Local band Wind and the Willows to release second album
By Bella Butler EBS STAFF
BOZEMAN – On the east end of Bozeman outside of Jereco Studios, four of the eight Wind and the Willows band members are preparing for another evening of recording their second album. They’re crammed on a small wooden stoop, talking about the moment when they started to feel like they’d made it. When they headlined a sold-out show where they used to open, when they stopped getting paid in stray bills and free drinks and started filing invoices and cashing checks.
They talk about that sold-out show, which was in February at the Filling Station, and how surprised they all were when the stuffed crowd sang their lyrics back to them. It’s crazy, they all agree, to watch a dream materialize from a stage. They end their break and funnel back inside the tight studio to take another step into that dream.
Allured by the mountains and an up-and-coming college town, each of the eight musicians found their way first to Bozeman and then to each other. Wind and the Willows formed organically as word of mouth gathered them early on in their time at Montana State University for jam sessions. In November of 2017, after elevating their performances from living rooms to coffee shops, they officially started the band, and in the spring of 2019, the young Wind and the Willows octet prepared to step into the recording studio for the first time.
Their pilot album, “Bloom and Fade,” set the precedent for the unique spin on folk music that the band has come to be known for. Their classic string pieces like the mandolin, banjo, acoustic guitar, fiddle and ukulele are paired with sounds rather novel to the genre; Their primary percussion is a West African djembe drum, while a trumpet and flugelhorn add a rich brass section to the ensemble. Atop the foundation of robust instrumentals, lyrics are expressed in a smooth three-part harmony.
“Bloom and Fade” is a 10-track love story. Rooted in a strong sense of place, the narrative uses the growth and wilting of wildflowers and other natural elements as a motif for the progression of relationships. According to the band, the second album adopted an entirely new narrative.
Bolstered by the comfort and experience of already recording, launching and touring an album, the band was compelled to push the envelope, lyrically and instrumentally, working with new sounds and stories about death. The album, titled “Ode to Shady Grove” is a nod to the old bluegrass reference and the band’s own sonic interpretation of the conceptual place.
“I will defend love songs forever and I think they’re important and valuable,” said Maren Stubenvoll, who sings, plays guitar and writes songs with fellow vocalist and mandolin player Ryen Dalvit. “But I think it was cool to step out of that comfort zone and then write a story about a pair of siblings who murder people or a song about the devil.” Dalvit added that writing lyrics in coordination with the music made for an exciting and collaborative creation experience.
“We’re still definitely a folk band, but there are elements of experimentation in that,” said Tommy Diestel, who plays banjo. Djembe player and percussionist Sarah Budeski described the new album’s sound as dynamic and textured, referencing the album’s acapella track and a song that features an electric guitar. Diestel said that the addition of the stand-up bass was also pivotal, rounding out the band’s higher registered instruments with a new level of depth.
Inside Jereco Studios, Stubenvoll, Davit and Barrette McNaught, the third piece to the vocal puzzle, prepare to record vocals in a room that’s longer than it is wide. In the neighboring room, Budeski, Diestel and Stubenvoll’s brother, Will, the featured electric guitarist, squeeze together on two leather couches. The entire band isn’t present, but it’s hard to imagine all eight of them in this room. Luke Scheeler, the first and second album’s sound engineer, moves dials on the soundboard in between sips of yerba mate.
The trio run through the first take. It sounds like butter. The other band members, having only heard the song a few times, nod and raise eyebrows in approval. A complimentary Scheeler takes them back to a few lines to rework and guides them through some adjustments. As the vocalists work through hitting tough notes, their fellow members provide tender words of encouragement and critique through the talk-back. They work through the section until they’ve come up with something that makes everyone grin with satisfaction and celebrate with high fives.
The band jokes about how unusually well they all get along. Eight people in any social pairing can be strenuous, but they’ve found a personal rhythm. A year ago, the band traveled to Colorado, where Dalvit and Stubenvoll hail from, to tour “Bloom and Fade.” They played bars and backyard shows and lugged their instruments to the top of one of Colorado’s classic peaks for a 14,000-foot performance. Even in tight traveling quarters, they found ways to enjoy each other’s company.
During quarantine, they say the band was some of their only social interaction. Each member has a unique personality, style and background, yet like their unusual assemblage of musical pieces, they make for a beautiful combination. During their time playing together, they’ve workshopped the art of collaboration. On the new album, it will be especially evident, they said.
While mostly folk, the band has a hard time really labeling their sound. Especially recently, it can be described as more of a fusion than any one thing. On top of the bluegrass and folk influences, different members of the band each bring something somewhat avant-garde of their own: the traditional echoing thump of the djembe and Budeski’s experience with West African music, trumpeter Nick Popiel’s passionate jazz influence and Diestel’s side gig in a metal band all play a role in the uninhibited and unafraid sound of Wind and the Willows. They try to put more words to it, ultimately deciding that they are just fine being “misfits of folk.”
Stubenvoll believes that the many dimensions and themes of “Ode to Shady Grove” will give people an outlet to both process and escape the recent challenges to society. “It’s really awesome to be a part of something that can impact other people in such a beautiful way,” McNaught said.