DFW Music News

Q&A: The Wheeler Brothers Expand Their Base

Brothers Nolan, Danny, and Pat Wheeler have been performing with their current lineup (along with college classmate Danny Matthews and childhood friend A.J. Molyneaux) for about only 18 months, but in that short time they've already managed to impress a few country luminaries like Ray Benson of Asleep at the Wheel.

While The Wheeler Brothers aren't a household name quite yet, their growing popularity has resulted in an upsurge in touring and with our close proximity to their home base in Austin, we are bound to start seeing their name on the marquees of local clubs with increasing frequency.

In advance of their show tonight at Lola's in Fort Worth, we caught up with Matthews, Molyneaux and Pat Wheeler from the road. Read more after the jump.

This has been a pretty whirlwind 18 months for you guys. What aspects of that journey have been the most surprising? Matthews: Um, it's hopefully happening fast -- I don't know whether it is or if it's not, to be honest. I think it's exciting for us to go into new markets recently and to have some people start to show up [who] are at least familiar with some of the tunes. I think just to grow a fan base and watch it grow at a really small level and to be able to interact with them in small venues and intimate environments for now has been one of the biggest treats for us. The fan base has been slowly growing outside of Austin, probably a direct result from all the traveling.

Molyneaux: Not too many crazy things happen to us on the road. There's no more surprising and kind of reinforcing feeling than when we get into a small town out in Oklahoma or somewhere like that, a place we've never played before, and there are seven people in the audience that have all downloaded the album online and are requesting certain songs. It's always surprising to find people so far out of our home base in Austin, where we do most of our shows and all of our media, who are aware of us through the grapevine. That's always a cool thing to hear about.

There are so many bands in Austin, and that market is pretty oversaturated, do you feel you have to work harder there to get noticed? Matthews: Austin is a really, really dense music city, but it also is a really helpful city. It's kind of one big happy family in Austin, I've found. We're all competing for the same market, but most of the guys we play with from Austin are happy to throw us good gigs when they've got them, and we're happy to do the same when we've got them. It's dense, but if you can kind of battle and get in the right venues and with the right folks, then it's not quite as big of an uphill battle as people might perceive it to be.

What kind of hustling do you have to do first starting out in Austin to "get in the right venues," etc.? Matthews: When we were first starting we were playing in clubs like Momo's, and The Parish, and the Hole in the Wall and some other small clubs -- kind of anywhere that would have us, at first. We treat all of our shows like there are 10,000 people there. We bring a lot of energy, and we rehearse really, really hard. Before we even played, we rehearsed forever, almost to the point of driving ourselves crazy. Once we first started, we kind of hit the ground running. We didn't have to take time to hone in the set or work out as many kinks as many starting bands do. We have a really deliberate live presence.

Were you guys always close growing up, or did you kind of grow closer as you got older? Wheeler:We've always been pretty close. The good news with that is we're getting along pretty well. It's about 90-10, we get along most of the time.

Is there any extra drama that comes from playing with your brothers as opposed to just being in a band with strangers or friends? Wheeler: It's a blast. We've always gotten along real well. It's good because we watch out for each other. We certainly have crazy shit go down every once in awhile, but when it's your brothers you can always patch things up and get back to work. It's kind of a vicious cycle. We generally get along really well, and of course they're my little brothers. We went to college together; we went to high school together; we've always been around each other.

Ray Benson released your record on his label. How did that come about, and also how does it feel knowing an artist with that kind of esteem has taken an interest in you? Wheeler: Ray's son came to a show, and then we played [Ray's] birthday party and we started kind of developing a relationship with him. He's been very helpful in furthering us and introducing us to people that can help us out. We haven't been at it that long, but it feels like a while in your home city when you're slugging it out for a year-and-a-half trying to work your way up from small venues to decent ones, so we were excited that someone who has nine Grammy's would take an interest in us. We certainly count it as a win.

The song "Home for the Holidays" seems almost destined to be in a holiday television commercial. What are your thoughts on letting companies use your songs? Wheeler: We haven't really talked about it. We haven't been approached by anyone about it. We're really kind of flying by the seat of our pants, just seeing how things go. We're really still relatively new. I guess it's a good thing. I guess it depends on what kind of commercial. I guess some people don't really like that, but it doesn't bother me too much.

Who are some of your favorite alt-country/Americana acts that you've played with and/or who are some lesser known bands that you're fans of? Wheeler: Obviously we're working with Frontier Management and The Avett Brothers are totally awesome, so hopefully someday we'll get an opportunity to play with them. That would be fantastic. We're also big Dr. Dog fans and Wilco. We listen to a lot of music when we're on the road so the music gets pretty varied in taste, but those are some good bands that we all listen to.

How did you get actor Art LaFleur to be in your newest video? Were any of you guys fans of The Sandlot growing up? Wheeler: Art was awesome. I was surprised he was so down to earth and was a cool guy to hang out with. We met him through Pat Cassidy, our manager. He had done some sort of project with him, and he got us together. We shot a video with a few of our fans, and I think it came out really well. And we had a good time doing it.

Can you usually gauge how successful one of your shows was by how much beer the audience drank while you were playing? Wheeler: That could be possible. When we were first getting going it was crazy. [Bars] were selling out completely of Bud Light. On the road crowds have certainly gotten much smaller -- there aren't a whole bunch of people that know about us in some of these places we're going to -- but certainly in Texas it's pretty outrageous, and our fans have a pretty good time.

The Wheeler Brothers perform tonight at Lola's with Telegraph Canyon.

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Cory Graves