Interview: The Wandering Hearts on “Mother”

Adapting to the post-pandemic world and rediscovering the essence of the band.

A lot has changed in the music industry since Americana UK last chatted with The Wandering Hearts when we were coming out of the pandemic. The changes they have had to face since then reflect the post-pandemic times that every musician and band have had to deal with. However, the band have responded to the new realities of the music industry with a new album ‘Mother’ which is being released on the reactivated legendary Chrysalis record label. Americana UK’s Martin Johnson caught up with The Wandering Hearts at their individual homes throughout the UK over Zoom to discuss ‘Mother’ and the current state of the music industry. The band explained that they have simplified their sound for the new album and concentrated on their key characteristic which is their harmonies. The two girl members also explained that they became mothers during the recording of the album and how this influenced the songwriting. Whatever the personal and career challenges and changes that are thrown the band’s way, they all make clear that singing together is what they feel they were meant to do and that this creative part of their lives has never posed any problems, and it is something they love doing. While ‘Mother’ may have increased the acoustic folk aspect of The Wandering Hearts sound, they explained the story behind ‘River To Cry’ which is the statement track of the album, and they explain that ‘Mother’ is the first record to feature members of their road band.

How are you, how have things been since we last spoke about two and a half years ago?

Chess Whiffin (CW): They’re good, I feel like we are back on track, but it’s a different landscape since COVID. The music industry is different and if things were hard before, they are even harder now so we are just doing everything we can to build that momentum back and we are getting there.

A J Dean-Revington (AJ): We also like to make things more difficult for ourselves because as you said, it was hard enough before, and COVID made things even more challenging in an already challenging field, and then you two decided to have babies.

Tara Wilcox (TW): We thought we would add the stress of sleep deprivation into the mix to see where it got us. There is a song on ‘Mother’ called ‘Tired’ which we probably foresaw.

TW: We wrote that before babies, so we didn’t know the meaning of tired then.

AJ:  There needs to be a special new edit with crying sounds in the background.

TW: Our crying sounds.

CW: Just me and Tara sobbing.

How much have recent events influenced ‘Mother’?

TW: It changed the way we approached writing and recording, and even the ethos around it. Chess was pregnant when we started making the record and I was pregnant at the end of it, and something Chess said really resonated and that was the kind of perspective you get when your time is more limited, the focus that this is something I do because I absolutely love it. So the time we got together making this record, aside from being pregnant or mums and stuff, became more vital because of this lifeblood between the three of us, it was this thing that we do and this thing that we love doing. I think that it definitely impacted the making of this record.

Last time we spoke you’d just been to Woodstock to record and now with ‘Mother’ I believe you recorded it in Darlington.

CW: Yeah, just outside of Darlington. I live in a little village outside of Darlington, and the front cover features our music room, and my house became a little hub. When we were writing on Zoom I was obviously in there, and we workshopped a lot of the stuff in there and we recorded a lot of the vocals, and we made some of the tracks here, and then we recorded bits in London and at another studio here in Darlington. It all started to feel intimate, and as Tara has said, becoming mums has had an impact on our perspective on things, but wider than that, as A J said previously, we were writing these songs when there was so much going on in the world and a lot going on personally, and the songs are the songs we wrote because we needed to hear them. It was a kind of therapy for us in a lot of ways.

AJ: I’m not a mother, I’m a mother but not a mother, and people have often said you’ve never had a baby what’s the craic? When we were thinking about it I think with the girls becoming mothers and going through labour, we were just talking about motherhood a lot in general and what it means in terms of our own experiences with our own mothers. Thinking about what a mother means there were all these different elements and the different things a mother can represent at different times. I think part of that for us is the therapeutic and cathartic nature of writing that we enjoy. We started to look at it as if the songs were taking on a mothering role with us, songs we had to write to hear them,  like when you can feel something really strongly sometimes you don’t accept you feel that way until you say it out loud.

Writing these songs had an element of that for us, we were writing songs that came from a very personal place at a time that it meant a great deal to us. I think that for us as people, it is easy to lose sight of how we are feeling at a specific moment, and particularly if that is something you really need to remind yourself of at times with regard to how you are going to move on from there. We used those songs in a way to mother us and give ourselves that element of security, but also to remind us of where we are going next and to put a bit of an arm around us.   ‘About America’ is a song and yes it’s a story that we were given by a friend of ours, a true story, that evolved into what it is now. That was also a song about the nature of songs and what they mean to us, how a song can be a shield for us or just words and a tune, or it can be a memory and something you can use to bolster you up when you really need it. There are a lot of songs on the album that we had to look for them to mother us back a bit, and in the same way, we mothered them because we created them but now they have to be birthed into the world. Is that enough metaphor, I think we’ve just met that quota, no more metaphors.

The opening track ‘About America’ had something of an Appalachian feel, and you seem to have simplified the sound on the whole album. Do you agree with that?

