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A Sprinkling of Stardust: The Return of The Wandering Hearts

Wednesday, 04 August 2021 Written by Simon Ramsay

If patience truly is a virtue, then The Wandering Hearts must be among Britain’s most righteous bands. During a whirlwind first few years together, the Americana-pop-folk act enjoyed one hell of a ride. Signed within minutes of uploading their music to Soundcloud, the group subsequently released their accomplished debut effort ‘Wild Silence’ in 2018. By February 2020 album two was in the can and they looked set to build on that momentum. Until the world changed.

It’s hardly unprecedented for the release of a record to be delayed. It is, however, usually due to creative issues, legal disputes and all sorts of boring business shenanigans. Not the kind of worldwide pandemic that stopped society in its tracks and pushed The Wandering Hearts’ self-titled second release back by over a year.

Now a three piece following the departure of Tim Prottey-Jones, you won’t find a more optimistic threesome than Francesca ‘Chess’ Whiffin, AJ Dean, and Tara Wilcox. Yet, having supported Tom Petty and Stevie Nicks, become the first UK band in history to make their debut at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium and Grand Ole Opry in the same week, and landed the patronage of country legend Marty Stuart, the last thing their blossoming career needed was for someone to effectively hit the pause button for an extended period of time.  

If any group were equipped to navigate such uncertain waters, though, it was this endearingly tight three-piece whose positivity not only stood them in good stead during that hiatus, but also made their second album, recorded in Woodstock with producers Simone Felice and David Baron, exactly the kind of tonic that was needed after a year of turmoil and uncertainty. 

Marrying gold standard Fleetwood Mac harmonies and anthemic transatlantic pop hooks to rootsy country, spine-tingling folk and dusky Americana, while delivering intimate, emotionally charged lyrical tales, messages of hope rise from the ashes of love, loss and struggle throughout a consistently inspirational return that was certainly worth the wait.  We caught up with Chess to hear about surviving lockdown, recording at Johnny Cash’s legendary retreat and what fans can look forward to from a third record that’s already in the pipeline.

My first question is one I haven’t asked any musician before and hopefully won’t again: what’s it like having to sit on a new album for a year and a half because of a global pandemic?

Tricky and frustrating, as you can imagine. We got back from Woodstock and felt lucky we’d finished the record before everything shut down, but since then we’ve had to sit around and twiddle our thumbs while we got everything lined up. Fans have been so supportive and really kept us going. They’ve said, ‘Whatever it takes, take your time.’ It’s been so nice to have that connection with them.  To hear them being patient, it’s like we need to practice patience too. It’s been tough, but we knew that when the time was right, it would be right.

You’re an incredibly close trio. That must have helped during such a difficult time?

We’re not afraid to say how we feel about anything because, essentially, we know it’s not going to be detrimental to relationships. We can talk about anything. Nothing’s too much.  We’ll deal with it and get through it together. This last year has highlighted that even more because we’ve not been able to see each other. But we’ve still been there and shown up when everyone’s needed it. It’s kept the fire in the pits of our stomachs to get through it and get back out there.        

What was your vision for the album?

We wanted it to be as authentic to us as possible. In a recording sense, a writing sense, production. We wanted it to sound close to what you hear live. We had that in our heads for the first record but didn’t know how to execute it, so we trusted what we were being told and that worked well. With this one we wanted it to be something that resonated with us in the same way as when we were writing the songs. So we were lucky to work with Simone Felice and David Baron, who are just incredible. We got to be in Woodstock and got that influence on the record. Songs were written and brought to life out there.   

Can you paint a picture of what recording in the Catskills was like?

It was really laid back. You can’t help but lay back and take in those surroundings, because it’s all so chilled in Woodstock. From the studio you could look down onto this beautiful Ashokan reservoir.  There’s nothing around to distract you. It’s stunning. There’s certainly that Woodstock influence on some tracks, but more than anything it just fostered this incredible environment for us to be able to create and be vulnerable. Everyone had the space to have their input, whether it was used or not. It gives the artist so much more ownership, because sometimes producers take it all on, do all the work, and then you get it back and you’re like ‘Oh cool, so I just turn up and sing and leave.’ Whereas this was such a collaboration. It wouldn’t have worked without any one of us being there.

Dolores is a spellbinding number you wrote about the late Cranberries singer. What elements of her story connected with you?  

I read this article in Rolling Stone on the way to a writing session. I knew The Cranberries’ music, but didn’t know the story about Dolores [O’Riordan] and the history of the band because I was a bit too young when the music came out. I felt compelled to get into the session and tell the guys. We started talking about mental health, the stigma attached to that and how people don’t always find, or don’t have, the right space to talk about it. There was a line Tara’s mum used to say to her, which was ‘Everyone’s fighting a battle you know nothing about, so be kind.’ We used that as the tag line and finished off the rest of the lyrics knowing that was going to be the main message of the song. Essentially, it’s an extremely sad story, but we wanted people to listen and take away something positive from it.

