Inside the Mind of QUIET HOLLERS Frontman Shadwick Wilde

Shadwick Wilde (lead vocals, guitar) is the founding father of Quiet Hollers, a five-piece alternative rock band from Louisville, Kentucky. Beyond that, I’m hesitant to slap anymore labels on them. This is because the band’s three studio albums work together to span a great stylistic distance, stretching like an old suspension bridge over a yawning chasm. The bridge sags desperately, suspended by mostly weathered threads. Look down only if you dare, for the chasm is home to life’s very darkest themes. This critical tension is Quiet Hollers’ sustenance. Wilde’s ominous lyrics and baritone bawl are the band’s support system. No matter the musical arrangement at work, there is a bone-chilling reminder of tragedy’s imminence present in every song. Sometimes, there are several, and they line the rickety rope bridge to ensure that we do not forget the inevitability of a dark fate that awaits us all.

Speak to Shadwick on the phone or in person, and you’ll be hard pressed to fathom him the creator of those crestfallen anthems he is wont to craft. Sure, the musician has his share of sardonic comments to make. He is weary of assumptions about life and relationships, and he is skeptical of the human condition. But there is no scorn behind his voice. The Boston native—who spent time growing up in San Francisco, Havana, and Amsterdam before settling in Louisvlle—simply knows what it is to be broken and alone. In fact, that’s how this whole thing started. There is only one way to accurately trace the lineage of such a unique camp. To do so, one must ask Wilde, and Wilde alone. So I did just that.

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RT: “Hey Shadwick, this is Richard Tulis.”

SW: “Hey, man! How’s it going?”

RT: “It’s going great. Thanks for taking my call. Sorry about all the phone tag.”

SW: “Dude, no worries at all. I’m glad we finally found a time to make it work.”

RT: “I guess we can dive right in if you’re ready.”

SW: “I was born ready, man.”

RT: “Alright, let’s go. Can you tell us a little bit about how Quiet Hollers started off? Because I read somewhere that you originally only planned on playing one show.”

SW: “Kind of. I mean I wouldn’t say that we necessarily had a plan of any kind, really. I started writing songs after I was kicked out of this hardcore band that I was playing guitar in. I was drinking a lot and being super depressed and shit, so I started writing these super depressed songs about drinking a lot… and being depressed. I was like putting them on an album sort of slowly, getting into a studio called El Fresco here in Louisville. It’s run by this great dude named Jeff Carpenter who produced a bunch of the first punk records that ever came out of Louisville. And now he does mostly Americana stuff, which is what I ended up sort of sounding like in those early days. I was trying to put this album out, and I thought it would probably be a good idea to have a full band for the album release show. So I found the guys that I found – of which [Aaron West, violin guitars] is the only surviving member – I mean they’re still alive, but they’re just not in the band anymore. (Laughs.) But uh, yeah. That’s how we started it, and then people liked it, and we liked it. So we thought we could keep doing it. You know, as I said before, we didn’t really have a plan to speak of. We just sort of learned as we went, starting to play shows out of town and trying to make music and be active. That’s what happened.”

RT: “Can you tell us more about what it was like during the band’s early stages to break out of Louisville?”

SW: “I guess it just made sense to me because I had been touring in bands since I was 17 or 18. It was always a very D-I-Y type of thing because of the types of bands that I was with. There was a lot of cold calling venues, or cold emailing venues, and just being like, hey, can we play here? So we just started doing that. I think that it was the fact that we were touring that ended up building us more of an audience back home because people back home started paying attention to what we were doing and thinking, hey… these guys are going over to Europe and playing shows. Maybe we should come see them in town.”

RT: “You guys are really versatile. I know you mentioned your Americana foundation earlier, but Amen Breaks has so many different musical styles incorporated into it. What made you decide to experiment so much on that album?”

SW: “It was sometime around before we made our self-titled album that I started to come to this realization that it didn’t matter what kinds of songs we did or what genre or what style we were doing. For one, nobody cares what we do. And for two, I think we’re at this really awesome place in music right now where a lot of people are sort of realizing that the only purpose of genre is for marketing. It’s like, we call this kind of music what we call it because somebody at a record label decided that they had a profile that they thought they could sell a certain kind of record to – a certain kind of person. Which is a bullshit paradigm, of course. That’s not how people listen to music. How we’re conditioned to listen to music is by saying, ‘I like this kind of music; I like rock, or I like hip-hop, or I like country music.’ But that’s now how we listen to music. We feel a song and we hear a song that speaks to us. Shouldn’t that be more how we listen to music rather than subscribing to a particular marketing subset? That’s my approach. I like to see where the song takes the band… rather than trying to conform to a certain kind of sound for fear that someone will walk away at a show not having gotten what they expected.”

RT: “I love that. It’s true. I have trouble trying to describe what kind of music you play to my friends.”

SW: “Well, me too.”

