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Watch & Listen
When looking back on everything, it seems like an extraordinary chain of events.
As the story goes, Los Angeles alternative rock band Wildling performed their first official show at The Satellite, landed a coveted month-long residency at the same spot, toured North America with Young The Giant, and inked a deal with Warner Bros. Records within the course of a year. Along the way, the group received high-profile syncs including two Donna Karan fragrance commercials, EA Sports NHL 16, and ABC’s Nashville.
However, it wasn’t just serendipity or fortuity as brothers Ryan Levine [vocals, guitar] and Justin Levine [bass], Andrew Ampaya [keyboard] and Erik Janson [guitar] each respectively devoted a lifetime thus far to music, logging countless hours working towards that dream.
So, how the hell did it happen?
“It really began with a song,” answers Ryan. “‘Hummingbird’ was the catalyst that kind of set everything in motion…”
Prior to Wildling, Ryan and Andrew played in a band signed to a major label, but the band got caught in the ubiquitous label regime change that unfortunately meant the music never got a proper chance. “We kept working and writing together, but it felt like we were treading water,” recalls Ryan. “That’s what it felt like for a solid three years.”
During that same time period, Ryan had met Erik at the prestigious ASCAP Lester Still workshop. The two immediately connected and started writing together, bonding over their shared influences from Roxy Music and Talking Heads to Danger Mouse and Gorillaz. “We created a lot of music over the course of a year,” explains Erik. “Neither of us really knew what that would become, but we just knew we loved writing and producing together.”
In 2014 while still a duo, Ryan and Andrew recorded “Hummingbird” together and watched it instantly become a Los Angeles favorite. For the first time in a long time they felt some real momentum, and while the two had already been working under the name Wildling, it became clear they now needed the band to go along with it. After recruiting Ryan’s younger brother Justin to play bass, Erik was the next logical ask. “Erik had really become a part of the family over the course of that year,” says Ryan. “We’re all from the same Southern California suburb, all grew up on the same music, with the same dreams. So it just made sense to bring him into the fold of Wildling.” From there, the lineup solidified for that fateful night at the Satellite…
“It’s a very LA story,” laughs Ryan. “You’re trying to do everything you can to stay above water and keep making music no matter what, so we did…but it really was that song that helped us become this band. From that moment forward, it just all clicked into place and we set to work making the music we wanted to be making. We’re so lucky to have come together when we did.”
In early 2016, Wildling made two separate, influential writing trips to Rancho V in Joshua Tree, CA. For the first time, the musicians constructed and crafted songs all together from scratch in a room. “We shut out the world, set up shop, deliberately left everything outside, and tried to see where we could take everything together,” recalls Erik. “We wrote nine songs in just five days.”
“It was a new experience for us,” Ryan goes on. “Up until then, the process had mostly been Erik and I making demos and taking them into the rehearsal space for us all to interpret together. We had never really worked from scratch before the desert. We were exploring different ways to present who we are.”
To craft their Warner Bros. Records debut, they would work with both GRAMMY® Award-winning producer Joe Chiccarelli [The Strokes, The Killers, Elton John, Young The Giant] at Sunset Sound in Hollywood and Alex Salibian [Harry Styles, Elle King]—with whom they created four new songs in one week at Vox Recording Studios. Among those songs are both “Leavin’” and “Lilywhite,” the former of which the band affectionately refers to as their “Drinking Song,” with its big drum beat, acoustic guitars, and a howling chant.
“For me, it speaks to the feeling of being misunderstood and not being afraid to walk away from people or situations that don’t feel authentic anymore,” Ryan explains. “It’s a barn burner.”
Contrastingly, “Lilywhite” blossoms, punctuated by a surf guitar rustle, sharp bass line, and unshakable chant, providing the perfect introduction to the world of Wildling.
With Chiccarelli, the band expanded their sonic palette and was encouraged to push the envelope even further, building on the foundation they’d so diligently forged. “Joe said something really important to us early on,” says Andrew. “He was like, ‘Don’t think about referencing other bands.’ If you start to reference just yourself, you’ll have more of an imprint. Stick with being who you are, and it’ll happen.”
In addition to “Leavin’,” “Lilywhite,” and a re-recorded “Hummingbird,” the album represents a pronounced evolution for the quintet. A hummable distorted riff anchors “Indifferent Faces,” teetering between an irresistible refrain, lyrical lead, horns, and impressive rhythm; “Like An Overture of War” gets funky with a swaggering swing.
“There’s an element of expressing this joy and fun, but there’s a lot of heart too,” continues Erik. “It’s energy and groove, but it’s thoughtful and smart.”
Ultimately, that’s why Wildling’s songs will resonate for a long time to come.
“We’re all on the same page,” adds Justin. “It’s all or nothing. We want to play music for the rest of our lives, and that passion comes through on the record and on stage. This band is what we’d all spent so many years looking for.”
Andrew concludes, “Being an avid listener of music and transitioning to recording and performing, there have been times where I’ll hear a song, and it will become the soundtrack to a very profound moment in my life and it feels as if only I share that unique connection with the band…We want to create that for anyone listening to us.”
To sing about being wronged is one thing, but to speak the truth with the emotional presence, grace, and clarity that FYOHNA—the duo of Katarina Gleicher and producer Elliot Glasser—does is another that one doesn’t find so often. It is this bareness as it is met with a sort of triumphant musical buoyancy that makes FYOHNA’s sound so special. A novel blend of warm synths à la James Blake and sequenced drums that pull from the expansiveness of trap, the complexity of west african rhythms, and the moods of trip hop equally. Songs are reminiscent of the more reflective singer- songwriters of the past decade—amongst Feist, St. Vincent, and Cat Power—and atmospheres range from the catchy sweetness found in singles “Believe You” and “Ghost Heart” to the mellow brooding that carries the songs “Misjudged” and “Lucy Lou.”