Led by Danielle Sullivan’s gentle and compassionate voice, Portland’s indie pop outfit Wild Ones sounds anything but wild, although they do enjoy experimenting with sounds, which – in a sense – is kind of wild! Their music has the ability to sound at once warmly intimate and somewhat cerebral. This is must be the product of the fusion of the creative minds and talents of Danielle and keyboardist Thomas Himes. We asked them a few questions about their gear and compositional process.
What was your initial motivation to form a band?
Danielle: Thomas and I started our first band at 17 in the summer after graduating at high school. Honestly, I had become so obsessed with ‘indie’ and local PNW bands during my last years in school; making a million mix CDs, arriving an hour early to shows so I could stand in the front row. I think I really wanted to see a little glimpse on the other side of this scene I had come to worship.
What’s been inspiring your music lately?
Danielle: Right now I’m very inspired by the most recent Alabama Shakes record, Sound & Color. We listen to it non-stop on the road. I’ve also been listening to a lot of Swedish pop and Ye-Ye artists like France Gall. It feels so luxurious and classic.
Is inspiration some kind of random blessing, or is it possible to set it in motion?
Danielle: I think it can be both. Inspiration is special and feels fleeting at times, but it won’t become anything if you don’t give yourself the time and environment to create work. I am lucky to have musicians in my band that have a very ambitious and devoted work ethic.
What is it that most frequently ignites the initial idea for a song? A melody, a chord, words, an electronic sound, a loop?
Danielle: Thomas or Nick start a song, and then I receive the basic bones and structure. My ideas always start with a vocal melody. And the first idea is always the best. After that piece is fleshed out, I add harmonies, and then the story and words come last.
MUSICAL TOYS AND RECORDING
Are there any instruments, pieces of equipment or musical toys that lately made you rediscover the playful side of creating?
Thomas: The Omnichord! It’s made for kids but is very capable of arranging an entire song. We’ve used it in a few unreleased songs. It’s also great to play any instrument with chord buttons because you end up stumbling upon new chord progressions by mistake. Chord organs are great for that too.
Has a piece of gear alone ever inspired a song? If so which?
Thomas: The Korg MS 2000 (vocoder patch). This synth inspired our track Loveless which will be on our forthcoming EP ‘Heatwave’ (August 14th). This was the first time we ever worked with vocoders before and right away it inspired a whole song and a definitive change in our musical direction for the album. We ended up using it on drums instead of vocals though.
Is there an instrument that has become some sort of signature sound in your latest record?
What are the pieces of equipment that you find particularly useful when recording at home?
Thomas: A piano, a cup of coffee, and an iphone voice memo. For me that’s how every song starts and if it sounds good on your phone you know it’ll sound good in the studio. In our studio we use a pair of Universal Audio Apollo 16s along with a Great River MP-2NV, Chandler TG2, and a lot of other things, but those preamps are great!
What one piece of hardware/software would you most like to add to your recording setup?
Thomas: Well this is the keyboard player speaking so of course I want more keys. I’ve been working with the Nord Wave for most of the recent recordings and I’ve definitely fallen in love with it so the Nord lead 4 is a dream of mine. I’m also really interested the newer Dave Smith Instrument Prophet synths. I really like how Sufjan uses them on this records.
Do you/your guitarist use rack effects or guitar pedals to forge your own guitar sound? If you do, please list the ones you use the most and let us know why you love them.
Thomas: Both keyboards and guitar use Blue Sky Reverbs. Strymon is one of the best pedal companies around and it’s comparable to bringing your own rack reverb to a show. We also like the OG Digitech Whammy pedal for creating chorus and digital / artifacty harmonies.
What equipment do you find particularly useful on stage? (Please mention the brand and model name and say why you like it)
Thomas: We write everything in the studio so translating that to a live scenario takes a lot of sampling. That said, we use: Roland SPD-SX for drums, the Nord Wave sampler keyboard, Korg microsampler, and more recently a Roland Sp404-SX. We deconstruct samples from our stems and then sample them drum by drum and note by note. It’s a lot of work but it works out pretty well in the end.
Do you have a particular recording style that you aim for?
Thomas: We spent a long time learning how to record and mix “well,” but now that we’re more confident with that we’re interested in taking more production risks. Recently we’ve been really impressed with Alabama Shakes’ new record. Listening to that record in headphones is pretty mind blowing.
Is there a person outside the band that’s been important in perfecting your recorded and/or live sound?
Thomas: Yes, Clayton Knapp is the man behind the Trash Treasury which is the studio we write and record at. He’s a brilliant man with an incredible understanding of the equipment he has amassed. Without him we would’ve never learned to be a self-produced band which is pretty valuable these days.
What do you find to be the most challenging aspects of the recording process? On the flipside, what aspects are the most rewarding?
Thomas: There are too many ways to get distracted in a studio and sometimes you have to remind yourself that less is more. We’ve definitely made the mistake of over producing our songs and now we’re moving in the opposite direction. It’s a great feeling to make a full bodied song with only a couple tracks.
THE LIVE SHOW
Would you say that your live show informs your recording process? Or that your recording process informs your live show?
Danielle: We try to treat the two as separate beasts. What creates a transcendent experience in headphones is often not what creates an engaging live show. But with how much we tour, we are always leaning towards demos that will best translate on stage. We want our live show to feel transportive and be constantly evolving.
Are there any vintage formats that you’re interested in pursuing for the band, like, say, vinyl or cassette? If so, why?
Danielle: We are very dedicated to the vinyl format and to releasing all of our work that way. It really is the best representation of the intended sound. It continues this tradition that makes listening to music feel intentional and ritualistic. That being said, I listen to new music in MP3 format mostly; riding in the tour van, driving around town. I have appreciation for both mediums.
With bands doing more of everything themselves these days (recording, performing, self-promoting, etc.) and the evermore multimedia nature of the world, how much effort do you put into the visual component of your band: fashion, styling, photography, graphic/web design, etc.?
Danielle: We are putting more energy than ever into the visual component of Wild Ones. We work very closely with a local photographer, Savannah Mark, who has helped me craft the current aesthetic. I want the experience of listening to our music and viewing our artwork to be immersive and intertwined. They inform each other and should create a world on their own.
Any comments about the current state of music and art in Portland?
Danielle: The Portland music scene is evergrowing and changing! We are proud to come from such a lush creative environment. I especially want to encourage all of the young female musicians that are just starting out to keep developing their sound and style and to surround themselves with other bold women that inspire them to continue making art. Shred on, babes. – DS