The Dream Pop Quintet’s Journey, One Firm Step at a Time
We’re in an era when focus is hard to come by. Distractions and obstacles create these invisible piles in front of us, phantom mounds we can’t always figure out how to tackle. It’s challenging for anyone, especially when you’re an artist trying to pull your creation from that thin, blocked air. It doesn’t come easy, but if you’re determined, it’s there. Wild Ones seems to know this.
The Portland-based dream pop band has been making a name for themselves in the last couple years with their strong debut, Keep It Safe, but it wasn’t something that just came easily. Wild Ones didn’t even come together overnight. Members Danielle Sullivan and Thomas Himes have been making music together for the last nine years in various projects, but Wild Ones took shape in 2010, with their EP, You’re a Winner, creating a bit of a Northwest stir. However, in 2012, as the group was getting ready to release their first full-length album, there were financial grapples, health issues and band member fluctuation. The phantom mounds. These huge, and unfortunately common issues for a young band are often enough to dissolve a project. Despite all this, Wild Ones knew what they wanted and kept focus.
“We all have been playing in different types of scenes since we were teenagers, and I think we all just want it so bad, and before Keep It Safe had never released anything that was truly our own work,” said Danielle Sullivan, vocalist of Wild Ones. “There was very little that could’ve come between us putting out our first project that we could truly own.
“Seve our drummer was in the hospital with a collapsed lung,” she continued. “And I think honestly part of his getting better was getting excited about what was coming next, and learning songs, and listening to songs and demos.”
So the group pushed, and health-wise and financially, things fell into place. Their debut, Keep It Safe, was released in 2013 by Party Damage Records and re-released in 2014 by Top Shelf Records. The record embodies dream pop at its sweetest—lush and light synth, simplistic drum beats and Sullivan’s harmonized vocals cutting through like beams of light.
“It’s super layered, and I think we did that because we enjoy that style, but also because I don’t think we felt 100 percent confident in all the parts that we made, that they could really stand alone, so we would just layer five different parts on top of each other,” Sullivan said.
Wild Ones have begun work on their forthcoming, yet-to-be-named record. Though only their second record, Wild Ones have their rhythm down in all capacities, specifically with how songwriting is delegated. In their group, everyone gets a chance to have their say with new songs, regardless of who originates the idea. As a result, the band passes demos from hand to hand, going through a couple rounds until everyone’s given their input.
“Thomas and I have been playing in bands since we were about 18 or 19 years old,” Sullivan said. “We’ve been in other bands where there’s one primary songwriter and it’s more that person coming up with 95 percent of the parts. I think that model works really well for some bands, but I think in order for everyone to feel equally invested and excited every time we come up with something new, everybody has to have their part in it. We’re each gonna write our parts, even if it takes 30 times longer to make a record.”
This demoing process has been going on for several months, with intermittent tour excursions. While some bands prefer to hunker down and finish a record in nearly one sitting, Wild Ones seem to thrive off the live-performance test drive of each new song.
“We went on six tours and played I think 95 shows last year, and it informed so much of what works and what doesn’t work in a song.” Sullivan said. “It’s the best sounding board when you’re playing the new song [live] that you think is the best thing you’ve ever done and you look at people’s faces and there’s a certain part of the song where they’re just not engaged and you lose them for a second, or parts where people fully feel in the moment because of some turn in the song. It’s a very good way of weeding out songs that are just not gonna be engaging.”
The level of strength that transpires through their live set is palpable. Aspects of the first record that feel more angelic and airy become more grounded in their live performances, and new songs show definite growth. The synths feel less forward and more textural, while the bass elements and drums seem to darken and drive the songs. Sullivan’s vocals feel less like a falsetto tiptoe and more projected and focused, a conscious choice in her lyrical approach to new songs as well.
“Of course putting out your first record, those were some of the first songs I’d ever written, so I kind of shrouded my meaning in more general themes that I felt like could be understood in many different ways, and on one hand was like, ‘I like that because it’s dream pop and it should apply to many different ideas,’ then realizing I was nervous to say something so clear and direct there was no way to misconstrue what I was trying to say,” Sullivan said. “Writing this record has been going in the opposite direction, thinking, ‘I’m going to do my best to be a good storyteller, and write stories that people can truly understand.’”
“This record has really been trying to make the simplest pop song, that doesn’t need a million different parts and strange key changes or weird 5/4 timing, that it can be direct and confident, and more simple,” Sullivan said.
The release date of the new record is yet to be determined, though you can hear a few live versions of songs floating around online, and catch them at LowBrau on March 10, 2015. Whatever form you hear them in, it’ll be a breath of fresh, focused air.
Check out Wild Ones live (for FREE) at LowBrau on March 10, 2015, as part of Le Twist Tuesdays. LowBrau is located in the MARRS Building at 1050 20th Street in Sacramento. To see what LowBrau has on tap and on their menu, go to Lowbrausacramento.com, and for more about Wild Ones, check out Wildonestheband.com.