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Band Name: Wrinkle Neck Mules

Band Members:
Andy Stepanian (vocals, guitar, mandolin, dulcimer, keyboards) Chase Heard (vocals, banjo, guitar)
Mason Brent (vocals, guitar, banjo, mandolin, pedal steel guitar) Brian Gregory (vocals, bass)
Stuart Gunter (vocals, drums)

The origin of this bands name is an interesting story. Andy says that it came to them in a collective dream they had in the spring of 1999 in which they were sleeping in a canyon whose ground was covered in cotton candy. All of the animals spoke Korean and somehow, when they woke up…they were Wrinkle Neck Mules.

They consider themselves a rock n’ roll band, but have a hint of country and bluegrass in their back-story. As there are five members, obviously there are a lot of influences amongst them. The foundation of their music, however, is some place between Waylon Jennings and Led Zeppelin. Andy is into classic country, Mason’s big interest is reggae, Chase is from Miami so he’s pretty inspired by Boyz 2 Men and El Debarge. “Stuart is really old so he likes Rush and some band called Big Country,” Andy says. Brian seems pretty open minded about everything.

The band has been together since 1999, but they’ve known each other for longer. Andy tells the story:
I’ve known Mason since he was in about 4th grade. We went to the same school but I was 5 years older or so. During a free period in high school, I walked down with a bunch of friends to the middle school to see a friend’s little brother’s band play. What I saw was Mason and his band rip Pearl Jam “Alive” when Pearl Jam was nothing but a blip on the radar. I couldn’t believe how good these kids were. Beyond that, the rest of us just met along the way…mostly a combination of old friends and contacts from our high school or UVA. Stuart joined us after our first drummer left the band. Stuart had been a drum tech for us while working at Haunted Hollow studio on our second record “Pull the Brake”.

In the US, Wrinkle Neck Mules are on a small label out of Georgia called Lower 40 Records. Overseas, they’re on a German label called Blue Rose. All songs are under Gold Dust Twin Music (BMI).

Their recent release, “Let The Lead Fly”, is their fourth full-length album and is a bit more skewed to the acoustic side. 30 songs were written for the album originally and almost recorded all of them before some themes seemed to emerge- there were two types of songs; the rockish ones and the more rootsy ones. They realized the rootsy stuff as a single record and will record the rest again for another record.

They recorded the album in various ways, but most of it was self-engineered and recorded. They use their own digital system, which they affectionately call “Dog Chow Mobile Studio II”. They also recorded about 5 of the songs live at the PMD Recording Bernice Lane studio with Dale Cannady engineering. All of the songs got cleaned up by Chris Kress of PMD. He handles all of the mixing and editing.

Chase and Andy write the words and basic chord progressions of the songs. The basic theme is simple life experience and observation. The mood pretty much depends on the day the song gets written. As Andy says, “Sometimes we’re celebrating and sometimes we’re contemplating. Certainly the topics have changed since the 2002 penning of the Minor Enough album. Listening back, it seems we were more in the “celebrating” phase back then since almost 100% of the songs have something to do with drinking or being drunk. Now the songs are more about being hungover.”

After the song is written, they record a rough demo for the band to hear and analyze. Then, everybody brings their ideas in and the songs begin to evolve. “Mason, in particular, comes up with some really interesting and dynamic parts that drive the end result.”

Like most bands, they started out by playing cover songs. By 2002, they started writing their own songs and basically had no idea what they were doing. Now, there’s a lot more work and effort that goes into it, especially when it comes to the composition side of things. They also put a lot more focus on making sure they don’t cover territory they’ve covered before.

Wrinkle Neck Mules have performed all over the place. As for favorite venues, as long as the crowd loves the music, it’s a good time. Specifically, they recall The Berkeley in Raleigh, NC, High Noon Saloon in Madison Wisconsin, Toads Place/Hat Factory in Richmond, VA, Hootenanny in Inverness, Scotland and the Bee Hive in Swindon, England.

The band members live about 1400 miles from each other, so there is really no such thing as rehearsals. They tend to just plug in and play when they get together. Chase and Andy both live in Texas while the rest of the band lives in Virginia. This means a lot of plane rides to go play shows and record, which is harder than you might think.

The ultimate direction for the band has changed over time, as well. A few years ago, they were playing 150 shows a year and traveling non-stop. Now, they’re more focused on broader aspects of life and generating quality over quantity. They’re playing fewer, but better shows. Andy believes they are coming up with better results by reducing the wear and tear.

