A debut album titled “Full Blast Fuckery” is bound to turn some heads. But on its second release, “Right to Rise” (Razor & Tie, June 29, 2015), Wilson has taken more of a let-the-music-do-the-talking approach, with a greater emphasis on melody and songs that tell its story in its hometown of Detroit, Michigan. The result is an album brimming with power and personality that also expands the scope of the band’s sound. Wilson is spending the late summer and early fall on the hardDrive Live Tour, reaching wider audiences as it opens for Trivium and Tremonti. When the tour came to the Starland Ballroom in Sayreville, New Jersey, Live Metal’s Greg Maki sat down outside the venue (with the soothing sounds of Tremonti soundchecking in the background) with frontman Chad Nicefield and guitarist Kyle Landry to discuss the new record, Detroit and more.
LIVE METAL: As I sit here getting ready to start asking you questions, is there anything you hope I don’t ask?
CHAD NICEFIELD: Anything having to do with meeting my ex-girlfriend’s parents would be awesome. That happened to me today. (laughs) Anything to do with that and we’re good. I don’t know. Kyle?
KYLE LANDRY: I think we’re good. Anything to do with meeting my ex-girlfriend’s parents–I don’t really care to talk about that either. I will, though. I don’t mind. I’d just feel weird about it.
OK, so what’s the first thing you think people should know about your band?
CHAD: That our band name is Wilson, and we sound like the best Friday night on Earth that you have yet to experience.
KYLE: Or at least we try to sound like that.
CHAD: I’ll be presumptuous.
So you guys are from Detroit. I’ve noticed that’s one of the places where people from there seem to have more pride in that than a lot of other places. Do you think that’s true?
CHAD: I know why. I think it’s because we live in an area of the world that’s consistently gotten a bad rap because of certain situations that are out of our current state of living there’s control, and we’re making strides to make it better with the minds that exist there now. Because of that, it sucks really hard for people like Kyle and myself who are late 20s/early 30s that are trying to make our best there. We know what our parents went through to try to provide the lives that we have now. Everybody else there feels the same way. There’s a lot of good shit inside of that city and a lot of great triumph that has come from all the blight. So for every time you read a story as a Detroiter in The New York Times or some other bullshit fuckin’ thing that tells about this bombed-out, blown-out city, we want to take a second to tell you, “Shut the fuck up and listen to us, ‘cause we live there.”
KYLE: That’s why it appears that people from Detroit tend to have a little bit more pride for where they come from. It’s because most of what you hear about Detroit is not—there’s a lot more going on than all the negative. It’s not like you go downtown and you’re at a big risk for being murdered anywhere you go and things like that. Really, there’s a lot of creative opportunity and a lot of things going on in Detroit that don’t get—Detroit gets a lot of credit in the rock ‘n’ roll world, but there’s just a lot more going on than people know about.
CHAD: We just try to—as Detroiters, not just our band but people from the city—try to show you. The news is sensationalized because that’s what gets them clicks, that’s what get them views, that’s what gets them listens. I understand that, totally. We’d probably be a little bit further along as a band if we were like, “We’re badasses that come from this criminal state!” But the reality of it is that’s not the truth. We just try to make positive turns on any negative story that could possibly get out of there, just because that’s the people that we are.
The new album came out in the summer, “Right to Rise.” When you went in to start working on it, what did you hope to accomplish?
KYLE: When we went in to start working on the record, the first step we took in writing was we went to a cabin up in the woods—it actually was my grandparents’ cabin that they own—and we wrote for a week or two up there as a full band. It was nice to write as a full band. The process was a lot smoother than we all expected it to go, which was really cool.
Was that different than how you had written in the past?
KYLE: It was, yeah. For the record before, actually, we had a different bass player. There was a different drummer for half the songs. The band that you see today has been the band for about three and a half years. So this record, it’s like we found the right people to make it come together and for us to be able to write good, cohesive pieces of music as a five-piece band. We recorded down in Atlanta with a producer, Johnny Andrews, and the process was fairly smooth. We rented out a house down there for a month, month and a half, and just locked ourselves away and wrote music for a while. That’s what you hear on “Right to Rise.” Chad?
