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Interview: The Wandering Hearts discuss their crazy few years, new music and playing the Spotlight Stage at C2C

The trio sat down with us during C2C ahead of their Spotlight Stage performance in London.

The Wandering Hearts
Credit: Decca

The Wandering Hearts have established themselves as one of the biggest and most-loved homegrown Country/Americana bands of the past couple of years.

Signed to Decca, the band became a trio earlier this year when Tim Prottey-Jones decided to leave. A.J. Dean, Tara Wilcox and Tess Whiffin decided to press forward as a trio and their first major UK appearance was at C2C: Country to Country earlier this month.

I sat down with the band to talk about the recent change, discuss the incredible success they’ve had so far, and to find out when we can expect new music.

You guys have had a crazy couple of years. What’s it been like for you?

AJ: Pretty mad to be honest. We have been keeping ourselves busy but we’ve had so many cool opportunities put our way, that we’ve just relished throwing ourselves into the deep end. We’ve been on tour. Obviously going out to America was a really big thing. Marty Stuart hooked us up with that so we have him to thank for that and so much more. We’ve just been loving it. It’s been amazing. We just keep going, keep playing, keep writing…. we’re doing more of that at the moment.

It was the Ryman you guys played at last year wasn’t it?

Chess: We played The Ryman the night after we got there. We landed and we were all completely hyper anyway and jet lagged, and it was all just mental. Within 24 hours we were playing our international debut on the Ryman stage. It was completely bonkers. That same week we did the Opry and the Bluebird, and then we went to Memphis to play Graceland. Then we went back and did the Opry the following week, because they asked us back, so it was like two weeks of complete and utter dream state. But also mayhem trying to keep us all together and not lose anyone. It was so much fun. We really do have Marty Stuart to thank for all of that because he took us out. We were on tour with him over here, about two years ago in October I think, and he just loved us. He wanted to take us out to America and he wanted us to play these shows. We were like, ‘it’s a really sweet thing to say. It’s a really nice gesture but if it doesn’t happen it’s a nice thought’. It went in our diaries and we went, and it happened and we still talk about it. I mean there’s video footage otherwise we’d think we made it up. It’s still quite surreal.

A good couple of weeks to take ticking off these bucket list things then?

Chess: Yeah. In two weeks…

AJ: When we first got together we talked about places that we’d love to play and slowly but surely, not even that slowly sometimes, we’re ticking off all of those venues.

You’re just going to have to keep listing those venues because it’s obviously working for you…

Chess: Sydney Opera House! (laughs)

AJ: The Bahamas!

Tara: Headlining the Royal Albert Hall.

The deluxe version of your debut album Wild Silence just came out and the band became a trio. Has it been tricky reworking things or have you just got on with it?

Chess: It’s been quite an easy transition I think for us because we’re all so close anyway. Musically it’s been really interesting writing as a three and the new material that we’ve been working on is so exciting. Everyone that we’ve played it to is just really excited about it. It is only a good thing right now for us and it feels that way as well. We’re all really happy.

Why did you decide to do a deluxe version of the album as opposed to a new E.P.?

AJ: When we first started writing the album I Wish I Could, we knew was going be the first single and that was written a really long time ago actually by the time we recorded. Then playing them all on the road, the songs have changed quite a lot so going back to the album again and going, ‘we also have that’s song and that song that we loved that didn’t actually get on the album. We’ve also written these ones since and we’ve done the shows in America and had these cool versions of things recorded like in Memphis’. We felt like (the additional songs were) still part of that same experience of that first album that just moved on a bit. It was almost 8 tracks so it was a bit more than an E.P. really but it was just less than an album. Timeline wise it probably wouldn’t have worked out to do a whole other album. It seemed to make sense.

Tara: Now where we’re at as well it really feels like, particularly with the change that you’ve talked about, it really feels like a really lovely end of a chapter. There were 12 really great songs and then eight extra songs that documented our transition from playing things live to recording and vice versa. Some of the Graceland tracks that we had to do something with. The new stuff that we’re writing, we’re so excited about, it’s so cool. It’s something. The songs that went on this deluxe, they wouldn’t go on the next one and they won’t be going on it. It feels different and it’s exciting. For us the deluxe is so wonderful to have the opportunity to put that out and then have a line and see where we go next…. Sydney (laughs).

The Wandering Hearts at C2C

Credit: Luke Dyson

As you’ve been hard at work writing the next album, when can we expect to hear more new music?

