Megan Jane (web | Twitter) and famed instrumentalist Fats Kaplin for a richer, more expansive Wild Ponies sound.

D&T and I recently shared a six pack as I learned more about the new album, songwriting, touring, etc.

TMC: Y'all dealt with some really tough and extremely personal subject matter on Things That Used To Shine. Radiant is a much more diverse collection of songs. Did you write, compose, ponder and then decide on songs for a particular theme this time? And how did you go about the process of whittling down your options to the 11 you chose to include on the album?
Telisha: We did deal with some tough and personal stuff on our last record, and this record seems to be in a voice of someone who’s healing, who can see things a bit more clearly now. The voice of Radiant feels more daring, less afraid, but maybe that’s because that’s how I feel now. As for whittling down the songs, we actually recorded 13, and listened over and over for the ones that seemed to fit together sonically and thematically for this record. I love the 11 that we ended up with. Those other 2 will find a place in a future record I’m sure. 
Doug: Yeah, it definitely feels like we were writing this record more with two feet on the ground. As far as song selection, that’s always hard. Because you love them all. In the end it just came down to fitting the arc, and I think these 11 songs do that. This is probably the most “sonically” cohesive record we’ve ever made. 
TMC: The title track - Radiant - was written with a bit of help or inspiration by a young'un, right? Recap some of the backstory for the songwriting collaboration through your service to the Country Music Hall of Fame.
T: Yeah, we volunteer with Words and Music, the songwriting curriculum program from the CMHoF. We LOVE participating in this program, and we’re actually scheduled to do it again in May. Often, the songs that are submitted are about tacos, pizza, summer vacation, or Mine Craft. Two years ago, Mariah Moore, a sixth grader at the time, submitted a song with incredible imagery and a wondrous vibe. We loved it. We put music to her words and saved it for the end of the Words and Music Program day, but Mariah wasn’t there to hear it. We couldn’t let the song go though. We came home and worked on it a bit more, added a verse and shifted some words. We love this song, and we’re happy to have collaborated with such a fine young woman. We’ve since met Mariah and her family, and they like what we’ve done with the song. Mariah has continued to write and we’re excited about what her future holds as a creative individual!
D: Yeah, we’re pretty excited about this one. We love the CMHoF, it’s one of the things we always tell friends visiting town to check out. And the Words and Music program is great. And Mariah is a great kid. We were stunned by what she wrote, and I love the way the whole song turned out. 
Old Catalpa Tree

The old Catawba stands alone with gnarled arms from broken bones
hatchet scars she’s tucked beneath her bark
She’s seen houses built, barns fall down, children playing all around, 
as families lived and died in her front yard
Winter snows, summer nights, burning fires electric lights, 
machines that turn to rust and fall apart
She’s held a thousand horses tied, she’s sheltered brides and grooms who’ve cried, 
she’s watched as lovers made love beneath the stars

TMC: Tower and the Wheel just slays me. It's a very visual song. Was there a particular tree you spotted that spawned the song - either recently or days gone by?
T: Doug, this one’s yours, though I will say that I identify with that ol’ tree when I sing that song. She’s a bad ass, and she’s been through hell. She’s still standing, and in many ways, she’s more beautiful than ever.
D: Yeah, this is about a specific tree. It’s a tree on my grandfather's farm just outside of Galax, VA. Both of my grandparents are dead, and nobody lives there anymore. But my mom and her sister still own the farm. Telisha and I took some time off and went out there by ourselves - just to be there and write without any distractions. Anyway, that tree has been there for… I don’t even know. It’s huge. Massive. It shades the whole front of the driveway, and it’s a good place to pull up chairs in the gravel and sit and play music. It’s also got a ring around it where we used to tie the horses while we saddled them. And, I do remember throwing hatchets at her trunk when I was a kid. Terrible, but she survived it. We cut our wedding cake right under those branches, too, so even thought it’s a pretty metaphorical song, it’s got a lot of literal imagery in it. 
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Following Tower and the Wheel - based on the Virginia tree so very personal to Doug - is Mom & Pop.  The song is a wistful goodbye to a locally owned store that's been in the family for years and multiple generations. "Progress" - big box stores, shopping without employee assistance, paying the least amount post for the cheapest crap one can import, etc. - has driven the store to extinction. My grandmother used to work at a local grocery store in Estill Springs, TN. I recall a time or two as a kid helping her price and stock canned goods during my summer visits.

Our family didn't own that little grocery. Nor did my grandmother work at Garner's very long. Yet my brief time working with her brings back neat memories. The store disappeared decades ago as larger chains moved to town and gas stations became convenience stores with self-serve pumps. In that respect, Mom & Pop really resonated with me somewhat on a personal level.
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TMC: Unplug The Machine immediately brought to mind Billy Joel's We Didn't Start The Fire. It's a bit unique as well. Y'all stomp the gas pedal during it, and the song differs a great deal style-wise when compared to many of your stunning ballads. Is it fair to say it took a few attempts to get the lyrics right with all the different references and syllabic alignment (how'd ya like THAT phrase)?
T: Syllabic Alignment? Don’t go talking over my head, now. Yeah, it’s safe to say that I sang that song 156 times before recording it. I guess this is the song Billy Joel would’ve done if social media had been around. I love that soft, soulful, magical-voiced Robby Hecht is the cowriter on this one. You should hear the iPhone voice memo recording of Robby on the day we wrote it. We definitely punked it up a bit. 
D: Ha! Yeah, it took some work. The hard part was trying NOT to make a strong statement on any one of the things we’re mentioning in the song, but instead let the whole song be a statement itself. Does that make sense? We’re just all so damn connected that we miss the things around us… But, the world has been spinning for a long time. 

TMC: The last few years, you have toured the month of December with Amy Speace and Rod Picott. And the opening song, Born With A Broken Heart, was co-written with Amy. How has time in the van with them affected your approach to songwriting? And how do you think you may have influenced either of them?
T: I don’t think you can spend time with other people, especially other artists and not have some influence seep in. We’ve written with Speace before, and we like writing together. We have different approaches, which leads to an intriguing balance. I don’t know how we’ve influenced them. They’ve both been at this music career thing a little longer than us, so I think we still bring an enthusiasm to the game. 
D: Well, you know, I think we make them nicer people. Sometimes we all four hold hands while we ride down the road. It’s great. No, seriously - Amy and Rod are two of our best friends. They’re both amazing writers. No bullshit type writers. Every word counts. They don’t just keep saying the same thing over and over after they’ve said it once, you know? Like, they’re great with economy when they’re making a point in a song. I hope their ability to really get in and get out of a phrase in a song without belaboring it is wearing off on me. Basically, I like that they don’t just go on and on about something from verse to verse. Also, I like that they both write stirring, poignant, potent, honest songs without using too many words. 
TMC: Home Is Where The Road Goes may be my fave track. Y'all have been at this biz a few years now. How do you find that right balance between being road hounds and playing your songs vs. the comfort of collapsing onto your own couch in East Nashville?
T: We’re still looking for that balance, and maybe we always will be. You have to be intentional about it. We have to find time to be a couple and family. Taking Hazel on runs and having friends over when we’re home helps us to settle in, but home is where the road goes. 
D: It’s definitely tough. God, we love the road. But we also love being in East Nashville so much. Life isn’t easy for anybody. If one of the toughest things I’ve got to deal with is how much I love both home and on the road. I think I’m petty lucky. 

Wild Ponies spend a great deal of time on the road. So buy their new album, check out their previous releases, check the touring schedule on their website, go see a show, talk to them a bit before and after the gig, and share a PBR and/or a shot of fine bourbon with them. I believe you'll find all of that to be solid advice.