Making up one-half of the indie-acoustic duo This Wild Life is Kevin Jordan, who will be joined by his fellow acoustic partner in crime, Anthony Del Grosso when they support Mayday Parade Down Under this month. Speaking over the phone to Jordan, he and I skip over the usual Aussie tour questions and instead discuss the emotional intent of their songs, the band’s new album, how they’re becoming a more ambitious group with each release, the strength of simplicity, and the beauty of limitations.
Kevin, how are you going, man?
Good thanks, how are you?
I’m well, cheers. So whereabouts are you at the moment and what are you up to today?
I am in Phoenix, Arizona and I’m writing some songs.
Oh, awesome! That’s taken from album number three?
Yes sir! We are probably eighty percent through the writing and demoing process. In fact, after we get back from Australia we head into the studio and start making the new record!
Fantastic! Who have you got lined up to produce or are you gonna self-produce this one?
Yeah, we’re actually recording with a new producer this time around. His name’s Ryan Hadlock and he’s done the Vance Joy record, The Lumineers record and the reason we chose him is having done a lot of acoustic stuff and us being a mainly acoustic-based band it made sense.
So by the sounds of that, I get the feeling this will be the This Wild Life we’ve all come to know and love… or can we expect a few surprises from this next one?
Some here and some there I would say. The last record we stepped out of our comfort a zone and made a record that was a lot darker, a lot moodier. The case for that record was that we were trying to use any sounds we possibly could whereas for this new one we put some limitations on ourselves in that if it’s not something we can play live then we won’t use it. We want this to be organic. So we’re open to strings, guitars, drums, lots of vocal layers, anything like that but it has to be something that can be played by a person. It’s been cool actually. When you put limitations on yourself it forces you to be creative within those bounds. It hasn’t been limiting as much as it has been a freedom to explore different melodies and harmonies and feelings of songs.
Yeah, and it seems that nowadays with everything so digital you can get lost in the rabbit hole and just spend forever down there.
Honestly, that is exactly what we talked about before going into the writing. A lot of people get lost in “tonetown” looking for these interesting sounds. At the end of the day though, it’s the heart of the song. If the heart and soul are missing, if the lyrics, melody and feeling of the song aren’t there then you could have the greatest tone in the world but you’re not going to have a compelling song from the tone. Obviously, we’re gonna chase down the best sounds that we can possibly get but we’re really focusing more on the core of the song, the heart of the song which to me is the melody and lyrics. How does it make you feel when you sign it and when you hear it?
This record feeling wise is a lot brighter, a lot more uplifting and up-tempo. I think the songs are really going to lend themselves to the live setting. There are some ballads in there, of course, some really beautiful, fingerpicking songs but there’s also a lot of fun tracks.
I always remember my first experience with you guys was listening to ‘Puppy Love’ and that’s a super upbeat and bright song and thought that was what we were gonna get a lot of yet then you guys have songs like ‘No More Days’ and ‘Over It’ and it’s a whole other ballpark of emotion.
I think we have a range of emotions in songs that reflect us as people. We can have great days but we can have absolutely shitty days too. As a songwriter, if I spend my day playing with my dog and playing video games that’s not really something to write about. We focus on things that move us.
And you hit on something really interesting back there that I want to touch on. It’s about the heart and soul is so important and I agree so fucking much there. The best example is The Front Bottoms. These guys were doing the most DIY bedroom songs yet they blew up ‘cause they had the heart and the soul. I think it’s also why you guys have found an audience and in part, because when it comes to acoustic music, the heart and soul has room to breathe more. That stuff can get lost under double-tracked guitars and programmed drums.
You just hit it the nail on the head there! If you get lost in tonetown and have a million drums sounds and synths on top of one another then you can lose the message of the track in over-producing. And we’re guilty of that too. It can be a lot of fucking fun to layer on a bunch of stuff and as you said, go down that rabbit hole. Sometimes you do that in the recording process and you realise that none of that made the song any better and you just gotta mute half the tracks to get back to the core of the song.
You’re also right about The Front Bottoms. Their music just speaks. It doesn’t need high production value when it has emotional value and captivating lyrics and captivating takes from the recording. That’s really what we’re striving for on this new record.
I’ve always had the philosophy that if you can emit the same emotion and reaction from the listener in a simpler way then you owe it to them to do so.
Oh, definitely! A lot of people get lost in having fun and adding, adding, adding, always adding! But you sometimes have to take away to really find the song.
I’m curious to know how much your process, besides muting tracks, has changed since ‘Clouded’. They always say you have your whole life to work on your debut album but only a year or so to do the follow-up. So did the added pressures of a dedicated fan base, touring schedules and a label add challenges to the process, or did you take it in your stride?
