Ricky Young of The Wild Feathers
Hope Siler sat down with Ricky Young to discuss how the band dealt with 2020, and what’s on his plate for 2021, both literally and figuratively.
All Photos: Rachel Moore
In their ten years together, the Wild Feathers have worked their way up to local staples, which is quite the marriage and no small feat for any band. It doesn’t hurt that they’re just cool guys who like the band Bread.
Hope Siler: The Wild Feathers were super active during 2020, which is pretty impressive, given the nature of last year. And you have several safe, drive-in shows coming up this spring and summer. It’s gotta feel good to have shows on the docket, right?
Ricky Young: I remember thinking, you know, at the start of the pandemic last year, surely it’ll be taken care of by summer. And here we are now, in sort of the same boat. But I’m feeling really optimistic about these shows! We just really miss playing live. Who doesn’t miss going to concerts and being in that environment?
H: Absolutely! I know everyone is excited to be back playing music and experiencing it live again, even though it won’t be quite the same for the time being. Is there anything else you’re excited about right now?
R: Yeah, I miss the sweaty, crammed in rock club thing. We’re hoping, Our Spirit of the South tour is coming up, and we’re hoping to do a headlining tour planned for the fall. Fingers crossed we can make that happen.
The majority of 2020 Wild Feathers shows were part of their Farm Party Tour, where fans could book the Wild Feathers for what were essentially outdoor house parties in fields, yards, farms, and whatever open spaces fans had available for distanced shows.
H: I do want to ask about the Farm Party Tour you guys did last year. I mean, “party” is in the name, so it sounds like it was a good time. How did that go, and how did you guys decide that was something you wanted to do?
R: We just thought for us to work, because this is how we make a living, we’ll have to be a bit creative with it. We like to play shows, and we just thought, let’s just throw it out there to fans for an old school house party, and people just ate it up. It was meant to be outside, kind of a campfire thing. Some were crazy as can be, some were lowkey, some of the wealthier people had actual venues. You’re playing a full, loud, rock n roll set for like 40 spread out people, but we had a good time.
H: Is that something that you guys would see yourself doing in the future?
R: I don’t see why not! If I could have one of my favorite bands come to my house and play for me and my friends, I would do it. It’s a cool experience for them, and it’s cool for us. You’re sitting there hanging out and connecting with your fan base in a way that you don’t normally get to. It really strengthens that fan/artist bond. I can’t imagine why we wouldn't do it. We’re planning on doing some more this spring hopefully more this summer.
It was so good to be playing music in front of people again.
The Wild Feathers independently released Medium Rarities in November of 2020; it features previously unreleased b-sides, demos, covers, and plenty of other fun stuff. Dave Cobb, Jay Joyce, and the Wild Feathers themselves serve as producers.
H: Medium Rarities feels so reflective of the band’s decade together. How does it feel to release a career-spanning record like that?
R: It’s strange. It kind of makes you feel a little old as a human being and as a musician because I’ve been in this band for 10 years. But it feels good because when you write a song and record it. You’re doing the best you can to encapsulate everything you have because you're anticipating that people will hear it. We can be pretty prolific at times, so when we write for an album, it might be 10-12 songs on a record, but we usually write 20-30 songs with that record in mind.
It’s not that the rest aren't good. Well, some of them aren’t good. There are a million different reasons a song wouldn’t make it onto a record.
This record was an opportunity for us, as the whole world was shut down, and we weren’t getting around each other at the time. We decided to go through our hard drives, and Joel, our bass player, put together a sequence. We thought “man, this sounds like an actual record!” so we should put this out. It felt really good.
H: Obviously you guys have great original songs, but I was pleasantly surprised to see the Guitar Man cover on this record.
R: Yes! It’s awesome, right? It was kind of an accident. We were in the studio for Greetings From the Neon Frontier, and we always listen to music when we're in the studio as we’re setting up and getting into a groove. Our producer put that song on and we got obsessed with figuring out that guitar part. We got completely sidetracked, and we finally nailed it. It took forever.
H: You went that far, you might as well just record it.
R: That was most of the battle. We did it and we found a cool way to arrange the vocals with each singer, so it was kind of an interesting pattern. It’s one of those songs, we loved it, but it didn't feel like it was right for that particular release. So I’m glad it got to see the light of day. And people talk about it, I think it’s so cool to cover a Bread song.
H: I know there are Bread fans out there, and tons of people who really enjoyed your cover of it. It’s just, I don’t think you find many good Bread covers out there, so I was just really excited to see that.