When it comes to advice for people who want to form their own bands, Andy says, “Just get a MySpace page that says you’re a band instead. It’s much cheaper and easier.”

You can visit http://www.wrinkleneckmules for anything you might want to learn about the band or go to iTunes to have a listen.

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And as for acknowledging anyone for offering support, Andy said the following:

“Since I’m doing this interview for PMD Recording, I’m sure people are going to think this question was the meatball set up for a promo for PMD. Think that all you want reader, but I’m telling you honestly that we would be in a hell of a pickle and would not have generated anywhere close to the quality of musical output over the years without the help of Chris Kress. No kidding, back in 2003, we recorded the entire Minor Enough album on our own computer with absolutely no idea how we were going to get the songs off of the computer to be edited, mixed, mastered and manufactured. In fact, I’m not even sure we knew what mixing or mastering was. So, as we neared completion, Chase started calling all over the place to studios begging someone to help us. We received only one call back. Chris Kress. He took this giant turd we had generated and pieced it together to make something that sounded like real music. That record put us on the map and is still probably the fan favorite even though it was a total disaster when we delivered it to Chris. He poured a lot of time and effort into saving that record and, trust me, he was not well compensated for the effort. We’ve worked with Chris on every record since in one capacity or another. He acted as producer on our second album “Pull the Brake” and has enabled us to realize our vision of recording the next two records on our own by teaching us how to use the technology, engineer the recordings and then editing and mixing everything for us. Sometimes I swear he even plays guitar parts on the songs that we don’t know about, but that’s a whole different debate and story.

Oh yeah, we would also like to thank our families.” Question and Answer: From Andy

What’s the origin of the band’s name?

The name came to us in a collective dream we had in the spring of 1999. We were all sleeping in a canyon in some land where the ground was covered in cotton candy and all the animals spoke Korean. When we awoke, we were Wrinkle Neck Mules.

Please list the name, and respective instrument of each band member.

Andy Stepanian (singing, guitar, mandolin, dulcimer, keyboards), Chase Heard (singing, banjo, guitar), Mason Brent (singing, guitar, banjo, mandolin, pedal steel guitar), Brian Gregory (singing, bass), Stuart Gunter (singing, drums)

What genre of music do you consider your work to be?

It’s rock n’ roll with a whole back story of country and bluegrass.

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Who are your major influences?

This one is hard to answer for everyone in the band. But the whole foundation of our music comes from some place between Waylon Jennings and Led Zeppelin. But each individual has their thing that they are more into. I’m pretty into classic country and some lo-fi type music. Mason has big interest in reggae. Chase is from Orlando so he is heavily inspired by Boyz 2 Men and El Debarge. Stuart is really old so he likes Rush and some band called Big Country. Brian has never really mentioned nor objected to any music so I assume he’s open-minded or can’t hear.

How long have you all known each other? How did you meet?

The band has been together since 1999 but we’ve known each other for varying amounts of time. I’ve known Mason since he was in about 4th grade. We went to the same school but I was 5 years older or so. During a free period in high school, I walked down with a bunch of friends to the middle school to see a friend’s little brother’s band play. What I saw was Mason and his band rip Pearl Jam “Alive” when Pearl Jam was nothing but a blip on the radar. I couldn’t believe how good these kids were. Beyond that, the rest of us just met along the way. Mostly a combination of old friends and contacts from our high school or UVA. Stuart joined us after our first drummer left the band. Stuart had been a drum tech for us while working at Haunted Hollow studio on our second record “Pull the Brake”.

When did you form your band? What inspired you to make music together?

We formed in 1999. I think the inspiration was nothing more than a desire to get a band together that started with Mason, Chase and me.

Do you have a record label? Are you a member of any music organizations?

In the US, we’re on a small label from Georgia called Lower 40 Records. Overseas we’re on a German label called Blue Rose. All songs Gold Dust Twin Music (BMI)

Tell us about your recent release “Let the lead Fly”

It’s our fourth full-length album. I’d say it’s a little more skewed towards the acoustic side in terms of the musical paintbrushes we use. This was by design. We wrote about 30 songs for this album and damn near recorded all of them only to discover that there were two distinct types of songs that emerged – the rockish ones and the more rootsy ones. After a brief flirtation with releasing a double album, we came to our senses and just released the rootsy stuff as a single record. We’ll record the rest again for another record.

