As far as fledgling bands go, Wishes and Thieves are more poised and ready to take off than most of their peers. The Brooklyn four-piece is on the verge of releasing their second EP, and has plans for a full-length album in the fall. There is a refreshing focus to the sonic atmospheres that Wishes and Thieves craft in their synth-laden songs. Perhaps it is that focus, and vision for exactly what they’d like the band to be that sets them apart.
When we asked them to perform for our cameras, they jumped at the chance to do something a little different. Preparation for an acoustic session to most bands means switching to acoustic guitars and brushed drums, but not to Wishes and Thieves. The band’s guitarist and bassist, Mike MacAllister and Joe Higgins, created entirely new acoustic arrangements for their songs, complete with a string quartet. The band was lucky enough to recruit oft-Sufjan Stevens collaboraters Osso Quartet to accompany them.
They tackled the opener from their first EP, Lighthouse, as well as the single and title track of their upcoming Forest Fire EP. The result is something wholly original, monumental and, in typical Wishes and Thieves fashion, intensely focused. We had a chat with them following the session to find out what went into their preparation process, and what their plans are for the future.
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So, from your regular live show to what we saw tonight, what were the differences and what went into planning this whole thing for you guys?
Joe Higgins (Bass): Everything was basically different from the usual instrumentation. Live shows are two synthesizers, electric bass, electric guitar, a standard drum kit and vocals. We kind of had to fill everything out with the acoustic instruments that we had chosen: upright bass, acoustic guitar, pots and pans, cardboard box.
Jolanda Porter (Vocals): Also the vocals were definitely stripped down, it’s not the same thing at all.
Mike MacAllister (Guitar): Yeah, even live, vocals are going through effects.
Did you feel kind of naked having no effects on your vocals? Just you out there?
JP: It’s less about being naked, it’s just more about you wanting to be really precise. I think that when you have reverb on—and I feel like a lot of singers feel this way—it’s kind of your little pal [laughs] because you can mess up a little bit and it still sounds kind of nice. But when there’s nothing on you and you hit that wrong note… there it is! But I thought this was a lot of fun. It’s challenging to sing that way and have everybody on.
Let’s talk about the drum kit for this session—pots, pans, recycling buckets, and a cardboard box for a kick drum. What was the genesis of that?
Will Clark (Drums): I just took some time and thought out what sounds would work and what might give it some vibe. I didn’t really want to just sit at a drum set and play all the same parts just more quietly. It’s much more fun to reinvent. They’re the same grooves and the same beats but completely different.
Do you guys think that you’ll take anything that you did tonight and potentially put them in your live show? Maybe you’ll use strings way down the line?
MM: Well yeah, working with Osso, and having the string quartet is definitely something we’d do in the future. Even if we’re playing with electric instruments in our normal set up.
JH: That quartet is amazing. They do totally different things as well. They all play amplified often. And we’re contemplating working on a show to possibly get together with that group in the future.
MM: I mean, I wouldn’t rule out entirely. At the same time, I feel like we have a concept of the band and that concept is definitely not acoustic.
JH: We do have this one track that we could always bring back from the grave, which has a lot of dirty upright bass on it. Jolanda kind of vetoed that. It was dead on arrival. I’ll just say, it needs to be brought back. [laughs]
WC: You know, that’s not the only track that she’s vetoed. [laughs] That’s part of the collaborative writing process. We spend a lot of time on a track and then…
JP: They’re like “We love this tune! We love it! Let’s play it, play it man, play it.” And then they’re playing it and I’m like “Hmmm, Well what do you think?”
JH: Actually, I think a quote was: “That sounds like Halloween…” [laughs]
MM: I think that was a different song.
JH: It was! Oh no, you guys are talking about the Hoe down song?
MM: She thought it sounded like a hoe down…
JH: Even better.
MM: Yeah, doesn’t really sound like a hoe down. I mean maybe. I know exactly what a hoe down should sound like, so…
JP: Oh take it from someone who knows about hoe downs. [laughs]
Jolanda, you’ve said that “Lighthouse” is your favorite song to sing. Why is that?
JP: I think it’s my favorite because you can’t just sing it. It’s an emotional song. It’s the kind of song where you have to sell it in the beginning. I feel like it’s a song that a lot of our fans love. For that reason, I feel a lot of pressure that they will say: “This song better sound like the song that I jammed to at my house!” And if you don’t have that emotion there when there is just that synth and the voice, then it’s going to be weak. Also, I love it because it changes so much. I love the middle where I feel like I can have a dance off with myself. It’s a lot of fun. It goes all over the place.
I know Joe and Mike have known each other for a while. How did the rest of the band form?
JH: Me and Mike met when we were in school. First we played this really whack jazz gig together with a trumpet player. It was upright bass, guitar and trumpet at some society thing in Astoria. It was pretty-
MM: It was pretty weird.
JH: It was pretty fun but pretty interesting at the same time. And I think myself and Will (drums) had met in a similar situation on another jazz gig where we were playing with a a piano player. And Mike met Will in the same scenario but at a different time. And then Jolanda had come into the mix after we started recording. Mike had met her through some other work he had done.
JP: I was looking for a producer and our friend Julie Hardy (of Clementine and the Galaxy) brought me to him. We worked on a couple tunes for my own project and then Mike was like “Hey, would you ever be in a band?” Then he played a song that ended up being Parachute and I just thought it was dope. That is exactly how I felt. I remember leaving the session and telling my friends: “I don’t know, It’s got a little bit of hip hop in it, a little bit of electronic in it, and it feels like Radiohead a little bit… I love Radiohead. So I said “Oh, I like it!” And I met with Mike, recorded some stuff. I think he showed it to the rest of the guys and then it was like “We’re going to be something.”
WC: It was a lot of pressure. Really. [Laughs from all]
JP: It was really funny first meeting, because I had heard all their parts being played, and I finally got to meet Will. Up until then, I was thinking “Does Will really exist? Because I haven’t seen him yet.” I loved his drum parts and I was saying: “I really want to see these drum parts live!” MM: When I write the parts, I often think “I can’t wait to see Will play this live.” But then he figures out a way to do it.
Is the process from the first EP to this one going to be different? Because the first one sounds like it came together with everyone in different phases. Where as this one, you guys are solidified. Is it much more of a group thing?
MM: There is definitely a shift in how we’re writing it, for sure. We just know how to play it. We were just sitting, playing in a room, recording with a mic up in the center of the room. We played it a bunch of times through. We went back a listened to it and we were like: “That’s the one.” Now we’re even starting to work with vocals before we even know what the form is going to be. It’s good. It’s really refreshing.
JH: A collaborative writing experience.
JP: Knowing our personalities now, you can say “Yup, this member definitely had a hand in making that part happen.” And I think that’s exciting to hear us all in the music.
Wrapping things up, for this next EP—How long do you expect it to take? When do you think it’ll be out?
MM: It’s coming out on May 15.
JH: Yeah, we have the artwork finished. Same painter that did the Lighthouse cover, Steve Raggie. It’s kind of a fire theme versus the watery theme of the Lighthouse EP.
JP: May 15, but the release show is on May 17 at the Bowery Electric.
MM: Yup. Tell all your friends.
WC: You know, there’s a lot of people that haven’t heard the Lighthouse EP, so, we want people to go listen to that between now and May.
MM: Yeah, for sure. We’re still giving away Lighthouse for free on our website so folks should go download that. And, yeah, keep an eye out for Forest Fire on May 15.
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