Country and western music here in L.A. is a kind of gem, a shimmery secret that often evades audiences who head to the ubiquitous warehouse party, not-so-underground punk show, or pop-up hip hop act (usually sponsored by an energy drink.) Country, however, is our little secret.
From 1940s to the 1960s, Southern California was an epicenter of honky tonks and faux saloons, home to the Western film and the mythos that accompanied it. There was the Bakersfield sound, and in the 1980s, the Cramps and X provided Los Angeles with sneering, fake-twang cowpunk. Now, another wave of Western flavored bands have aligned across the city, performing summer Sunday afternoons at the Grand Ole Echo in Echo Park, and at the Cinema Bar on the edge of Culver City.
Silver Lake band The Lonely Wild exist at a junction of sounds that look back to songs of the West (or the imaginary Italian towns that stood in for America's frontier on film) and forward to the raw rock tradition that has evolved in the region over twenty years. They aren't a country band and they're not quite rock either. Here, at that space between, the aching voice of singer/guitarist Andrew Carroll coalesces with Jessi Williams' soaring vocals, while Andrew Schneider's guitar textures and Ryan Ross' keys create rich textures over Dave Farina's tumbling drums. Together, they make music both melancholy and hopeful, raucous and tender; opposites shored-upon each other, in a singular sound, a sincere sound that battles against this age of cynicism.
The Lonely Wild recently stopped by the KCET studios here in Burbank to perform a few songs, so Artbound caught up with Andrew Carroll to discuss the origins of their sound, the development of their aesthetic, and how outrage at the economic crisis turned into creative output.
You're an L.A. band but your sound gleans influence from many different sources. What musicians do you listen to, or books do you read, before you begin writing a Lonely Wild song?
Andrew Carroll: I get bored listening to one style or genre of music too much, so I pull from a pretty broad scope. I'm of course influenced by rock n' roll. Neil Young, Pink Floyd, The Band, and Wilco have definitely made there way into Lonely Wild tunes. I love old folk and country like Woody Guthrie, Johnny Cash, and Hank Williams. Ravel's piano trio in A minor is one of my favorite classical pieces. I actually even attempted to pull themes from it and work them into a song. (Still working on that one. I'll let you know how it pans out). I love John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, Dave Brubeck, and Allen Toussaint. And I have a great vinyl collection of Ennio Morricone film scores from the 1960s and '70s. His work has definitely had a major influence in The Lonely Wild's sound.
Don DeLillo's "Underworld" is probably my favorite work of fiction at the moment. I read it last year, and kept notebook of great lines as I read. His prose almost reads like poetry at times; it's very lyrical. While writing our new record I was also reading "Griftopia" by Matt Taibbi, which is a great exposé on the people responsible for, and the events that led up to the housing bubble and the financial crisis that followed when it burst. A lot of the album touches on social issues, and personal responsibility and honesty. Taibbi's book definitely helped me make some sense of what was going on economically, and I came to the conclusion that we should all be pretty pissed off.
There seems to be a completely integrated aesthetic to the band, in the sound, the look, the art, everything. How did you go about creating the overall brand identity?
Andrew Carroll: We made a deliberate effort when we began to have a unified aesthetic online and on stage that would visually compliment our sound. Founding member, Jennifer Talesfore designed the album art for both our EP and our upcoming LP, as well as our logo. The image of the woman that we use as our icon on social media pages, was found by Ryan Ross at a flea market in Amsterdam, among stacks of old photos. And we've begun incorporating a modest light show of Edison-style bulbs that react and glow according to the stage volume. All of these visuals are designed to reflect the sort of dusty, desert quality that resonates in our music.
There's a cinematic quality to your music. What scenes from a film could you imagine your music as being a sonic environment?
