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Wild Sweet Orange grows up

Birmingham band matures as its fanbase expands

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Naming your band after a flavor of tea may not seem like it would offer much zest or zing, but Wild Sweet Orange's name steeps deep into a longtime friendship and creative bond.

Formed in Birmingham, Ala., the four members of WSO were all friends in high school. Preston Lovinggood (yep, that's his real name), Chip Kilpatrick and Garret Kelly started playing in bands together in middle school, while Taylor Shaw was "always around."

"We've changed a lot," Lovinggood says by phone before a recent gig in Memphis, Tenn. "We were all really close in middle school. The thing about this group of gentlemen -- our strongest bond is our creative bond. Sometimes we don't have a lot to say to each other, but when we're writing a song, we have a lot to say. We're getting to be friends again and there's definitely a 'us four against the world mentality.' As much as we are different, I think we're a lot the same."

Lovinggood, Kilpatrick and Kelly were in a band called Old American Dream in high school. The band broke up when Lovinggood decided he needed to give college a try -- his plan was to major in political science. "There was this force on my back that made me feel like I should do that, but I got to college and I was a terrible student," he says. "I wasn't gonna force it. I started writing songs and went back to the guys and it slowly ... the idea of getting us all back together -- I didn't even humor that because I didn't think it was gonna happen. When everyone heard the songs, they were all into it. So, when I started playing with Taylor, Gary and Jeff came back."

Lovinggood was writing what he calls "folk-y" songs when he shared them with Shaw. "Taylor's guitar playing really made it something special," he says. "It's easier to come to someone who hasn't been in the band before. He brought it to a whole other level of rock and roll. What he brought to the band is something so important -- it opens it up to being this ambient, spacey, psychedelic rock band that we all want to be. It brings everyone up a notch."

With Shaw on board, the duo approached Kilpatrick and Kelly and WSO was formed. They released an EP, The Whale, last winter and their debut album, We Have Cause to Be Uneasy, was released on July 29.

Although the EP and LP have two songs in common, there is also one, large, commonality to them -- an image of a whale. While a whale is on the cover of the EP, you can see an eye and a fin on the cover of the full-length record.

"There's definitely a reason for it," Lovinggood says. "It's kind of like the elephant in the room or representing mystery or absurdity or something powerful. It just made sense and we wanted an animal to help introduce ourselves to the world."

Does that mean a whale will appear on all of the band's albums? "We're all really worried about it, actually," Lovinggood says with a laugh. "They've already been asking if we're going to include it on the next one, so we're going to try and get that whale to evolve into something else."

The band's music could be compared to Radiohead and Wilco, though the band's lyrics are straight out of the suburbs.

"I think the whole album is about finding extraordinary things in the ordinary. Growing up in the suburbs and trying to find beauty there ..." Lovinggood says. "It could have very easily been an alt-country, singer-songwriter kind of band ... Even though I write the songs that way, we can't perform them that way. We're not that kind of band. We love rock music."

He goes on to say that while the band's album has a more relaxed feel to it, he feels the band is more aggressive with its live show. Most of the songs have also gone through transformations, as some were written years ago. He says some have gone through more of a metamorphosis than others, but in the past they've played a song different every night. In the end, they "don't ever go away from the song itself."

A recent appearance on Late Show with David Letterman, at Lollapalooza and having their song "Land of No Return" show up on Grey's Anatomy have all been signs that things are getting bigger. They're currently touring up and down the east coast of the country to work on building their stronger markets -- part of plans that could go on for the next two years.

"It's not an easy thing to do, but it's rewarding and we're starting to see some of the fruits of our labor, for sure," Lovinggood says. "Two years of constant touring and we've already got a batch of new songs. We're gonna start working on the next record, because we want it to be really something special. It's just touring, putting on a great show each night, making new fans and enjoying the ride. It's the slow burn of it all."

Wild Sweet Orange will perform at the Neighborhood Theatre on Sept. 2 with What Made Milwaukee Famous. Tickets are $12 in advance and $15 on the day of the show.

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