In today’s industry-driven musical climate, it’s very rare and all the more refreshing to see a band grow strictly through word-of-mouth and hard work. And if there’s any justice out there, you’ll be hearing a lot from Wildcat! Wildcat! in the near future. A Los Angeles three-piece (and sometimes more) featuring Jesse Taylor on bass, Jesse Carmichael on drums and Michael Wilson on keys, the players have known each other since high school, and while they’ve worked together before, Wildcat! Wildcat!’s musical journey began somewhat recently– and at first had no intention of becoming an actual long-term project. Beginning 2013 year with only a limited edition 7-inch and a few tracks on Soundcloud available to their listeners, the band continued to build a loyal hometown fanbase and performed well-populated residencies before hitting the road for SXSW. Playing eight shows in just four days, they quickly became my favorite discovery of 2013’s festival and became known around Austin as one of the festival’s hardest working unsigned bands. On record, Wildcat! Wildcat!’s sound is a sonic onslaught of majestic and perfectly polished pop electronica, providing an intensive listening experience made for both headphones and dancefloors. The twinkle of the keys provides a blinding, shimmering summertime feel, while thunderous drums and bass-led grooves culminate in three-part falsetto harmonies and addictive melodies leaving their fans hungry for more. Wildcat! Wildcat!’s exquisite four-song, self-titled EP was released nearly a year ago on Downtown Records, with their first LP hitting stores last week. The band came through Boston this week and showed they still had that magic summer sound and a slew of great new songs. I caught up with Michael Wilson last year to talk about the band’s future as they got ready to play their first east coast shows. It is most likely one of the first interviews with the band. No, it’s not completely current, but it’s not outdated either. Enjoy, and check them out at https://soundcloud.com/wildcat-wildcat Hey is this Michael?
Yes this is Michael.
Where are you at now?
We are in Indiana.
That’s a pretty epic journey from LA to Montreal.
Yeah it’s pretty nuts. It’s definitely the most gnarly journey I’ve ever had in a car. I think we did 32 hours straight the first day or whatever you want to call it. Stupid is probably what you would call it.
I caught you guys down in Texas and you were one of the best things I saw down there. I know you guys played a ton out there and were warriors at that festival.
Which ones did you see?
I saw the Sonos show and the Fader day party on the last day.
Those were really good shows for us. We weren’t even sure we were going to make it that far.
Yeah it’s super intense in this business and things change so quickly and it’s funny because you usually have a while to make these “big” decisions, but then the big decisions all of a sudden need to be changed in like four hours. We had literally four hours to find out whether we wanted to change the dates or not, and it was really hard for us because even though we hadn’t sold a ton of tickets, we really appreciate people buying tickets early. It was really hard for us to play our own show, but we are basically trying to work out some other things. We basically created an email account specifically for that reason and so that people can reach out to us. We’re trying facilitate things so people can come see us quicker, maybe even to some of the Ms. Mr. dates.
When I saw you in Texas, you guys were a four-piece, but everything I’m reading about you only mentions three people. Was that just a rare occurrence?
No, as far as live goes it’s always been four and it will probably always be four because we don’t ever want to be a track-heavy band. We want to always play the music that you hear. There are really minimal background sounds that we put on tracks, but as far as main parts, when we’re on stage you’re never wondering where certain sounds are coming from. We always have a four-piece live, but as far as writing and producing and band decisions, it’s always been me and the two Jesses. We just hire guys out. It’s another tough situation as far as who plays and if they’re friends or not. Sometimes it can be bit sticky with that situation because it’s really hard to explain that situation. They’re in the band essentially and everyone sees them onstage and they’re playing the parts, but they’re not really in the band I guess.
There’s very little information about you guys out there, which is intriguing. It says that you guys have known each other forever and played in other bands, is that true?
Essentially, yes. I’ve known them since I was 14. We all pretty much met in high school. I had done a few isolated projects with them individually, mostly with Jesse Carmichael. I never really played with Jesse Taylor, but they had been in bands together, probably too many to count. They are on another level as far as knowing each other musically. They’ve been playing together forever and I just kind of jumped in there and started working from there.
What was the sound of their other bands? Was it at all similar?
No, it was way different. They were doing more traditional guitar and bass music. I don’t even think they ever had keys in their music at all. Maybe a few little shimmers here and there. I think that was just more my musical influence on them. I think its funny because we started making these songs and they were stems from some of my ideas, so there were no guitars, just keys. We’ve obviously thought about putting guitars in there and we’ve tried a few times, but I think it’s just fine as it is and we are happy how it sounds. I think when some people come to see us live they think we’ll be less than or not as good as a traditional indie band with a guitar on stage, but I think people are okay with us not having one.
I think we played our first show Jaunary 31, 2012, so it will be two years in February. It was literally supposed to be just one show that we just wanted to play. We landed up putting out a couple songs before the show and it landed up being super-packed, which was really weird for us because we didn’t expect that at all. But sometimes these things happen with the internet these days. It’s good because there was a moment there when we had to decide if we were going to slingshot forward into very fast decisions like getting managers, getting agents and getting all these people onboard super fast and work on their time schedule, but we chose to kind of get to know ourselves and our sound and our band a little bit more. It felt a bit quick. Not that it’s a bad thing, but I think we are definitely benefiting from it because we know who we are as a band and what we’re going for and the trajectory of what we are about which is more or less gaining one fan at a time and making good albums, not just making good isolated songs. We want to make good songs, but to make them part of a collection.
