Preview: Texas duo Plank & Scrappy bring “Motel Alabama” tour to Mobile

By Brent Thompson

Jeff Plankenhorn and Scrappy Jud Newcomb – stalwarts of Austin’s famed music scene – are currently taking their songs and stories through the South on the “Motel Alabama” tour. On Saturday, April 30The Peoples Room of Mobile will provide the ideal setting for Plank & Scrappy’s performance. In addition two their esteemed solo careers, the duo has been associated with Patty Griffin, Joe Ely, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Slaid Cleaves and Bob Schneider among many others. Advance tickets to the 8 p.m. show are $25 and can be purchased at

That Extra Dimension: A Conversation with Five for Fighting’s John Ondrasik

By Brent Thompson

Photo Credit: Jeremy Cowart

Music, family, public speaking, philanthropy and a longstanding family business all comprise the life and work of John Ondrasik, also known by his stage name of Five for Fighting. Since bursting onto the music scene with the Grammy-nominated single “Superman (It’s Not Easy),” Ondrasik has released a steady stream of albums and singles to a devoted fan base. On Sunday, May 8, Five for Fighting will perform at the Lyric Theatre accompanied by a string quartet. Recently, Ondrasik spoke with us by phone from his Los Angeles home.

Southern Stages: John, thanks for your time. We are looking forward to your return to Birmingham.

John Ondrasik: I appreciate you talking about the show and I’m looking forward to getting down there – it’s been too long.

Southern Stages: Are you supporting the release of a new album on this tour?

Ondrasik: No, there’s nothing planned. I’ve just been putting out songs when they hit me. You never know what could come in the next couple of months. For the first time in years, I’m actually consolidating some songs with the intention of making a record but not putting a due date on it.

Southern Stages: You stay very busy with your music career, public speaking and philanthropic endeavors. How do you manage to juggle all of those?

Ondrasik: [Laughs] I wish I could say cloning. To be honest with you, I did very little music through the pandemic. We have a family business that’s been in our family since 1946 – it’s a company called Precision Wire. We have about 300 employees and our claim to fame is that we make the best shopping cart in the world. If you’ve shopped at Costco, you’ve used our cart. I’ve worked there my whole career and my dad – being 83 – quarantined very early and I was thrust into taking the reins at Precision Wire. We got through it, but it was 24/7 for at least 18 months – that really consumed me for a couple of years. I was doing some virtual concerts and virtual keynotes, but that experience changed our perspective and it was one of the reasons I wanted to get down and see you guys and go back to some of the cities that were so supportive of me 20 years ago. You’re probably familiar with (Birmingham-based radio program) Reg’s Coffeehouse and Scott [Register] was such a supporter of mine and Birmingham was one of the key markets that put me over the tipping point. When “Superman” was on the bubble, your market put it over the top and I’ve never forgotten that and I said I can’t go out on this quartet tour without getting down to Birmingham.

Southern Stages: You have over two decades of material in your catalog now. How do you comprise your setlists these days?

Ondrasik: That’s a good question. One reason I started doing these string quartet shows like we’ll be doing for you guys was I was doing these orchestra shows which were amazing. It was me sitting there with a 30-piece orchestra and it allowed me to do certain songs that I wouldn’t do with the rock band – songs that had incredible string arrangements like “Two Lights” and “Nobody.” I wanted to take that format to smaller markets so here comes the string quartet. To answer your question, it kind of depends on the format – what Five for Fighting permutation you’re getting. The quartet shows have more intimate songs because of the nature of the experience where hopefully it’s a pin-drop atmosphere, but you also get that extra dimension on the songs people already know. Every time we do a tour, we try to add a couple of new songs and sometimes it’s the dreaded “new song” [laughs]. We don’t play the exact same set every night.

Southern Stages: I always wonder how songs stay fresh to artists after they’ve been performed thousands of times. Does changing up the instrumentation and touring personnel allow you to keep things relevant?

Ondrasik: It really does. One thing that helped me with that is all these different permutations of Five for Fighting – the quartet show and the rock band show. We are putting the rock band out this summer for the first time in a long time. The keynotes are always different because I think about and learn about who I’m speaking to. Solo shows, charity shows and even virtual shows have different dynamics in how you attack them. You’re right – at the end of the day, if you’re fortunate enough to have a song that people want to hear and you’ve played it 10,000 times, there’s a certain professionalism in that. “100 Years” is a little easier because I’m always somewhere in that song – the last time I was in Birmingham I was in the second verse and now I’m in the bridge [laughs]. [Regarding] “Superman” I had a conversation with a very successful professional athlete about something similar. He said, “Every game I play – for somebody in that crowd, this may be the only time they see me play live. It’s up to me to do my best every time.” I try to have that approach with “Superman,” knowing that for someone in the audience it may be the only time they hear it and the least I can do is not go through the motions.