R: Right, because I think Bread has this kind of thing to them. It’s adult contemporary, it's not very ballsy, it doesn’t feel very rocky. It’s kind of elevator music, which doesn’t mean they’re not great pop songs. I love when bands cover songs that you would never expect them to. It’s so expected for us to cover something like a Wilco song. I love Wilco, but that’s not exciting for us to cover them. So we had a blast with that, and I'm really glad we put it out.
H: Me too! I had this moment, listening to it that I realized I’d forgotten about Bread, so thank you for reminding me. I feel like a lot of people’s favorite albums tend to be those B-sides and rarities, those deep cuts. What’s your favorite album like that?
R: You know, I don’t know if I really have a favorite, but I know we’ve always said we wanted to be a band that had a full, complete catalog. Not just studio albums, but live albums, and the box set, and the rarities. When you’re a music fan, when you love a specific band or artist, you want to consume everything you can. I mean, I do, I’m sure you do too.
H: I certainly do! I soak up everything I can from my favorite bands.
R: The cool thing is that we can check this off the list. There are so many extra songs floating around that we have, and it sets up a volume series where we can do it again next year or in a couple of years. Now we're just looking for a double album.
H: Check another thing off the list, right?
R: Yeah! We wanna do it all. We want to do another live album as soon as we can with a full audience. Can you imagine how pitiful a live album would be with a socially distanced crowd?
H: I think you’d have to put a lot of work into a fake atmosphere.
R: Right, it’s like these live streams. God bless everyone for doing them, and people tuning in and watching them, but it is just the worst. Even as a fan, you’re sitting there watching a band, and they stop playing and it’s just silence, and for a band, it’s just the worst. I mean it’s fun playing music when the song is being played, but when it’s over you’re just greeted with silence and you’re left feeling awkward.
H: I feel like the thing that artists like about live shows is that it’s a constant give and take with the audience. So that just doesn’t translate super well with live streams.
R: Exactly! It’s just not the same.
H: Especially when you’ve been doing it for 10+ years. You’ve been a musician for a long time, was there a pivotal moment in your life when you knew this was what you were supposed to be doing, or was it something you just knew intuitively?
R: I kind of always knew it. My mom, for a short period of time, when I was very young, was a bartender at this honky-tonk in our neighborhood outside of Houston [Texas]. One of my first memories was going to this bar during the day with her, to pick up a check or something.
I was in awe, just looking at the drums and looking at the stage in the room. It smelled like smoke and beer. I was playing with the backline while I waited for her. I remember thinking, this is so cool. I love the beer and the smoke, the drums, and the cables everywhere. I just thought it was awesome. My parents are music fans. Most of our generation’s parents grew up on Led Zeppelin, the Eagles, you know, that really great FM radio rock.
There were a couple of kids that were a few years older than me that were in a full-blown band. I was in 2nd grade, they were in 4th or 5th. They were playing like “Sweet Child O’ Mine” note for note, to completion. They blew my mind.
H: Honestly, that’s super impressive.
R: They grew up to be a pretty successful punk band. Teenage Bottle Rocket, I think they’re based in Wyoming now. But when we were younger, they just killed it and I was obsessed with them.
H: I see why! I’d be obsessed too.
R: One of them even gave me drum lessons for a little bit, because I was really into drums at the time. So yeah, I’d say it’s safe to say I was super into music from a very early age. I liked sports and all that. I was a bit athletic, but I was always small, super tiny so I just got annihilated at everything, so music was a better fit. In high school, I was in a band and when my parents sat me down and asked if I wanted to go to college, I told them no.
My dad was like “well, good deal. I don’t have to waste that money because I know you ain’t gonna do shit.”
H: It’s good to rip that band-aid off, you know?
R: He was right, and I’m thankful for that. Because right after high school, we toured for a little bit, and I moved to Nashville when I had just turned 22. So that was all the education I needed, I just picked up and moved. I had one friend here, he was working as a producer and working with lots of cool people. It was the best decision I could have made because it’s just so musical here. Right now I just kind of want it to slow down and go back to being uncool again.
H: Give it some time, we’ll rewind a bit. This is kind of a huge question, so forgive me for this, but what does your creative process look like? I know everyone in the band writes, and you guys are very collaborative together as a band, so how does that work?
R: Well personally, I’m a sucker for melody. I’ll hum and pick up melodies. I have a 3-year-old, so I’ll just sing stupid stuff to her, and she sings stupid stuff to me. She comes up with these little songs and sometimes they’re really, really good.
I’m always just kind of thinking of that. For me, it’s an acoustic guitar, and I’ll come up with a chord progression or idea, and put a melody to that. Or I have a melody in my head, so I’ll grab my guitar and sit down and figure that out.
H: It sounds like you have plenty of inspiration at home!
R: Yeah! She’ll just come up with stuff, and I’ll think “man, that’s incredible.” And she’s 3, so she’s not really thinking about it very seriously. So I’ll riff off that and put music to it. So then we have these little songs. Now that I have a studio, I can really dial it in.
