Early every year, there seems to come a rock record that sets a tone, that raises the bar for the releases due in the following months. In 2017, that record appears to be “Wild at Heart” (review), the debut full-length from Canadian rockers The Wild! To quote vocalist/lead guitarist Dylan Villain from the band’s official bio, “The Wild! is a mixture of what the blues feels like, rock ‘n’ roll sounds like and punk rock smells like.” That’s a dead-on assessment, and it just might add up to the best pure rock album since Airbourne stormed onto the scene nearly a decade ago with “Runnin’ Wild.” Judging from the reviews from around the world, The Wild! appears to be on the verge of a major breakthrough, and it’s the result of a lot of hard work and complete dedication to the music. Live Metal’s Greg Maki recently caught up with Dylan to discuss the album, his rock ‘n’ roll upbringing and more.
LIVE METAL: From seeing you play live and hearing your album, it’s pretty clear to me that rock ‘n’ roll is a lifestyle for you.
DYLAN VILLAIN: Yeah, that’s very accurate. (laughs)
So how and when was that instilled in you?
I think, quite honestly, it was at a very young age. Not all the would-be antics that you would immediately associate with every cliche that goes along with, but just the feeling of freedom. I grew up in the middle of absolute nowhere, in the country, with no one around me, and because of that, I really think that’s where a lot of it started. I was always into music and always playing my guitar, but that feeling of not really giving a shit what anyone thought, and I didn’t really have any association with a lot of pop culture at that time because I was so removed from it all. So I think that sort of mindset and living, coupled with my love for playing the guitar—growing up playing blues, rock ‘n’ roll and punk rock—that’s really where it started. Then as I got older and started playing in bands and touring and things like that, I found similarities in it, the two ways of living, and it was very natural to find my way into this.
Who were some of your early influences when you first started playing?
Stevie Ray Vaughan and Jimi Hendrix were my first two go-to’s as a guitarist. I remember the first time I heard both of those guys play—Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan—it was really something to me, because I could understand what they were saying with their guitars. I didn’t need lyrics. I could see what they were trying to say with their guitars. That way of playing isn’t a common thing. I think a lot of guys try to do it or strive to do it, but I don’t think it’s achieved easily. You’ve got to be larger than life to be able to achieve that sort of shit. So it translated for me. It kind of went from there to punk rock, which is a bit of a different thing, but the whole common thread with it was the conviction between the two, because … go back farther with other blues players—they just mean it. They mean every note. It’s the same thing for punk rock. They weren’t playing for monetary gain or anything like that. They were just playing because it was naturally coming out of them and it’s who they were.
Yeah, they just had to do it.
Yeah, they couldn’t imagine life without it. So that, and then I got into metal, and what really got me, being a guy who grew up, when I first started playing guitar, I was playing the blues, was Dimebag—Pantera. It was the same thing with Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan—every single note, and you can literally understand what he’s trying to say to you when he’s playing his guitar. I saw that similarity and just latched onto it. It’s sort of a melting pot of those sort of things—the blues, the punk rock and the metal while being a child brought up with rock ‘n’ roll that really shaped the sound of The Wild.
What about vocally, who are some of your influences there?
Well, you know, it’s an obvious one I get all the time—Bon Scott. That’s where it really started for me. My dad is a massive AC/DC fan, so I grew up with the early stuff—all the Bon stuff, and “Powerage” is my favorite AC/DC record. I can’t explain it, but that’s just how I sing. I didn’t really start by trying to sing like Bon or Jesse James Dupree or any of those guys that I get compared to all the time. That’s my voice, and it happens to be that that’s what I grew up listening to. So whether the fact that I was raised on it is a direct correlation or it’s just in me and that’s what comes out of me, I’m not sure. But those guys, for sure. I really get down on the grit of a guy like Howlin’ Wolf. It’s not vocal acrobatics like a guy like Freddie Mercury, for example, but it’s all meaning, it’s all conviction. It’s the way he sells everything. People believe it, and there’s a lot of merit in that as a vocalist.
Growing up, as you said, in the middle of nowhere, how did you go about putting together bands and finding people to play and, specifically, The Wild?
