You know the saying “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it?” Well, don’t tell that to Zane Williams and Paul Eason.
After forging successful careers separately from each other - Williams as a solo artist with seven albums to his name and Eason as a solo artist and guitarist for Kevin Fowler - the two connected in 2017 via text message about joining forces. Shortly after they formed Hill Country, now known as The Wilder Blue.
Joining them are drummer Lyndon Hughes (Roger Creager), William’s old bassist turned banjo and dobro player Andy Rogers; and bassist Sean Rodriguez, whom Eason describes as the “perfect harmony singing bass player.” The trio was brought into the group after an arduous search by Williams and Eason to fill out a band with five prolific singers.
With an abundance of time to record during the pandemic, the band grew closer together as people and in sound on their sophomore, self-titled album. The collaboration was further enhanced by them opting to self-produce the project, something they did intentionally in order to grow closer to one another.
“Even though we all have a lot of experience we’re still a new band,” says Rodriguez. “We wanted to put all of our focus into growing tighter with our harmonies and collective sound because if you aren’t on the same page it doesn’t matter how good of a producer you have.”
They were able to afford this flexibility in recording thanks to “The Hideout”, a Patreon-like subscription through the band’s website for as little as $5 USD per month that grants access to their latest album along with solo material from Williams and Eason, alternate versions of songs, demos, access to members-only livestreams, the ability to reserve front row seats at shows and more. The concept for “The Hideout” is one that Williams and Rodriguez began discussing in February 2020 and put into action a handful of weeks later when the pandemic hit.
“It paid for the whole [album], which was amazing because it allowed us to forgo shopping around for a label to help put it out,” says Eason. “It also allowed us to take our time recording and making the album our way rather than having somebody else pulling the strings.”
‘The Ol’ Guitar Picker’ on their latest album seems to touch on this. In it the band sing “He said there’s only one rule in music / If it sounds good then it is / It’s a mighty tough puzzle making music in the money biz / But when it all comes together it ain’t hard to understand”, alluding to the long search that brought the band together and how they’ve used things like “The Hideout” to build up a community of devout fans to help them work around the confines of the music industry.
“I don’t fault labels or streaming platforms for doing what they do, it’s just that as an artist I don’t like having to work within their structures if I don’t have to,” says Williams. “That’s where ‘The Hideout’ comes in. It’s allowed us an exit ramp to bypass those structures and make the music we want to on our own terms.”
The song is one of many on the album that lean in an autobiographical direction, joining tracks like ‘The Birds of Youth’ that look back on Williams’ life, like childhood vacations to his grandparents’ home in Kentucky. Others, like ‘Picket Fences’, written from his grandfather’s perspective growing up on his Tennessee farm, are what Williams describes as semi-autobiographical, while cuts like ‘Okie Soldier’ - a heartfelt tale of a soldier writing about missing home - fall more in the fictional realm. However, all together they help to bring The Wilder Blues’ rich blend of harmonies and feel-good storytelling to life.
“Music is like a glue that seeps in between us all and helps us to realize how much we all have in common”, says Williams. “It brings people together who may not interact with each other or share anything in common in life other than their passion for music.”
For The Wilder Blue, the music that brings their collective sound together ranges from Texas twang to red dirt country, southern rock, bluegrass and more. The group sat down with Holler to discuss these influences and more for The Songs That Changed My Life.
“When I heard this for the first time, my mind opened up to what groove could be. Every time I hear it, I jump out of my seat and can’t help but sing and dance.It’s my JAM!” - Lyndon Hughes
“This song always feels right when you’re lonely. I found it during my first year of college when I spent most of the year living alone, in a new town where I didn’t know anyone, and traveling every weekend to go play guitar anywhere that would hire me.” - Paul Eason
“This song was probably the first that made me realize that there aren't really any boundaries to what you can do with your music. There are no real rules or lines to drive along - why not be a blues rock band and write a country song? It's all Texas all the way down and I absolutely love that.” - Sean Rodriguez
“No one I grew up with listened to country music. When I turned 16 and started driving, I had the radio all to myself and started flipping stations. Garth Brooks’ music hooked me with conversational lyrics and a heartfelt performance. I got a guitar and started writing (bad) songs shortly thereafter.” - Zane Williams
“This was the first song I really remember playing with my mom. I still to this day make her sing it with me when I’m home. And Emmylou is of course straight perfection” - Andy Rogers
The Wilder Blue’s new self-titled album is out now via Soundly Music.