By: Julia Wejchert
In front of a parking sign defaced with an environmentalist rebuke (“there used to be trees here”) in the alley behind Arlington, Virginia’s IOTA Café, Kinsey Lee, Sharon Silva, and Mackenzie Howe of the Wild Reeds discussed adding two male members to their band, Los Angeles’ influence on their music, and their unglamorous touring lifestyle.
As we sat in a semi-circle of plastic chairs unstacked from the café’s back patio, just slightly too chilled to be open, the setting fit right in with what they joked is the usual level of luxury they experience on the road. From spooning on a deflating mattress to comparing going into a gas station to opening the fridge over and over again when you haven’t gone grocery shopping, the threesome portrayed their tour as both unnervingly exciting and a sleep-deprived whirlwind.
Prior to the interview, I told the band the struggle of not capturing the candid conversations that happen prior to turning the mics on for femchord.fm; and so, obviously, the phenomenon continued as soon we turned off the recorder. The band told us how women are killin’ it in the LA music scene with more than equal representation, yet they can’t understand being compared to the Dixie Chicks, instead of similar-sounding bands who just happen to be all men.
I wish we’d captured that word for word, but you’ll just have to ask them about that the next time you see them on tour. Here’s what we did record.
femchord: Could you tell us a little bit about how The Wild Reeds got together and got started?
Kinsey: We kind of started in college. Sharon and I met in college and we were a two-piece band for a little while; and then we met Mackenzie a little later, from college, after college. And, I don’t know, we just started playing, all singing solo and backing each other up. And then we just decided to create the band.
fc: What made you decide to add two more band members?
K: It was just a natural progression, I think. We were writing a little heavier stuff that we wanted to hear the bass and drums involved with, so we decided to take it to the next step and have a five-piece band.
fc: How did that change the dynamic, with adding two more people, but also adding two more men, when you had been all women?
Sharon: We actually went through a bunch of auditions for drummers. We knew that we wanted to work with our bass player for a few years; he was always like, ‘I would love to be involved if you ever want a rhythm section.’ And our drummer was our last audition. We just wanted somebody that fit well. We threw a new song at him that he had never heard before, and we all agreed that it was the feel that we wanted. He was able to interpret the song pretty well.
The dynamic, though, obviously shifted. We were used to these three-piece tours with all girls, which has a lot of pros but has some cons, you know. And I wasn’t used to playing with a drummer and neither was Kinsey, and Mac was pretty fresh to it as well, so we had to sharpen ourselves as musicians. We were largely just based off of feel, knowing each other’s voices and how each other push and pull, groove. I’m still working on that.
I think it raised the songs to a higher potential; they’re just a little bit beefier, like Kinsey was saying.
K: As far as having boys in the band, though, they’re really awesome dudes. It’s kind of funny how they’re personalities have morphed to be similar to ours.
Mackenzie: And there are moments too where… We’ve done a three-piece tour since they’ve joined the band. That was really fun because we could tour in a Prius. But, you know, we do all share a hotel room with the guys.
K: When we get our own rooms, it’s like “YEAAHHHH.”
M: But there are moments when we feel an extra level of brotherhood and comraderie. We could definitely do it all on our own, but there are some pros to having them around. God, I hate to be traditional about it, but there have been some scary, crazy things that have happened and it’s really nice to have brothers that are like, ‘I’m here for you. I got you.’ And we’ve all got each other; we look out for each other. But it feels like our pack grew. It’s good.
fc: I know that you guys are from LA, and it seems like you sing about that in ‘Blind and Brave.’ A lot of folk-rock has a lot of influence from people’s location, but I thought with you it was an interesting take on that, since LA is a more urban setting. Could you talk a little bit about that and how LA has influenced you, and your work.
K: That’s a good question. A lot people scratch their heads when they hear we’re from LA. They’re like, ‘A folk-rock band coming from LA?’ The scene is very small for Americana music. Which is kind of fun, because we’ve created a really good community of close friends that all play together.
M: I think more recently, aside from the diversity—LA is insanely diverse, and musically it is too. All of our friends are yes, in county and folk and Americana bands, but we have friends in punk bands, psych bands, hip hop projects, and all kinds of stuff. It’s funny, because we err on the side of roots music in LA but we leave LA and people are like, ‘You guys are almost a psych-rock band!’ And it’s so funny. We come from all psych-rock bands in LA, so I think we’ve started have hints of that in our music, and you can hear it.
Who said this the other day? ‘When you go to the festival and you’re the rock band at the country festival, but then you go to the rock festival and you’re the country band because you have a banjo’.