When along the way did getting signed happen?
Actually it was just recently. It’s funny because we kind of went away. After we got on the scene initially, we went away to finish up our album. I don’t think that’s traditionally how you are supposed to do it because you can get off of people’s radars and finally when we had this demoed album out and we started sending them off to labels some of them were like “Hey you’re a new band, and we like your music a lot, but we just don’t know if the investment is there.” Which is fine. We didn’t want anyone to be half onboard. We were in limbo for a little bit and didn’t really know what we were doing. And even though it wasn’t necessarily what we wanted to do, Downtown had offered to do the EP and see how the partnership works and how we are together. So essentially it was a couple of months ago now. It’s an EP deal with and option for a full length.
I mean, it’s hard to say, but we are definitely wanting it to be on Downtown. We want to get our music out as quickly as possible. We don’t have that many fans, but the fans we have have definitely waited a while. We also move on as artists as well. We want to do a new album and write more. We basically want to take the path that would get the music out quicker. We had mentioned early next year like March or April and we’re really striving for that. We would love it to be on Downtown and things are looking good as far as that goes, but you never know.
Will the songs that have been out there, the ones on the EP, appear on the new record?
It’s pretty funny because a lot of people on the business side are wanting to put some of them out there, but we feel like we would cap it at one song. We want to give people new stuff and we are excited about the new stuff and not really worried about people missing the old stuff, especially because it’s on the EP as well. We don’t feel like we’ve extended ourselves and don’t feel like we can’t write more songs.
How many songs do you have ready to go?
It’s tough to say because there are alternate versions and depending on how we want the album to flow they can be switched out. Basically we have staple songs that we definitely know will be on the album.
Oh yeah, we were able to come out to New York and played a pre-VMA show and that’s the only time we’ve ever been on the east coast.
As far as songwriting goes, is it a unified effort or is there someone who does more than the rest?
Totally, we all have our strengths and the process is different every time, which we really like. We all trust the process enough to know where a song starts and if we stick with it til the end we know it will be a Wildcat song because it will go through all our filters and all of our individual musician gears and our talents are going to come out on that song. It’s pretty even and we all have our hand in each part of the song. If there was something of a starting point, the keys goes are on my end, the groove stuff with drum and bass is Jesse and Jesse and vocals and melodies are all of us.
Was it strange to play with only a 7” out and have all of these people coming to all these shows?
It was really strange because they started singing the songs that weren’t even out. They knew the songs because they had been to so many shows. And that goes with what I was saying earlier, people are so hungry for songs that people are coming to the shows just to hear the songs. They know them already. We know if we put it out that there’s going to be more of those people– maybe not millions– but people that want to come along to the shows and sing along which we are all about. We want to give our music and have people enjoy it.
Yeah, we all grew up in Ventura Country, which is like 40 miles north of LA. The two Jesse’s live in downtown LA now, and I live in Long Beach.
Were you able to quit your jobs?
Somewhat– it was a bit of a progression as far as that goes. Right now none of us have conventional day jobs. Every month getting money is different. We are by no means solely supported by music. There are different avenues we have to make money. It’s exciting, but it’s nerve-racking to not know how you’re going to pay your bills without the consistency of a job.
I don’t know. It was definitely a progression of writing that all of our songs have been. I think the vocals are definitely a process. He’s been a different person every step of the way to be honest. Which, to be honest, I kind of like that. I like songs that change their meaning, even for the artist. We’ve been changing as a band a lot even just over our past few years.
From what I remember you did 4-part harmonies.
Yeah, it’s definitely all about that and our group effort. It shows that everybody is equal and there are definitely songs where only one person is singing, but there are no songs where just one person is the lead singer. It just kind of fills the thing out. We are all really good friends making music and really participating in every ounce of the song.
As far as lyrics and background, do you start with the backing sound? Is one more important than the other?
Sometimes, especially working with some of my original ideas, there were really loose vocals or an idea, but there would be a larger arrangement before it. But recently there has been a little more of the opposite. With a lot of the stuff we are taking the lyricism of the song first and it really is different every time. That makes everything really fresh and exciting for all of us.
Is there are marked difference between recording a song and playing it live? Obviously you have less access to certain elements when you’re on stage.
Yeah, we kind of had to learn a lot of it. It was just a project that we were doing for fun and for ourselves and for us to listen to on our own and be excited about. It was just one of those things that at first we recorded the songs in parts and then we had to figure out how we are going to play it. A lot of the stuff is different live because there are too many keyboard parts and we don’t have enough hands to play all the keyboards. Parts need to be thought through, but I really enjoyed that because we really wanted us to really embody the song live in the performance and really wail and have a good time to make up for any different parts that maybe we can’t put in the song.
Do you feel like there’s a unified scene in LA? Do you guys feel that you have a lot of camaraderie with other bands?
To be honest it’s such a big music town that it’s just so hard to find that. We definitely have bands that we get along with and have played shows with, but there are so many. I think it’s almost more venue-based than promoter-based. They basically choose who they like, and in LA there are also huge booking agents booking huge bands that everybody wants to see. I wouldn’t say we’re part of any LA scene or movement or anything like that.
Well thanks for taking the time to talk to me. I’m so happy you’re finally coming east. It’s very exciting.
You should definitely come say hi. No problem. You were a very nice interviewer.