Though based in Nashville, Tennessee, nothing of the electronic indie act Wild Cub reeks of the Grand Ole Opry. The band's excellent first album, Youth, is more Peter Gabriel than Hank Williams, with polished worldly beats rather than confessional crooning.
When New Times spoke with Wild Cub singer Keegan DeWitt, he said that was purely intentional. Eager to stand out from a glut of singer-songwriters, Wild Cub hopes to be an actual band. In a telephone interview well before their upcoming performance at Coral Skies Music Festival, DeWitt shared how his group stands out in their hometown, what musicians influenced him, and how his work scoring films impacted Wild Cub.
New Times: How did Wild Cub first form?
Keegan DeWitt: I'd been in New York for nine years in the film composer world and came to Nashville initially because I wanted to do singer-songwriter stuff. I got here and realized the last thing Nashville needs is more white guys playing acoustic guitars. It also fell into me realizing the way I wanted to tell stories had a lot more to do with film than I originally thought it did. The idea of topical songwriting with an acoustic guitar wasn't clicking the way a band where I could pull my face back was. A broader, fragmentary way of telling stories appealed to me more.
Nashville is a rarity in that there's not a lot of people looking to be in a band. So we bonded over doing a thing where your face is maybe not on the record cover and tell stories in a more anonymous way.
Your sound is different than the Nashville stereotype. Beyond the country scene there's Jack White and the Black Keys living there. Is there an electro scene too you're a part of?
There really isn't. There's some DJ culture here, but we don't fall into that. In terms of what we do, there really isn't much. For me, I moved to Nashville because it was cheap and I knew there was a music business here. The entirety of my time in New York was spent making money so I could live in New York. Nashville gave me the luxury to spend 110 percent of my time making music.
My first exposure to Wild Cub was your video for "Thunder Clatter." The song plays completely differently when hearing it within your album Youth. When you write your songs, do you think of them in the context of the album or is each song its own entity?
"Thunder Clatter" was the first song we recorded. It was during that transitional time when I was thinking: Do I want to be a singer-songwriter or part of a band? I like to think the record is patchwork. There's really great albums where each song connects to the next song in a cohesive piece. Then there are other records like Badly Drawn Boy's The Hour of Bewilderbeest where it's 15 songs long with 10 different types of music. That was always exciting to me to create every song however I wanted to, as far as arrangement, style, or theme. I thought it would be more rewarding if there was a huge variety on there.
One weak point in the way people are listening to music is that they're like, "What have you got for me," rather than "What is this?" which is a lot more of an exciting way to experience anything, let alone art.
Are there other albums besides Badly Drawn Boy's that gave you that "What is this?" curiosity you're hoping to provoke in other people?
I grew up in Portland, Oregon, so I learned to record on a 4 track listening to Elliott Smith and when he was coming out with the later records I was getting into Jon Brion who was essentially using recording and arranging as part of the song. The idea of keeping it authentic by these bedroomy artists was inspiring to me.
On our record, I knew there was going to be an electronic element and right now electronic music is so polished and fine-tuned. It's incredible what they can do production wise. I knew our record wasn't going to be like that. I'm not that astute a producer, so I figured how can I embrace this. Let's take that crappy 4 track recorder that I first learned to write songs on, and let's take all these beats we put in a computer that are put in this grid and let's put them on the recorder and then back on to the computer so that everything wobbles. So we tried to give the album texture by giving it that kind of authenticity.
Did your film score work influence Wild Cub as well?
It influenced the way I tell stories. I give people little sparks of darkness instead of giving them the entirety of what's happening. By doing that, you're hopefully engaging their personal history. By giving people little sparks it opens it up for them to think about past relationships. Where were they sitting at that very moment listening to the song? By not being super literal, you're engaging people to bring in a lot more dynamics that makes things a lot more interesting than anything I could put in the song to begin with.
What's your live show like?
There's a different approach between live shows in general verses the record. There's an urgency that we have to bring so it's physical and engaging. It's lots of people playing drums. It give us the opportunity to connect on an emotional level rather than playing tight songs. There's a heightened drama already being in front of a lot of people playing a song, so I like to connect. Music is a way for people to acknowledge and experience emotions in ways they might not normally.
Were there live shows you saw as a teenager that hit that level you're trying to reach?
The very first moment of me realizing how exciting popular music can be was watching U2's Rattle and Hum documentary. It's this moment for U2 before they veer off into a weird territory. I remember seeing the entire thing and the drama was palpable. I just had the same experience seeing the Killers a couple months ago where you realize how rare it is to have music that exists on this grander more intense scale. Everyone walks around with these intense emotions, and it's tough to digest these things, music on this larger scale can help people do that.
Coral Skies Music Festival. Sunday, October 26. Cruzan Amphitheatre, 601-7 Sansburys Way, West Palm Beach. Early bird tickets go on sale Monday, July 14 through Thursday, July 17 and cost $20 plus fees via coralskiesfest.com/tickets. General admission tickets go on sale Friday, July 18 and cost $30 to $150 plus fees via coralskiesfest.com/tickets. Call 561-795-8883, or visit Facebook.
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