You would think that having theater virtuoso parents and being classically trained in singing, dancing and acting would make for an easier transition to becoming a singer-songwriter in a band. Shafer Wilkerson, who fronts his group SB Wilkerson, would beg to differ.
Despite his musical theater-heavy credentials and having released a solo EP in 2016, Wilkerson is just beginning to find his voice as a singer-songwriter with his band’s new single “Different Reality,” which was released Friday.
"I think that's one detriment that theater gives to a vocal recording artist, is that you sing in a certain way in musical theater," Wilkerson says. "I think that starts to dictate not knowing what your actual voice is when recording in real life, so to speak."
Growing up, Wilkerson worked with Broadway singers, dancers and choreographers. As a student at Carrollton's Creekview High School, he was active in musicals, choir, orchestra and dance. These facets of the arts will always have a special place in Wilkerson's heart, he says. Eventually, he wanted to create something that he could call his own, so Wilkerson began writing songs for his first EP, hired a couple of band members and started performing around the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
Some of the songs off 2016's EP Not Today sound like they could easily be part of a musical theater production. They're primarily led by his piano playing and almost overly-controlled vocals. But still, Not Today is an honest time capsule of Wilkerson's life at age 19. Two days before he was set to record his EP, his girlfriend committed suicide.
"It was a weird reaction because I didn't really cry or anything like that," Wilkerson says. "I just kind of went straight to my piano and started writing."
Out of this dark period came his song "Stay," which he went on to record two days later.
"We had already had a full five-track ready to go for recording and then that happened," he says of his girlfriend's passing. "I was supposed to record two days later and we could have moved it, we could have moved the schedule, but I told the producer, 'No, no, let's go.'"
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"Stay" is stylistically along the same lines as the rest of EP. Wilkerson's sound begins to peek from behind the curtain of his classical influences in the fourth song, "Rebel." It's guitar-driven, and the vocals are riskier. When it comes to his lyrics, Wilkerson says the songs he was writing in 2016 were angsty and primarily about heartbreak. He didn't have a lid on his emotions at the time, he says.
"I definitely did not really have a cap on my emotions and didn't really have a lid on what I should use and what I shouldn't," he says. "It was very much just raw emotion 100% the entire time on every track."
The title track "Not Today" marks a shift in Wilkerson's songwriting. It's more self-reflective and mature, similar to "Different Reality." A lot has changed for Wilkerson since the release of Not Today. One of the biggest changes came in the form of his backing band. His for-hire band members began to cost too much, and they weren't in it for the long haul, Wilkerson says. He now performs and records with drummer Nick Roels and guitarist Anthony Stroud.
Stroud and Wilkerson met, the artist says, when the two were both doing work at Studio 801 and began following each other on social media.
"You'll see people (on social media) that are good and good is cool," Wilkerson says. "But you don't see a lot that are just great, and Anthony's great."
One direct message later, and they were jamming together. Roels, on the other hand, didn't have much time to get to know Wilkerson and Anthony before they were sharing a stage together. It was three days before the lineup's first gig when they first rehearsed together in Wilkerson's parents' living room.
Roels is a drummer in the University of North Texas' jazz program. Not long before the band's first rehearsal, Roels was out to eat with a friend who added him to a handful of DFW musician groups on Facebook.
"He threw me on like five of them right there in a Chipotle," Roels recalls.
One of the groups is called DFW Shed Sessions. Roels says more often than not, the group consists of posts by people looking for drummers to play at their church that Sunday. So Wilkerson's post inquiring about a drummer for a paid gig caught Roels' eye.
"I called and I'm like, 'Yeah, I'm at UNT for jazz,'" Roels told Wilkerson. "He was like, 'Oh, OK, you're on. I know if you're at UNT for jazz, you've probably got it.'"
Throughout that first rehearsal, and extending to their first gig, the band's chemistry clicked. Months later, the band found itself in a secluded rehearsal studio that's practically in the middle of nowhere to begin recording "Different Reality."
SB Wilkerson likely would have never heard about this studio if it weren't for local artist Mr. Carter Davis.
Stroud says: "Carter Davis was having a party there, showing some people his new music. He invited me out to that studio and sent me the address. I showed up and I called him. I was like, 'Hey, I think I'm here. I just see a building, some brick walls. Is this the place?' He goes, 'Does it look sketchy?' And I'm like, 'Yeah, kinda.' He goes, 'Yeah, you're there.'"
When Stroud walked in, he saw, "the coolest place" he'd ever been to. There was art on nearly every wall, the studio sounded great, and there was a big room in the back for live performances. It was the perfect place for SB Wilkerson to embark on its first full-length studio album, and with it came the helping hands of Carter Davis.
"It was like Christmas in the studio (with Carter Davis)," Stroud says. "You walk through the door and it's like, 'Man, it's time to work.'"
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SB Wilkerson is about four songs into its full-length album. "Different Reality," the title track for the record, is the first of these songs to be released and there are more release dates coming soon. But the group is taking a short break to get acclimated to their fall schedules.
Wilkerson will be continuing his musical theater major at the University of Central Oklahoma, while Stroud and Roels stick around in North Texas. There will be trips back and forth for all of them, not only to continue the album but to also begin playing shows in Oklahoma in hopes of broadening their fan base.
This album "is definitely taking a step in the right direction," Wilkerson says. "It's been a really cool creative process, really transforming the sound into a completely new entity."