CHAD: Yeah, the process of the record, it came together in an organic way. When we were kids writing music together, you didn’t have the tools that are available now. So you’d come over to your practice space with your buds, and you’d sit down and hash out parts. We definitely utilized technology. Jason (Spencer) would come in with a guitar part, a riff that he had an idea for, and he’d programmed some drums to show what he had in his head when he was writing the riff. And then we would come and rearrange it live together in the practice space or in (Kyle’s grandparents’) cabin or even in the house that we had in Atlanta. That natural progression of the record and what you hear is five like-minded dudes sitting down and getting to the bare bones of it, like, “I like this riff. You like this riff. Let’s make something from that riff and then find the melody together as a band, too.”
KYLE: It had nothing to do with, “We want it to be heavy,” or “We want it to be this,” or “We want it to be that.” It was just as it came, what we all liked, and we just came together and made a record based on all of our influences.
When you were writing the song “Right to Rise,” did you know that was going to be the title track and first song?
CHAD: No. That process was very strange and different for us, because in the past, like Kyle was talking about with our last record, a lot of the titles that are on our record “Full Blast Fuckery,” they started as working titles, like demo names. The majority of it was written by just a few people back and forth passing ideas around. And it was recorded by just a few people, so we didn’t have the full band then.
KYLE: “College Gangbang,” “Viking Pussies Fuck Off.” (laughs) They were working titles that after a while, we were referring to those songs by those names, and we were like, “Well, fuck it.” There was nobody there to tell us no, we couldn’t do that.
CHAD: Also, at the time, I don’t think we really thought about it, but then as we were kind of piecing that last record together, it was like we’re not gonna change the title because our band’s called Wilson. So if you try to find Wilson and a song “Love Stinks” on the Internet, it’s gonna be a lot harder to find our band versus “College Gangbang” and Wilson. That’s why our record is called “Full Blast Fuckery,” because we put it out independently and that’s gonna turn some people’s heads. The idea of what the record sounds like is we’re an in-your-face live band. That’s what we do.
With these songs that you’re hearing on “Right to Rise,” we took a different approach by thinking about melody and how that’s gonna work in a live setting. So the title track—the record wasn’t even going to be called “Right to Rise” to begin with. When we wrote the song, we wanted to talk about Detroit and we wanted to talk about our current state of living, so we chose the title “Right to Rise” and built melody around that. That was a strange, different type of discourse of writing than we’ve ever done before. It was like, here’s a song title. Let’s think about the song title. Here’s a melody. Let’s make the words and the melody work with the song title.
Was that hard?
CHAD: We worked with a producer on that record, too. He had been through these things before, and we had not. So he had a better idea of what the outcome was gonna end up being because he had seen those processes work themselves out in front of him.
KYLE: He had a process, and he had us go through the process. We just kind of adapted the process of how he has written songs in the past and used his method to help us in our own writing. The song titles may have lost their edge a little bit, I guess, on the new album, but it’s because we, more or less, didn’t have to have them stick out as much. With this record and the label support behind it, we could focus a little less on trying to stand out in that end and a little more on, like Chad said, melody and just trying to make songs that are really good, cohesive bodies of music.
I wanted to ask about a couple of my favorite songs. “Windows Down,” which to me, in my world, is the song of the summer. It’s just the perfect song for what you’re talking about. How did that come about?
CHAD: I think it’s, collectively, one of our favorite songs on the record, as well. We wrote that song before we even started tracking the record. The producer came in and moved some things around and added some ideas to it, but the reality of what we were writing about, when Kyle and myself sat down with it, with the melody and the chorus and built it around there, started out sounding completely different, with a completely different idea behind it. And then we just wanted to tell a story about moving forward in our adventure of life and where we came from and honoring that past–not even just Detroit but who we are as people.
There’s a line in there that says, “I’m taking 94 to the East Town.” 94 is one of our main highways in Detroit, and East Town Theater is one of the first places where, like, MC5 played and the Stooges played and shit like that. It’s burned down now. So taking 94, which goes to the East Town, the east side of the city—it goes east and west—-to the East Town driving west. Back west is where I live. “Driving west to find my friends, taking shots with Cassie Corridor.” The Cass Corridor was the main place for booze and alcohol and debauchery through the ‘80s and ‘90s. It was a dark, dark, dark place, but that’s where you would find the punk rock folks back in the day and lots of crime. “Taking shots with Cassie Corridor, I found my heart on Jefferson.” Jefferson is another main vein that goes north and south in Detroit in the Hart Plaza, which was the center of Detroit, and the rebuild is off of Jefferson. “I found my heart on Jefferson.” So talking about Detroit—”I still know where I came from, Detroit, Michigan.”
