William Wild Holds Steady Now
If Dan Fogelberg, Neil Young, and Harry Chapin put their musical genes together to create a musician in their image, they would have come up with Garrett Sale. Like his creators, his songs weave to together a straight-ahead purity of heart tangled up by loss, despair, hope, and love, telling stories of the ways that our emotions sometimes get the better of us and the ways we strive to come to terms with them. On March 4, 2016, William Wild releases Steady Now, a six-song EP that showcases the songwriting licks and musical genius of frontman Garrett Sale.
The record’s opening track, “Sleeptalk,” illustrates Sale’s way with words and music. Sale came up with the groove for “Sleeptalk” when he was in Europe for a few months after college. “I was just dealing with the uncomfortable feeling that seems to come over a lot of people right after college. I was struggling with anxiety about my career, and I didn’t feel like I was being a very good friend or boy friend.”
The song’s opening lines illustrate the ways that our misgivings, our lost hope, our worries occupy our dreaming hours: “I’ve been talking in my sleep/I’ve been wondering what it means.” These dreams cloud the singer’s waking hours, too, obscuring the light of the new day: “I wonder why I never saw the dawn.” Sale artfully plays with the images of blindness and insight, the inability to hear and revelation through sound. The worries of life weigh so heavily on the singer that not only do they penetrate his dreams, disturbing his sleep, but they also obscure the beauty of music (“I’m wonderin’ how I never heard the song”) and to the beauty of love; the singer’s lover urges him to “open up his eyes and take a look in mine/I’m telling you I’m never gonna leave” in an effort to clear away the fog in which he finds himself.
The song’s chorus, Sale says, is about a moment when his fiancé sat him down and told him she was never going to leave him. “She kind of threw a bucket of cold water on my head; her words and her actions felt like a pure representation of love to me.”
“Sleeptalk” opens in spare fashion with Sale’s tenor floating over the plaintive chords of his acoustic guitar; after the first verse, drums and pedal steel cascade soulfully into a sonic waterfall, pouring the water of revelation over our jaded hearts. The music of the verses recalls Van Morrison’s “Hungry for Your Love,” while the strains of the chorus hint at the poignant rhythms of REO Speedwagon’s early ballad of emptiness and love, “Without Expression (Don’t Be the Man).” “Sleeptalk” contains the promise of the lyrical power and beauty evoked by the songs on the remainder of the record.
HC: Tell me the story of the record.
Garrett Sale: I started working on it about a year and a half after my first album. That first album was influenced by sounds and textures. I wanted to try to write songs that stood on their own and didn’t need all these instruments. On this new record, I was experimenting with more traditional songs, and these songs are my first stab at more traditional songs. The solidifying thing about this record is the songwriting rather than the sound. These songs are more traditional in structure than the songs on my first album.
HC: How did you select the six songs for this record?
GS: These songs are just me talking about post-college life. You know, getting used to the real world and working really hard, trying to set goals and achieve them. Five years have passed since I graduated, and I’ve just started thinking about where I am, what I’ve achieved, and where I want to go and what I want to be doing. On this new stuff, I was thinking about my past with my music. There’s a line from the song “Morning”—”I fell in love when I was seventeen/Never learned to be alone”—that’s about me and my relationship to music. That whole song is about me pursuing my career, me not being productive, and me getting older.
HC: Where did you come up with the name for the band, William Wild?
GS: I met this homeless man one day, and he had told me once that he’d had this vision; he said he could tell that I was supposed to be doing this music thing. His name was William Wild. I had started producing music on my own, and I realized that the stuff I wanted to do was bigger than one dude; so I built a band around the sound. But keeping a band together is hard work and I couldn’t always find a consistent core of people for the band. I go back and forth about whether to record under my name or use the band’s name.
HC: When did you start playing?
GS: My dad bought me a guitar—an old ’70s Gibson J-50 acoustic—and I played that guitar until my sophomore year in college. I played in a band in high school; in college, I joined a synth-pop band (chuckles) called Young Life. After about six months, it became clear I wasn’t a good fit for that band. Of course, so life goes, as I was moving away from that band, they were starting to record an album. (laughs) I’m kind of a vintage guitar player. I have a 1950 Gibson J-50, a 1956 Gibson G2, a Fender Jazzmaster, and a 1960s Gibson hollow body. I shop at The Music Room in Knoxville; it’s the size of a closet but jam-packed with vintage instruments.
HC: How do you approach songwriting?
GS: It almost always starts on the guitar; I’ll be fooling around on the guitar and try to find a groove or emotional feeling; I might start humming along with it during the day or next couple of days. Sometimes I land on lyric that feels compelling. It’s way easier to say what I want to say when I’m not distracted and when I can hear what the song sounds like with guitar.
HC: What do you think are the elements of a great song?
GS: I’m trying to figure that out myself right now. I used to think it was some kind of structure that engaged you. I think now that a great song is when the lyrics, melody, and music work together and speak together as one.
HC: Who are your three greatest musical influences?
GS: Neil Young: he was one of the first older artists I listened to; I found his music in high school; he proved to me that you didn’t have to have a great voice to write amazing songs. Fleetwood Mac: I vividly remember hearing “The Chain”; their sonic sound really influenced me, and I played their Rumors album over and over and over again. Justin Vernon: I remember reading all about him when I was in high school and about the path he took to get to where he was; his album, For Emma, Forever Ago, was very influential to me.
HC: How do you think you have evolved as an artist?
GS: I am in the most efficient songwriting phase of my life right now. I’m really into production and engineering, too, and I think I’m becoming more proficient in that area. Playing live more and more has given me a chance to understand what moves people.
HC: What’s next for you?
GS: I hope to hit the road hard over the next year. I feel like I have several records to make before I can make the record I want to make.