Originally a quartet, the group adjusted to life as a trio when Tim Prottey-Jones departed in 2019. Since then, the trio – AJ Dean-Revington, Chess Whiffin and Tara Wilcox – has kept busy touring and working on their second album. A label change and the pandemic meant that the band had to push back the release of their self-titled second album, which is now due on 6th August.
I caught up with the band to discuss the long road to releasing their second album, talk about some of the highlights on the record, and to find out how the pandemic has impacted them…
It’s been a long journey for you to get to the point where you can release this album and you’ve have a record label change. What’s that experience been like for you?
Chess: It’s been an absolute rollercoaster, I won’t lie but you know, it’s all part of it. We were so fortunate to be picked up by Decca really early on and we had an amazing time with them. We were really lucky when Cooking Vinyl came along and they wanted to pick up this album. Everything’s worked out just perfectly in some ways. I think for us, this record is as authentic as we can possibly be and being with Cooking Vinyl, the team there is just wicked and we get on really well with them, and everything’s worked out. You hit these road bumps and think, ‘oh god, this is it! It’s all gonna fall apart’ (laughs) but actually you get over it. This is a really positive move for us. All of those things that have happened throughout, putting the album back, the songs have an almost different meaning after the year we’ve all just been through. They’re even more relevant and poignant than they were when we wrote them. It’s built some character and it’s built some strength going through all of that stuff. I don’t think anyone in the music industry has a smooth ride ever. We’ve been pretty lucky (laughs).
Cooking Vinyl feels like a good fit for you because they give artists more freedom than many of the other labels out there. That must be a good thing for you?
Tara: The level of creative control that’s afforded to us now is really exciting, just down to really small details like, ‘want do you guys think and what do you want?’ There’s a real dialogue between us so it doesn’t feel quite the label and us having to establish what we do. It feels very cohesive. It feels very collaborative and that’s really exciting for us, especially coming in with a record that was done. If they had been like, ‘this is really fantastic. We see it in a really odd direction’ that might have been really tough but to really feel like we’re all in the same place is really exciting.
This record is very different from your debut album and there’s a lot of Fleetwood Mac influence in there. Was that intentional or did it just come out in the songs?
AJ: I think probably it’s just the way it came about with each song. The way that we’ve usually treated each song from its inception to its recording, and working out its arrangement and how we perform them live, we tend to let the songs dictate what is best fitted for that. If we’re lucky enough we get to write the song and build the playground, and then the arrangement of everything and how it’s going to work is like having a go on the swings. That’s when the fun in that sense, permeates it and informs the direction it’s going to take. We have always made the decisions on the right song for the record or for the setlist, and with the last record we did do that, but I think that record had a different purpose at the time because it was our first one. It had to make a lot of introductions for us and it had to get us on the radio. What we found with this record, certainly, having played our songs on the road, toured and we’ve had years since that first record came out to really work on our sound in a studio and on stages, is that process of how those songs inform it has become a bit more streamlined. With this one having awesome producers to work with and a really, really good team to work with, has streamlined that into a way that, with this record and particularly those songs, you can really highlight those moments and those differences between each one while still tying them all together in a way that we think is essentially The Wandering Hearts. Hence the self titled album (laughs).
Tara: Every song we write happens in a different way and people are always like, ‘what’s your formula?’ but we really don’t have one. Sometimes we just chat and then we go home and we don’t write a song. But that day Chess had come in and she was like, ‘guys, I just need talk to you. Have you seen this Rolling Stone article on Dolores O’Riordan?’ and we were like, ‘no’. She said, ‘I had no idea that these are the kind of battles that she was struggling with and she was facing. Can I just talk to you about it?’ It was us three and our really good friend Caitlin Stubbs. Chess was really affected by it and it was a really beautifully written article. We started talking about all of the struggles that lots of people have, like the 27 Club, and the real pressures of stuff that happened. Caitlin, as we were discussing, said, ‘guys, I think I think we’ve written the song. Look at these lyrics. As you guys have been discussing what’s been going on, I think we’ve got some bones here’. We were really mindful of it not sounding pastiche or like a biopic. It’s also really important that there’s a message that people can take away that might bring some light.
One of the highlights on the album is ‘Dolores’. What’s the story behind that song?
Tara: There’s a wonderful expression, that everybody is fighting a battle that you don’t know anything about and so therefore to be kind and afford everybody that grace. We thought that if that’s a message that we could give to people, with a reminder of what happens when we don’t always engage that it can have massive ramifications in a negative way if we don’t look after one another. From writing that song, it felt really emotional on the day and it felt really emotional writing it. The day we went to record it, we were in Woodstock with wonderful Simon and David, and the morning we woke up, we heard the news that Caroline Flack had died that morning. It’s so easy to be moved by things and then say ‘this is really sad’ and then move on. We read about these awful things and then we move on but the wonderful power of music is you’re able to write things that hopefully have a legacy that will be longer lasting. If we can give something to people that reminds them to check in, to feel open, to feel everything they’re feeling, then that’s a real positive thing. That’s a track that means a lot to us.
