A Kind of Magic: Introducing The Wandering Hearts

Simon Ramsay 28 February 2018

If you don’t believe in destiny, take a quick look at the Wandering Hearts’ story. You soon will. This fast-rising British quartet boasts the kind of origin tale that was surely inked in the stars by a mystical, music-loving force. Beyond that superficial calling card, though, lies a band who, thanks to a sublime brand of alt-folk Americana, have just created one of the most accomplished debut albums of recent times.

Less than half an hour after uploading some early songs onto Soundcloud, the Wandering Hearts were spotted by their future manager. A few months later they signed to Decca Records on the back of an intimate performance for label President Rebecca Allen.  

Since then they’ve played on the same bill as a number of legendary acts and also landed the prestigious Emerging Artist gong (chosen by Bob Harris) at this year’s UK Americana Awards. All of which they accomplished before their debut, ‘Wild Silence’, flew to the top of the UK Country charts thanks to superbly well-crafted tracks that recall the likes of Fleetwood Mac, the Shires, Of Monsters and Men and Little Big Town.

With the foursome currently on the road, we spoke to singer and guitarist AJ Dean about ‘Wild Silence’ and their eye-catching backstory.

Apparently the four of you met almost by chance. What’s the story behind that fateful encounter and how did things progress from there?

A couple of years ago Tim (Prottey-Jones, vocals, percussion and guitar) and Tara (Wilcox, vocals) were doing a charity gig. They knew of each other through mutual friends and got chatting about music they’d grown up listening to and the stuff they wanted to do. A friend had worked with Tim a couple of times, we all got put in touch with Chess (Whiffin, vocals and mandolin) and suddenly discovered we had this complementary blend of voices and a lot of shared passions.  

The first rehearsal was organised as soon as we’d swapped numbers. We brought a bottle of gin and some tonic water, sat in Tim’s old flat talking about artists we liked and started to play a few tunes. We played one or two we recorded at our second rehearsal and he put that up on Soundcloud. Not to really go anywhere, only as a reference for ourselves to listen back and go ‘what could we change?’. We weren’t expecting anybody to get in touch.  

Twenty six minutes later Tim got an email from Steve, who’s now our manager, going ‘Hi, my name’s Steve. I used to work at Sony.’ And we’re like ‘Yeah, sure Steve. If that’s your real name.’ It was the first time that he’d used Soundcloud to actually search for artists. So there were a lot of coincidences drawing it together. We met Steve, really got on with him and he introduced us to Decca. Not long after that we were playing for Beccy Allen.   

What was it like performing for her in such a setting?

We were aware of the stakes so it would be unfair to say nerves didn’t play a part, but they have such a lovely way we immediately felt at ease. When she left the room, she had go to another meeting, she said: ‘Lovely to meet you all, thank you so much for coming in.’ And to the rest of the guys there she said: ‘And if you can get them signed that would be great.’ She was out the room and we go: ‘What did she just say at the end?’.

Most groups bond through adversity and their determination to get spotted. You skipped that part and must have been getting to know each other while the ball was essentially rolling faster and faster?

We had to do more of that in a shorter space of time. I don’t think we felt under pressure because we never set out knowing where this was going to lead and we’ve been very fortunate with how quickly things have developed. We all get on really well and just enjoy what we do and want to keep doing it. I hope we’re always getting to know more about ourselves and each other as artists and people because it gives you something to constantly be learning and working on.

But you were suddenly in a very privileged position, so was there ever the worry of ‘What if we don’t get on?’

Yeah, sure. Although when you spend a lot of time with people you haven’t known for long and you’re suddenly in these positions where you’ve got tonnes of time, there’s a bit more pressure and everyone’s got to do something, it gives you the opportunity to get to know each other quickly. You have to. There are definitely moments where we wind each other up but I think everybody’s just got a really good attitude. We communicate very well and all have this great thing in common and it always comes back to that.  

Can you tell me about the musical background of everyone in the band?