LA has definitely influenced us, at least more recently, in trying out some stuff that is not traditionally folk or Americana.
S: You have every opportunity there. It’s not so cookie cutter. You could play any given venue and change up your genre. Our friends and our fan base have really stayed with us through that. I don’t know, when I think of LA, I think of ‘you can do anything.’
I wrote that song, Blind and Brave, right before I finished college, before I moved to LA, officially, as an adult. I saw a lot of friends working in the music industry and that really inspired me to just keep going.
K: I think it’s a big benefit for us [the small scene in LA], because we’re kind of able to create our own scene, with alternative venues and our own shows. There is a hunger for that, and for strong lyrical content, which folk music has a history of. So, it’s been really cool to help the Americana scene grow.
fc: You all take turns singing the lead in songs, how do you decide that? What’s the songwriting process like?
S: Well, we kind of just present a song as we go. Our first couple of albums, we just gathered all of the songs that we had and it actually turned out to be somewhat even. We really like the idea of rotating singers. I think it makes it a little more interesting. As far as deciding though, it’s whatever song that we get the most from and we like to perform.
K: Typically the person who writes the song sings the main, because they’re usually the one most passionate about it. It has changed before, where [someone’s] like, ‘I actually wrote this song with you in mind.’ But typically you get the rawest emotional moments from the person who wrote the song.
M: The reaction is very interesting for people to watch three female sort-of-lead singers. They just don’t quite know… At first if we start of a set with me singing or with Sharon singing, and then the second song is someone different, and then by the third song they’re like, ‘What??’ But a lot of times, by the end, people have very positive feedback.
You have to have zero insecurity about it. And by the end, they’re just convinced. You didn’t have to explain it, it just worked.
S: We used to like to say that we didn’t have a lead singer. But that turns out to be a little more confusing. So we do try to purposefully make it even because it creates a balance. It’s really complete with three; and, obviously we focus on the three-part harmony, so it just makes sense.
fc: You guys did a Tiny Desk Concert a few months ago. What was that like? And what has been the impact of that?
K: It was really awesome. And it was really serendipitous. We didn’t know we were doing it until the morning before. We had hoped and we had talked to Bob previously, but we hadn’t heard back. So, some really cool stuff happened with their engineer Josh. We had called him and he handed the phone to Bob, who was like, ‘Yeah, we had a band call out so come in tomorrow.’
So we came in the next day, prepared, because that’s what we really wanted. We were excited and nervous about it. And ever since then it’s been really cool to see all these people in states that we’ve never been to that are like, ‘Oh, I saw your Tiny Desk.’
You know, we can work the West coast as hard as we want, or the East coast as hard as we want, but it takes years.
M: Witchita. We can’t work Witchita as hard as we want!
K: It takes years to cover the whole United States. But we showed up in Chicago and we had like 130 people at our show. We had never been there before. So it’s been a really cool thing for us.
fc: One of the things that’s been cool for me watching that was hearing some of your new material. So can you tell us a little bit about your new album that you’re working on?
M: We’ve been writing since Blind and Brave, which, it’s been like three years. The album came out a year and a half ago, but it took a while to come out. When you’ve got three songwriters with three years of material, it’s a little overwhelming, honestly.
We’ve been playing these songs for a while now, to the point where we’re ready to even play new, new stuff. So we just recorded a bunch of demos over the last year. And we’ve polished some of them up and decided to put out an EP. That’s under the radar right now, but should be coming out in May. We brought it on tour just to get it out there. It’s got three new songs on it, two of which we did at our Tiny Desk.
I think it’s just going to help us have a new product until the album comes out. I think we’re ready to do a new album, but it just has to do with timing, and a producer, and finances. And, we’re touring like crazy, so it’s like, when is it going to happen?’ Our new EP is called Best Wishes.
fc: Is there anything in particular you really want to do musically in the future?
K: There’s a lot of goals.
S: Yeah, we want to go far.
K: We want it to be a career. And all of us came into this band understanding that this isn’t just our hobby. Recently, a lot of us have stepped away from our consistent jobs and we’ve decided to start touring as full time as our minds will let us.
And it’s been really cool to have the support—we’ve had a lot of support—in the way of people pushing us and encouraging us.
M: I think it’s a sort of sky’s the limit thing.
Author: Julia Wejchert
Julia is the co-founder of femchord. She wrote about music for her college newspaper before getting a master’s in gender policy and then returning to writing about music (and gender).