On July 9, Wylder took the stage at Jammin’ Java in Vienna, Virginia, for a preliminary round in an ongoing Battle of the Bands competition. The competition was fierce, with 28 bands competing over the course of four nights. Only four bands would be able to advance to the next phase of the competition, and over $3,000 worth of prizes remained at stake.
“We lost last year so we were hoping to do better,” said Russell Michelson, who plays piano and contributes vocals. “We had nothing to lose, so we gave it our all.”
There was a pregnant pause as I struggled to phrase my question. Chatter from the IHOP lunch rush seeped into the quiet.
“Well,” I began. “How did it turn out?”
The band laughed. “Oh, yeah,” said Will McCarry, the band’s vocalist and guitarist. “We won.”
Wylder is made of four friends: Will McCarry (vocals/guitar), Russell Michelson (piano/vocals), Lavar Edmonds (strings), and Lonnie Southall (guitar/mandolin). The group met in Fredericksburg while they were students at University of Mary Washington.
It’s been a busy year for the group. In addition to the ongoing Battle and juggling full time jobs, Wylder will release a new single, “Sunstroke,” on July 31 in anticipation of a new album they plan to drop later this summer.
Collectively, the events are part of larger career ambitions. For some members, the band’s steady success has rerouted life plans.
“My plan was to become a professor,” Edmonds said. “Being in a band at this level wasn’t exactly what I had planned for myself, but it worked out. I’ve met great people, seen places, and done things that I wouldn’t have otherwise.”
For a band on the brink of change, carving out a career in the music industry first means relocating to the same city in order to bring an end to their current long distance arrangement. Since graduating college, the band has maintained a long distance relationship, logging hundreds of miles as they commute between Norfolk, Leesburg, Reston, and Fredericksburg, zigzagging up and down Virginia’s triangular expanse. The complicated arrangement involves a shared Google calendar crammed with notes up to three months in advance.
Lately, it seems that everything has been gathering momentum that the band hopes to sustain in the coming months. But as their shared Google calendar would suggest, Wylder is nothing if not methodical, and their work ethic seems to be gaining traction: They’ve already played a dozen shows this summer, and are booked through October.
Until recently, Wylder was known as Save the Arcadian, a name that “How I Met Your Mother” fans will recognize. As the band prepared to release their new album to a steadily growing group of fans, they realized that the name would present copyright problems and would have to change.
“Everyone had their own lists,” Edmonds recalled of the renaming process. “Lists were made and thrown away and remade.”
“Lonnie [the band’s guitarist and mandolin player] came up with Wylder,” McCarry said. “It was in a list of 10 or 15 names. We didn’t really think much of it, and then at some point we came back to it.” It helped that the new album deals with images of wilderness and offers a folky vibe. “The name ‘Wylder’ kind of conveyed something deeper than ‘Save the Arcadian’ ever could.”
Despite their recent success, throughout our interview, Wylder joked that they are an inherently negative group of people. Their aspirations are rooted in pragmatism, and their recent successful Kickstarter–which raised $4,870, exceeding the band’s original goal by over $800–hasn’t dispelled their shared sense of caution.
The day after Christmas, they packed up their cars and headed down to famed producer Mitch Easter’s studio, Fidelitorium Recordings, in Kernersville, North Carolina. There, they hoped to use their Kickstarter funds to record an album that would echo indie bands like The Shins, Radical Face, and The Decemberists, which fuse thoughtful folk lyrics with the infectious qualities of pop. Lyrically, the album was also more ambitious, dealing with themes of loss and heartbreak.
“In all honesty, the first two days were incredibly discouraging,” McCarry admitted. “It wasn’t for lack of being prepared. It was just tackling something huge that we’d never done before.”
The studio time slipped away quickly, and the to-do list of tracks for each song seemed insurmountable at times. The band ended up finishing the recordings at Bias Studios in Washington, DC, after the deadline they had set and and over budget. Still, the band considered the investment of time and money essential to the possibility of continuing and future success.
“If we want to become more successful, we have to focus on it more,” Michelson said.
The only thing for certain at this point is that the future holds more work. True to their self-proclaimed pessimism, which might just be a sober sense of what is realistic, the band plans to invest some savings from their Kickstarter in a publicist if the new record doesn’t attract a studio’s attention on its own. To Wylder, music is about talent and collaboration, but it’s also about persistence and discipline.
“It’s hard for us to look at the big picture and think of the version of events where things are incredible, because there’s so much anxiety between everyone,” McCarry said.
But in addition to keeping each other grounded and focused on the work at hand, the band members also keep each other motivated, offering encouragement and dispelling doubts. Each member draws strength from the determined energy of the others.
Once the new album is released, the band’s goals include expanding their tours to college campuses and beyond. Performing at festivals like Delaware’s Firefly Festival and Austin’s SXSW are high on the band’s list of priorities. “Even if it’s just a small stage,” Edmonds added.
When I suggested that there are easier ways to make money, the band unanimously agreed that although that might be true, nothing compared to being onstage or in the studio.
“I couldn’t not do it,” McCarry said. “I never thought that I would be a musician, but as soon as I played guitar it became clear to me that writing and performing weren’t going away. It’s such a thrill, and sharing something creative with people was so much more engaging than anything I could think of doing.”
Michelson put it simply: “This is a once in a lifetime opportunity,” he said. “I would kick myself if I didn’t pursue it.”
And on one thing, they could all agree: “It’s just fun.”
“It becomes more fun all the time, too,” McCarry added.
Wylder has shared some exclusive content with LD! We’ve got an early download of their new single, “Sunstroke,” which will be officially released on July 31.