INTERVIEW: Dylan Villain of THE WILD! (March 2020)

With the coronavirus pandemic engulfing the world, times are tough for almost everyone and especially so for a touring rock band that just released a new album. That’s the predicament The Wild! finds itself in now, having unleashed its third release, “Still Believe in Rock and Roll” (review), on March 20, 2020, and being unable to tour in support of it due to restrictions on the size of gatherings across the globe. But the record is out, and it’s a defiant statement in support of a genre of music that’s a lifestyle for those who have devoted themselves to it. Live Metal’s Greg Maki caught up with vocalist/guitarist Dylan Villain to discuss the pandemic’s impact on the band and the new record.

LIVE METAL: Well, the band was supposed to be on tour in Europe right now, but of course this pandemic has put everything on hold. How are you making out so far, and what are you doing with this unexpected downtime?

DYLAN VILLAIN: I’m not a fan of it. As you can imagine, any band that was set up to be very busy this year, like ourselves, it’s not a great time for us. Especially to release a record in all this and not be able to work it has been really frustrating, as you can imagine. Especially us being a band that everything we do is really geared around the live aspect. It’s not all about the money. It’s also about the opportunity and the release that we’re able to get from it, as well. But we’re the kind of band that everything that we’ve ever bartered on ourselves has been in our live show, because we know that people will enjoy our live show. If you like rock music and you like our band, if you see us live you’ll love us. To have that taken away from us at a time when we’re working a record has been incredibly frustrating, to say the least.

But one thing I will say is it’s been cool to see everybody still supporting us and listening to the record and enjoying it. So one positive thing I can take from it is we’ve given the world a great record to enjoy when we’ve all had to press pause on life. .So everybody can press play on this record and enjoy it and escape for a while.

Obviously, a lot of people are hurting financially right now, but for those who can afford it, how do you suggest people support their favorite bands right now?

It’s two parts. It’s a hard time to want to be promoting yourselves in terms of asking people for money, because everybody’s going through so much. So on a personal level, it’s hard because you don’t want to be that guy with your hand out. It just feels like the wrong thing to do.

But it’s never really changed, if you want the truth of it. Supporting a band that you love just means anything you can do in terms of buying their merch or buying from the band directly. But more importantly, in these times, man, it’s just listening to the music, really. That’s what it’s all about. We have a record out. We can’t take that back. We can’t change that. Unbeknownst to us, this has been the worst time ever to release a record, but hey, here we are doing it, and again, like I said, we’re giving everybody something to pause and escape all of this mess.

As long as people are listening to it, what we have to say to that is just thank you for listening. Tell your friends about it. Put it on and enjoy it and get the word out, ‘cause that’s all we can do right now. That’s all that really matters at this point.

So let’s get into this new album, “Still Believe in Rock and Roll.” It’s a great title, but also, it kind of makes me a little sad that that’s a statement that needs to be made now. And it does, because new rock music is barely even a part of pop culture these days.

I think on one hand, I called the record that and wrote the song, the title track—on one hand, it was about saying we are still preserving this thing that some people have forgotten about and moved on from or whatever. But on another, it’s for the people that have never forgotten about it.

There’s sort of two ways to look at that statement: for the people that maybe forgot about this fantastic music, in the traditional sense, that we grew up on and know and love so much, but then the other hand is just for those of us still out here in the trenches believing in it and have never really forgotten about it. So on one hand, it could be looked at that maybe it’s gone from the limelight in the way that it once was, but there are very much still a lot of people like myself and the guys in my band and other bands that we know and love and the fans that come to the shows that have never ever given it a second thought, because we don’t really concern ourselves with passing trends of flavors of the week. It’s just who we are.

When throughout the writing of the album did the title track come into play? It really just ties the whole album together.

I appreciate that. It was kind of late, to be honest with you, in the game, that one. There was a couple of songs I wrote almost two weeks before we tracked them, and it was one of the ones that was later in the game. But when I wrote it, I just knew that it was a really good statement to make for a guy like me and a band like us. It was one of those things where the words came out and it was like, yeah, that’s true, that’s indicative of who we are, and that’s a statement I can get behind. It was a song lyric first, but as I began to listen to the record more and more as a whole and sort of pulled myself out as the musician in me and looked at it as the producer in me, I just felt like that statement encompassed the whole feeling of the record. 

