Drummer BenJarvis Dumas Keeps His Foot on the Gas for the Wild Feathers
BenJarvis Dumas is the wide-open, high-energy, can’t-stay-seated drummer for the Wild Feathers, a rising Southern rock band from Nashville. Dumas thought he had missed his chance in music and was living a domesticated life with a day job in music publishing administration, when a jam session with Ricky Young and Joel King changed everything and he was hired in the fall of 2012 to play with the band. With Win “Rocky” Win tattooed on his right arm, Dumas kicks off each show with a few clicks of his drumsticks, and the Wild Feathers’ four lead-singing guitar players (Young, King, Taylor Burns, and Preston Wimberly) take off in blazing harmony.
The Wild Feathers just finished their first headlining tour promoting their successful self-titled debut album. They played at the Hangout in Gulf Shores, Ala., before driving to New York City to play on “Late Night with Seth Myers” (May 14) and a sold out show at the Bowery.
We talked with Dumas before the Wild Feathers played at the Hangout.
The Southern Rambler: What is your roll as the drummer in a band filled with singers and guitars?
BenJarvis Dumas: There is a dispersal of responsibility in the band. The most important part is the vocals, words, and harmonies. All of that has to get through. My job is to decide where things go and how intensely or lacklusterly they get there. A lot of energy comes with drums and I love having my foot on the gas pedal and taking it for a drive. I do my best when I get into the zone and then everyone else will be energetic and give everything they have. The crowd will do the same.
We started touring heavily last year and playing tighter with good reactions from crowds we didn’t know. It began firing on all cylinders.
We played at the Hangout Festival last year and drove all night to get there from Atlanta. Our album hadn’t come out yet and we were the first band on Sunday on the smallest stage. We didn’t know anyone there but we had a big crowd and people were dancing and getting into it. We played our asses off and it was exhilarating. That was a moment we knew it was coming together. We made the most of it and realized that this is what real bands that make it do.
What changes when you are the headliner?
When we opened for Ryan Bingham, Bob Dylan, or Willie Nelson, we knew there would be people there and if they weren’t it wasn’t our fault because no one knew who we were. There is more pressure on us headlining but the rewards are extraordinary.
There were a few shows on this tour that were a little rocky, but we had never been there before. Those shows can be fun because no one knows who we are. The crowd is cold and we work hard to warm them up and win them over. But the nights are great when we walk out and the crowd is ready to go and knows all of the words to sing along.
What is your favorite part of the show? What is it like to play “Backwoods” when you are pushing the fast pace and pulling the trigger for the song?
I know this sounds like a cheap answer, but we have fun playing every song. I love walking out and that first moment of “All right everyone, are we ready?” There is an anticipation to play and I feel good and confident when I sit down because nothing has gone wrong yet.
It is fun with “The Ceiling” because we lose ourselves in the moment. I love every second of “Backwoods,” but I also love when it is over. It is a physical song that is fast for everyone. I am playing as fast as I can and I look up and the guys are changing chords as fast as they can. It is a great moment when we have finished that song.
The videos for “Backwoods” and “The Ceiling” are connected to tell a story but the ending is unclear. What really happens in the end?
I have wondered the same thing. Gus Black directed the videos and “Backwoods” is raucous and weird and “The Ceiling” is beautiful and sad. I don’t know how it ends. Maybe we will revisit it in the second album.
What does the name the Wild Feathers mean?
It started out as just a name we picked from a list because it sounded cool, but it had no meaning. The Wild Feathers has come to mean something over the years because our fans have grasped on to it and made it endearing to us. They call us feathers and call themselves feathers. The imagery in The Wild Feathers does represent a lot of our music and what we do. We are on the road a lot and we are free-spirited guys, but feathers can also be delicate. We are now proud of the name.
When did you get you first drum set?
My dad was a drummer and I grew up playing my dad’s drum set. Everyone in the band has a dad that was musically inclined and we all have stories about jamming with our dads and some of our moms. I got my first drum set when I was in 9th or 10th grade for Christmas. I have bought two drum sets in my life and I have a mixture of them on stage. The snare drum is one my dad bought in 1966 and we both learned how to play drums on it. He just gave it to me for Christmas and the snare still sounds good.
Does a successful debut album and tour affect the second album?
Yes because put pressure on ourselves. I heard someone say, “I don’t have the next ‘Ceiling’ in me yet.” It will happen. There was a time when we didn’t have “The Ceiling” but it just came out. Something else will come and it will be better.
What is next?
We play Bonnaroo, Firefly Music Festival, and Splendour in the Grass Festival in Australia this summer. We are spending more time at home during the festival season but the heavy touring begins again in the fall. There will be another single and video from this album and we will have to start working on the second album.
How do you survive life on the road together?
Most of the time we live our lives crammed together in a van and we have our own conversation with our own language and no one else would understand the words. We all call each other Mike. We are hard on each other for comedic relief but we love each other.
Do you still write your tour blog?
I used to love writing that blog. I was going through a break up with a long-time girlfriend and it was the band’s first time away from home and we were playing Montana and Wyoming. I needed to be out of myself mentally and emotionally and writing took the pain away and helped me figure out a lot of things. Now I am not as comfortable writing my feelings down publicly like that.
You wrote ‘Thank you God for every inch of this lonely road I am being scraped across.” Do you still feel like that?
I wrote that when we were leaving San Francisco after a show to get to LA in time to tape the ‘Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson’ the next morning. It was our first late night show. We stopped in a hotel room for 2-3 hours because that is all the time we had. Life on the road is hard physically and emotionally and we get scraped across, but I can never complain because all I have ever wanted is to play music and I am doing things I never thought I would have the chance to do.