Usually, the lyrics tend to come last, but sometimes I have a page of lyrics and I’ll put music and a melody to that. It’s not the same process every time. And if I finish it, great, that's a magical thing. Most of the time, I take whatever I have to the guys because we have such a beautiful, musical marriage. I know Joel will be able to knock this bridge out of the park, or Taylor could sing this and this guitar thing he can do will be great. When we have an idea, we finish it or we take it to each other. It becomes its own thing, and it’s really fun. There’s no pressure other than that everyone else is writing, so you gotta be on top of your game. You can’t be slacking.
H: So you guys hold each other accountable, creatively.
R: Right, and everyone goes through super prolific periods of time. This past year, in the winter especially, I’ve been writing a ton here recently. I know when it warms up, I’ll start spending more time outside, so I’ve got to get as much crammed in as I can.
H: That’s understandable! You start thawing out a bit. With all that in mind, what would you consider to be your greatest challenge, musically?
R: I have no challenges. Everything is easy for me, all the time. I’m joking, it’s really just me trying to outdo myself. It’s the determination and the ambition to write and be as good as you possibly can. There's really no ending point to that. I think McCartney is still trying to write great songs. He’s not like “oh, I wrote ‘Yesterday’, I give up.”
He’s still doing it because he loves it. I just try to get better all the time and be more prolific. There’s nothing like sitting down with a blank piece of paper and coming back in 30 minutes, two hours, or two weeks, or however long it takes, with something. There’s a song that came out of nowhere. Previously it did not exist. And now it’s here, and I think that’s magical. I love that. That’s what keeps me going.
H: That’s awesome. This might not apply to you, because I know you guys are always excited to get in front of an audience but have you ever dealt with performance anxiety?
R: Not really, but you know, I’ll be honest, this past year playing in front of very small, very attentive crowds is just not as much fun. It makes it more high pressure. I’d rather play an acoustic solo song in front of 10,000 people, than play in front of 7 people. I don't know what it is. Don’t get me wrong, it was fun to play and we were grateful for that, but I think everyone was just so uncomfortable because they’re used to sweating with all of their friends and like 100+ other people. Everything is just different. You try to go on stage and play your songs, and that’s your little piece of normalcy, but even that feels changed. It’s a different energy.
I’m usually a combination of anxiety, nervousness, and excitement, but that’s not really fear-based anxiety. It’s more like, let’s do this shit. I can’t wait to get started. Let’s get this show going.
H: Totally! This past year, a lot of people picked up new hobbies to pass the time at home. What are some ways that you blow off steam? Did you pick up any new hobbies recently?
R: Well, with a 3-year-old there’s no time for anything new. She is our hobby, for sure. I do love to fish, and a couple of us like to play golf in the band. When it gets warm, those will become my distractions. But they’re good distractions! When you’re in music all the time, you start getting cloudy, and doubt creeps in, so it’s good to have things outside of music.
H: Absolutely, no one wants burn-out.
R: Exactly! I like being outside. We love having friends over and doing barbecues. A lot of us in the band are from Texas or Oklahoma, so Central Texas BBQ or fish fries are the thing for us. Everyone in the band, and all of our wives, we’re all so close. We have three kids that are all the same age, between us. So believe it or not, when we’re not on the road or doing music together, we hang out a lot. In normal times, at least. That’s what we do, we just hang, fish, eat BBQ, and play golf.
H: That sounds like the perfect Southern afternoon, honestly.
R: No kidding! You come home, drink some beer, smoke some ribs. It’s a good time.
H: So who are you listening to right now, local or otherwise? Who’s your soundtrack to that perfect Southern afternoon?
R: That’s a good question. Right now, I’m obsessed with the new Nathaniel Rateliff record.
H: Ah! Me too. He’s so good.
R: They’re great guys, they’re a great band and really nice people. The Moana soundtrack is also a frequent listen in our house, thanks to our daughter. I’m also reading Trouble Boys: The True Story of the Replacements and I’m almost done. I love the Replacements.
Usually, I’ll put on a playlist and there’s a lot of R.E.M. and Pavement. R.E.M. is always spinning at our house.
H: Speaking of local, I’ve heard you’re a huge fan of Mas Tacos.
H: I can see the excitement in your eyes. What’s your go-to order at Mas Tacos?
R: Who isn’t? And you know what sucks, is that my first house here was with a buddy right next to what is now Mas Tacos. Back then it was a hair salon, I think. I would have spent all of my time there if it had been Mas Tacos then. So at that time, we had to drive all the way over to 3 Crow, which was not even a mile away. They know what they’re doing at Mas Tacos though. I probably sound pretty decadent here, but I always do one fish, one pork, and one chicken taco.