Well, I moved. That’s really what happened. I grew up there, and I had my first band when I was 12. I remember the ride to town was about 45 minutes. (laughs) And I say town, and it was about 2,000 people. Where I grew up, there was 50 people, and the town was small, too. I went to school and met other dudes that played. My friend’s parents owned this bar, and we were 12 years old when we had a band, and they would let us open for whatever band that was playing there that night. That was our schtick, man. We were literally playing in bars at 12 years old, and I learnt a lot from that. From there, I got out of high school—I played in bands in high school and shit like that—but from there, I got out of high school, and I went right to Toronto and started playing music there, playing in bands there, doing punk rock and metal and hardcore bands and things like that .From there, I came out to B.C. (British Columbia), and I was on my way to Vancouver, ‘cause I was in Toronto, big city, big hub, and I had to go Vancouver where all the rest of the big city folk were so I could actually find a band that would work. I ended up in Kelowna on my way there, and I met (bassist) Boozus and (drummer) Reese Lightning. That was over 13 years ago, and I haven’t left since. It’s kind of crazy how it happened.
Has The Wild! had the same four people the whole time?
No, we started as a three-piece. It was just the three of us, and we played our asses off. We originally had a different fourth member who is no longer in the band, and now, recently, we’ve got (rhythm guitarist) the Kid, who’s my younger brother, and he’s wicked, man. He’s an amazing musician, so it’s great to have him with me by my side.
The album, “Wild at Heart,” came out a week ago. I love the album, but give me your sales pitch. For someone who hasn’t checked out your band and this album, why should they?
Well, it’s a great fuckin’ record. I’m not saying that in a cocky way. We just worked our fuckin’ asses off on that record to get it to where it is and the success and the notoriety that it’s getting already. And we went through hell to get it to that point. I was faced with a lot of stuff health-wise and vocally making the record, where I was told by the top surgeon and vocal specialist in my country that I would never sing ever again or let alone talk. To come through that, go through that and realize—it was pretty dark for a while. I thought, I’m not gonna be able to do this record, I’m not gonna be able to do this band, or is somebody replacing me as the singer? Then from coming through all those sorts of thoughts to getting to the point where I said, “No, fuck that. I’ve been faced with adversity in music my whole. To even get to this point is a great achievement, so why stop and why give up?” So I didn’t. I changed my mindset and made some changes to my lifestyle and things like that, and I beat the odds.
Aside from the perseverance, I can just say it like this man: Find me another band that looks like us, sounds like us and works as hard as we do, and I’ll tell you you’re a fuckin’ liar, because there is no one like us. Go listen to the fuckin’ record and find out for yourself. We’re very proud of it.
In the songwriting, how does a typical song for The Wild! come together? Does it start with the riff?
Yes, absolutely. I write a lot. I’m kind of one of those musicians that my head, even as a person, I’m always elsewhere. It’s not very often that I’m present. My head is always thinking about riffs and song ideas and what I’m gonna do with the band outside of musically and all that stuff, and because of that, I don’t really have a shortage of material. So it’s like this: By the time I get to a spot where I feel that a riff is one that’s gonna take shape as a song, I’ve already beat it to death that I know that it’s worth my time, because I’m always going through so many in my head.
Yeah, it definitely starts with the riff, and while I’m writing the riff, I’m definitely thinking about the drums. When that rhythm and bare bones of the song get done, that’s where I take the vocal approach, because I don’t write like some singers. I don’t write poetry. I don’t write fuckin’ thoughts down and ideas down. I react to the music. Whatever way the music that I write steers me, I pick melodies from that. They literally kind of come out of thin air, and not to mention, I write a cadence around the beat. It’s kind of a thing I learned from Steven Tyler. It’s sort of like a scat almost. You’re reacting to the flow of it, and you’re getting the bounce out, the cadence out of the words, the way that it should sound reacting to the riff. From there, I have a melody in mind, and from that point, I turn that little bounce, cadence and scat idea into words. Like I said, it’s a lot different from most people, but that’s how I do it.
What are some of your favorite songs from the album?
“White Devil” is my favorite song on the record, without question. Yeah, man, I’m so proud of that song. I really love it. I love the groove, I love the tempo of it. Tempo was a big part of this record. We spent a lot of time on picking the right tempo for a song. It became this thing on the album when we were in the studio, it was, “Gotta lock down tempo.” The thing that we made—we actually had it written on a chart—was, “If you can’t dance to it, you can’t fuck to it.” (laughter) And you know what, man? It was funny, but it was something that really stuck with us. That song, “White Devil,” is a prime example of that. It’s got that locked groove, similar to a “Gone Shootin” (AC/DC)—that groove where it really locks in and you just feel it. That’s my favorite song on the record, 100 percent.
What did your producer, Mike Fraser, bring to the album?