Southern Stages: You’re a sports fan so it’s time for the tough question. What’s wrong with the Lakers this season?

Ondrasik: Oh boy! Yeah, it’s rough out here. We’re a little bit spoiled though. It’s tough sledding for the Lakers, but there are still a lot of banners up there.

Southern Stages: Some artists tell me it’s a great time to be in your position given easy access to listeners via Youtube, Spotify, satellite radio and other modern outlets. Others say, for the same reason, that the current climate makes it difficult for artists to be found among the crowd. How do you feel about the current state of the industry?

Ondrasik: With any new technology, there are winners and losers and I think musicians are both. As you said, the ability to have your songs heard has never been easier and millions of people are putting their songs out on the Internet. When I came up, I caught the last wave of record sales right before everything changed. If you were fortunate enough to get a record deal, there used to be a thing called “artist development” [laughs] and they would put you on tour. People don’t realize that Bruce Springsteen broke on his third record and it takes time and that kind of artist investment has disappeared from record companies and it’s harder to make a living. Even though a lot of folks can get their music out, it’s harder to make a living and I worry that music for many will become a hobby. The money is coming back a little bit with streaming, so we’re not as bad off as we were five or ten years ago. On the other hand, you’re not beholden to record companies and you’re not beholden to radio. Now, you can have a career without record companies and without having Top 20 hits.

Code-R Productions Presents: Five for Fighting with String Quartet on Sunday, May 8 at the Lyric Theatre. Tickets to the 8 p.m. show can be purchased at

Lady Sings The Blues: A Conversation with Samantha Fish

By Brent Thompson

Photo courtesy of the artist

For more than a decade, Samantha Fish has been a torchbearer for the blues. But on her latest release, Faster (Rounder Records), the vocalist/guitarist expands her sound with the help of producer and collaborator Martin Kierszenbaum (Sting, Lady Gaga, Keane, Feist). On Wednesday, April 20, Fish will perform at Saturn. Recently, Fish spoke with us by phone from a tour stop in Albany, New York.

Southern Stages: Samantha, thanks for your time. We are looking forward to your return to Birmingham.

Samantha Fish: We like Saturn a lot – Saturn is a fun venue and they’ve got some cool stuff going on in there. I like Birmingham a lot, too.

Southern Stages: We are really enjoying Faster. How did the album’s body of material take shape?

Fish: To be honest, it was mostly new compositions. I do have some stuff that I’ve put together over the years, but when I start a new record I end up putting a lot of stuff in the trash bin and just start over. Writing feels fresh and feels new and your older stuff that you wrote a couple of years ago just doesn’t feel right for some reason. So this record specifically started from scratch – I spent a good year working on it. It was not a rushed process – I had all the time in the world off.

Southern Stages: I was going to ask how you spent your time during the lockdown, but I think you just addressed it.

Fish: There wasn’t much else to do [laughs]. You better make some use out of your time.

Southern Stages: How would you describe your writing process?

Fish: I wish I could tell you there was a really methodical process because that would help me tap into better each time. Really, you just get what you can. Sometimes you start with a melody – I’ll have a melody stuck in my head and I don’t know if it’s a guitar riff or a vocal melody or a bass line, but it’s something and you start from there. It’s like a seed you plant and you start working off of that. Other times, I’ll have pages and pages of written lyrics and I want to put the stories to some kind of music and I’ll try to come up with a chord structure to bounce around behind it. I think my most successful songs are the ones that have a key melody that people can really latch onto. That’s something I’m really trying these days to focus on – hook-writing and writing stories that appeal to everybody.

Southern Stages: How did you end up working with Martin Kierszenbaum on the new album?

