Wes Tucker’s a guy who counts his blessings. He still remembers falling in love with Iota Club and Café in Arlington when he first moved to the D.C. area nine years ago. If memory serves him right, Iota was the first place he saw a show and the first open mic he played in upon moving here. “They really care about the music there and they care about people too,” he said. So you can imagine the excitement he exhibits while talking about his band’s album release show there this Saturday night.
His group Wes Tucker and the Skillets is a folk-rock band that sounds somehow reminiscent of Josh Kelley if he were to combine forces with Willie Nelson while having a R&B influenced band with funk tendencies to back ‘em. This is what you get with the band’s new album Afterlens – funktry. What’s funktry? Well, I’m not 100% sure about that but Wes certainly is and he took the time to chat with We Love DC about the band’s release (their fourth studio effort together) and more. Here’s what he had to say.
Rachel: How would you describe your sound as Wes Tucker & the Skillets?
Wes: Obviously we get that question all the time and I don’t think I’ve gotten any better at answering it. I usually start by saying “folk rock” which is super vague. We’ve been tagged with alt-country, indie-rock, one DJ coined the term “funktry” which I guess is a combination of funk and country, which doesn’t sound all that appealing, but I’ll take it. It’s really just rock n roll with a lot of R&B and folk influence.
RL: Who are your biggest musical influences and why?
WT: My personal biggest influences are the songwriters that I come back to on a regular basis and that I’ve listened to for years. Ben Harper is a huge influence, Ani Difranco early on, Mason Jennings, Josh Ritter, Wilco, Jenny Lewis, Drive By Truckers, Lucinda Williams. I’m drawn to stuff that is really inspiring or thought provoking lyrically, with equal attention to melody and message. A song can have the tightest, catchiest groove or melody, but if the lyrics fall flat I loose interest, and vice versa, the most profound poetry without a back beat isn’t exciting either. I love crooners and rockers equally, so I really like acts that do both.
RL: There’s clearly a lot of thoughtful songwriting that goes into what ends up being the final product of what we hear on the album, but how would you define what you’re trying to convey musically on Afterlens as an album overall?
WT: I’m not sure how deliberate it starts out. The songs on this album just became a sort of examination of “where do I go from here?”
Afterlens is a made up word that speaks to the way things look entirely different once they have passed compared to how they look while we are going through them. That became a theme with the songs I was writing for this record. How much we can grow through experience if we learn from it, and how destructive it can be if we don’t. I think I had the title Afterlens really early on in this one, and then it ended up in the lyrics of the song “Let it Fall.” On a side note, my friend Caren Quinn was kind enough to let us use her painting as the cover art. the title of the painting is “Perspective” so that’s really appropriate too. Musically we were looking for a big, driving, emotional sound.
RL: Afterlens is the group’s fourth full-length record. How would you describe the group’s growth throughout the process?
WT: You learn something new every time in the process of making a record. I usually bring a song to the band in a rough draft form and we kind of build the structure together and fill in the parts. I’ve been playing with these guys (Bryan Washam on guitar and bass, Arch Alcantara on bass and guitar, and Dave Rutkowski on drums) for a long time now, since like 2004.
I feel like we’ve gotten better at arrangements and playing for the song and just playing together. I asked Mark Bower of The Walkaways to come to practice when we started working on the album to work on piano and organ for just a few songs, and he ended up on 11 songs, so that’s been awesome. For these specific songs, we wanted a big full sound. We also really wanted the songs to feel like our live show, so we recorded everybody live together in the studio without a click track and really just tried to get a good take for each song. We tracked everything in 6 days, so we kinda came in with a good idea of where we were going. I’m really proud that we did it that way this time and we were super fortunate to have our producer Matt Shane guiding us through the process.
We also brought in a couple “guest stars”, Bobby Birdsong played pedal steel on 3 songs, Matt Rodela plays trumpet on a tune. We’ll definitely do more of that in the future.
RL: What does it mean to you to play your album release show at Iota in Arlington?
WT: We love IOTA! They have been really good to us over the years. I think it was the first place I saw a show and the first open mic I played when I moved here 9 years ago. You can’t really beat it for sound and vibe, and especially the staff. They really care about the music there and they care about people too. It’s one of my favorite places to see a show, so to be able to play there is always a treat. Plus I’ve seen so many amazing acts there over the years, The Avett Brothers, Mason Jennings, Martha Wainright, Blind Pilot, Cory Chisel, Kelly Joe Phelps, Dawes, Sean Hayes.
RL: What’s next for the group now that the album’s out?
WT: First just get this album to as many ears as possible. The response so far has been really great so I really hope a lot of people enjoy it. Then in the new year start booking some more shows and getting out of town some more. And of course writing the next one!
Wes Tucker & the Skillets will be performing at Iota Club in Arlington, Va. (walking distance from the Clarendon Orange Line Metro Station) this Saturday night November 17 with The Reserves and Drew Gibson. Show starts at 9 p.m. and admission is $12.