Maddy Wyatt, of the band WYATT, isn’t super superstitious, but the album release date of 11/11 feels a little bit magical to her—as it should. WYATT is made partly of Maddy and her two brothers, Paul and Alex, who all made the move to New York from the mountains of Colorado. According to Maddy, “it took a while for us all to settle in to our various lives in the city here and kind of carving our own paths before really making a go of it and coming together. But, you know, timing is everything and it feels like the timing is right for it now.”
We are fortunate enough to be premiering their song, Up & Up off their EP, Here Comes Everybody, to be released on November 11th. In 13/8 time, darkly psychedelic and lyrically heavy-hitting, Up & Up is the perfect stylistic combination of these three siblings.
We caught up with Maddy Wyatt this week to talk about the EP, keeping Colorado in your pocket, and the importance of a well-placed flute solo.
Pancakes & Whiskey: What first got me really excited about this interview was the description “Born from the Colorado calm to the New York craze” because I just moved back here from Colorado.
Maddy Wyatt: No Way! Oh my gosh! Are you from there or from here?
P&W: I’m from here but I lived in Boulder for four years.
MW: Oh, fantastic. I miss it. I’m going back soon – we have family on both sides. It’s always good to take a moment in the mountains.
P&W: I was wondering if you could speak a little bit about that “mountains meets urban” description that you give your music and how you think the difference is felt?
MW: Well, I’ve been in New York for 10 years and spent most of my childhood in Colorado. I remember the summer before I moved to New York City, my family went to Telluride because my youngest brother, Alex—who is the drummer in the band—was playing the Telluride Jazz Festival. We spent the weekend and I fell in love with Telluride—it remains my favorite place in all of Colorado. It’s just this little great artistic community that is surrounded on three sides by mountains and then it has a river literally running through it. I remember going for a long run the last morning that we were there and it was just a few days before we were leaving for NY and I just stopped and did a full 360 and was like, “all of this has to come with me to New York.” So, I have managed to keep that image and that feeling of calm and space and air in the back of my mind. I think it is a constant challenge, but I feel lucky to have had the time in Colorado and just sort of the awareness of space and grass and the massiveness of the mountains there to kind of remind you of how little you are and how we are lucky to be a part of it but it’s all kind of happening on greater planes and levels all the time around us.
I think the thing about being in New York and writing music in New York and trying to make a go of it, is that there is a momentum to it and that momentum is great and it pushes you forward constantly and you very consistently start to feel like you are spinning your wheels and going at this pace and sometimes not sure if you are actually moving forward or just going in a circle. So, I think that taking the moment to remind myself of where we came from and the quiet and space that I found that day in Telluride always allows me to remove myself from the chaotic nature that the city can kind of invoke and in my mind and in my being.
P&W: And how do you think it exists in the music?
MW: I think it is just elements of both. I think Up & Up is absolutely born out of the city and just the feeling of weight and the heaviness of the city, especially when you feel like you’re getting pulled in a lot of directions just to keep your career going and to pay the rent and to make sure you aren’t losing track of your friends or your loved ones. I think that a song like that is definitely born out of the New York agitation that we all experience. But then, a song like Walking Down 6th Ave is a beautiful Colorado moment in New York City. That was in the early spring last year and I was on my way to the train, going into the city and I was feeling that Up & Up agitation, but for some reason—I think because it was a gorgeous day and just cool and crisp and hopeful— I was just able to walk calmly all the way to the train and the lyrics of that song just came to me. I usually take a lot of time and pour over every word and second-guess and edit and that one was, for whatever reason, like I was in Telluride again. I was like “take a breath and let it go because you are here and you are doing a thing and it is all okay.” I think if you’re in an environment that promotes that, like in the mountains of Colorado, it is so easy. But, I think if you are in this urban crazy scene that we have chosen to put ourselves in, you really have to actively remind yourself that it is still possible. So yeah I feel like both exist in the music. Especially on this album.
P&W: Yeah I was going to say that that song was one of my favorites because I felt like it was this precise moment that exists in both places – it’s this kind of overwhelming vastness that calms you at the same time of scaring the shit out of you. Both New York and Colorado have a way of putting you in your place.
MW: Yes, exactly. Oh, I appreciate that. I think that one is very much about acceptance. It’s like, “yes this is happening, yes you live here, yes you are one of many people trying to forge a creative path,” but this is what you chose and it’s what is happening and you chose it for a reason because you are probably meant for it on some level. It is not to discount the challenge of a life that we create here but once you are accepting the reality that you have chosen for yourself then you can literally move forward.
P&W: I would like to talk about the band itself because it is you and your two brothers.
MW: Yeah, we come from pretty musical stock on both sides of our family. My youngest brother, Alex , is our drummer and he’s been playing since he was tiny and is mainly a jazz drummer in the city. I think in the drumming a little bit of that comes into the songs, but he is also super flexible and malleable as a drummer and is able to work with the songs that Paul and I have written. So Paul, being my middle brother, who plays electric for us, and all but one of the songs on this new EP we co-wrote. He is a great songwriter and a great musical composer. Generally he will come to me with a musical idea—with a hook on the guitar or like a basic sketch of a chorus— and then I will kind of take that and see if I have words somewhere in my catalog that fit or that come to mind when listening and then we sort of go back and forth from there. We’ve been doing it long enough now that we have a nice shorthand between the two of us and it is good. It’s so helpful to me to not always be writing in a vacuum. I was doing the singer-songwriter thing for quite a few years before sort of legitimately forming the band with Paul and Alex and it is always just great to have someone to bounce ideas off and help you develop them. Especially when you have been around them your whole life. You don’t have to worry about offending anyone really because we’re still going to be family.