Fish: He called me through some mutual friends in Kansas City – he has a Kansas City connection and I’m originally from there. He just reached out and told me he appreciated my work and we got to talking over the summer of 2020. He has so many incredible albums under his belt and it’s stuff that’s different from what I’ve done. I really wanted the opportunity to work with somebody who has all these massive pop credits to their name, but also figure out how to marry what I do with what they do. It was just a great opportunity for me to challenge myself and that’s how it came about. We started working really hard together via Zoom – I  met him in October in Kansas City but it was still in pretty heavy lockdown. So, we started collaborating over Zoom and he was overseas working on an album and he’d get on Zoom calls with me at like 2 a.m. and we’d be fleshing out these songs and putting all the work in before we went to the studio. We really worked really fast and really well together – he’s a really energetic person and he really charged me up and I think we did some good work together.

Southern Stages: As a guitarist, are you someone that combs music stores to build your collection or do you basically stick with what you have?

Fish: I do have the desire. I walked by a guitar shop last night – we played a gig in Northampton and I walked around the town a little bit. There was this beautiful-looking Mom-and-Pop guitar store – you never see those anymore. The reason I don’t really go gear shopping anymore is that a lot of those great little spots are gone. I like what I have and I always get leery when someone tries to sell me something, but I am feeling the itch for something new.

Southern Stages: How many guitars do you take out on the road?

Fish: Let me count…I guess I’m at six right now. I have a cigar box that’s always in open-G (tuning) and I have another guitar that I’ve been using that’s in open-D.

Southern Stages: You are closely associated with the blues genre, but your sound is more expansive than just blues. Do you ever feel pigeonholed by the blues label?

Fish: I think as an artist it’s our job to make music and connect with our fans. I’m always aiming to widen the audience, but I also try to speak to the fans and express myself and get some joy out of it and make something that I feel proud of. As an artist, you’re just trying to make good music – it’s up to the labels and your manager to figure out what to call it and how to sell that to people. There’s so much music out there across the board and I think it’s a struggle to keep up. It’s an exciting time to live in as an artist because you don’t necessarily have to fall into those six categories the radio allows. We have the beautiful Internet to thank for that.

Southern Stages: I’m so glad you touched on the Internet. Some artists say now is a great time given instant accessibility to listeners and numerous outlets. Others say the current model makes it challenging to be found among the crowd. How do you view the current climate?

Fish: It’s a constant evolution. The music business that I entered into when I started my career is not the same music business that exists today. If you kind to expect to fall in the same pattern – it doesn’t exist like that anymore. I’ve been lucky to have a team to facilitate my albums and my tour schedule and all of that, but it’s a challenge for all of us to evolve and keep up with the current times. It used to be you’d put out an album every two years and get by with that, but now you have to continue to feed people. I’m going to be telling someday someday, “Oh, it was like this before,” but they’re never going to know so it’s all about perspective. It’s a bummer that your albums don’t mean anything monetarily liked they used to – anybody can go and stream it or steal it online. You just realize that this is where we’re at now.

Southern Stages: You’ve been releasing albums for more than a decade. How do songs stay fresh to you after you’ve performed some of them hundreds of times?

Fish: Life experience definitely helps [laughs]. There are songs that I wrote early in my career and I’m like, “I’ve actually lived this now – I don’t know how I wrote about it, but I’ve actually lived it and it hurts in a whole new way.” But re-imagining the music is how I keep stuff fresh – let’s still put [a song] in the live set, but let’s play it differently to keep it fun and keep it fresh. I really get into transition – like how can we artfully transition from an old song into one of these new songs. I like to take something old and something new and say, “All of this stuff does actually belong together.” It’s all centered around blues music and live instrumentation and that’s fun.

Samantha Fish will perform at Saturn on Wednesday. April 20. Django will open the 8 p.m. show. Advance tickets to the 18+ show are $22 and can be purchased at


Commitment To The Song: A Conversation with Little Feat’s Bill Payne

By Brent Thompson

Photo Credit: Hank Randall

Blending elements of rock, funk, country and Louisiana-tinged swamp music, Little Feat has melded these genres into a style of its own in a recording career spanning more than 50 years. But of all of the albums in the band’s extensive catalog, its first live release, Waiting For Columbus, remains the group’s preeminent recording. Currently, the band – Bill Payne, Sam Clayton, Fred Tackett, Kenny Gradney, Tony Leone and Scott Sharrard – is touring in support of the landmark album’s 45th anniversary. On Sunday, March 20, Little Feat will perform at the Alabama Theatre with Amy Helm opening the 8 p.m. show. Recently, Payne spoke with us by phone from his Montana home.