Chess: We’re working on the next album now. We’ve written a lot of it. We’re going to continue to write probably up until someone tells us to stop. Hopefully we’ll start releasing some stuff towards the end of this year and then an album early-to-mid next year. Fingers crossed, all being well.

Tara: We’re hoping to get out to the States pretty soon, start recording some stuff out there and spending a bulk of time out there. We’ve had some really wonderful experiences in America. American audiences have been so kind to us. We’ve got some really good mates out there so the plan is that we’ll hopefully get a bus of some sort and just travel around America and hook up with some friends, write some songs, record some stuff and feel really lucky to be in this position to be able to do that. To be able to say that to you now like it’s a normal thing to say (laughs), we know it’s not a normal thing to say but we’re so happy and grateful.

How did American audiences respond to your music? It must be quite unusual for them to see Country and Americana music from a U.K. band?

AJ: Over here quite a lot of the time and over in America, you hear a lot of people saying what they feel is definitively Country or what definitively is not Country. It’s probably fair to say that we thought, our first international gigs at the Ryman, the home and the mother church of Country music, what the hell are people going to think? Luckily we had Marty Stuart there as our champion and he really bigged us up. We Burning Bridges acapella and it was quiet as anything. Then we heard someone say, ‘wow’ and then everyone stood up and we had a standing ovation. It was bonkers but I feel like they listen in a different way. All the audiences we had didn’t seem to make that judgment on what they thought it was or wasn’t.

Tara: I think it’s almost easier for us. Over here I feel like we get really divided by people saying, ‘oh my god they’re definitely country’ or ‘they’re absolutely unequivocally not country’. In America it’s not a question. They just kind of go, ‘oh I like this band’ and that’s the end of it. We’re playing a lot of Americana stuff… I don’t think they know. I think Country is such a broad genre so I don’t feel like we have to fight our corner as much. It’s less so now but I think we have to do more fighting our corner in the UK country bracket than we do in the States.

Chess: We also have Marty Stuart who everyone respects out there. Lots of people here don’t know who he is, which is bonkers when you think about it. In America and for sure in places like Nashville, he’s an institution and a legend so when he’s going, ‘I’ve bought these guys out from from the UK, you guys are going to love them, they’re amazing’. Everyone’s just on board. Without him I think we probably would have found it harder to get people on board the way that we have. He really has championed us. We got a message last week and he was saying someone’s doing a documentary about him and he wanted to promote us in it. He asked us to send him some CDs. He’s just such an amazing, amazing man.

Later today you’re going to playing the Spotlight Stage inside The O2 Arena. How are you feeling about that?

Chess: We played the Glasgow C2C on Friday and that was a pretty big arena. It was our first ever arena. We walked in today to do the soundcheck and we were like, ‘oh my god this is so much bigger!’ The delay in the room that you get when you when you hear it come through the P.A. is a bit mind boggling!

Tara: I always play the tambourine in one of the songs that we’re going to play and our wonderful sound engineer was like, ‘Tara you can’t play tambourine because it makes it sound like you’re out of time’. As I’m hitting it the delay is so massive…

AJ: In Glasgow they’ve still got the Spotlight Stage in front of the main stage and because you’re so close to the speakers, it doesn’t sound mental. The O2 is bigger and the Spotlight Stage is further away but you’re still using the same P.A. We’re luckily using ears this time.

Chess: We’re so excited. Coming to C2C every year has been so fun, just to be a part of it in the smallest way possible. Each year we’ve thought it was cool to play (on the various stages).

Tara: But the Spotlight Stage has always been a bit of a moment when you get to watch people on there….

Chess: Absolutely! To be playing the Spotlight Stages is something we saw and looked at and in our wildest dreams thought we might potentially one day do it.

Tara: We found out that we’re the first UK band to ever play the Spotlight Stage in the arena.

Chess: I mean it’s pushing it a little bit as there have been duos like The Shires and Ward Thomas that have done it.

Will we get another headline tour from you guys before the end of the year?

Tara: We finish the Ward Thomas tour, then we’re in the States and we come back and then we’re with Jack Savoretti, who we adore on a few dates for the Forestry Commission and then some festivals. Then hopefully we’ll go back out for AmericanaFest and drop some new music. No time off, having the best time! I think that’s the plan.

Chess: I think hopefully we’ll do some form of a tour at the end of the year but we’re not really sure what yet. It depends how it all pans out because you just don’t know do you? It could all change. We’ll definitely do a headline tour with the next album for sure.

The Deluxe Edition of The Wandering Heart’s debut album Wild Silence is available now. Watch an acoustic version of the title track below:

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