BELOW YOU'LL FIND THE COMPLETE, unexpurgated text of my recent chat with two members of this wonderful, increasingly well-known Old-Time Americana quartet.
This will be the first time you have appeared in Savannah since adding a fourth member. How did this addition come to be? Had you been wanting to expand the lineup and instrumentation for a while, or was this a spur of the moment decision?
Michael Farkas: First off, Jim, thanks for your continued support! Yes, we added Mr. Weber after many hours of deliberation and an all night jam session on some porch in some town. Although he is a great musician and songwriter, it was his trained circus monkey and respectable bribes to each one of us which sealed the deal. But seriously... We wanted to expand our palate, and Teddy is a great fit on both a personal and professional level.
Where and how did you meet Teddy?
Michael Farkas: We met him at a booking conference in Austin, Tx. He’d been told that he should catch a Wiyos show and we’d heard the same about his band — Ted plays with the Hunger Mountain Boys. There was an instant mutual fan club. When we heard the Hunger Mountain Boys were going to start touring less, we asked Teddy to join us for several dates, and just a month or so ago he came on board full time.
How difficult was it to bring someone new into a group like yours which has such a defined image and performance style? Was there any one aspect of this that was particularly difficult or challenging?
Michael Farkas: The real challenge was finding the groove as a quartet. We were so locked in as a trio from spending years on the road and gigging constantly, that a new voice needs some time to work itself in naturally. Now that we have a bunch of shows behind us in all kinds of listening environments, we have really started to discover our sound as a four-piece. The performance is slowly evolving too. Plus, we now have amps on stage!
Most bands that swap out a member or gain a new one entirely run the very real risk of upsetting —or at the least changing— the delicate personality balance they have in place. How does the four-piece Wiyos differ in terms of chemistry (both onstage and off) from the three-piece version folks in Savannah may know?
Michael Farkas: Off stage is just as goofy as ever. We all have our “characters” that don’t quite make it on the stage, but have free range in the many hours we spend in the van. Ted’s is decidedly West Coast. I will leave it at that... As far as upsetting our audience, we have had very little evidence of that so far. People have been very generous, and understand and appreciate the way the band and our sound has evolved and is maturing.
This residency finds you at the Telfair and Jepson museums. Besides your club, theater and festival shows, do you often perform at museums or other educational centers? If so, how do those shows differ —if at all— from your gigs in other venues?
Michael Farkas: We have done a bunch of work through the Carnegie Hall Neighborhood concert series in NYC. It’s a fantastic program that puts artists in teaching residencies similar to what we are doing at the Telfair Museum. The shows may be a bit more like a lecture/demonstration, but they will have the feel and flair of a Wiyos performance.
You’ll be hosting some seminars and workshops for young people while you’re here. What will those be like for the kids involved? Do they have to be conversant with playing a stringed instrument already to get something out of the activities?
Michael Farkas: I would imagine it would be helpful for the guitar workshop, but if you don’t have the skills it will certainly be fun and worthwhile anyway. We are also doing a workshop on Vaudeville which will be part history, as well as a hands-on opportunity to learn an old clown partner routine.
The music you specialize in is based on art forms developed during an earlier era that is getting older by the day. What unique challenges does that present when dealing with young people who quite literally may have absolutely no idea what you all are drawing inspiration from, let alone be able to easily relate that to their own life and the music they have grown up surrounded by?
Michael Farkas: Because of the re-discovered interest in Americana and roots music, as well as the DIY culture in general, a lot of young people are pretty hip to what it is we do. If they are complete neophytes, it will still seem fresh because of the shoot-from-the-hip quality of the music. Plus the melodies are just great. Older folks connect to it in a more personal way. I think what we do has a real timeless quality, and because we give it our own stamp, it comes across as authentic. These days we have been writing a ton, and our next album will be completely original. We have been getting the best response ever from the new material, so we feel we’re on the right track.
Do you ever run into folks who have never seen or heard anything like what you’re doing and thus do not relate it to an earlier generation — instead assuming it is a style you have crafted all on your own?
Michael Farkas: Sure. So, we tell them we wrote everything! (laughs)
The longer The Wiyos are out on the road, I’m assuming your fan-base continues to grow. What sort of tangible changes has the band noticed in how they are viewed or treated, and how well they are able to live on the road since the early days of the group?
Michael Farkas: Yes, our fan base is growing for sure, and it certainly helps when we play major festivals in front of a completely new audience. Word obviously spreads quicker that way. As far as treatment goes, we certainly feel more respect from fans and promoters. They even bring water to the stage now without us having to ask! Not much else has really changed though. We still ride around in a mini-van, try and avoid bad food, and change into our stage clothes behind the van. Gotta keep it real!
Now for the Lightning Round: What are three albums that can regularly be heard playing in your van on the road?
Teddy Weber: Well, that’s impossible to say because the van is always full of dozens of CDs. The diversity is huge and we’re always bringing in new records we haven’t heard in a while. Typically we listen to full records all the way though, tip to tail. And once they’ve been played, no matter how good they are, we often won’t listen again for a while. We’re savage auditory consumers. Otherwise occasionally someone plugs in an iPod (yes, two of us have iPods) and we scroll through each others collections of old obscure gems, sometimes fishing for ideas, other times just diggin’ good music. Of course, sometimes we just roll down the road talking and yapping in sound effects. In fact that’s the usual routine.
What’s the single most irresponsible activity the band (or any of its members) has engaged in so far during your travels?
Teddy Weber: Okay, really? Did you just ask that? Even if we fessed that up, the other guys would likely argue over which incident was the “most irresponsible.” We’re not rockers, but we are travelling musicians... So, need I say more?
Has anyone in The Wiyos ever been involved in a fist-fight (with anyone) since joining the band? If so, who, what were the circumstances, and did the Wiyo win?
Teddy Weber: Of course. Why do you think there are so many dents in Michaels washboard? Honestly, I think that’s why they brought me on board. I’ve got this steel guitar that makes a great bar-room swinger. One good swing and I can take a few cats out at a time. But things have settled down now. We have a family show, ya know. Besides, hangin’ that chicken wire in front of the stage got to be a real pain in the ass.
Is there a particular type of food that is most often eaten by the band when you’re on tour?
Teddy Weber: We steer clear of the crap. Usually. We generally look for sustainable local food wherever we go. Some parts of the country are better than others. And having lived in NYC for so long, we all have pretty high standards for restaurants. But sometimes breakfast at the roadside diner is exactly what the doctor ordered.
If someone offered to give The Wiyos $50,000 free and clear to do whatever they wanted to with (as long as the goal was to promote and grow the band), with the caveat that it had to be used within two weeks or it would be taken away, how would you spend the money?
Teddy Weber: I think we’d split it up and all go on our own separate vacations somewhere, then return after two weeks and make the record of our lives.
Have The Wiyos endorsed a Presidential Candidate? If so, who? If not, why not? (This is not a trick question!)
Teddy Weber: Definitely Obama.
Sun., 3 pm (part of the Free Family Sunday event), Telfair Academy + Tues. - Wed., noon, Jepson Center for The Arts - free to ALL-AGES.