Smile Politely

Wicked Walls: Like a phoenix rising from the ashes — with more distortion

After nine years together, four full-length records and a slew of tour dates, New Ruins decided hang up their guitars late last year and move on to new projects. The music had not gone out of the members, though, and from the splinters of the folk rock outfit came two defunct bands (My Werewolf Diary and Fog Den) and Wicked Walls.

The latter of the those groups, Wicked Walls, features three members of New Ruins, making it the likely source for more of their take on the Laurel Canyon sound. Don’t expect a second coming of New Ruins to come from Wicked Walls, however. Singer-songwriter Caleb Means took some time to explain Wicked Walls to us ahead of the band’s first show.

Wicked Walls’ debut comes tonight at Mike ‘N Molly’s. They will share the stage with Chicago’s Lightfoils and another new local outfit, Shitzo, the side project of Hank’s Ted Lerch, who will also be releasing a debut album. The show will start at 9 p.m.

Smile Politely: Wicked Walls is three-quarters members of New Ruins, right? How did this project get started?

Caleb Means: Yep, it’s the drummer, Roy [Ewing], myself and Andy [Davidson], who played bass. After New Ruins decided to call it an end, Roy, Andy, and I talked a little bit and decided to keep going and try something a little different, to do something a little heavier. We’d always wanted to do something a little thicker, a little bigger, so this is the natural transition.

SP: Was the end of New Ruins amicable? Are you all still friends?

Means: Oh yeah. We felt like we’d done a lot; we put out three records and a seven inch, played a bunch of shows. Elzie [Sexton]* and I, we’re two dominant songwriters and it was a combination of New Ruins kind of running its course, both of us wanting to try different stuff. And we’d had not necessarily a revolving door, but a lot of members; we’ve watched good people come in and good people go. Andy is probably going to be moving some time this year to Canada, so we were foreseeing the future a little bit, too. With New Ruins it was like, why get too involved recording new stuff and writing new stuff when we’re probably going to be looking for a new bass player. There were a lot of reasons, but we’re all still incredibly supportive of each other’s projects. There was none of the animosity, or breaking up under weird teams, but Elzie and I have been friends since we were twelve years old; that’s something that is never going to end.

SP: You mentioned you wanted this to be heavier, and that’s where you differ from New Ruins. When you say that, what do you mean? What kinds of influences are you drawing from?

Means: It’s a lot of the same guitar stuff, but it’s just heavier. Using fuzz pedals, using heavier distortion. We have synthesizers this time around and synthesizers have that buzzy, low-end sound that fills out the sound spectrum. We’re using more drop tunings, and stuff like that; drop-D tunings, drop-C tunings that makes stuff much lower and bassier. There’s a more driving type of sound to it.

SP: New Ruins was kind of folksy, kind of Uncle Tupelo-ish, to me at least. Is that where you’re at with Wicked Walls as well?

Means: Nope. No, it’s not going to be like that. This is a little more straightforward rock. We won’t get comparisons to folksy or country-sounding bands anymore. Those won’t exist.

SP: Is it just the three of you, or will there be more people in the band?

Means: My girlfriend, Lindsey, will be playing synthesizer. She’s got an old Roland Juno 60, and she’ll be helping me out with some backing vocals as well. So there’s going to be heavy, thick music with a guy-girl combination on vocals.

SP: That sounds interesting. How much do you have written so far?

Means: Well, we’ve got six songs we know as a full band, that we can perform. I’ve got recorded maybe ten or eleven. Eventually, I think Wicked Walls will be more dynamic in terms of what we present in a live show. Right now we’re kind of limited to these six songs that are guitar-bass-vocals. I’ve got another four to five songs that are maybe more electronic in nature. They may have pre-recorded drum beats or pre-recorded sounds — stuff like that — where the rhythm of the song won’t be Roy on the drums; that will be created through a drum machine and Roy might be doing incidental sounds: a tambourine, a shaker, or kicking the kick drum. We’re just not to that point yet, where we’ll be doing those songs, but we’re working on it for upcoming shows. Right now we’re just a rock force.

SP: Friday is your first show then?

Means: Yep, our first show.

SP: Where do you see this going from here? Are you planning a tour or an album in the next year?

Means: I think a record first. I like people to have material first; I like studio productions; I like that kind of work. My first thought is to write songs that we can play live that sound good, then get ten, eleven, twelve songs recorded, then put out an album. That’s my thought process. We’ve still got a van, so we’ll probably try to get up to Chicago when we can; that’s definitely in our future. I don’t know if we can do as much as New Ruins did. We’re all a little older; Roy’s got a couple kids and that sort of thing. We’ll do as much as we can, but not as much as if we were in our earl 20s or something like that. 


*Elzie Sexton has formed a new project: Babylon,Texas. You can check it out here and here.

Wicked Walls makes their live debut tonight at Mike ‘N Molly’s with Lightfoils and Shitzo. Tickets are $7 at the door.

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