P&W: Yeah, I mean essentially your whole life has been a kind of collaboration.
MW: Exactly, My dad is a church music director, so we grew up playing music. We were all always in lessons and had music around the house and I think on some subconscious level we were always aware of what we could potentially do together.
P&W: Would you say that you guys have different influences—besides each other—that kind of blend together?
MW: Definitely. Paul has always been really forward thinking with his influences. I have gotten better, but when we first started writing together and even before that, he was always introducing me to bands that I hadn’t heard of before. He got me really into the Toronto scene, like Broken Social Scene and Metric and Stars. He is definitely influenced more by psychedelic progressive bands that are out there, which I love and was always happy to be exposed to. I came from that sort of singer songwriter place and kind of folk, like Joni Mitchell and Nina Simone—the importance of the word and the story and then sort of a traditional musical approach. And then, Alex being a Jazz guy, I think he does bring that to the table and so that’s why we have Up & Up in 13/8—this odd time signature— and then it has sort of this long instrumental moment in the middle that gets a little weird and psychedelic and I think Paul kind of pushed for that. But then, the lyrics of Up & Up I wanted to be very specific about and wanted it to be crafted to the enth degree. So yeah we all kind of bring our own influences to the table and I do think it ends up being this interesting mesh of influences—I don’t know how commercial it is but it is definitely who we are. So that’s what we’re going with.
P&W: So, you write in both French and English—do you find it natural? Is it obvious to you what language a song should be in when you start writing?
MW: I think what I like about writing in French is that it forces me to simplify the lyrical idea I might have. I have the tendency to get a little bit verbose and flowery with language. French is a second language to me and I grew up with it and I have never been a total expert, but I love to speak it. I think the moment I try to translate my thoughts or my lyrical ideas into French I realize that my vocabulary is a little bit more limited, so it kind of allows for a minimalism that I wanted to cultivate in general. I have maybe a few less words to choose from and I have to be more creative about how I communicate my ideas. At the end of the day, it ends up simplifying them and focusing them. I think that is the advantage and I just think that it kind of goes without saying that it is a really beautiful language to listen to, so I think that it helps melodically. I feel like I’m able to hear melody once I have translated an idea into French sometimes a bit easier than a ton of words in our boring English language—not boring but, you know.
P&W: Familiar, yeah. I think it’s 4 & 20 that the second verse is a translation of the first.
MW: That’s right, yeah it is. I think it just felt like that melody has a lot of space in it. It is very sort of smooth and overhanging and so that was another one where I had a general idea. Paul and I kind of knocked that one out pretty quick one day. I had just gotten off a solo tour and was very content with what was happening in that time and that moment and I wasn’t too worried about what was going to happen in the future with the band. That feeling is so fleeting, you know? It is so easy to immediately fast forward or think about mistakes of the past, but I think when you have those little moments of dumb happiness you have to preserve them and hold on to them. So, I think I had been in French mode, but then I thought it was an important enough statement to me that I wanted to make sure that people heard it too. I think it is so hard to be exactly where you are and I know it sounds hippy-dippy but I think— especially living here— it is easy to spin your wheels and get ahead of yourself so any sort of reminder to take a breath and be like “this is right now, this is what’s happening and its okay”. So, I think the goal in the translation was to make sure that that was communicated rather than a lovely language melody and that the words come through for anyone that doesn’t speak French
P&W: I also read that you like to experiment with different instruments. Was there anything on this EP that was totally new or maybe anything right now that you are working with?
MW: Yeah, there is a tiny bit of flute on our first EP, but I went a little further with it on this one. There is a very expansive psychedelic flute solo in the middle of Up & Up. Flute was my band instrument that I started in 4th grade. For a long time I was wondering how we could incorporate flute into the band, but looking back at a lot of 70’s psychedelics, you know Jethro Tull, even Led Zeppelin, flute is a really evocative instrument. It can be overdone and I think it gets Ron Burgundy cheesy treatment sometimes, but I hope it comes across as just a more psychedelic addition to the material. And then I would say that through one of our producers, Grant, we added a lot of synth lines. We have never had a real electronic synth pad to our songs before so that’s been a nice element to have to round out the songs and give them a warmth and more progressive feel.
P&W: It’s funny because you would never really marry those two but makes total sense together.
MW: Yeah, it kinda works, right? It’s like you don’t realize until you try or someone adds something. Grant was great with that. He could see what would add to the song and not distract. He’s very astute bout that so we are lucky to have him.
P&W: Is tour next for you guys?
MW: Yeah, so we’ve got the album release on the actual release date on 11/11 that’s at Mercury Lounge and then we are going to be doing some East Coast one-off’s until the holiday and then we are going to gear up for a Midwest tour probably in the spring. But we are definitely going to hit some East Coast spots once the album is out.
Be sure to catch WYATT at the Mercury Lounge on 11/11 for the release of Here Comes Everybody.
Article by: Lila Zwonitzer
Photo Credit: Shervin Lainez