Band: The Wiyos
Members: Michael Farkas, Teddy Weber and "Sauerkraut" Seth Travins
Who we talked to: Farkas
You guys draw from different musical styles. We definitely draw from a lot of early American music but also contemporary rock, jazz and roots music. To a large extent (we) write our own music these days but also draw from many different periods of American music. We've been touring as a three-piece or a five-piece lately. I think (Friday's Wagon Shed Concert Series show) is just going to be a trio. We have everything from washboards, kazoos to table-steel guitars to trumpets - you name it. Whatever we can fit in the car, we'll bring.
The band started about a decade ago, right? About nine years ago ... getting closer to 10 years. It's evolved. We definitely got a taste (of) a lot of early New Orleans swing, jazz and blue styles (and) the jug band music, which seems to be catching on again these days. We've always used it as a touchstone for what we've done., and it's been our inspiration to sort of source that music just based on the instruments we play and the sensibility we have approaching our own music. I could play early swing blues/jazz 'til the cows come home, and I probably will.
Talk about your recently released album, "Twist." It's very loosely based on "The Wizard of Oz" - more kind of a commentary on the American dream at least as we see it from the road. We're just taking some of the major motifs of that movie and also L. Frank Baum's work, figuring that everybody is at least aware of the movie if not has seen it a bunch of times. It's a very complex kind of song cycle (and) a very big sound. It's, I think, our crowning achievement so far for sure.
Have you seen the movie multiple times? I don't think any more or less than your average kid. It was something that stuck with me. It's one of those films that I remember (seeing) on television for the first time. I saw it on the big screen when I got older. I was impressed by the characters, the music and just the idea of that time ... when you're young and running away from something. I don't think we were going for that film specifically. Some of the ideas ... and just being on the ...
yellow-brick road (were like) the yellow lines on the road we travel all the time.
Were you always interested in trying different
instruments? I was a harmonica player from the time I was a kid, and I took it more seriously when I got out of college. (I) was looking for something to do with my time and started playing on the streets in New Orleans. I'm from a musical family. I didn't really take to lessons per se. I just pick up an instrument and spend a certain amount of time with it. I wouldn't say I'm a master at all the instruments I play, but a few perhaps I could say I've mastered to some degree. I think you find a lot of musicians who ... at least experiment with lots of different sounds because, you know, it's something else to express themselves with musically.
Are you guys hitting the road this year? No, we're not doing much of that. The last I'd say 18 months or so, we've been in a severe downshift (with) our touring schedule. I wouldn't even really call us a touring band much anymore. We all have personal lives and just other interests that are also taking precedence. The road is a life unto itself. We want to keep it to where we can approach the touring and the material with a lot of freshness. We tend to tour once a year for a couple weeks in the U.K. or abroad and keep it down to a ... select amount of shows.
Is the reception to the music different across the pond? I've found over the years ... certainly in the U.K. for example, they tend to be quite knowledgeable about early American blues, jazz and swing material. A lot of African-American musicians in the '40s, '50s and '60s went to France or Germany or England to live and perform because they were much more revered and accepted over there. (Fans) are very excited about Americans coming over there with a knowledge ... of what they see as traditional American music. They love the instruments.
Bluegrass is a popular genre in this part of the state. Has that genre influenced any of your work? Ted, the guitar player, was in a pretty well-know little bluegrass duo some years ago called The Hunger Mountain Boys. He comes from more of a bluegrass tradition more than I do. I like bluegrass music, but I never really played it personally. We used to get hired quite a bit at bluegrass festivals to be the odd ones out, so we did spend a lot of time in the bluegrass world for several years. I'm quite smitten with the harmonies.
Is old-timey music popular again? On the road ... or on the Tiny Desk Concerts on NPR there'll be a lot of washboard bands (and) acoustic instruments being played. For some reason ... it feels more authentic to people to see and hear the instrument being played as they sound as opposed to what feels very manufactured. I think good music always comes back around.
If you go
The Wiyos, a band based in New York, will perform 8 p.m. Friday for The Wagon Shed Concert Series at Stringed Instrument Repairs, 109 N. Second St., New Freedom. Tickets cost $20. For details, visit wagonshedconcerts.com.