Hailing from North Dakota are Max Patzner, Eli Kjelson, Nick Holwegner, and Joe Andrus, collectively known as Wild Hands. Though sometimes electronic sounds and layers of effects put me in my perfect musical place, Wild Hand’s brand of folk is on the other end of that spectrum, and it feels great and free and just right.
I discovered Wild Hands in Chicago through the magic of podcasting. As usual, traffic was awful, but I was soothed by conversation about design and screenprinting, and then who else should grace my ears other than Wild Hands. The group found time to chat with Midwest Action about a land foreign to this particular Chicago native, some intricacies about their music, and their podcast debut.
MWA: I’ve never been to North Dakota. Would you guys mind taking a minute to describe the music scene up there? How are the local bands? Where is your favorite place to see a show?
Max: You should definitely venture on up to North Dakota! You could see some really great local bands & traveling bands play some amazing songs at an awesome basement show any day of the week. You wouldn’t think it, but the music scene is pretty rich for the middle of North Dakota and it has been for quite some time. We are lucky to have amazing local bands; something about the town we live in makes people write damn good songs.
Eli: There is great sense of community in Minot and it translates into music, art, theater and pretty much anything creative. People do it all up here and they do it well. Generally the places to see shows are in the basements. We are a big family, having a good time and getting excited about music is not hard to do in Minot.
MWA: Do you get a lot of interesting national acts passing through?
Joe: Yes Ma’am! We get great acts passing through all the time. We are somewhat of a middle point for bands that are traveling from east to west or west to east. Most people don’t want to drive 15 hours and then play a show, so we are the stop before that crazy feeling of being in a van too long happens.
Eli: The scene here usually surprises people though. When bands play a show that is packed to the brim of kids who genuinely love music, they rarely mind that they stopped. We are thankful to live in a town where no matter what music you like, no matter how weird or awesome or socially awkward you are, people go to shows and go crazy. The kids that attend these shows will always be there to listen to music for the love of music. We are lucky to get to play for this scene all the time.
MWA: This past April, my boyfriend and I drove down to Austin- a quick 21-hour trip. I wish we had Wild Hands on our iPods then; your music would have fit the wide, open scenery so perfectly. What do you all imagine is the perfect setting for your music?
Nick: You pretty much hit the spot on that one. Wide open spaces are kind of our thing, but we will elaborate a little. 10 years ago, driving around on those old ND gravel roads (way before they were infested with giant metal contraptions spewing black tar everywhere), it was all sky… now it’s full of robots. You can escape it though and when you do it, it’s ALL big skies and prairies. We write about where we’re from so it’s hard not to think of the North Dakota landscape when playing our songs, it’s in our blood. The view is more than you would think, it’s truly beautiful in its own weird and super space way.
MWA: How would you describe Wild Hands to someone who hasn’t heard you yet?
Wild Hands: This is always difficult to do, but it usually goes like this…”Americana, folk…rock n’ roll…umm…harmonies?….there’s a banjo!…it’s fun; we hope you like it!”
That usually does the trick.
MWA: Generally speaking, who are your influences? Do you come from musical backgrounds, or is it something you just kind of fell into?
Max: We’ve all been in music our whole lives. We should probably thank our parents for them being so supportive of what we love to do. They definitely pushed us and encouraged us to make music. Like most musicians though, I think we play because there is some super secret microscopic thing that nobody can ever see that latches to some people’s brains and says… “You have to do this. You must play music. You must write songs. You must. You must. You must.” It’s either play music or be incomplete.
Wild Hands: To name some general influences we would have to name Leonard Cohen, Jackson C. Frank, Sam Cooke, the late great Lou Reed, The Walkmen, Wilco, local hero Micah Scott, Dobro Dave Richie who taught Joe most of what he knows about singing harmonies, all those Daytrotter bands we love so much and don’t forget the Minot bands. We try and keep each other going and we definitely feed off of one another so we can’t forget our hometown heroes.
MWA: Besides other musicians, what are your influences? What inspires you all to create music?
Joe: Chips on shoulders; when you get sad and you just play music for hours until your neighbors are pounding on the walls. There have been a lot of changes in our town recently, (oil boom, flooding, population increase, oversized truck purchases) and it has fueled (no pun intended) a great deal of our songwriting lately.