Southern Stages: Bill, thanks for your time today. When does the Waiting For Columbus tour kick off?

Bill Payne: We head out for rehearsals on March 1st and the first gig is on the 4th in Columbus.

Southern Stages: If you will, talk about the genesis of this anniversary tour.

Payne: Our management is Vector Management – which is based in Nashville – and Brian Penix is our day-to-day guy and he’s first one that mentioned it to me. We have a new band and I thought – after a year and a half of being hunkered down because of the pandemic – that if we were going to make a statement, that’s not a bad way to do it. Plus, on the musical front – putting all other considerations aside – this centers us in on the same set every night. We’re not replicating the album, though – we’re playing the songs in the order that they appeared on the original record, but it allows us to approach those songs even deeper then we already have as a new band and put our stamp on those tunes. That can be done primarily through the jams where we expand certain tunes or we revisit the instrumentation we have from time to time. We have also have a three-piece horn section with us – Erik Lawrence, Jay Collins and Steven Bernstein – who we’ve worked with before and they’re a great bunch of guys.

Southern Stages: You’ve literally played these songs thousands of times by this point. How have the songs stayed fresh and relevant to you over the years?

Payne: I love that question – I’ve had it a couple of times. I told this one guy – and not facetiously – when we sing “Happy Birthday,” how do we keep that fresh and alive? [laughs] You do it because it’s heartfelt. It really got me thinking about it because it is a great question. Like when we were kids watching the same cartoons  a hundred times, I think there’s part of being a musician that having that familiarity of a song or songs in our repertoire lends itself to the familiarity but wanting to dig a little deeper in how you want to being out the improvisational aspect to a song. It could be done through tempo, it could be done through instrumentation or it could be done with trading out verses with guests that come in to sing. But, ultimately, it’s about commitment to the song. It speaks very highly that the type of songs Little Feat has written capture your mind and your heart as well as your prowess as a player to play them. It’s fun to play “Dixie Chicken” for example and it’s fun to revisit “Two Trains.” “Red Streamliner” is challenging in an of itself – it’s challenging to sing. So the basis of the material itself is a really good jumping-off point no matter how many times we’ve played it.

Southern Stages: Some artists say that now is a great time to be a musician given the instant access to listeners via streaming services, satellite radio, YouTube and other modern outlets. Other artists say – for the same reason – that the current climate makes it difficult f0r artists to be found among the clutter. How do you reconcile the state of the industry in your mind?

Payne: I don’t know if there’s any reconciling it because it is what it is, as they say, but the notion of music gaining importance is the thing I find most interesting about everything. Finding it has always been somewhat a challenge, although radio had a more prominent place in that for a very short period of time in the late ’60s. But I react to a lot of things when people say, “Hey, have you heard this?” and that sets me on a path. It’s a very new world out there no matter how you slice it and I think those people that think it’s better for musicians are partially right. It’s tougher for musicians these days because you have to find your audience in order to try to make a living. Locally, that’s not necessarily a tough thing, but when you’re talking about nationally you need help. The music being so broadly available makes it a lot tougher. On the bright side of it – speaking strictly for myself – I’m on Amazon music and I’ve got to say that my library is chocked full of some of the best music in the world which I’ve never had access to before. The access to music allows us as artists to take genres – which is what Little Feat has always been into – and combine and share those genres. It’s like everything – it’s confusing and convoluted but there are some good parts about it as well.

Southern Stages: In addition to your Little Feat career, you have worked with a multitude of artists. Has writing an autobiography ever been in your plans?

Payne: Yeah, it has and I have and I’ve backed off for various reasons and now I’m back into the mold now. I think I could actually have a place to put it. I like to do research as well. In memoirs, a lot of people just shoot from the hip – “Hey, this is what I remember and what I don’t remember is more that what I remember” in a lot of cases. I like the advantage as a writer of being able to go back to certain people and say, “How do you recollect this?” Fortunately, I wasn’t in and out of drug clinics trying to kick something so that will not be a part of my biography. But there’s a lot there. I’m not a purist – I’m an artist that dabbles in different genres always with respect and inquisitiveness. I want to expand my voice and I don’t want to constrict it.

Southern Stages: Are you still involved in commercial photography?

Photo Credit: Polly Payne

Payne: I am. Not to the degree that I was, but it’s still part of who I am. I like it as another means of expression.

Southern Stages: What are the long-range plans for the Waiting For Columbus Tour?

