Ghosts, Gear and everything in between – An Interview with Gene Wildest on their latest LP Future Flowers
“THIS IS THE JAM SPACE!” Brian Corbett, guitarist, singer and principal songwriter of Gene Wildest declared, swinging back in his chair so I could get a better look at Rob Ealer, the lead guitarist’s, basement. “Yeah….. we practice in an abandoned warehouse,” he added, almost bashfully. The musicians had gathered for a Skype session to chat about their latest release, Future Flowers, which had dropped that morning.
I first discovered the Philadelphia based band the previous year, when I stumbled across their last release Spectral Terrestrial, a far heavier, darker concept album. While their new record, Future Flowers, is not a dramatic departure from their previous LP, there is a shift away from the heavier elements that first gripped me: their focus now back on psychedelic alt. “Bill Heath”, the first track of the album, sets the tonal shift, the flowery (forgive the obvious metaphor) guitar riff making ambient cyclical patterns, its overall elegance and math rock sensibilities averting any sort of disappointment at the new direction.“This one has been pretty different” Brian confirmed. “Everything kind of started with the riffs more than anything else. Which is very different than the other albums in that respect. It’s also a lot cleaner than the last one – there’s not a whole lot of heavy guitars, for better or worse.”
Heavy or not, for better or worse, transitioning between tonal focus is imperative for any discography, and Gene Wildest certainly don’t want to narrow themselves to any one genre. What they have, however, is an elemental vibe. “A tinge of psychedelia runs through all the stuff we write”, Rob suggested. But that wasn’t what I meant. Since their first major release, Everything, in 2017, they have moved through and shifted from Kyuss-esque bangers, to Nothing – Tired of tomorrow moments, to slightly more Alt-J festival friendly tracks. And they have maintained what some bands find most difficult: a natural, organic personality that seeps through the music.
Perhaps contributing to their recognizable sound, Brian has mixed each album, “a fun hobby” he says. In fact, the entire band are self-described gearheads. None more so that Rob, who explains that his relatively recent progression to full-blown obsession came from the fact that he’d never really felt much like ‘the performer’: “The idea of making eye contact with people…in the crowd…is foreign to me, so once I realised I can do that during the show [focus on the pedal board] I would just get as weird as possible and I kinda let go”. It’s a feat then, that while focused on their feet, tapping away to create layers of subtle, colorful, granular effects on progressive guitar riffs, there remains such clarity to their overall sound. Sean Corbett, the bassist, seemed to agree with me: “As the pedal boards grew, and expanded, there was a strange paradox, where the subtleties did too. It’s kind of a strange balance where the more pedals they had, the more dynamic and subtle their sound”. Dave Ashcraft, quiet until now, chimed in “…Don’t you have 10 pedals in one song?
Indeed, when I asked what their pedal board looked like, the band members all laughed. “Well, that’s the million dollar question”. I, a Libra and a woman in music, matched their excitement at having asked the million dollar question. As they moved the laptop over to one of their set-ups, it was clear I wasn’t going to get the full picture over Skype. I suggested they send me over a brief description of the rig they favored for the album. Given Dave’s comment, and that Rob had recently celebrated his 100th pedelaversary, I should have known that brevity wasn’t on the cards. The next day I received this, *which has been heavily redacted:
“So Long: Hungry Robot The Wash on the lead guitar during the hook, Roger Mayer Voodoo Vibe + on the rhythm guitar during the verses, Eventide “gooey” preset before 2nd verse, volume pedal swells on the 2nd verse, Spaceman Wow Signal fuzz with chase bliss audio gravitas and wombtone for the modulation. Sweetness to Tongue: Montreal Assembly Count to Five on the intro/outro…….Digital Beast – loud instrumental part has whammy setting on boss me-80 and a fuzz I designed (working title is Heavy Flower Pedals UFO Fuzz). Psychedelic Frolic: EHX Superego on chorus, boss me-80 wah on 2nd verse, and a sitar on the second verse (not a pedal but cool, hahah)”
When asked if a full-blown experimental noise project was on the table, they didn’t disagree in the slightest. So stay tuned for that. Trying to delve deeper into the obvious difference in sonic tone between their previous release and this one, I wanted to find out what the transition was between their journey to Spectral vs Future Flowers. That is, having written Spectral after a period of personal loss, what we can take away from the brightness of Future Flowers?. “It’s definitely not a concept album like the last one was.” Brian clarified. “We used to joke that Spectral was about ghosts coming back from the dead to bone the ones they loved.” Cue an eruption of giggles from the musicians, and, perhaps sensing my embarrassment for having run with the whole ‘meditation on life and loss thing’ cleared his throat, throwing me a “But now we’re mainly excited to just have these songs come out.”
Rob continued: It’s also not 4/4 time signatures which is kind of fun. Most of the songs, [on Future Flowers] we’d been sitting on for a while. We had a very specific idea for Spectral, it was more of a concept album, so we left some of the songs that would eventually end up on Future Flowers, off the table. So it’s nice to get these songs out too, finally.”
The attention to detail throughout the album is stark. Take “Future Breakfasts” for example, the bands personal favorite. A matrix of sound, the formulaic modulated riff running like code, yet melting like butter as the melody and vocals soften the track into a true tear-jerker. A track definitely meant to be left on repeat, as you notice a different element each go around. While the band has no immediate plans for touring as of the interview, they are tentatively bracing themselves for an East Coast run when the time is right. Given their timely and prolific release schedule since their inception, it shouldn’t be too long until they are in a city near you. Check out Future Flowers below.