MWA: What is your writing process like? Do you all share the creative duties or does one of you hold creative control?
Max: The writing process thus far has been bringing a rough song to the mix and these guys making it 20 thousand times better. We are always bouncing ideas off one another. I bring the basics to the table and they are the table… They are my table; At least I don’t have to eat in my lap anymore. They are the Bitters to the Horse’s Neck, my key to the roller skate. You get the idea I think.
Wild Hands: One song (which we believe is a fan favorite) came from a napkin that Joe wrote on while sitting at a restaurant; this later became a song Max wrote titled “River.”
Joe: The song’s about a lot of things, but mostly about the flood we had in our hometown, the big oil that rolled into the city and a story that aired on a radio show about a conspiracy theory on how we got flooded in the first place. It had something to do with planes making it rain so much the river just exploded and washed away the city. Everyone has a conspiracy theory about something and this is ours. You can see the napkin on our Facebook if you are interested.
MWA: Word is you’re planning on releasing an album. I don’t want you to spill all the details, but what can everyone look forward to on this release?
Max: Spill away! People can look forward to a very well thought out, personal experience with songs that have a great deal of heart in them. They will hopefully (in a good way) get stuck in your head… not in a “Hey Mickey you’re so fine” kind of way but in a Benny and the Jets kind of way.
Eli: This is our first album so we are going to try and make something that will carry on throughout our future albums. It’s a fresh start so we are excited to be creating our “sound”. We have a great band, Atom’s Rite, producing the record but it really all comes down to having good songs and good people working on the record. It’s going to be something great will hopefully get people excited!
MWA: Vinyl is making a comeback.. rather it has been for a while now. Any plans to release on vinyl?
Max: Oh yes…we’ve heard Vinyl is making a comeback. We all grew up with record players in our houses so it is a definite yes that we will put the album on Vinyl. We heard a rumor that the thing to do is just make digital downloads available but we will be touring with our records and this is going to be the life support for our tours. Plus, as a person who loves buying things from bands, it’s always awesome to have something you can walk home with, in hand, looking at it and taking it apart and just feeling the love that went into making it.
Nick: Don’t worry if you don’t have record players, the record will also come with a digital copy on a CD and will also be available on our wildhands/bandcamp.com page. We are also hoping to make limited edition screen printed album artwork to go with the vinyl so it becomes a collectable piece of art type of thing, it’ll be neat.
MWA: I first heard of Wild Hands on Adventures in Design. What was it like performing on the podcast?
Max: We were honored to be on the show and we hope they will have us back someday soon. We love that podcast, as it is hysterical. Mark, Billy, and James have some voodoo magic in them to make talking about art that funny. They do it well.
They were in Minot for a poster art festival called Notstock, which is this great event hosted by the Minot State University art department. They put on every year and never cease to amaze us with the talent they bring in. They get amazing poster artists (Jay Ryan, Justin Santora, LandLand, Sonenzimmer, Little Friends of Printmaking, and the infamous Art Chantry) from all over the country; a great musical act (Charlie Parr, who we gladly opened up for twice (Hey Charlie!), Martin Dosh, Portland Cello Project) and a bunch of local bands to play and screen print and go crazy creative for three days straight. It’s a melting pot of two things that go hand in hand- Music and Art. Anyway, we love those Adventure in Design guys though and we will hopefully be seeing them soon when we start touring.
MWA: Unrelated to music- your bandcamp and Facebook have these awesome illustrations all over them. Where are those from and who drew them? I feel like they perfectly match you guys- they’re absolutely on-brand.
Max: I make the drawings, I’m glad you like them! I went to school for photography, drawing and printmaking so it became the natural thing to do for me just to whip up little drawings for advertisements, posters or whatever we needed them for. They have been getting some attention online and they seem to get people talking.
Now, I’m trying to make one once a week so people know what we are up too. It just started with one show poster, but people loved them so much that I just keep on doing them. These drawings are personal little things, which match the music we make; I think that’s why they go together so well. They are little windows into our brains, which is obviously where everyone wants to be.