Payne: This is going to be a year-long tour and it looks like we’ve got June and part of July off. So, there are some breaks in the action. For a couple of years, I was going back and forth between Little Feat and The Doobie Brothers and that made for a lot of time on the road. Groucho Marx used to say, “I like my cigar but I like to take it out every now and then” [laughs].

Southern Stages: The songs on Waiting For Columbus are obviously part of your musical DNA by this point. With that said, do you ever find yourself revisiting old recordings to brush up on the material?

Payne: That’s a great question. In Little Feat – and with the Doobies too, for that matter – I occasionally have to go back and listen to something. The arrangements have morphed over the years and I like to start with the way we play things now instead of going back to 1977. It’s a long history – the original group was Lowell [George], myself, Roy Estrada and Richie [Hayward]. I have to think of it in musical terms rather than the personalities that were involved. It’s a matter of the music taking precedence with the personnel you have at the time.

Code-R Productions Presents: Little Feat at the Alabama Theatre on Sunday, March 20. Amy Helm will open the 8 p.m. show. Tickets are $34.50-$59.50 and can be purchased at

Huntsville: The Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band performs at Sidetracks on 2-26-22

By Brent Thompson

Photo courtesy of the artist

On Saturday, February 26, The Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band will perform at Huntsville’s Sidetracks Music Hall. The trio is currently touring in support of its latest release, Dance Songs for Hard Times. With its self-described “front-porch blues” sound, the band has garnered praise from Rolling Stone, No Depression and American Songwriter to name only a few. Showtime for the 19+ event is 8 p.m. and advance tickets can be purchased at

Two For The Road: A Conversation with The Waymores

By Brent Thompson

Photo Credit: Lindsay Garrett

Country music has had no shortage of stellar duets that shared lives both on and off the stage. Tandems including George and Tammy, Johnny and June and Glen and Tanya quickly come to mind in this esteemed category. The Atlanta-based duo The Waymores – Kira Annalise and Willie Heath Neal – continue in that team tradition and will release its sophomore outing, the timeless-yet-timely Stone Sessions, on April 8 [Chicken Ranch Records]. On Saturday, February 19, The Waymores will perform at Birmingham’s Dave’s Pub. Recently, the duo spoke with us by phone from their Atlanta home.

Southern Stages: Kira and Willie, thanks for your time today. We are really enjoying Stone Sessions. How did the album’s material take shape?

Kira Annalise: We wrote a lot of Stone Sessions during quarantine. That’s not to say that some of those ideas hadn’t been around for a while – they just kind of came to fruition during quarantine. A lot of songs, like “Road Worn,” is very quarantine-heavy – it’s all about the feelings that came out of being trapped in the house and not being able to do what we love doing. A lot of them came to light during the lockdown.

Willie Heath Neal: There are a couple that kind of popped out like “Heart Of Stone.” Kira was going through a hard time being a parent and I was thinking about how much she is always giving, giving, giving – I just picked up the guitar and wrote that song. The same went for “Die Right Here” – I just started kicking around this idea [about] people that always say they’re going to do something and never do and and I wrote a chorus and half a verse and within 30 minutes we had a song. Some of them took a long time and some of them just popped right out.

Southern Stages: You already touched on my next question with your last response, but I was curious if you used the lockdown period as a prolific time or time to rest. It sounds like you used that time to be productive.

Willie Heath Neal: Yes, and I think a lot of our peers did as well. Once the quarantine was done, everybody had new albums ready to go.

Kira Annalise: Yeah – what can else can you do with all this free time? Not all of it was prolific – we tried to live it up while we had some time off. We came from touring about 200 days a year and we were set to step foot on a plane two days after everything hit – we were about to do a U.K. tour. They started cancelling flights and cancelling travel and everybody thought “Oh, it’s going to be a couple of weeks or a month.” We were bummed about that one tour and then we had to settle into this new place of being at home and not knowing what to do with all of our free time, so we just wrote.

Southern Stages: How would you describe your songwriting process? Do you sit down together, bring ideas to each other or finish songs on your own?

