Yellow Springs band Wheels hosts CD release party at Gilly’s
Editor’s note: Although the Dayton City Paper requested an interview with members of Wheels, we were only granted an interview with their manager, Philip Bottelier, due to scheduling conflicts.
Americana music has finally hit the big time. This year’s Grammy awards featured a show-stopping performance from the genre’s current darlings, The Lumineers, and a best album win for Mumford and Sons’ Babel. The genre relies on solid songwriting and a focus on an old-time aesthetic – not exactly average pop music fare – but the general public seems to have finally embraced the roots-oriented style that has simmered below the surface of the music industry for years.
I imagine local band Wheels wonders what took everyone so long.
The group began in earnest when the members’ ages had barely hit double digits. Sam Salazar and Jamie Scott started playing on street corners in Yellow Springs, both at the ripe old age of 12. Despite their youth and lack of experience working a crowd, there just seemed to be something special happening right from the start.
“Jamie picked up a harmonica, not knowing how to play it, and Sam sitting there with the ukulele he had gotten three months before,” said the group’s manager Philip Bottelier. “It was clear – friends, strangers, adults, people walking by – it was like ‘holy cow.’”
Bottelier is also Salazar’s stepfather. The band employs a very family-oriented vibe; with members’ parents helping the group navigate the often treacherous travails of the music industry. Wheels decided early on that record contracts and booking agents would never be a focus.
On one hand, the changing face of the record industry makes it an easy choice. Gone are the days of industry bigwigs controlling radio airwaves and recording equipment. Musicians are no longer at the mercy of executives and radio programmers to get their music to the masses. Wheels recorded their first album for around $500 and have been able to market themselves through Youtube and with the help of friends and supporters.
On the other hand, the goal has never been fame and fortune.
“You create your own industry,” Bottelier said. “You create your own environment through which you get to share your music. You can do it the old fashioned way and sign a record deal and do all that, but this is much more fun.”
That approach allows the group to buck trends and simply make the music they want to make. While Americana’s recent mainstream success certainly doesn’t hurt, the band arrived at this music naturally rather than trying to chase the flavor-of-the-month mentality that musicians can fall into.
That mindset allows the songwriting to truly be the star, with each member contributing in the creative process. They have become a prolific and constantly evolving force, bringing new tunes to the table at a rate of about four a month.
“We finished recording the newest album right before New Year’s,” Bottelier said. “All of a sudden, they’ve got a gig at a church and they’re playing new songs that I’ve never heard. It pours out of these kids.”
That level of output means another recording session is already booked for August of this year.
Still, the group seems most at home performing live. They played the Downtown Dayton Revival last year and once even opened for local jam band Ekoostik Hookah for a New Year’s show several years ago. Bottelier said it was a strange scene, mixing prepubescent kids with the neo-hippie crowd.
“Things were happening that 13-year-olds shouldn’t actually really be around or know about,” Bottelier said. “It was a little crazy. The response from the crowd was filtering in, like ‘Wow, who are these kids?’”
The group will hit the road this summer for a mini-tour of sorts, but not until school is out and only if they keep their noses clean. Bottelier said the band has been shut down before for disciplinary reasons.
In a business where kids often are thrust into adulthood too soon by stage parents hell bent on living vicariously through their children, Wheels and their extended family’s more wholesome approach might be shocking to some.
Bottelier and the other parents see it as the only approach possible.
“We’ve managed these kids as kids,” Bottelier said. “They need to grow up. We want them to be good people. Every parent, to a man and to a woman, is all about ‘let’s raise good kids and let music be our incentive for them to be good kids.’”
Wheels will play at Gilly’s on Saturday, April 6 at 9 p.m. The show will serve as the release party for their new album. For more information, visit gillysjazz.com. Tickets are available at Omega Music (937.275.9949), Half Price Books (937.431.1820) and Huber Music and Video (937.233.3630).
Reach DCP freelance writer Rusty Pate at RustyPate@daytoncitypaper.com