I would say one of my favorite songs on the album is “Nothing Good Comes Easy.” I don’t know if I’ve ever heard a truer statement than that. Is that where that came from, just what you’ve been through in life and with the band?

Yeah, that’s one of those things that just gets thrown around off the cuff as a statement. Like people say, “It is what it is.” Things like that. And those sorts of sayings are so every day, just blue collar, everyday sort of people, and I love that stuff because those people are the salt of the earth and that’s the kind of guys that we are. That’s how we were raised. We were just raised to be hardworking, regular ass people. And despite all the stuff that we’ve been through in our lives or that we get to do as a result of being musicians for a living, underneath it all we’re just those same, down-to-earth, regular people.

So having statements like that in our music is not only a reflection of the kind of guys that we are, but it’s also something for the fans, because the fans are that way, too. We’re all in this thing together, and we’ve never felt that we’re better than anybody or anything like that in terms of having an ego or anything like that. So I think it’s important that our music reflects that, and having a statement like “Nothing Good Comes Easy” is something that so many people can relate to, because we’ve all been in that 11th hour, been in that extra mile where your nose is against the grindstone and you’ve gotta turn on that determination switch and just get down to it. That’s the kind of stuff that I’ve built a life on, just working harder than the next guy. That’s a statement that’s true for a lot of different reasons in this day and age.

Throughout the album, there are a few references to heaven and hell, and obviously, rock music is traditionally “the devil’s music” or whatever you want to call it. Do you have some serious thoughts and feelings about religion behind that, or is it more tongue in cheek?

For me, I grew up 10 years in Catholic school, so that’ll do just about whatever you need it to do if you’re starting a rock band. (laughs) So yeah, I’m no stranger to it because from the time I was 5, 6 years old, I was put in front of this whole thing that says you can’t do this and you can’t do that, and if you do this or you do that, you’re going to hell. So growing up that way not only gives you a bit of a complex of things, but also when you get a bit older and develop your own beliefs and your own thoughts on the whole thing, you’re able to look back and think about how wrong some of that was, for me personally

I like to take jabs at it, because by the Bible’s standards in 2020, you can’t get out of bed without doing something that’s gonna land you in hell. So I just think the whole thing’s a big joke. I just think that if there was a guy with a beard in the clouds, he probably wouldn’t care if you had tattoos or you drank a bit or smoked a cigarette or said curse words. These things are archaic. So I like to take jabs at them in songs like “Goin’ to Hell” and stuff like that, because it’s in me and I’ve lived it.

Another thing I gather from your lyrics is maybe you’ve had some run-ins with the law throughout your life. What kind of a relationship have you had with the police?

I don’t have one. (laughs) I don’t have a relationship with the police at all, and I prefer to keep it that way. I grew up as a kid in a really small town where there wasn’t a lot to do besides getting into trouble. I found myself on the other side of that equation numerous times in my life. What do you do, man? That’s just who I am. It’s who I’ve been. You live and you learn, and you write songs about it. That’s kind of my experience. I can only speak for myself. I tend to want to write songs about things that I can gravitate towards and I can relate towards from firsthand experience, and that just happens to be one of them.

Speaking of that, there’s kind of a change of pace to end the album, the song “Gasoline,” where you really open up and tell your story. How did that song come about?

That song took me almost three years to write, to be honest with you. There was just a lot of things that I really wanted to get off my chest, and I’m glad that I did because the response to it has been overwhelming. There’s a lot of messages that I’ve gotten, people reaching out and just saying how much it helped them. If anybody can get anything positive from my experience that I talk about in that song, that’s a positive thing.

I think, for the most part, not a lot of people have lived the way that I’ve lived and done the things that I’ve done, but there are some people that have, and they’re still here to talk about it and a lot of them aren’t. So in looking at that way, I’m speaking not only for myself as somebody who’s still here but also for the people who aren’t.

On top of that, I will say that despite there being some people in the world that have maybe not lived through some of those things that I’m talking about in that song, there’s a feeling and a message of acceptance in the song that I feel a lot of people can relate to. And that’s just not letting your past define you and also being OK with having been through some questionable things—it’s alright. I think there’s a lot of people out there that might be afraid to admit the things they’ve done or are ashamed of whatever has taken place in their life, but tomorrow is always a brand new day.

