Words by Sean Moeller // Illustration by Johnnie Cluney // Recording engineered by Shawn Biggs
What you're about to read is not the most important thing you are going to need to know about Austin band, The Wheeler Brothers, but it's an important fact. You see, prior to the day that they arrived at Studio Paradiso out in San Francisco this winter, we'd never met any of them. They were complete strangers to us. There was nothing of a relationship between us. They were a bunch of dudes, just like any other bunch of dudes with a pack of good songs that they wanted to play. Here's the kicker though: When they left the studio, they left behind a sword. They gifted us with a real, honest to goodness sword. It was their way of saying thank you, we think. It must have been. They happily left it for us. It's the first sword that we've ever been given and, unless the practice ever comes into being a vogue thing to do, it will likely be the last sword we'll ever receive from a group of joyous musicians. This makes them special and you should listen to every once of their songs with the thought burned into your head about the sword that they acquired and then kindly treated some strangers with some microphones to. It's a gesture that you put in an obituary and it goes both ways. The person or persons who gave it should proudly claim the deed in the good karma column when they meet their maker and the person who was given the sword now has the opportunity to pass the sword on to another lucky stranger before he passes on, continuing the chain.
There's something about passing things on that comes through in the somewhat Caribbean, mostly hill country songs of the Wheelers (Patrick, Nolan and Tyler) and friends Danny Matthews and A.J. Molyneaux. There's a need to be loved and to make sure that those they love know damned well that they are loved. And still, there's a sense that some things are passed along that needn't be or that are unappreciated. The title track from the group's latest album, "Portraits," is a tricky tale about a mother or more likely a father who's either settled into the care of one of their children or has died and left way too much for his child to handle. It's the enormity of the memories that had been tucked away in their little corners of the head, left to rot a little, to gather moss and just sit like lumps, never to be heard from again, though unable to be shaken loose. The parent left all kinds of paintings of people. He left a house and he seemed to have left a bunch of books and empty ideas that the son wants nothing more to deal with. It's all just dredging up some awful memories that are best left abandoned in the thick weeds. Nolan Wheeler sings, "Once you painted pictures in the cold basement you left/Reading Edgar Allen and writing poems about your death/And how you filled the room with empty thoughts is beyond me/Find me dusty, find me dead, but just find me/I need no witnesses to bury this old house/And if you stay with me, well then there ain't no way out/Yes, I'll bury this old house," and you can picture the fire as a real picturesque catharsis. It will burn high and it will burn long and everything will be gone when it finally dies down.