H: Ah, the trifecta!
R: Exactly. My favorite probably is the pork taco. That’s something I’m very much looking forward to in the summer, sitting outside and having a Mexican coke at Mas Tacos. It’s the perfect little spot.
H: What are some of your other Nashville go-to’s?
R: For the longest time, before we had kids, it was Mickey’s. I love that place. I haven’t been there in so long. I’m a little older now, so we normally go to one of the bandmate’s houses, or they come to us. I also really like City House, Scoreboards, and this little cantina next to our house, Nectar.
H: If you didn’t become a musician for some reason, what do you think you’d be doing right now? Working at Mas Tacos, getting that employee discount?
R: Honestly, that would be pretty sweet. At least I wouldn’t go hungry. But I don’t really know what I would be doing. That’s kind of scary but also kind of reassuring. I think that’s a sign that I’m doing exactly what I need to be doing. I can’t picture my life otherwise. I can’t let this go.
H: Of your own music, do you have a favorite song?
R: For the longest time, my favorite song to play live was “Hard Times.” Ceiling” is fun; it always gets a good fan reaction at our shows. Now it’s kind of hard to pick favorites because we have so many songs. One that I don’t really enjoy playing live is “Help Me Out” because it’s an absolute workout. When it’s over, everyone in the band just kind of sighs in relief.
H: This is probably more applicable for the future when regular touring is allowed again, but where is somewhere you guys haven’t played a show that you would love to perform live?
R: Ireland. I would love that. Taylor really wants to go to Japan. I know I’d be into that. Maybe Alaska? We did Australia, Europe, and Spain was really fun. But right now I wanna play in America! I want to play shows here again.
H: You guys have toured with artists like Willie Nelson, Paul Simon, Bob Dylan, etc. So I would imagine you have a lot of crazy tour stories. What’s your craziest story from the road?
R: Well, we did a couple of different tours with Willie. One night one of their crew members, as we were getting back onto our bus, handed us an industrial-size trash bag about a quarter full of weed. They were about to cross the border or something. I don't smoke, but I could appreciate the gesture. There’s no way we could have traveled with it. That’s like a full-blown felony. So that was pretty cool.
And honestly, just watching bands like that is crazy. A few years ago, we did a tour with Bob Seger and my favorite part was just watching him play every night. Just watching him be Bob Seger was cool.
H: Who is someone you’d really like to collaborate with?
R: McCartney would be it, I think. I’d love to just have a conversation with Bob Dylan, just to pick his brain. But as far as collaborating is concerned, I think it would be on a producer level. Ethan Johns would be fascinating to work with. Peter Buck would be really cool too.
H: What is your motto in life, if you had to pick one?
R: Work hard, play hard? Enjoy everything. As we know now, the most unimaginable things can happen, so we can’t take things for granted. Don’t spend so much time seeking out what others have. Balancing being content but working hard and growing.
H: That’s definitely a perspective that a lot more people have recently become aware of, I think. I was going to ask if you had any advice for aspiring musicians/artists, but that seems like advice that’s applicable for everyone. Historically, and especially in 2020, people tend to rely on stories to get them through troubling times. What story are you and the Wild Feathers trying to tell, in 2021?
R: Longevity. We just want to be a band that lasts. We want to be around for 20 more years, and make our fans happy. We’ve always said from day one, we aren’t afraid of success. Being afraid of that is shooting yourself in the foot.
In 2021 and years to come, we’re going to be keeping our nose down and making music. And making ourselves happy. If you’ve been on major labels for a while, you get really concerned about the business and you kind of forget why you’re there. It’s nice to answer to ourselves.
H: I’m really glad you mentioned making yourselves happy, too. That’s something I know I’m seeing more of lately, in some of my musician friends and plenty of others. I feel like they haven’t asked the crucial question of if they’re even enjoying themselves anymore. It sounds like you guys are focused, but have prioritized your enjoyment too.
What else can we expect from the Wild Feathers in 2021?
R: Last month we recorded 14 songs in a cabin, and we’ll be putting out a record this year. Not exactly sure when, but we have our summer tour dates coming up and a fall headlining tour coming up. So that’s it.
H: You say “that’s it” like that’s not a lot of stuff. You guys have a lot going on.
R: It’s gonna be a busy year, but we could always be doing more.
Needless to say, Ricky Young is constantly evolving and isn’t looking to quit any time soon. His “work hard, play hard” motto is true to him, and his sincerity is genuine. Ricky Young is exactly as he seems; a talented musician who values his craft, his bandmates, and pork tacos.
You can catch the Wild Feathers at their upcoming drive-in shows.
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