Aside from years and years of experience and working with great bands and doing this for so long, he’s one of my best friends outside of music. We talk a few times every week about everything. When him and I go into the studio or even when we meet up to just go over songs, we’re already inside each other’s head because we have that relationship outside of music. He often knows where I’m trying to take a song before we even get there. We were quite thankful for that because you hear a lot of stories about bands trying to tee up with their producer and get on the same wavelength. But him and I get each other. So because of that, we make a great production team together.
But just his wealth of knowledge of sound—all these things that he knows about making a record sound how it ought to and not sound like a band shouldn’t, so they don’t sound like someone else—he can really capture that. He can hear that a mile away, and I don’t know a goddamn thing about that. But that’s his thing, man. I know how to play guitar and write a song. Mike knows how to make you sound like you, and that is an amazing accomplishment.
The “Ready to Roll” video is pretty wild, for lack of a better word, and looked a little dangerous at times. What was it like making that?
Yeah, it was fuckin’ crazy, man. We got this thing where—I’m really proud of it in a way, because we set ourselves up for it with our first video. Our videos are our own, and I don’t know any other rock band that has videos that are even close to ours in that same vein. And I’m quite proud of that because it’s become our thing. When you’re a band and you’ve created something that’s your own, that’s really your thing that no one else is doing or trying to do, that’s fuckin’ awesome. That’s a great accomplishment. A, I’m super proud of it. B, what happens is we finish a video, and then we go, “Great, now we’ve gotta top that.” (laughs)
So that’s exactly what happened with the “Ready to Roll” video. We had to top the last one, and it got to the point where it was like, “How the fuck are we going to do that?” You come up with these ideas, but then a lot of times what happens is guys will say, “Oh man, I’m not doing that.” One of us will say, “Fuck that. If we ain’t gonna do it, who is?” And then it becomes this, “Well, if you’re doing it, I’m doing it,” and then we just start egging each other on, and it just fuckin’ turns into a big snowball effect from there.
But yeah, man, that one, when we were on top of that RV ripping down the highway, we weren’t harnessed in or fuck all, no insurance, none of that shit. We were just on a roof of an RV, flying down a desert highway, playing. There’s a fuckin’ drone in the sky, filming us, buzzing by our heads. There’s a RED cam in a truck in the other lane, not even harnessed in. It’s literally a guy standing in the box of the truck with it on a tripod and fuckin’ other cars coming at him in the other lane on the way to the U.S. border. It was fuckin’ sketchy, man. Looking back, I’m so glad we got the shot, but Jesus Christ, man, that shit was fuckin’ crazy.
How fast were you going down the road?
I’d say 60 to 70 klicks (kilometers), so however many miles that is. Fast enough, man. Fast enough when you’re on a fuckin’ roof.
The album so far has gotten overwhelmingly a positive response. I know you’re not in this for the reviews, but that still must feel pretty good.
It does, man. It’s not just here at home in Canada. It’s everywhere—the U.S. and all over Europe, U.K., Spain, France, Germany, Belgium. It’s fuckin’ amazing, man. Like I was talking about earlier, to have gone through so much with this record as a band and in our personal lives outside of this—dealing with my health and basically not knowing what we were gonna do—to get to this point where it’s being received as well as it is, it’s such a great feeling, man. We had a hell of a time making it, both good and bad, so now that we’re here, it’s out and the fans love it, it’s rewarding. I’ve always said that I look at fans as my boss. I look at rock ‘n’ roll like a job, and I look at the fans as my boss, and if they’re happy, then I’ve done my job. And I mean that from the bottom of my heart. So it’s a great feeling. It’s that great pat on the back, “good job, man,” that you need when you’re working. So that’s what it is, man. I feel great about it.
What are the touring plans coming up for this album?
We’re on the road right now in western Canada, supporting the record out here. We’re gonna finish this jaunt in March, and then we’ve got a lot of stuff on the horizon, and I’ll be honest with you, not a lot that I can talk about yet. But there’s definitely some cool shit coming down the pipe. We will definitely be back in America this year, and we’re looking at going to Europe this year, as well. That’s about all I can say at this point, but I’m really excited as to what’s coming down the pipe.
Looking into the future, what kind of long-term goals do you have for the band?
Oh, dude, it’s one of those things where the reason we’ve gotten to this point is because we’ve always had the mentality (of) “just keep your head down.” Keep your head down and keep working and don’t let any of the other shit cloud you or get in your way or make you feel you are bigger than you are. Don’t let any of that shit inflate your head. Keep your fuckin’ head down and keep working. The harder you work, the luckier you will get. That’s my word on that. That’s all we know how to do, and that’s what we’re gonna continue to do.