And then it had that I’m on my way feel in the chorus, like, “Turn the fuckin’ music up, let’s crank the windows down on the highway”—like we do every single fuckin’ day. Everybody does it every day. Detroiters find pride in that 5 o’clock fuckin’ hour drive after you’re done crankin’ out the shift in that Ford plant. Crank the fuckin’ radio up to five and drive your hour drive back into the suburbs or wherever you have to go to.
My other favorite is “The Flood,” which is a very different kind of song for you guys. How did that one come about?
KYLE: First off, I just want to say that the two songs you mention, it’s funny that you mention those because my personal feeling is that one of those two songs should’ve maybe been the first single. (laughs) But “Right to Rise” has the nice, cumulative story of the whole record. But anyways, “The Flood,” a song where, as you can tell, we strip down the music a lot further than we ever have in the past. It wasn’t so much full blast fuckery musically—and I’m speaking strictly from a musical standpoint, not a lyrical standpoint. It was very stripped down. We were just like, OK, let’s take this riff and bring it down to the basics. Let’s make this song a little more focused on the lyrics and vocals and tone it down so that we can focus on melody a little bit more. And that’s just the way that that song came out after that, and we were all really happy with it. At first, before the vocals were on it, it felt a little sludgy for us, I guess, a little too laid back, maybe almost a little on the hip-hop edge, but it’s still a piece of music that we all wrote together. Like I said, we were never going for heavy, we were never going for any particular sound. We were just going for us.
CHAD: You can see the doors of our musical endeavors cracking open a little bit more through the writing process of this record. On that song, if I can lay out the analogy of what happened, you can see these doors that we had never thought to go through before cracking themselves open, and we just said, “Fuck it,” and boom, kicked the fuckin’ door open and walked right into that next room. “The Flood” came out of that perfectly, I think, and it allows us, too, as a band when we move forward in writing, to not stay pigeonholed in something in particular. It’s saying that this band has a higher ceiling to where they can go. That’s not gonna fuckin’ turn somebody off if they hear some other sort of version of that on the next record or whatever it is. Not to say we’re gonna write a fuckin’ ballad. I don’t think that’s gonna happen.
KYLE: If we would’ve written this record just like “Full Blast Fuckery,” if it would’ve been just in your face through and through from start to finish as a second record, it would’ve made it a lot more difficult in the third record for us to be able to open up. We needed to take this record through the highs and lows because it was being opened up to a much wider audience, so that in the future, we’re not pigeonholed like that, because we don’t want to be like that. We want to be able to write whatever the fuck we want to write.
CHAD: We’re more than just miscreants. We have good times—that’s the fruit of your labor.
KYLE: That’s not to say you’re not gonna hear heavier songs on the next record, ‘cause I’m sure there probably will be some.
CHAD: You hear somebody say, “Whoa, that caught me off guard,” but then you hear the reports like you’re saying—”This is one of my favorite songs on the record.” The melody—it felt like a congregation. When I heard the chorus come in, I’m like, “Oh man, I can see a small congregation of people inside a church.” So we just built it upon that and took that congregation feeling through the lyrics, basically just saying I am a sinner, I am man, I am not perfect. It’s a sexual song inherently. That’s one of the apples, if you will, that I’m biting on as far as those deadly sins go. We just wanted to tell a story about being that person.
It’s kind of fun that you have a song talking about that then followed by “Hang with the Devil.”
CHAD: Purposefully. That’s cool that you noticed that. That’s like I want to take you straight to fuckin’ hell through that. Personally, I take a big eye on that sort of thing. Lyrically, writing, when you’re trying to talk about a body of work—you’re just pumping me up, by the way—you hope that those little things that you’re paying attention to kind of reap its reward by talking to somebody that gets it.
So what’s going on on the album cover, with the dog?
CHAD: That’s Dingo. Our good friend Joe Gall, who goes by the name Camera Jesus as a photographer—he’s a really well-known photographer around the Detroit area—he spent a good deal of time a few years ago traveling around Detroit. In the news, you would read all these crazy stories about “Detroit’s this bombed-out, blighted place. Fuckin’ stray dogs running around. Don’t go to Detroit.” Yeah, there was a bad stray dog problem. It happens when there’s not an environment that can sustain itself. There’s too many people on the streets there, too.