TW: It’s funny, when we signed our first record deal it happened really quickly and we signed to Decca, and we are so grateful to them for giving us that first opportunity, but the record we made when we played live people would go, god, it doesn’t really sound like the record, and we were like, I guess so. When you strip it down it’s always the three of us singing and playing, and of all the things that have felt challenging being in a band, writing songs and singing together has never been difficult, it has always been pure joy. What’s so nice about this record is we didn’t have a record deal when we made this record, and while A J talks about the songs mothering us we needed this album like some form of life raft. The pandemic had come, and we didn’t really know what the music industry would look like, so we were like what would be the music we would write, what would be the music we would listen to, how would that music sound if we didn’t have to consider anybody else’s opinion, anybody’s opinion of what a radio single should be, or what the ideal drum pattern is. I mean, I don’t know anything about drum patterns but we do know about songs, we know about harmony, we know about messaging, and so, yes, it was intentional and yes it did help budget-wise because we weren’t doing massive studio sessions with a full band, but we did for the first time get our band to play on the record. We are so fortunate to have Siân Monaghan play drums with us live, so this is the first time we had her play on a record, we had our friend Lee on bass, and Chess’s husband Steve Millbourne produced this record. So it felt like a family project, which is very different to the first couple of records we made.

CW: Just adding to that, I think the way we recorded this was different. Ordinarily, we would build up a track to a formed track, and then we would record our vocals, but with this, we just had a scratch guitar part down and then we just sang the vocals in. So, the vocals were always the centre point and we built the track around them, so depending on what we felt the track needed we weren’t trying to match the track, the track was matching where we were going vocally. I think that’s why it hasn’t got the kitchen sink on every track because it doesn’t need it. It could have it for sure, we could do it, and there is one song on there that is just Tara all the way through, and I was chomping at the bit to put a harmony part down. I could hear it in my head, I was like I can hear the harmony but then I was like it doesn’t need it, but I did get one line in. That’s all it needed, one line one note, and that’s the first time I think we’ve ever done that.

AJ: That was a bit of a lesson.

CW: We had a chance to explore and experiment with things like that. It is one person singing, it doesn’t need three-part harmonies all the way through, and it doesn’t need drums on every track. We really had the freedom to experiment on this record, and we were very lucky when Jeremy from Chrysalis heard it he was like, this is amazing, let’s do it, I want to sign this record. We then had a bit of his input which was brilliant, and we’ve worked with him for years now and we really trust his opinion on things. So he came on board and helped create what is the album by helping us to narrow down the songs as the songs were written and tracks were essentially all there. It was a different way for us to make a record and it gave us the freedom, and the knowledge going forward, of how we can make records in the future. Going into big studios with amazing producers is also very good fun, but we know if we can’t do that we can still make music, we can still do it.

AJ: It is amazing to have that in our sights because we know we can do it, but I think one of the things with the pandemic was obviously you couldn’t just go to someone’s studio with all the restrictions, but when we could get together the one thing we could do was sing together with three voices. Having the ability to do something as basic as that, how can we make that interesting, it made us concentrate on the dynamics and the pureness and simplicity of layering different harmonies, finding a tune and then messing around with it and then slightly messing with that dynamic to go this is our base, how do we make it more interesting. It doesn’t mean the ceiling has to be high, like you said Chess, but when it’s contained you have a lot more control, and it is easier and cheaper to make.

The longest track on the album is ‘River To Cry’ and it has different phases, do you see that as the statement track of the album?

CW: Yes, ‘River To Cry’ is definitely a statement track. We didn’t actually write it, and it is the second song we’ve taken that we’ve not written and put on a record. We got sent it by a friend who we’ve written with before, a girl called Dee Adams, and there was another writer, a guy, on it as well. They sent it and said this is a Wandering Hearts song, please have a listen to it because it has Wandering Hearts all over it. When we heard it, we were like, that is an amazing song we have to take it, and of course, we made it sound more like us. We sort of de-Fleetwood Mac’d it a bit.

AJ: Just enough.

CW: Yes, just enough, and Wandering Hearts it a little bit more, and yeah, I feel like we did write it, I feel like it is our song in the sense that we put our spin on it. It is great to have a song like that, that is that big, and like Tara said, to get Siân and do it live. That’s one of the things I remember thinking when I first heard it, it’s going to be awesome to play live. It’s a cool song, a good one on the record.

AJ: It is a really fun one to get into on a gig. When we were in the States recently doing a radio tour it was just the three of us, but because that tune was playing out there we were playing it a lot, but we hadn’t done it as a three before we’d just done it with the band. There’s a bit of safety in that, but it is also kind of limiting because you can’t take the band everywhere. It was interesting doing it as a three because it really made us home in on what elements of the song really work. That was kind of interesting in that regard, taking it back, because that was something we hadn’t done before.

CW: Previously we just wouldn’t have played it.

What can the audience expect on your up-and-coming tour of the UK, and how much of ‘Mother’ will be in the setlist?

CW: As much as we can possibly play.