Tim was in metal and rock bands when he was younger and used to tour and play with all those guys. Tara had been singing on her own and doing a lot of singing teaching. She’s a highly trained vocal coach. Chess was always listening to music and playing with family members. And everybody’s worked and gigged over the years. Personally, I was in a tonne of bands and doing stuff as a songwriter and solo musician ever since I moved back to London again. I was in another band that was drawing to a close when this one started, which was just a cover band, so this came at a very good time for me.  

Are you concerned people who don’t know about your backgrounds will hear the Soundcloud story and think you’ve had it easy?

In some ways, because I think everybody loves a story and there’s a real romance to it. It’s very exciting and makes things sound magical. To be fair, it kind of is. Just as long as that doesn’t get mistaken for a lack of experience, or paying our dues, because we’re not straight out of school.

One thing that’s always bothered me is when you see bands being manufactured and artists put out there, people who are clearly too young to have had any experience, and you’re sold this great mystery of them being some sort of genius when, in actual fact, there’s so many people that have pushed them and helped them get where they are. We have been very lucky to have some great support but we’ve done a lot on our own individually and still do.        

What influences do each of you have and is there a point where they converge?

There’s quite a few artists we share in common, particularly ones we listened to growing up. Tim was more of a rock fan but he’d listen to Kenny Rogers and loved him. Tara was always a big Tom Petty fan via her dad and Chess had been listening to Simon and Garfunkel. That’s another one my folks played me.

Other than that we’ve got very different tastes in music but just united when we first got together by talking about Fleetwood Mac and Chris Stapleton. At the time he’d just released ‘Traveller’ and not that many people in the UK knew who he was.  Having that chance to say it to people who were as excited about an artist as you was really cool. There were definitely those points, like you say, where it converged and we went ‘With our knowledge we can make something cool’.    

The first time you harmonised together and realised how well your voices fit, was it an immediate epiphany?

It kind of was. I know that, again, only serves to feed the myth of how the band assembled, but it was a very bizarre coincidental moment. Four people that didn’t know each other all that well, at a time when they were doing other things, took a chance by getting together and having a sing song. Which can be quite hard to do with people you don’t know.

Not only was it really fun when everybody jumped into this place with their voices and we were singing together, it was a pretty lovely feeling. I’m not a religious guy but I got taken to church when I was a kid and the closest thing I can equate it to was that feeling of hearing a choir singing. It’s a really uplifting experience, it doesn’t have to be a spiritual thing but in a weird way it kind of is.

Getting on to the album, it sounds like you’ve really worked hard on making it consistently strong from top to bottom?

We wrote a lot of material for it, like 60 odd songs by the time we decided to start whittling them down to the lucky 12. And choosing them wasn’t as hard as we initially thought because some of them complemented each other and we had to have the ones we thought were going to be the singles. They were pretty obvious.  With everything else, we just had a listen and could really hear where it was going to sit. It’s great that everybody seems to be liking it which shows we got it half right.  

Laid In The Ground is a track that’s very dynamic, both musically and lyrically. What can you tell me about that one?

It came very quickly. From a five minute sit down with some chords being played and a tune coming out, and putting in about an hour or so, we had the full song mapped out. We were inspired a lot by the melody itself. It’s very traditional folk and the sound of that, and where it was taking us, inspired us to push it. Keep a bit of that Celtic vibe but also turn it on its head. We thought the chorus would be nice if what just a little break away and a bit more alternative.  

It’s quite a heavy song.  I think ‘laid in the ground’ was one of the first lyrics we had because it sat so easily with the melody. Then this story came about ‘Hey, wouldn’t it be cool if the whole thing is set up like somebody easing minds and trying to be there for people at a really hard time and then, come the end, they’re actually the person that’s gone?’ We thought it would be a lovely way of being able to say stuff to people when you’re gone.  

It was fun to record as well because we ended up playing around with some weird dynamics. I recorded lying on the floor to try and get this real stillness and complete relaxation to the vocal. It was weird hearing it because it didn’t sound like me very much, but it gave it this almost neutral quality that we wanted to get across to play on that idea of having somebody removed from a situation but still offering up advice and encouragement. It’s a song that we loved writing and it means a great deal to us to have that out there. We really fought for that one to get on the album and we’re glad we did.