How did you record and produce “Let the lead Fly”

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We recorded this one in various ways but most of it was self engineered and recorded which is the way we’ve been doing things for a few years now. We have our own digital system affectionately known as the “Dog Chow Mobile Studio II”. It can go anywhere. Whenever we have some free time, we set that thing up and run with it. We also recorded about 5 of the songs live at the PMD Recording Bernice Lane studio in Ruckersville, VA with Dale Cannady engineering. Then all of the songs got cleaned up and beautified by our long time partner in crime and de facto WNM member, Chris Kress. He handles all the mixing and editing and making sure this stuff sounds like music.

10. Where have you performed? What are your favorite and least favorite venues?

We’ve performed all over the place. Our favorite venue exists anywhere the crowd loves the Mules and is properly marinated. Places that come to mind off the top of my head are The Berkeley in Raleigh, NC, High Noon Saloon in Madison, Wisconsin, Toads Place/Hat Factory in Richmond, VA, Hootenanny in Inverness, Scotland and the Bee Hive in Swindon, England. Our least favorite venue is Cripple Creek Roadhouse off some dirt road in North Carolina with a douchebag promoter who timed our set and made us tack 6 minutes onto the second set because of 6 minutes we allegedly shaved off the first set in “violation of the contract”.

11. Who writes your songs? What are the main themes or topics for most of your songs? Have the topics changed over time?

Chase and I write the words and the basic chord progressions. We tend to write independently of each other although we have collaborated from time to time. Thematically we’re all over the map but the basic theme is simple life experience and observation. There tends to be a vein of humor in all of it but sometimes the back story is sad, historic, shocking or out and out fiction. I think it just depends on what day it is when the song gets written or the way the melody pushes things. Sometimes we’re celebrating and sometimes we’re contemplating. Certainly the topics have changed since the 2002 penning of the Minor Enough album. Listening back, it seems we were more in the “celebrating” phase back then since almost 100% of the songs have something to do with drinking or being drunk. Now the songs are more about being hungover.

12. Could you briefly describe the music-making process?

As I said above, Chase and I write a basic chord structure, melody and lyrics. Then we record a super rough demo for the band to hear and analyze. Then, the real song craft kicks in. Everybody brings their ideas and the arrangement starts to change and evolve. Mason, in particular, has a huge role in producing, for lack of a better term, the songs. He comes up with some really interesting and dynamic parts that drive the end result.

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What are your rehearsals generally like? Do you have a set time each week in which you practice or are rehearsals more spontaneous?

Rehearsals? Since we live about 1400 miles from each other these days, there is really no such thing. We tend to just plug in and play.

How has your music evolved since you first began playing music together?

Like most bands, we started out playing cover songs and really just having fun with it. We played the most ridiculous selection of songs you can imagine. I listened to a CD of a show from the Spring of 2000 the other day and it had The Harder They Come by Jimmy Cliff wedged pretty close to a Merle Haggard song. Those are just two examples that I’m not too embarrassed to mention here. By 2002, we started writing our own songs with essentially no idea what we were doing. If it sounded like a complete song we pretty much just went with it. Now there’s a lot more thought and work on the composition side of things and a lot more focus on making sure we don’t cover territory we’ve driven over before.

What has been your biggest challenge as a band?

Because we have families and lives outside of the band these days, Chase and I both live in Texas while the rest of the band lives in Virginia. So, we have to hop on planes all the time to play shows and record. This is harder than you might think.

What’s your ultimate direction for the band?

This has changed over time as well. A few years ago, we were playing 150 shows a year and traveling pretty much non-stop with a focus on trying to make Wrinkle Neck Mules the defining sentence in each of our obituaries. These days, we’re more focused on broader aspects of life and generating quality over quantity when it comes to Wrinkle Neck Mules. We’re playing fewer, better shows and continuing to make recorded music, which is the area in which I think we most excel. Although some would argue that this reduction is not so “rock n roll”, it’s served us well. By reducing the pressure and wear and tear, I think we’re coming up with better results.

What advice do you have for people who want to form their own bands?

Just get a Myspace page that says you’re a band instead. It’s much cheaper and easier.

How can fans-to-be gain access to your music? Do you have a website with sample songs or a demo CD?

Sure. Go to http://www.wrinkleneckmules.com for anything you need. Or iTunes or anywhere else you buy music.

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