Willie Heath Neal: Yes [laughs]. From my side of this – and Kira can give hers – I had a career before we started The Waymores and I had about five albums out as Willie Heath Neal and I had just hit a wall with songwriting – I thought I was a halfway decent songwriter  and I hadn’t written anything in years. Kira was writing all these great songs and then I thought I’d said everything I had to say and I was really sad about it. Then I would come up with a line and she would add a line and, next thing you know, I was writing again. So, she gave my songwriting CPR and the Heimlich Maneuver all at the same time. Now, it’s a process – I’ll either get a melody or a couple of lines and play it for her and she’ll just spit out another line. So, it’s a little bit from column A and column B. We have a whole catalog on her phone – we’ll write a lyric going down the road or one of us will say something and we’ll say, “That’s a song lyric – write it down.” Sometimes they pop out and sometimes we craft them.

Kira Annalise: It’s rare that we sit down specifically to write. To have a writing session – that’s not something we purposely do, but we are never not writing songs if that makes sense. We’re always thinking about songwriting and writing in our heads. Willie is more one to craft some pieces. I’m the one that just verbally throws everything out and says, “Make it into something gritty” [laughs]. He’ll do some things own his own and bring them to me and I’m like, “Let’s cancel all our plans for the next two nights.”

Willie Heath Neal: When the song starts and we know we’ve got something, it’s like giving birth – you stop everything. She’s right – we’ve cancelled plans.

Southern Stages: Do you find that songs are still tweaked even after you carry them into the studio for recording?

Willie Heath Neal: Absolutely.

Kira Annalise: This one was a little bit different just because our players were not in the studio with us this time because of quarantine and Covid and everything. Our players worked remotely, so there was a lot less of kicking ideas around and that camaraderie that you build in-session. But we are really blessed with incredible and giving players that are willing to work with us. I was taught early on – and I’m pretty sure it was by Willie – that once you go to the studio, the song should be complete and ready and now we’ve kind of thrown all that to the wind and we get in there and rely on a lot of dynamics coming out in the moment.

Willie Heath Neal: What I mean by [the song should be complete] is you should have 90% of the structure of the song down – studio time is expensive and it’s not like we have a big budget. Don’t go into the studio and write the song.

Southern Stages: I assume that one of the toughest parts of being touring musician is having to say goodbye to loved ones when you go on the road. However, you two get to experience a life of touring together.

Willie Heath Neal: When Kira and I met, I had an album coming out and I was on the road like 200 days a year. We always make the joke that I had I not been on the road, we probably wouldn’t had lasted [laughs]. It would always sting – I didn’t want to be away from her and she didn’t want to be away from me. I always tell people it’s hard to go on the road and have your wife at home mad at you – now I go on the road and she’s in the passenger seat mad at me [laughs].

Southern Stages: Some artists say now is a great time to be in your position given accessibility to listeners is easier than ever and fans can buy your music in a matter of seconds. Other artists say that the current climate makes it difficult to be found among the crowd with so many music outlets available. How do you view today’s music industry?

Kira Annalise: Wow, that’s a really great question. It’s a blessing and a curse. The blessing is having all this instant access to your fans. But, in that same breath, it’s an absolute curse because people feel like they’re deserving of constant access to you. It can be really overwhelming – all of the different markets that you can put your music on. I manage The Waymores and trying to keep up with all of the new trends is exhausting.

Willie Heath Neal: As far as recording music with today’s technology, the beautiful thing about it is anybody can make a record and put it out. The terrible thing is that anybody can make a record and put it out. That freedom comes with prices and we get lost in a sea of crap sometimes – there’s a lot of good stuff and there’s a lot of stuff that’s just garbage that you have to weed through to find the good stuff.

The Waymores will perform at Birmingham’s Dave’s Pub on Saturday, February 19. For ticket information, visit




Toronto Troubadour: Catching Up with Wild Rivers’ Andrew Oliver

By Brent Thompson

Photo Credit: Samuel Kojo

Dubbed “Indie Folk,” “Indie Rock,” and “Contemporary Folk,” Canadian trio Wild Rivers offers a harmony-laden sound that would be as equally at home on ’70s A.M. radio as today’s adult alternative stations. On February 4, the band (Khalid Yassein, Devan Glover and Andrew Oliver) will release Sidelines [Nettwerk Music Group], a 10-track recording produced by Peter Katis [The National, Death Cab for Cutie]. On Tuesday, February 8, Wild Rivers will perform at Saturn. Recently, Oliver spoke with us by phone from Toronto.

Southern Stages: Andy, thanks for your time. Are you still in Toronto or are you on the road yet?

