Wheeler Brothers' Portraits: A look at the changing sounds of Texas music
Homegrown talent the Wheeler Brothers have made quite the impression on Austin during their relatively short existence. A true band of brothers—initially formed by brothers Nolan, Tyler and Patrick Wheeler—Wheeler Brothers hit the Austin music scene just shy of two years ago as a five-piece sound rounded out by LSU comrade Danny Matthews and Austin native A.J. Molyneaux.
Wheeler Brothers are a bit of an anomaly as far as "Texas" music is concerned, at least as it is currently defined in this part of the state. They fare well on indie radio (getting play by 90.5 KUT), but are also known in Americana circles (being touted online by 98.1 KVET’s Texas Roadhouse, the pulse of local country).
Though the band comes from diverse musical backgrounds, as a collective, guitarist A.J. Molyneaux says they tend to “borrow a lot from Wilco, Dr. Dog and bands in that same vein of rock/singer songwriter.”
“We like to call it a mixture of indie/folk or folk/rock,” he continues of their cross-genre style. “But we're always surprised to hear what people have to say after hearing us. One time a guy told us he loved us because we were just like Randy Newman, so I guess it’s still subject to opinion.”
With its wide influences and appeal, the Wheeler Brothers’ debut album Portraits, released in June 2011, provides a modern look at the changing landscape of Texas music. Title track "Portraits" has folky hooks and melodies reminiscent of The Grateful Dead's "Friend of the Devil.” Hints of early Jayhawks seep through other tracks in the form of lighthearted riffs and mindful harmonies.
Their Texas roots shine through on Portraits, too, notably on “Sleep When I’m Dead,” where classic-rock guitar licks are anchored by a favorite Texas sound: the driving train drum beat. And on the trumpet-infused “Spent Time,” you can pick up a tinge of Tex-Mex. This shouldn’t be a surprise given the album’s backing. Texas legend Ray Benson and his label Bismeaux Records, the same label that houses the current formation of the Texas Tornados, are behind the Wheeler Brothers’ debut release.
Portraits is a true collaboration of the full band, equal parts Brothers Wheeler and their adopted mates. “We let everyone write the music for their own respective instruments, of course, but as far as songwriting goes it's a very collaborative effort,” Molyneaux says. When it comes to writing, “we've definitely sat around the table passing a piece of paper back and forth and letting everyone scribble some lyrics down until we get an idea for a new song.”
Their song styles can be pretty diverse, but across the board, poetic phrasing is highlighted with true rock influences that create a full sound: a sound that has echoed well on the hometown stages that helped them forge their path. “Momo’s and The Parish really gave us a good headway towards getting into the Austin music scene and live performance in general,” Molyneaux says.
He knows that Benson’s influence and backing has helped paved the way, too. “A man with nine Grammy Awards doesn't really need to prove himself to five guys fresh out of college that started a band, but Ray [Benson] has really worked hard for us and been a huge part of why we are where we are today.”
Today, the Wheeler Brothers are preparing to hit the road for their second tour of 2011. In support of their June release of Portraits, their Home for the Holidays Tour has them trekking north, from the depths of Texas, through the Mid West and to the heart of the East Coast. “We get a lot of love in Denver, Ohio, Baton Rouge, Chicago and New York City,” recalls Molyneaux. “Those shows were great to us last time and we're pretty confident they'll deliver again.”
In anticipation of the upcoming tour, Wheeler Brothers will play famed hometown blues venue Antone’s for a farewell show this Friday, November 18. And, as true southern gentlemen do, before the show, they are hosting a free pre-party (with free beer!) for their hometown fans at Betsy’s Bar. “Since this is our last concert in Austin this year we want to show our appreciation to all of the hometown fans who have made this year so great.”
The Wheeler Brothers are a humble breed. Though their trajectory seems favorably set, Molyneaux reminds that “it’s still kind of coming together.” It’s easy to argue otherwise for this band of brothers who in just two short years have won over a steady multi-region crowd, including Ray Benson, and debuted an album that paints a genre-bending picture of what’s to come in our eclectic hometown music scene.
Wheeler Brothers play Antones on Friday, November 18 at 8 p.m. You can also catch them on November 25 at Gruene Hall with Bob Schneider.