Like I said, I just write from things that I know about personally. This is just a really honest song that I wrote about my life, and it’s been therapeutic for me, and it sounds like it’s been therapeutic for a lot of other people, so I’m thankful for that.

On a lot of this album, you’re singing differently than you did in the past, like a little bit of a different tone. How did that come about?

I think really what happened is I was experimenting with my voice when I was writing, and it was really about finding different keys to write songs in and where I could take my voice in the melody as a result of doing that. And in doing that, it opened up a lot of possibilities with melody for me, and I sort of found a new home in my mid-range versus always singing so high at the top of my range all the time.

Another thing is you come out live and you’re just pinned. You’re singing so high for 90 minutes, 60 minutes—whatever you’re on stage for—and that’s cool, that’s all good, but where do you go from there? So I think a lot of it, also, was done in a way to showcase the voice a bit more to add some depth to the live show but also to add some depth to the melody and some character to the voice.

It wasn’t something I was immediately sold on. I wrote some songs and I wrote some melodies on the songs and showed them to the guys and showed them to (producer) Mike Fraser, and it was something that everybody really liked. So I really dug it, too. As a singer, it’s something that I can relax with a little more and find a little more character to add to the voice that way. We just ran with it and stayed with it. I’m stoked on it, because it just gives the band a bit more character and depth this way.

It’s been about three years between albums, and on the last one, you played a ton of shows and went to Europe multiple times. How did all that play into the new album? Did all those experiences change you and the band in any way?

Yeah, absolutely it did. I think the biggest thing was the touring. If you’re touring and you’re playing your songs and you’re just going up there and playing them, that’s cool. If you’re having a good time, right on, good for you. But we’re the kind of guys that are paying attention to what works in the live show and what’s not. Especially going to Europe so often—we were going four times a year—and really gaining the fan base over there and paying attention to what they were enjoying and what was working with the show.

That, and then also, you’re touring with your heroes. We did multiple tours with Rose Tattoo, who is one of our favorite bands and basically one of the reasons we exist as a band today. Being close with those guys and becoming friends with them and listening to them every night and just soaking it all up—what works and what doesn’t work compared to how we were doing things or whatever—you’re just really inspired, I guess is the way to explain it. I think paying attention and being conscious of those things while you’re so actively touring definitely played a factor in the writing, because then when you’re going back to the drawing board, so to speak, you’re taking all of those things you’ve learned on the road and sort of ignoring the things you’ve learned aren’t working and just trying to write everything into a package of songs that really speak to those strong points of you as an artist.

Did building that fan base and knowing there are people that might have expectations now put more pressure on you while creating this album?

There was a lot of pressure, for sure, and I think it was basically just internal within me but also looking at it from a bird’s-eye view, again, and trying to understand that on the last record we toured it so heavily and so extensively internationally that with this record it was going to be the first release that we had where it really was the culmination of all the touring. It really spoke to our new fan base that we had achieved internationally, as well as domestically. You get your numbers up over that long of touring, and then you’ve got to release something.

I definitely felt the pressure for the album to write something that was better than just good or better than OK. And it’s as a result of that that I wrote the record, I think, three times before it actually is in the way that you hear it today, I needed it to be great. I needed it to be something that stood the test of time, that really had an impact. I wanted every song to have its moment. I wanted every song to have a great chorus and great lyrics and great melodies, high energy—just something about it that could really lend itself to the listener.

Because of that, I put a lot of time and attention into the songs to make sure that, to my ear, they were as best as they could possibly be before we went and recorded everything, because I knew that when you’re touring for three years and people are anticipating something that you want to give them something great, you want to give them something that’s a cut above so they can really understand why they held onto this band for that long, because like you said, three years is a long time between records. So if I gave them some piece of shit that was just thrown together quick, I don’t think they would’ve been appreciative. I know I wouldn’t appreciate that as a fan.

So I did feel pressure, but for a lot of different reasons other than just the fans. I just really wanted this thing to come together and everything line up, and go bam, that’s the record we’ve been waiting three years for.

Yeah, so the pressure really served as motivation in that sense then.

Yeah. I mean, what are you gonna do when you feel pressure? Are you gonna give up? (laughs) I’m not that kind of guy. So the pressure only pushes me forward.

Is there anything else you’d like to say before we wrap this up?

Just everybody out there, thank you for listening. Keep supporting the bands that you love and rock ‘n’ roll will never die.


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