Andrew Oliver: We are in Toronto. We are at our friend’s studio recording a couple of acoustic versions of some of the songs that are about to come out. We head out on the 27th – we have a show in Pittsburgh and then we’re out for a few weeks and we’ll see you in Birmingham not too long after that.

Southern Stages: We are really enjoying Sidelines. How did the album’s material take shape? Are these newer compositions, older ones or a mixture of both?

Oliver: It’s a bit of a mixture. About two years ago, we went down to L.A. for four months and just wrote and stayed in a house together. Most of the songs came out of that stretch of time. There are one or two that were written well before that and just didn’t make sense on any other project. It took a long time to get it all together and we recorded it in a bunch of different places.

Southern Stages: Do you find that songs continue to evolve even after you carry them into the recording studio?

Oliver: For sure, especially this time. We were working with a producer named Peter Katis, who’s done The National and a bunch of stuff where there is a lot of texture and sonic elements. We were pretty adamant about honing in on the core of the songs before we went into the studio, but definitely at the last minute we threw a bunch of stuff against the wall in terms of arrangements and adding synth sounds and guitar parts.

Southern Stages: How did your band get connected with Peter?

Oliver: We’re always on the lookout for producers and we are all nerds in terms of reading all the credits of our favorite albums and he has been on our list for a while of people we wanted to work with. We went out on tour with a band called The Paper Kites a couple of years ago when we were starting to formulate the idea for this album. They had just done their latest album with him. We were opening for them and he came out to one of their shows and we met him briefly and got along. When we started to look for producers for this album, he was our first choice. It worked out great.

Southern Stages: You play several instruments. Do you tend to write mostly on guitar, keys or something else?

Oliver: I’m mostly starting from guitar and occasionally keys.

Southern Stages: How would you describe your band’s writing process?

Oliver: We had multiple ways of doing it for this album. Khal had three or four of the songs pretty fully-formed before he brought them to us and he does some writing sessions in Nashville – we were fortunate to get some other writers’ input on the songs. Dev had a couple that she brought in – I believe she originated “Amsterdam” by herself and brought it to us. And then about half the album was us just sitting in a room together.

Southern Stages: Are all of the band’s members still based in Toronto?

Oliver: We are for the moment, yes.

Southern Stages: Was the Covid lockdown period a prolific time for you, a restful one or some of both?

Oliver: I’d say all of the above. It hit us at a weird time. We had basically just started recording with Peter in March 2020 when Covid started. We had driven down to Connecticut to his studio and were all set up to be there for almost a month to knock the whole record out. About halfway through it, they were talking about closing the border so we came home and put the record on pause. It was not a very clear process. We went up to a cottage for a couple of weeks and recorded it ourselves and Peter would remotely produce. We would send what we’d done that day and he would give us his feedback on it. We ended up finishing the album at this studio in Kingston – a college town in Ontario. We are so used to being on the road most of the year, so there was the silver lining of getting a lot more time with our families and friends. But it came at a tough time in the record process and we ended up making it work.

Southern Stages: Did you enjoy the process of recording yourselves?

Oliver: It was fun and it’s something we’re all interested in and we all mess around on our own on stuff not related to the band. But we usually leave it up to the professionals when we go to record as a band, so it’s something we’d been wanting to do for a while – to take more control over that part of the process. We learned a lot and spent a lot of time fixing technical issues, but it was fun.

Southern Stages: Some artists tell me this is a great time for the industry in that music can be easily accessed and purchased. Others say that the flood of content and outlets makes it difficult to be found among the crowd. How do you view the current climate?

Oliver: I hear it from both angles. We got lucky – our first album came out as Spotify was becoming a big thing and we got swept up in it and got lucky on getting on playlists. When we play at a show, about 90% of the people there found us on Spotify or a similar streaming service. So, for us it’s made our whole career and it’s been great. But there’s so much supply that everything feels a little less important.

Southern Stages: How do songs stay fresh and relevant to you after you’ve performed them literally hundreds of times?

Oliver: That’s a good question. It doesn’t always [laughs]. We try and change them up pretty often – we’ll do it more stripped down or have a more upbeat version or a solo section. We’re lucky that we are at a point now that we have enough songs that we can cycle through on different tours. We went out a couple of months ago and the setlist we’re doing a couple of weeks from now is quite different from that one. It’s about finding ways to change it and keep challenging ourselves.

Wild Rivers will perform at Saturn on Tuesday, February 8 at 8 p.m. Advance tickets to the 18+ show are $18 and can be purchased at