Hard-touring Wiyos hope to slow down, keep evolving

The Wiyos are adopting a new approach this year. For the past seven years, the acoustic quartet has

The Wiyos are adopting a new approach this year.

For the past seven years, the acoustic quartet has been a live band, first and foremost, hitting the road at least two to three weeks a month. Even the band’s albums, for the most part, have been recorded live in the studio, presenting an accurate depiction of the group’s concerts.

But after a grueling two months on the road last August supporting Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson and John Mellencamp on “The Bob Dylan Show” tour, the group began to reconsider its hard-touring ways. Vocalist, guitarist and songwriter Parrish Ellis is hoping that his band will start scaling back its relentless live schedule.

“[The Bob Dylan Show] was cool, but it was a lot — a little too much,” Ellis said from his home in Asheville, N.C. “We used to tour a lot more in the past, but we’re entering a new phase; we have slightly different priorities now.”


For Gazette music writer Brian McElhiney’s review of this show, click here

The Wiyos’ latest studio effort, last July’s “Broken Land Bell,” is another indicator of change within the group. It’s the first Wiyos album to feature all original songs since their 2004 debut “Porcupine” and introduces a new sound to the group’s already diverse musical palette — vocal percussion, better known in the hip-hop world as beatboxing.

No, The Wiyos have not turned into a hip-hop band. They’re no strangers to unusual instrumentation, having employed items such as cups, combs and megaphones in the past, both live and in the studio.

Acoustic vibe

When the band plays at The Linda, WAMC’s Performing Arts Studio, Saturday night, audiences can still expect the same old-time acoustic vibes the band brought to Caffe Lena in Saratoga Springs last January, just with a few added wrinkles. After all, the band is constantly pushing its sound in new and often unexpected directions, and hopes to continue to do so with more time on its hands.

The Wiyos, with The Red Haired Strangers

When: 8 p.m. Saturday

Where: The Linda, WAMC’s Performing Arts Studio, 339 Central Ave., Albany

How Much: $18

More Info: 465-5233 ext. 4, www.wamcarts.org

“We want to concentrate on being a band all the time — on writing and improving our skill,” Ellis said. “We want to try to come up with new ideas, rather than just drive around in a van all day looking for food.”

Bassist Joseph Dejarnette, who also produced and mixed “Broken Land Bell,” initially came up with the idea of bringing in New York City beatboxer Adam Matta to record rhythm tracks on five of the album’s 12 songs. It was the first time the group brought in an outside musician to record on one of its albums.

“It didn’t just appear out of nowhere; there was a bit of jamming and farting around, trying to figure out where the grooves are and how to complement each other, blend and come up with a good sound together,” Ellis said. “But it didn’t take long — we had the sessions over a couple of days, and after a day or two we would just record stuff right there and do the rhythm tracks.”

The results of this collaboration are readily apparent on tracks such as “Roll on Down the Road” and “Stomp,” which maintain the band’s country blues aesthetic while beefing up the rhythm section. According to Ellis, Matta helped take the group’s often simple songs and push them in new directions.

Matta wasn’t the only collaborator to work with the group this time around — Dejarnette’s roommate Sxip Shirey, a composer for theater and circus acts, also brought a different sensibility to the songs. This is also the first record that multi-instrumentalist Teddy Weber has been fully involved with since he joined the group in 2008. (The group’s other multi-instrumentalist, Michael Farkas, has been with the band since its beginning.)

With the multilayered production featuring backward slide guitar and other sound manipulations, it’s the group’s most varied offering to date, and as such is a bit difficult for the band to categorize.

“It’s more difficult for radio, press, record stores and other people to market it, but it’s been getting a really good response,” Ellis said. “It doesn’t have the mass appeal of, say, U2 or Bruce Springsteen, but we’ve gotten a good response from a certain subculture, niche, of open-minded music fans. I mean, yeah, we like country blues, Western swing, and it’s cool to hear that, listen to that and absorb out of that, but we also have our own sensibilities — we can’t hide the fact that we grew up listening to The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Paul Simon.”

A live challenge

The new songs have provided a bit of a challenge for the band in a live setting. Matta is unable to tour with the band, so the group has done its best to re-imagine the songs he performed on, although some of them have been dropped from the set list.

“We play the tunes we feel like we can play and still retain the whole essence of the groove, syncopation,” Ellis said. “ ‘Uncork the Whiskey,’ that’s an old honky-tonk, Hank Williams-style song. [Matta] came in and laid down a real simple beatbox, and we kind of tweaked the song, . . . and ended up transforming the tune into a different thing. . . . When we go back to it live, we play it with more of the Western swing, honky-tonk vibe.”

Also, thanks to the tour with Dylan, the band has expanded into the world of amplified instruments — although they use only vintage amplifiers, of course. The tour found the band playing before audiences of up to 15,000, their largest crowds yet, and it forced them to rethink their performances a bit.

“It was a difficult transition to try to make it come across with the sound engineering and the theater stuff we do,” Ellis said. “There’s more of a physical element to our shows that we still do occasionally, and we’re getting back into it now — we just learned that it was a little bit more difficult to pull that off successfully and convincingly in a big way.”

The group did win some new converts at the shows, although as openers on a triple-bill they were often playing to only a third of the crowd.

“I was surprised; a number of them did listen and come right out front, down to the field, and were fired up about the stuff,” Ellis said. “We might have converted some people who were like, ‘Who the hell is this band, some old-timey jug band?’ ”

Categories: Life and Arts

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