On the flip side of the record you have ‘Never Too Late’, which is so uplifting. That one definitely needs to be a single at some point…
Chess: That is Tara’s favourite. We all love it but it’s Tara’s fave. We wrote that in 2019 with our lovely friends Seb and Pedro. It was just one of those days, we were feeling super positive about things. I don’t know whether something had happened and we’d hit a bump and we’d just got over that bump but we’d gone, ‘right guys, let’s go out and get it!’ We were just hungry for it. That song came out. There was a line that ‘Pedro’ – ‘you drank strong coffee alone’ – and we were like, ‘that’s so great’.
AJ: That was a holder as well. He was like, ‘I just wrote this line down. I don’t know about that. I don’t think you guys will like this one’ and everyone was like, ‘are you kidding? It’s great!’
Chess: It wrote itself pretty easily that song. Sometimes you have to be careful. We’re always quite mindful of writing stuff and not making it cheesy or preachy, to our taste anyway. With that song we were like, ‘we’ve just got to go full on. It’s like Hall & Oates, we’ve just got to do it and that’s the song that it needs to be’. When we write songs, we never go ‘album’ as we write them, at the end of that process we think, ‘what are the pillars of this record?’ and that was one of them. It’s a brilliant song. It was a great and great memory.
Tara: As we were saying about songs taking on new meaning with the pandemic, this pandemic has given everybody time to think, time to reflect and time to do. The amount of people you meet that say, ‘I would have done that but I’m 30 now so I’ve probably missed the boat on that’ or ‘I would have done that but I’m 50 now’. There’s a very good chance that a lot of us are gonna live to be 100. That time is going to pass anyway, whatever happens, so you may as well. If it’s gonna take you 10 years or 20 years, if you want to do it, do it. Don’t not do it because you feel like you’ve missed the boat on it. I think that would be such a shame. I know so many people and I hear about so many people that go, ‘oh, I would have done that’ and they’re like 50, and you’re like, ‘mate, you can do that. You can do what you want to do!’ We’re such big kids and as a band we’re so excited about everything and so grateful for what we’re doing. ‘Never Too Late’ is the anthem of that.
AJ: And certainly with the year that has been, having that consideration it’s so easy to think about the past and it’s so easy to look at the future and go, ‘I want this to be and what will this mean?’ and thinking about yesterday like, ‘this has meant this and this has meant this for me’. Really the only opportunity that we ever get to make any choices good or bad is in the present, in the right now in these moments that we can control. Our greatest power of choosing exists in the present moment and it’s those points that you can choose to do whatever you want.
As much as none of us would have wished for the past year, has it given the three of you time to reflect on everything you’ve achieved up to this point?
Chess: Definitely. We’d been recording but we did a little bit of touring before we had to fly home. We had about a month worth of touring that we had to cancel in the States. When we get back, after a tour we normally have a couple of weeks where it’s just downtime. I think that first couple of weeks, we all just were like, ‘this is just perfect. I don’t mind not doing anything, because I’m exhausted and we gave that absolutely everything we could, and we couldn’t do any more’. Throughout that time, things got harder, and other started to come up. We weren’t used to spending so much time in one place. Sleeping in my bed for that long was weird, I just wasn’t used to it, because you’re so used to being here, there and everywhere. That was quite strange but at the same time, I think it definitely gave us some time to reflect and also just gave us some perspective on what we really, really want out of our career and out of our lives, personally and collectively. When things get put into perspective like that, without your control, you have no choice but to sit with it and think about it. That’s been really, really important for all of us. It’s been a really important thing. Taking the time to do those things that you say you’re always going to do, it’s like ‘Never Too Late’, it’s so important to go out and do it. That’s given us almost a new lease of life in some ways.
I was pretty down at everything for the first three weeks or so then I thought I can either waste this time or do something useful and productive…
AJ: That ability to reflect and get that perspective, we’ve all individually made some pretty big changes in our lives as a result of this past year. The perspective that it’s allowed us to have on our own lives, we’ve all taken steps and made some pretty big changes in some ways. As much as it’s been a terrible year, it’s (about) trying to see the light at the end and the positives, that’s a lot of what we’re about but also what this album has been about for us. You’ve got to take those positives from the hardships. This year has been incredibly tough for everybody and harder some people more so than most. If we can try and see the light and the positives in that, and take that away and gain some perspective, it can shape the path that we take going forwards.
You’re going to be back on the road before the end of the year. How excited are you to get back out there playing live?
Tara: We saw the dates went in and it’s 19 dates after having done nothing. What should have been this really cute little acoustic tour that we were just shoehorning in at the end of last year, is now going to be our first opportunity to play these new songs to everybody. We are just constantly wondering is it going to be more tears? Is it going to be overwhelming? What’s kept everybody sane through this past year has been connection and communication. Everyone’s is now so ofay with Zoom and apps like House Party that everyone was doing because it was all about communicating and being there for one another. We’ve taken such solace from having fans really engage with us and have this communication online. It’s a poor substitute for personal human one-to-one connection and to be able to have that after a year of not it just going to be amazing. I know that we’re just buzzing.
The Wandering Hearts will release their self-titled album on 6th August 2021 via Cooking Vinyl. Watch the video for ‘Dreams’ below: