WHEN WILD ONES finished recording their debut full-length, Keep It Safe, they thought the hard part was behind them.
"We had just climbed the mountain," says guitarist Clayton Knapp. "We had finished the record and I was ready for this huge release."
"And then we see the next huge mountain," says keyboardist Thomas Himes.
"There was still a long ways to go," bassist/guitarist Nick Vicario adds.
First of all, their drummer, Andy Parker, quit the band. Then Knapp, who engineered much of the album, realized something was wrong with his hearing. He had developed hyperacusis, or extreme sensitivity to certain frequencies of sound.
"We finished our record, and then Clayton came to us and said, 'Guys, I can't play live. This is an issue.' And at the same time, Andy left the band," says Himes. "We were already $6,000 in debt from the record, and then we didn't know who was going to put it out or what we were going to do with it. That was the point when everything changed."
Knapp bowed out from the live version of the band—he's still able to write and record material with the group. The band found a new drummer in Seve Sheldon; meanwhile Vicario moved from bass to guitar, and the band recruited Max Stein (a classical composer in his own right) to take up the bass. Lastly, upstart label Party Damage Records decided to make Keep It Safe its first release, assuring the album a high profile in Portland, with potential for national recognition as well.
Now Wild Ones is fully mended and moving forward quickly. With Keep It Safe, they have a sumptuous, catchy calling card of their brightly spangled pop. Fueled by Danielle Sullivan's distinctively childlike voice, its 11 songs are meticulous without being stuffy, the careful work of several months of writing and recording.
"It was definitely a slow process," Sullivan says. "We didn't thrust out a double disc album and have to make a whole bunch of cuts. It was a pretty laborious songwriting process, and there weren't that many throwaway songs."
"We wanted to be democratic about it," Himes says. "In the process of writing this record, we were also learning how to work with each other, and as we got along better, our songs got better. The last songs were the best songs we wrote. But it was a long process, and hard to figure out, as any democratic process is."
The results are elegant and crisply appealing, from the slow disco-rock sway of "Golden Twin" to the electro-hymn lullaby of "Nina" and the heat-haze romance of "From Nothing." It's a deliberately poised, careful record that's also beautiful and full of subtlety. Knapp would record a guitar part 20 different times looking for the right tone; Sullivan spent long stretches of last summer holed up indoors recording her vocals, often during 90-degree days.
"In writing my parts, I didn't have one idea I was going for at the beginning of every song," says Sullivan, "but looking back on that chunk of time, I was doing a lot of reflecting on everybody I've ever loved, and the rivalry that's often borne out of that."
Now Wild Ones have shifted from being a recording unit to fully functional live band; with some serious hardships behind them, they're ready for any challenges that pop up.
"There were a lot of first-time lessons we learned," says Sullivan.
"Next time is going to be a lot smoother," says Knapp. "I think we've done all the hard work and made all the dumb mistakes."
"And we're better for it," adds Himes.