That dog embodies the idea of a Detroiter–hard-working, blue collar underdogs to begin with. He had no other choice every single day. He had to get up. He had a pack of dogs; it wasn’t just one, it was like five of them—he even had a girlfriend. He would have to get up every single day and try to find food for his family and then that whole day he’d have to survive by finding food, whatever he can do to get by, and then that night he’d have to find shelter in a place that wasn’t his own and didn’t exist so he could sleep somewhat soundly in order to wake up the next day and do it all over again. And that’s our story as people. So when we put that on the cover of the record, it’s a menacing, kind of beautiful but grim-looking thing. That small creature, to me, embodies an entire city.
You’ve been on this tour for a couple weeks now. How has it been going for you?
KYLE: Great. It’s been incredible. Both bands are full of really awesome dudes. We actually met Tremonti before this. They’re all amazing people, and they’ve been great to us. People have been showing up early, and it’s been great.
CHAD: People showing up early, which is cool, especially for us ‘cause we’re playing to a lot of new people that we haven’t played to before. But it also tells a little story of what times may be coming and turning their heads around again in rock ‘n’ roll and heavy metal, where people would save their hurrah for the headliner and they didn’t want to experience new music because they didn’t believe in it. But now you can start to see people starting to believe in the idea of a live rock ‘n’ roll show again.
I talk about EDM sometimes. We’re not fans of the music, but the culture that it creates–they don’t even know who the fuckin’ DJs are half the time, and so many people will complain about that, but I’m like, “Hey, you’re not looking at the bigger picture here. These people are all commiserating together because of a thing, and they want to be social with each other. Maybe that’s drugs, but hey, man, we’ve got booze in rock ‘n’ roll.” It’s the same fuckin’ thing. The days of “Heavy Metal Parking Lot” where you’re meeting your best buddies. It started out as strangers in a parking lot, and it turned into fuckin’ standing next to you as best men. I’ve been that person, growing up, just going to shows and meeting my best friends at those fuckin’ places.
I think rock ‘n’ roll for a long time had been stalled because these egotistical rock star dudes took away all the fun from it. We don’t think about ourselves as those people. We think about ourselves as the people that we’re playing in front of, and it’s an experience and not just a hierarchy.
You talked about being a live band, so what is your live show like?
CHAD: For us, it’s the last night on Earth, and that’s what we feel like we should be giving to the audience, the feeling that even if it’s not always perfect, it’s still a reason for them, like I said, to get of their house and be around people and experience life. You can be behind that computer screen all day long, and it’s never gonna give you the same feeling.
KYLE: We’re traveling in a van, sometimes 13, 14 hours to get to some of these shows, making a few rest stops here and there, but just sitting, seven people, smelling each other the whole time. We’re not out here doing this for that. We’re not out here doing this for the loading all the gear in and out, which we still do ourselves. We’re out here for that half hour, on this particular tour anyways, that we’re on the stage playing. We put everything into that. The entire day is about that one half hour that we get on that stage. It’s about that for us, and it’s also about each and every person that comes to see it, because even if there’s only two people that paid, those two people didn’t pay for a lesser experience than a thousand would’ve paid for. Any paying customer deserves the same show, and we’re gonna put on the same show no matter who shows up.
After you play and load all your equipment out, you have the rest of the night. What do you do?
CHAD: Hang out with you. Watch our favorite bands play.
KYLE: Drink some beers, watch some bands.
CHAD: I genuinely love watching my peers play music. I don’t want to watch it all the time from the side of the stage. I want to go out and watch what everybody else is seeing. I want to feel it. I can’t say that I’ll do that every fuckin’ night, but the majority of the nights I’ll do it.
What’s next after this tour for Wilson?
KYLE: We don’t really have anything we can announce, I guess, unfortunately.
CHAD: We’ll be on the road. We’ve gotta hold off letting people know when that’s gonna be.
Is there anything else you’d like to say?
CHAD: Hey, man, if you’re reading this, go out to a show. Go to a rock ‘n’ roll show. You’re never too young, you’re never too old to experience that. Go buy records. Go meet some friends. Make some new friends. Take your old friends out for a night. Go live life, man.