TW: With a new record coming out, we are like, can we just play the whole album, but people were like, the album would have been out for seconds, so you will have to play other stuff as well. There will be a really nice mix, we are just working through the setlist. It will be a nice mix of our three albums, but there’s definitely a fair few from ‘Mother’ that we are so excited to play. We’ve also got the incredible Pearl Charles who is opening for us on this tour, she is just amazing. Then there’s going to be some really stripped-back harmony stuff, really intimate and maybe kind of unplugged and then really back to the opposite and play ‘River To Cry’ and throw the kitchen sink at it.

AJ: Maybe one or two bad jokes.

Who’s doing the babysitting for the tour?

TW: To be fair, the dads. We are lucky, we have tons of support, and as they say, it takes a village. We either take them with us or leave them at home, we are lucky to have loads of hands on deck to help which means when the kids are there they are happy and we get some sleep.

You are on Chrysalis Records, a label with a prestigious history. How did that come about?

AJ: When we were first starting the band the very first publisher to come to us was Blue Raincoat Music Publishing, and we’ve been with them since the beginning, and Jeremy Lascelles, the CEO, basically resurrected Chrysalis. So, we already had a connection through Jeremy and he had said before he would really like to do an album project with us. It was only when all this came about because originally we’d talked about doing a folk album, and About America’ was one of the first tracks we put together and as you said, it has a bit more of that folksiness to it. So we had a couple and we were presenting them to him, and he said let’s hear all your stuff, and we were like, well we’ve got these tunes that are great but they’re not very folkie. When he listened to them he thought they were great, and he was like, forget the folk album just make the album it will be great, and that was it. As soon as he was excited about it, it was game on.

That must have made you feel pretty good about the songs.

TW: Yeah. It was also hard because there was something about it being achievable doing a folk record with just the three of us, and just being able to find a way of doing that, but we have these big songs like ‘River To Cry’. There’s a song on the album called ‘Hold Your Tongue’, and you can hear where that is going sonically, but for us we were thinking how are we going to do this, how are we going to find a producer to do this, and mixers influence this, and to find someone to come in and say they believe in this project and I will financially back this project so you can find some help to make this record. It was a real confidence boost to us that what we felt was special and important that someone outside of that was going, you’re right, let’s do it. That’s been incredible.

AJ: It is true, and I suppose it’s true for lots of creative artists and projects, there is a gap after you’ve created something. You’ve spent so much time creating something and in the moment it feels incredible and it can’t be wrong, and there is that space between finishing the thing and then coming back to it to make a thing of it, or you just come back to it, because time changes things and opinions change and you go, no that’s crap or it doesn’t even look like a person. What is really nice is having that gap between where you go all insecure and then being vindicated in that way. It is a huge relief and it is also a huge boost, at a time when we really needed it.

At AUK, we like to share music with our readers. What are three of your favourite tracks, albums or artists on your playlists?

CW: I’ve just been listening to Kacey Musgraves’ new song, ‘Deeper Well’, which is the title track off her new album, and I’ve put it on a few times now and it is just a beautiful song. I saw her performing it and she was performing it live and she was just faultless vocally and everything. She’s just amazing.

TW: I keep listening to Tiny Habits, they just do stripped-back harmonies that make me cry, and they remind me of the beauty in just stripping things down and listening. I keep coming back to them.

AJ: I’ve been listening to a lot of Shakey Graves.

Finally, do you want to say anything to our UK readers?

TW: Thank you for following and sticking with us. It will be ten years next year since we met and it feels like a long time. It is lovely to have new fans and hopefully, we’ll pick up any new fans who will be there and we’d love to meet you. It has just been lovely having people continue to support us and come to our gigs, and what have you, now even more than ever because music has become so disposable. It is so easy to listen to it, it doesn’t always have the value attributed to it that it should. People who buy records, listen to records and come to gigs are more special now than ever, and they are the reason the music industry will survive, or it won’t, but I think it will. So, the number one thing for me is thanks. Being practical, come to the tour it will be really good.

CW: Tell all your friends.

AJ: Don’t buy music from robots.

TW: You can follow us on all the socials.

AJ: And TikTok, we occasionally TikTok

The Wandering Hearts’ ‘Mother’ is out now on Chrysalis Records.

The Wandering Hearts Tour Dates 

Weds 3 – Leeds, Brudenell Social Club
Thurs 4 – Nottingham, Rescue Rooms
Fri 5 – Sheffield, Leadmill
Sun 7 – Bristol, The Fleece
Mon 8 – Brighton, Komedia
Tues 9 – Oxford, O2 Academy
Thurs 11 – Norwich, Arts Centre
Fri 12 – London, Electric Brixton
Sat 13 – Cardiff, Tramshed

About Martin Johnson 387 Articles
I've been a music obsessive for more years than I care to admit to. Part of my enjoyment from music comes from discovering new sounds and artists while continuing to explore the roots of American 20th century music that has impacted the whole of world culture.
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