Andrew Carroll: Ennio Morricone is definitely a big influence for The Lonely Wild, especially his spaghetti western stuff from the '60s and '70s. I love the way that he was able to make these grand, dramatic, sweeping pieces, that incorporated distorted guitars and elements of rock n' roll. There's something so cool about them. So I think our music would definitely work in a Western type film, or as many people have told me, a Tarantino film. I can't think of a specific scene from a film necessarily, but I always thought that "Right Side of the Road" or "Buried in the Murder" would work well in some type of grand battle scene, when two masses of people are charging at one another.
There's a political bent to your song "Banks and Ballrooms." Could describe how that song came together lyrically?
Andrew Carroll: "Banks and Ballrooms" was written in response to the financial collapse in 2009 and 2010 and the bailouts that followed. I think a lot of people were and are still upset, that such a small group of people behaving so recklessly, and in some cases, illegally could cause the whole country to go belly up. People who had worked their whole lives woke up one morning to find their pensions, and savings wiped out. And in the end, there were no repercussions for these people. No one was held accountable, or prosecuted. These same guys were still getting their annual bonuses. Matt Taibbi's "Gritopia" that helped inform this song. I would read, get really pissed off and pick up my guitar.
Your music seems to mine some deeply personal experiences, what do you feel when you're exposing difficult truths onstage? Is it cathartic or something you don't really think about?
Andrew Carroll: There is a sense of catharsis writing and performing songs about difficult personal issues, or about people that are close to me. On some level that's why I write. It's an emotional outlet, and helps me focus my thoughts. And performing is an emotional outlet of its own. When I'm able to go on stage and sing and shout and sweat my ass off, it's like I've exercised my demons -- I've left it all on stage.
Do you have songs that are just for yourself, or maybe just for loved ones, your wife or your family?
Andrew Carroll:I do have a couple songs that I haven't performed for anyone but my wife. Actually, there are probably quite a few that I've only performed for my wife, but I ended up scrapping them, because they were crap. But there are a couple that I like, that I've never performed for an audience, for whatever reason. Maybe I will someday.
Why do you think you chose music to express yourself?
Andrew Carroll: I don't know if I really know why. Since I was a little kid I've always loved music and have wanted to immerse myself in it. When I was about five years old, I would listen to my dad's jazz records and I wanted to play the saxophone. When I got a little older I got turned on to rock n' roll, and wanted to play the guitar. And from the moment I picked up the guitar I was always more interested in trying to make something up and write songs than learning other people's songs.
How has your relationship with music evolved as you've grown up? Is music a struggle or a joy?
Andrew Carroll: Music is and always has been a joy for me. I think the day it stops being fun is the day I'll have to throw in the towel and find another creative outlet. But it has also become more of a struggle as I've gotten older. At a certain point music became not only a passion, but also a career goal. There's pressure to not only write good music that I love, but to make a living doing it. Also, the songwriting process itself has become more of a struggle as I've gotten older, mainly because I demand more of myself, especially lyrically. I demand a certain level of honesty, and directness that I didn't used to have in my songs.
What do you enjoy more, writing the song, or playing the song?
Andrew Carroll: If I had to choose, I'd say playing the song. I love the writing process, but I love hearing the finished product even more.
What elements of Southern California makes it into your songs?
Andrew Carroll: I think we're definitely influenced by the vast desert landscape of Southern California, which comes out in the expansive, or cinematic quality, as you put it, in our music. The songs are also influenced by the immigrant community and culture in Los Angeles. "Everything You Need" is built around a mariachi-inspired trumpet line, and the song, "Right Side of the Road" is basically about the immigrant experience. It's about the "haves" and the "have-nots." People come to this country looking for work, trying to make a home and a better life for themselves and their families, and so often people try to criminalize them and keep them out, forgetting that we're a country of immigrants.
North East L.A. has a really tight community of musicians and artists. How has that affected your creative process?
Andrew Carroll:The music community here is amazing. I think there's a healthy level of competitiveness, but ultimately, it's very supportive and collaborative. I helped produce another friend's album, Jessi and Ryan have played trumpet on other bands' records. Overall it's a great network of friends.
Top image: The Lonely Wild | Photo: Colin Young-Wolff.
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