Thursday, April 16, 2009

Interview with the "vaudevillian-ragtime-jugband-blues and hillbilly swing" band, "The Wiyos"

"The Wiyos" first caught my eye when I noticed the quality of photography they used for their promotion.  Not only is the quality of the photography top notch, it captures the essence of their sound and their performance--as they say "vaudevillian-ragtime-jugband-blues and hillbilly swing"  (It's amazing to me how many bands don't portray the feel of their music and performances through their photography and marketing materials.)  After seeing their images, I went to their website to listen to their music. The website continues their theme.  You can tell how much thought has gone into attaching their unique style to everything their audience sees. From their clothing to their music to the photos to the posters to the website and CD's, the look and feel don't deviate. What I found in their video clips was good music and a hugely fun stage full of unusual instruments and theatrical antics.  It is, as the band touts, reminiscent of the times of Vaudeville.  (For those of you not exactly sure what Vaudeville was, see the side bar for a link to an informative article on the subject.)  It's not the normal fare given our large screen HDTV world.   They are a blast from our past (or our future, however you see it) and a refreshing way to be entertained.  I envision these four musicians wandering the back roads of rural America moving from town to town in a swarm of dust and heat, instruments hanging around their necks, guitars slung across their backs and suitcases being pulled in a wagon behind them.  But this is the old way of doing things.  "The Wiyos" may get a little dusty depending on the venue but they are entertaining audiences with their music and stage antics all over the world and most likely jetting it--the 2009 form of Vaudeville.   I have really enjoyed learning more about the band online and watching their videos and applaud them in their branding.  Recently,  I approached band member Parrish Ellis to ask him more about the band.  Below are excerpts from the interview. 

Interviewee: Parrish Ellis
Band Name:  The Wiyos
Band Members:  
Parrish Ellis--Vocals/Acoustic Guitar/Banjo/Ukulele
Teddy Weber--Vocals/Steel Guitars (lap/table), Acoustic guitar, Alto Horn
Michael Farkas--Vocals/Harmonica/Washboard/Kazoo
Joe Dejarnette--Upright Bass/Vocals/Sound Engineer
Website: OR
For Bookings:  Shelley Ubbelohde at Charisma Artist Agency
Number of CD's:  3 (The 4th to be released in June)
Latest CD:  "The Wiyos"

You have a truly unique kind of sound, how did the sound evolve and who were your musical influences?
all four of us have myriad influences and separate paths that led us into old-time American traditional music and the pop songs of the 1920's and 30's.  it was the meeting and collaboration of our four distinct musical aesthetics that has been the impetus for our unique sound.

Do you have a name for the type of music you play?
we used to call our music "vaudevillian-ragtime-jugband-blues and hillbilly swing". but now we are writing our own original songs and it is much more expansive and modern sounding...

Do you play all original songs, covers, or is it a mixture?
we play half originals and half covers. Teddy, Michael and Parrish all write the songs and have different methods.

Audiences don't see too many scrubboards.  Tell us the story.
to get technical-it's a washboard (a scrubboard is the thin sheet with ridges used in zydeco). the musical washboard used to be a commonly used percussion instrument in swing, blues and jugband music of the early 1900s. 
(Sheewww!  I thought Parrish was going to say a scrubboard is what you use to wash clothes with.  How was I going to explain my ignorance...?!)

Where does the name "The Wiyos" come from?  
the whyos were an Irish street gang that existed in the 5 points district of NYC during the turn of the century.  we got it (the name) from the text of the book "Gangs of New York".

How did you get started together as a band?
i met Michael in NYC in 2003 and we started by playing piedmont & delta country blues guitar/harmonica duets

How long have you been together as a group?
6 years, same people, started as a trio with Teddy joining about 1 1/2 years ago

Did everyone in the group grow up in musical households?
no two of us had musical fathers, but the other two did not have any family members that were musically inclined.

There can be conflicting interests in bands that can pull at the structure of the group.  How do you handle these issues?  
that's a long and complex matter about which most famous bands end up writing books.  no comment from us...

You have traveled all over the world sharing your music.  Where have you found the most appreciative audiences?  
the most appreciative audiences have been in Europe (Sweden, Netherlands, UK).  they just have a deeper appreciation for old/traditional American musical art forms.

How often do you rehearse or revamp a routine?
we try to be spontaneous every night that we're performing on stage and come up with something that deviates from the set script.

How has the musical scene changed since you started?
i believe there has been a major increase in the interest for original music that is (influenced) by early American music idioms like swing/blues/ragtime.

How have you marketed yourselves?
we're still trying to figure out the best marketing strategy, but facebook and myspace have played a large role in our independent marketing plan

What advice could you give to a band wanting to expand their sound outside of their hometown?
be prepared to lose money on the first few tours (especially with the increased travel expenses) until you build up reliable audiences in new markets

Do you frequent musical festivals?  If so, which ones are your favorites?
yes, my favorites are the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, Merlefest in North Carolina, ad the Appalachian Mountain Stringband Festival in West Virginia.

Your stage sound is very organic and sometimes that's a hard sound to recreate in the studio. How do you approach your recording process?
we just finished the tracking and mixing processes of our new record album (still needs to be mastered and mass manufactured; release date estimated at mid June!). this new album differed from our last two (both recorded entirely live to 2 track tape machines; no editing or mixing) in that we multi-tracked the recording and then layered some sound sculptors on top. there was a lot of editing and too much mixing! maybe we'll find the happy medium next time...

Thanks so much for your time Parrish.  If a person wants to download your music where can they do so?
starting in about 2 months they will be able to download the new album (and the first three records) on iTunes. right now they can purchase a copy through

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