Metallica is not what springs to mind when you ask The Wandering Hearts their influences. Chaz Brooks sat down with the band before a sell-out gig at the Borderline.
What’s the best thing you’ve done so far?
[AJ] Oh my goodness, that’s really hard to say. C2C was amazing, it was wonderful because it was our first foray into the country scene. It was all very new for us at the time but we were very generously received. Supporting Marty Stuart recently was amazing. What an experience, they were such incredible dudes, as well as being fabulous musicians, so being asked to go on that was wonderful.
So how did that come about as you weren’t on the bill to start with?
[Chess] I think it might have come round from C2C. I think it was a contact there that put us forward for it and it was suggested that we might be quite a good match. It came out of the blue, we were really lucky, it was the best time.
[AJ] So, we saw Marty at C2C so it was surreal really being asked to do it, having seen him on the main stage at the O2 Arena was mind-blowing itself, and then suddenly we were there with him.
Your manager said he was really good with you guys
[Tim] Yes, very generous. And with regard to other gigs we’ve enjoyed, supporting Ward Thomas was another one. I still love that gig. We did it in Northampton and again it was a last minute addition. It was our first gig outside London so we weren’t sure how we were going to be received. Obviously the audience were there to see Ward Thomas, it was nice to feel supported, and similar to C2C it was good that people were open to hearing something new.
Where do you all live?
[Tim] We’re all essentially London and slightly Essex based.
[Tara] I live in Colchester.
What did you guys do before?
[Chess] We were all doing music, in other bands, stage stuff, teaching, gigs, open mic nights. It was such a variety of things and that’s how we all met. Tim and Tara met thought singing at the same gig, and AJ and I were put in touch with Tim and Tara through mutual friends in the industry. We all had very different parts but all seems to have aligned to make this.
[Tara] Music in it’s many different guises allowed us to keep doing what we were doing, so a teaching thing came up, or Tim had been in bands for years and years …..
[Tim] Not that many years [Band laughter]
[AJ] Because you’re quite young, right Tim?
A question for you boys. How old are you?
[Tim] 30s. Well I am. And you are too AJ aren’t you, just? We’ll settle for that.
[Chess] I’m the youngest so I’ll tell you how old I am.
[Tim] 12 [lots of laughter]
What are your influences?
[Tim] Growing up, rock was the first thing that really grabbed me. Queen was probably the main influence as a youth, but then I got into pop like Michael Jackson and then some heavier stuff like Guns N’ Roses, Metallica etc but essentially the thing that tied everything together was great songwriting. It became that I didn’t care what genre I was listening to as long as the song craft was strong. That’s what inspired me to write.
[AJ] My folks listened to a lot of Stones, Beatles, Donovan, Beach Boys and stuff like that which I loved when I was little. As I got older I started to listen to some more alternative things like Radiohead, Sigur Ross and the like. When I was about 16 I got back into rock and roll. Elvis Presley was probably one of the biggest influences on my singing. I taught myself to sing listening to Elvis and Otis Redding. Further down the line I got myself into Glen Campbell and more of the country stuff.
[Tara] My dad’s from New York and my mum’s from Scotland. My mum used to sing lots of folk songs, so lots of folk music. With dad it was Tom Petty, John Cougar Mellencamp and a bit of Dylan. For me I remember Shania Twain, when the Come On Over album came out. I was just a kid and it was my favourite thing. Then I got into Fleetwood Mac and First Aid Kit. And Chris Stapleton, who bonds us all. He’s our catalyst.
[Chess] When I was younger I had two uncles that would sing and play, they listened to a lot of Simon and Garfunkel as did my parents. They kind of recreated that in their own way. Then Fairport Convention and, as I was getting older, things like Milk Carton Kids and Tallest Man on Earth. And when the band started, a lot of First Aid Kit, they’re brilliant.
When I met Tara and found that we could sing in close harmonies it was great. At the time Chris Stapleton had just come out and I was finding that. We find it hard to define our genre, but throughout all those influences you can understand where our sound comes from.
Absolutely, but I wouldn’t have got Guns N’ Roses out of it.
[Tim] I’m a maverick, me.
[AJ] And the Mavericks. We love the Mavericks,
So, the harmonies, that is you guys. Do you work on them? How do you decide who signs what? How do you decide who sings lead?
[AJ] It comes about as a song is developing, we try things out. It depends on the day. Somebody will say “why don’t we carry on that way” or “it sounds good with your voice on that bit” or “you do this bit” or whatever. It just comes about through the writing.
[Tara] People say “who arranges the harmonies?” Genuinely, they’re not arranged, it just happens. Someone will sing something and then you’re kind of feeling it. You sing another lane and then you find another part and what we have is this sound. But that was the thing that you remembered vividly after our first rehearsal Chess wasn’t it?
[Chess] Yes, it was like everyone felt like they were in each other’s heads and there was a real sense of togetherness. No individual ego anywhere to be seen, it was just like one ego that is the band. It’s been the same ever since.
Are the harmonies written down?
[AJ] No, they’re all in here [points at his head].
[Chess] And then we all have random voice notes, it’s funny how things evolve.
Do you do things differently from one night to another?
[Tara] I think it’s quite consistent. What’s so exciting for us as performers is that you don’t know what’s awaiting when you get out on stage. We’re aways prepared but sometimes you just have that magical feeling. We try and make vocally what we do as consistent as possible.
[Tim] There are points in our set where we literally unplug everything and stand at the front of the stage and deliver it. Sometimes we think that if we could do a whole set like that we would.
[AJ] It’s like sitting round a coffee table you know, we can all hear each other, it’s a natural blend of voices.
Tim, a question for you. You have a very small …. drumkit.
[Tim] Thank you. Yes. [Band sniggers]
Is that going to stay like that?
[Tim] I think for the foreseeable, yes. The goal for the band has always been to add more musicians eventually. The bigger the shows get. At the moment we have four with a bass player, Lee Campbell. He’s doing more and more with us at the moment. We love playing with a bass, it gives it drive and depth to our shows.
[AJ] He’s played on some of our recordings as well. It’s good to have him with us.
When’s the album out and what’s the status?
[Tara] It’s done, and been done for a while.
[Chess] It is going to be out early in the year. February.
What touring plans do you have, apart from touring the album?
[AJ] We were kindly invited by Marty to go and play some shows with him in Nashville in the summer. They are in the diary. We know we have one at the Ryman with him and potentially there might be one at the Opry as well.
Interview and Live Photo by Chaz Brooks