RT: “As far as writing goes. Do you do write while you’re on the road, ever? Or do you need more time between playing and traveling to focus on the creative process?”

SW: “I try to just write all the time. Sometimes it’s good and sometimes it’s maybe not as good or whatever. I write all the songs and do most of the arrangements, so it’s a very in-my-head process. When we’re on the road I do spend a lot of time in my head… which is maybe not a great thing sometimes. But channeling that into writing has been a positive thing for me. So I’d say as far as arrangements and structure ideas, a lot of that happens in the studio. But for the most part, driving long distances and sitting backstage for a few hours – those are good opportunities to write if you can focus your mind in the chaos of tour. It’s a good thing. It’s not always easy for me, but I think it’s important to write all the time. It doesn’t necessarily mean everything’s going to be great, and you’re going to want to put it all on the record. But it’s just good to stay in practice. And it’s really inspiring to be performing every night and getting this feedback from fans and different perspectives on songs that you’re playing – taking into account what those different perspectives can mean for your next thing that you’re going to do.”

RT: “On your last tour with Motel Radio, you had a new bassist and a new drummer. Can you tell me more about how it is to go on the fly and perform live with new people? Does that present a lot of challenges?”

SW: “Oh yeah, man it’s horrible! In the past year and a half or two years we’ve gone through like so many band members. It’s kind of fuckin’ unreal. It’s a really tough and demanding life that we’re trying – actively trying – to live. Partially because of that, and partially because you don’t make really any money playing in an indie rock band, it’s been really tough to keep a solid group together and keep the same people. And to keep everybody happy and not step on anybody’s toes, but still get what you need out of a relationship. I have a couple of guys as our rhythm section now that are amazing. Andrew Sears is the drummer, he just joined up with us. This will be his first tour with the band and his second tour ever. So yeah. They’re really excited about it. At the end of the day, it’s an exciting thing to drive to a new city every night and play for a different set of people every night and not really know what to expect or what’s going to happen. It’s easy to lose sight of that when it is your job and when it becomes… for lack of a better word, pedestrian. So I think it’s really good to have that kind of perspective that the new guys are bringing. The bassist’s name is Trent Russelberg; this’ll be his second tour with us. He joined up for that Motel Radio tour.”

RT: “I know that can’t be easy, but you guys are crushing it.”

SW: “Well thanks man. Yeah, it’s been a lot of rehearsals and a lot of having to relearn the songs as a band like four, five, six times just in this album. My goal is to try and teach it to the new members. It’s had its benefits – although I might have gone about achieving those benefits in a different way. You really have to see the positives.”

RT: “All of your work has so many messages. Mental health, depression. What would you tell a young musician if you had one piece of advice?”

SW: “You know, I’ll tell you what I would say to myself as a young musician. I’ve always sort of had to learn things on my own and not really do what anyone told me to do. Even if somebody was giving me really good advice, I still always had a hard time taking that to heart as a younger person. So I think that if I could tell myself when I started this band what to do – I guess I was like 22 or so when I started this band – I would say that you have to practice way more than you think you have to practice to sound as good as you think you sound. Really that just goes back to the concept that, if you want to get anything out of music, you have to basically give your life to that. You have to make music your life. If you don’t, it’s probably not going to do anything for you. All I would say is, fucking practice. Read blogs. Read books. Read biographies of musicians. Learn as much as you can and just remember that no one is ever going to do anything for you.”

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Coming away from an interview as balmy as this, I couldn’t help but think of the musician’s hollow words on “Aviator Shades.” The song comes from the band’s self-titled album, released in 2015. It’s the kind of track that somehow manages to tear your heart slowly out of your chest, but over a fast drumbeat. More importantly, the song is a homage to the façade of bonhomie. “[C]an’t you hear me fading? You know I stay like this for days … can’t you hear me fading?” Wilde repeats with tepid desperation. “Behind my aviator shades.” Wilde himself is a staunch advocate for mental health. The quality may come from his deep familiarity with despair. He’s the man behind the sunglasses who is carrying on through the day, suffering nonetheless, and all the while. Yet though he sings about it, writes about it, and lives it… his messages – and the rope bridge that is Quiet Hollers – are really just safeguards for the rest of us, albeit grim ones. The band thrusts upon its listeners a crucial opportunity: to gaze firsthand at life’s ugliest realities. It specializes in bringing you close, and then pulling you back just in time, whether through a tortured violin solo from Aaron West (violin, guitar) or delicate flurry on the keys from Jim Bob Brown (keyboard, guitar, backup vocals). Granted, despondency will come for us. It always does. Still, despite the tremors and lurches that undermine our timid shuffle across that weathered rope bridge, we can reach the other side if we persist. After all, it is the same bridge that has sustained the weight of Wilde’s own heavy heart for many years before.

You can see more from Quiet Hollers here:


©2018 by The Deeper Dig