I had the chance to sit down with Keegan DeWitt and Jeremy Bullock of Wild Cub before their performance at Cat’s Cradle on March 30, 2014. They released their first album, Youth, in the beginning of 2014 and are currently touring the U.S. alongside Vampire Weekend and American Authors. Below are some highlights of our interview.
So you guys are familiar with Raleigh?
Jeremy: I grew up here. Cat’s Cradle was the kind of venue growing up that I would look at the concert calendar and that’s how I would discover bands.
How did you both come together in Nashville?
Keegan: Jeremy moved there initially with Pico and my sister was in a band called Roman Candle, which was originally from Chapel Hill. I was in New York for the last eight years and decided I wanted something different. So I came to Nashville and that’s how I met Jeremy. At the time I was doing singer/songwriter stuff and I was kind of stealing him away from Pico whenever I could. Eventually Pico transitioned into something else and I knew I was in a similar place. We had the idea to begin this project so we started recording “Thunder Clatter,” took over Jeremy’s house, and started recording the record. Then the record suddenly was done and we were like, ‘okay I guess we should do this!’
Was “Thunder Clatter” the first song on your Bandcamp?
Keegan: In some ways, the record is a year and half old because we recorded it before we were even a band. In January we re-released it to the world.
You guys are signed to Mom + Pop Records alongside some other WKNC favorite artists such as Polica, Andrew Bird, Cloud Nothings, Sleigh Bells. So what made you decide to go with Mom + Pop?
Keegan: That’s one of the reasons we chose Mom + Pop. As you grow you have these couple moments where you have to make strategic choices about how you want people to receive your music. It’s a really precious thing how they encounter the music and how they contextualize it for themselves. We just felt like we’re making pop music that’s hopefully going to reach a lot of people and will speak to a large amount of people. Mom + Pop represents a record label that is so curated and so tastefully put together and has so many artists who kind of skate that same line where we are, which is yeah, we’re making pop music but there’s depth to it. We really labored to make it thoughtful and feel like something special. To say that we signed to Mom + Pop was a big point of pride for us.
Jeremy: You can just look at their roster and it just looks handpicked and it feels like it represents one big family. So that’s kind of how Wild Cub operates.
Where have you guys found inspiration for your sound and how did it develop?
Keegan: We use a lot of organic sounds like with “Shapeless,” we used a little Casio home keyboard. A lot of it was trying to make the record as organic as possible because a lot of what’s happening in music right now is that it’s so sleekly produced- especially electronic music. It’s just so airtight. What was important for us was to make electronic music that still felt really authentic almost like you found someone’s diary with a bunch of photographs stuffed into it. So, although some of the songs are electronic in some formation, it still feels like there’s a breath to it. Jeremy brought in a fourtrack, which had to be the same fourtrack I used when I was like sixteen learning how to write songs. Our producer, Dabney, had the idea to take all the drum parts and all the synth parts we had recorded in the computer and run them onto the tape. It gave it a kind of grittiness to it and made it feel authentic.
Jeremy: We say that we turned my bedroom into a studio, but I don’t know that you’d actually call it a studio. A lot of it, like the Casio keyboard, was stuff that was just lying around. We were just limited to what was around us and the sounds on the record kind of reflect that.
Keegan: It’s sort of funny, we’ll get into a rental car in L.A. and hear Thunder Clatter on the radio we’ll think, “that’s kind of hilarious; we recorded that in a bedroom.” I hope that somewhere that’s why people connect to the song and the record in general. It’s a record that is now reaching a lot of people but it was created in this teeny-tiny way and a lot of us just saying, “I think that’s how you mix a record?”
In terms of influences, a lot of the non-sonic stuff was filmmaking and poetry. I was really digging into this poet, Philip Larkin, who was hinting at the same stuff thematically that I am trying to talk with on the record like growing up, aging, and what it means to get a little bit older. Also, to kind of look back on the developmental years of your life.
My big moment for the record happened two or three years before we formed the band when I came here to UNC and looking at the incredible collection of Walker Percy diaries. He kind of coined this phrase called ‘the sad little happiness.’ That phrase for me was such an exciting idea. The idea of this intimacy that you share with somebody that’s not like the big kiss or the first moment of meeting them. It’s like sitting in a car and listening to a song you both enjoy. You’re both connecting but not talking at all. There’s this intangible, smaller thing. Walker Percy was a big jumping off point for me as far as lyrics.
So, it was kind of those little fleeting moments that really inspired you?
Keegan: Yeah I feel like those are the ones that last. You don’t remember the moment your dad died but you remember how silly it was driving home that night when “Life Is a Highway” comes on and you think ‘this is ridiculous.’ It’s those cool, interesting contrasts that you have in your life. Yeah there’s the big spark moments that seem all impressive but it’s these small, like you said, fleeting things that you appreciate the most.
Random question: what are you guys currently digging right now in music?
Keegan: My favorite record right now is Warpaint’s but I say that too much. The guys in the van really have to suffer through me listening to a lot of Warpaint.
Jeremy: We saw them at SXSW and I think on their last record they were the band that we caught maybe more than we should. Maybe four or five times?
Keegan: Yeah we got addicted. We saw them once and were like ‘let’s just go catch them again!’
How did it go at SXSW?
Keegan: It was great! It feels a little bit like boot camp. It’s the thing where you play ten shows in seven days and I try to keep my voice and still try to talk to people.
Jeremy: I think this was our eighth year? We’re used to it by now. It’s nice you get excited about it but you’re preparing for it mentally. You’re like, ‘alright well, it’s gonna be a lot of vodka Red Bulls!’
Keegan: A lot of tacos at 2am. I remember two or three weeks beforehand we were sitting in Albany in a blizzard in a polar vortex and that was our carrot at the end of the stick. We just thought, ‘okay, two weeks from now we’ll be in Austin eating tacos!’
You guys played on Jimmy Fallon! How did that go?
Jeremy: Oh it was terrifying. It’s the kind of thing where you have a really early load-in and you sound check one song at 11am. Then you sit around until you play at 4:30pm. So you’re like, ‘alright I’ll just pace around our green room and think about the one song that we’re about to play on national television.’
Keegan: We had a great thing where one of our amps didn’t turn on for the first time we did the song so it was especially terrifying. After we played the entire first song we thought, “oh, we’re doomed!” Then, Jimmy came over and was like, “that was awesome. You’ll just do it again. It’ll be fine.” Then we relaxed and did it again but I felt like I aged that day. We’re hoping when we do Conan next week, we’ll just walk in super relaxed. We’ll just high-five the camera man.