Your vocals on that track are haunting.

The demo was quite different to the end product. Me and Tara sing a lot of the song in unison, which isn’t something we’d done before. That’s a powerful thing Simone got us to try. I was like ‘No no, we sing harmonies, that’s what we do.’ He was like ‘Trust me, just sing it together’ and we did. It was the same day Caroline Flack died and that reinforced the whole message, how hounded she was by the media. It hit home and was really emotional, even more so, to record it that day.  It’s a special song for us that’s quite hard to get through live.

How hard do you work on getting the lyrics for songs like that right?

We’re always going back to the lyrics. That’s what takes the time, making sure the lyrics say exactly what we want them to and we’ve not got any filler lines. Sometimes that can drive you a bit mad and you have to stay in it to find it. More often than not it’s one line, one word, that you haven’t quite nailed. And then the song’s finished.  

You have a strong pop component to your music. Was there any pressure put on you to make a more mainstream follow up and capitalise on those commercial aspects?

We’ve been lucky. We were able to write the music we wanted to write, say what we needed to say and create the sounds we wanted. With the new record we were able to hand pick the songs we’d written and go ‘What do we want this album to be?’ It gave us incredible artistic freedom to do that and include a song like Dreams, that Marty Stuart and his wife Connie Smith wrote. We had an awesome time recording that song at the Cash Cabin. We were able to include all of these different songs that have a deeper meaning to us. As opposed to writing a song for the sake of having a commercial hit. We’ve not been put under any pressure at all to include anything on this record to tick boxes in any way.  

Is Johnny’s legendary Cash Cabin the kind of place that has some kind of mystical energetic aura about it?

Oh my god, exactly that. It’s an amazing place and it was really cool having Marty there.  Because he was so close to Johnny it was like having him there, talking us through all the stuff: June’s piano, the pictures, everything. He was telling us the history and stories behind all of it. You could feel Johnny’s presence, you could feel him around, and it was like he’d just popped out and we’d just popped in. A very cool place and awesome that our schedules lined up so we could be out there when Marty came over to put his mandolin and guitar on the track. It was a pretty amazing experience I don’t think we’ll forget in a hurry.

Although this album is finally about to be released, you’ve been working hard on your next record during lockdown.

We’ve spent the last eight months writing new music. We’ve been so free with concepts and things we’re writing about. Again, it’s quite eclectic. The list of new songs is growing and they’re all different. It’s interesting to hear that evolution. Americana, country and folk, we’re trying to stay within those gates but explore what that is. We love being able to span those genres and not pigeonhole ourselves, but it’s exciting to push boundaries ever so slightly and see where it takes us.

'The Wandering Hearts' is out on August 6 through Cooking Vinyl.

The Wandering Hearts' Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Sat August 21 2021 - COLCHESTER Little Rabbit Barn
Sun August 22 2021 - MILTON KEYNES Stables
Mon August 23 2021 - SOUTHAMPTON Brook
Tue August 24 2021 - TUNBRIDGE WELLS Forum
Thu August 26 2021 - LONDON Nells
Fri August 27 2021 - GUILDFORD Boileroom
Sat August 28 2021 - CARDIFF Clwb Ifor Bach
Sun August 29 2021 - COTTINGHAM Civic Hall
Tue August 31 2021 - POCKLINGTON Arts Centre
Thu September 02 2021 - STOCKTON Georgian Theatre
Fri September 03 2021 - KENDAL Brewery Arts Centre
Sat September 04 2021 - GATESHEAD Sage
Mon September 06 2021 - EDINBURGH Summerhall
Tue September 07 2021 - STIRLING Tolbooth
Wed September 08 2021 - ABERDEEN Lemon Tree
Thu September 09 2021 - DUNFERMLINE PJ Molloys
Tue September 14 2021 - POOLE Lighthouse
Wed September 15 2021 - OXFORD Bullingdon
Sun May 15 2022 - GLASGOW St Luke's
Mon May 16 2022 - NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE Riverside
Tue May 17 2022 - LEEDS Wardrobe
Wed May 18 2022 - MANCHESTER Manchester Academy 2
Fri May 20 2022 - LIVERPOOL O2 Academy2 Liverpool
Sat May 21 2022 - NORWICH Waterfront
Sun May 22 2022 - BIRMINGHAM O2 Institute2
Tue May 24 2022 - BRISTOL Trinity Centre
Wed May 25 2022 - LONDON O2 Shepherd's Bush Empire
Fri May 27 2022 - BRIGHTON Concorde 2

Compare & Buy The Wandering Hearts Tickets at Stereoboard.com.

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