I think some in Column A and some in Column B. We definitely didn’t have as much time to get it sounding right on ‘Low Tides’ but we actually ended up writing more songs than we did for ‘Clouded’. Every song that we wrote ended up on ‘Clouded’ whereas ‘Low Tide’ we had eighteen, nineteen songs then trimmed it down to the eleven that we felt were the strongest. With that record, we also pushed our sound a tonne and explored a different side to us and I love those songs yet I feel like we left everything on the table there. The songs have the feeling and the heart to them and some are moody and dark with a brooding tempo. Yet I feel like on this record after playing those songs and old songs I really want to write songs that feel good when you hear them. That you can sing along to and listen to in the car and every day and don’t put you in a down mood.
There are some artists I love like Daughter that have just beautifully fucking depressing music and I love it but I don’t listen to it every day. And that translates to the live show. If we’re sitting there playing sad slow songs every fucking night for two months straight then it starts to get to you. I think writing music should be a process of growth and letting things go and when you keep picking them up every night I just think I’ll feel a lot better if I play songs that feel good to me.
It’s interesting you say that as you talk about growth, yet for so many bands when they want to mature and grow up, they do the opposite of what you’re doing. They get darker and more serious and sad rather than just generally trying to grow organically.
Yeah, we came to a point after ‘Low Tides’ was out that we had to ask ourselves whether or not we continue down that path and explore more sounds or do we go off and do something else? We felt like it was time for another change and don’t get me wrong, there will still be elements of the ambient guitar work that was on that record on this new one but you’re also gonna have a lot more of the upbeat, acoustic rhythm guitars and fast strumming that was on ‘Clouded’ a bit. I think it’ll be a mixture of the two. Yet as I said, we’ve put some limitations on ourselves and are gonna explore pianos and strings and horns, we had some horns on ‘Low Tides’ and we loved it.
You said you had about eighteen songs for ‘Low Tides’, are you taking any ideas, small or big, from the songs that didn’t make it and using them here or is this a totally whole new process from scratch?
It’s a totally new process. I mean, I write lyrics on a daily basis whether it’s a few lines here and there and if I’m listening to a new song idea I’ll look through my notes and find something that will fit the cadence and what we’re going for so lyrically there might be something that was written for ‘Low Tides’ but it really is, for the most part, a fresh process.
You talked about putting limitations on yourself for this new record and I want to know how you handled the transition of the songs from ‘Low Tides’ that didn’t have limitations into the live setting and how the third member has fitted into all this.
On the second the record, our producer said something funny to us. He said, “It’s my job to make this record sound good and it’s your job to figure out how the fuck to play it later!” So without those limitations, we had some songs that had really interesting production on them that you then have to go into rehearsals and work out how to play. So that’s why we made the choice to bring on a third touring member and he’s been touring with us for nearly a year and a half now. He plays keys, bass, drums and whatever he needs. He fills the gaps where we can’t play something and it’s brought so much to the live show. There are cases where you can throw a bass to the backtrack and it doesn’t really make a difference yet there’s other stuff like extra vocals, drums and guitars that make it heartless if that’s all in a backing track. So it’s been great to get play these songs the way they were supposed to be played and then at sometimes bring them even further.
It’s interesting that you mentioned Vance Joy before as I saw him with Taylor Swift a few years ago and he was alright yet I saw him very recently at a festival and he was brilliant. I kept trying to think what was different and I realised it was the added brass and woodwind section he’d brought onto just breathe life back into the tracks. Is that something you guys aspire to do one day, in having not just a touring member but a full band of the strings and brass and drummer and pianist and take it to a new height? Or are you going to keep it as intimate as possible and not overdo it like we were talking about?
The short answer is: we would do it tomorrow if we could. It’s our dream to bring out live string players and brass players to match the songs but the reality is, we tour in a van. We’re not going to be fitting a string quartet in our van anytime soon. But that’s a huge dream of ours especially with how string-heavy this next record is looking. It’s a big goal on this next album cycle to play in some beautiful venues with a full string section with us. That’s something we’ll have to plan out how to make work.
Well I know I would love to see that happen for you guys. Kevin, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me today, it was really appreciated and I can’t wait to see you guys with Mayday next month.
Thanks so much, Matty! Have a great day.
Tickets are on sale now for Mayday Parade’s ‘A Lesson In Romantics’ Ten Year Anniversary Tour where you can catch This Wild Life breaking hearts on all the Australian dates (sorry, New Zealand). With three shows already sold out, make sure to grab your tickets (available through Select Touring) as fast as you can!