Devil highlights something you guys like to do, which is smuggle deeper, darker lyrics into a song that’s upbeat and poppy. Why do you like that kind of juxtaposition?

It’s nice having something that’s very catchy, but also being able to communicate our personalities and ideas that we care and think about. We’ve all lived and there’s life experiences that we can get passionate about and share. Some are good, some are bad. So that juxtaposition is a fun one to play on.  

In some ways it’s a bit therapeutic. You look at each other singing really sad lyrics sometimes, while smiling, nodding heads or stamping feet, and I think that’s something to do with human nature. Not to make light of serious situations, but if you can sing a sad lyric in a happy song I think you’re probably getting closer to being able to deal with that.

Your music draws from numerous sources and has been described in a variety of ways, but how would you sum it up for anyone who hasn’t heard the band?

We’re very much a vocal band, very harmony led. There isn’t a front person, there’s no lead singer. We dip in and out of those responsibilities and share them among ourselves. I think folk Americana is the closest it’s got, or alt-folk Americana. It sometimes feels funny saying folk Americana because Americana, in itself, is almost a library of other genres in itself. But you’ve seen the Americana Awards recently and it’s so cool to see how much Americana has grown in the UK.  It’s a huge and constantly broadening family.

Talking of the Americana Awards, how does it feel when Bob Harris endorses you before you’ve even released an album?

Just unreal. This is a guy I’ve listened to, admired and respected for a great portion of my life. When I was a kid and they used to air The Old Grey Whistle Test, I’d be watching that and it didn’t really sink in who he was. I just thought he was this cool dude who had this music thing going on.

But as I’ve grown up he’s just been a bit of a rock and a go to, not only for music that I like, but finding new music and encouraging and endorsing artists I’ve ended up really admiring. I never would have thought of that happening if I had albums out, let alone getting acknowledgement and support and we hadn’t even released it yet.

You even played some pretty special gigs before your album came out. Which have been highlights?

Oh dude, where do I begin? It’s been a mad couple of years. Last year, in particular, we had some crazy dates like kicking off the Country 2 Country festival. We’d all been to the C2C as punters and we were a bit unsure, playing to some out and out country fans, how that would fit. What would they think about the music? But the reception was brilliant.

People seemed to get the music and that’s led us to meet some really cool people and led on to other opportunities.  And playing the British Summer Time, opening that for Tom Petty, was an unreal day. Totally unreal. Touring with Marty [Stuart], supporting Amy Macdonald. Just some absolutely crazy things happened last year and crazy things are going to happen this year too.

Do you have any plans to go to America because your music will definitely connect over there?

We’re going over to Nashville in June. We were invited after touring with Marty Stuart and his Fabulous Superlatives last year across the UK. He sat in on one of our soundchecks and kept asking us to play more songs, was really complimentary, then came to see us in the dressing room and cordially invited us to come and close some shows with him in the summertime over in Nashville. So we’re pretty psyched about that and I think we’ll be going over a couple of times this year.  

With everything that’s happened, are you covered in bruises from pinching yourself?

I definitely should be. I’m going to have to keep checking myself because I’ve probably not checked all the areas. But it’s mad, constantly playing catch up with yourself and having to question the reality of stuff. Sometimes you’ve got to question like ‘Woah – how has this happened? I knew we were all pretty good but, holy shit, are we as good as they’re saying’? So it’s reassuring. But you’re right, it’s been totally unreal and I’m very excited about what the future has in store.

It’s the kind of story that would make even the most grounded and pragmatic person believe in fate isn’t it?

This is it. I’ve never really believed in that but everything to do with how this band came together is almost the stuff of legends and myths. The universe is full of coincidences, its very existence is a coincidence in itself, so why shouldn’t we believe in them?

The Wandering Hearts Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Thu March 01 2018 - LONDON Bush Hall

Click here to compare & buy The Wandering Hearts Tickets at Stereoboard.com.


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The Wandering Hearts Announce Debut Album 'Wild Silence'

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The Wandering Hearts Confirm October London Show

The Wandering Hearts Confirm London Date Prior To Live At Leeds Set

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