FPSF Preview: The Wheel Workers
Free Press Summerfest 2012 is here! You can already smell the sweet, aromatic mix of beer, B.O., sun block, and swamp ass so unique to outdoor festivals in Houston. But before you plan on skipping out on the daytime acts (you know you thought about it), think about what this festival is really about.
Yeah, Snoop, Afrojack, Erykah Badu, and others will without a doubt deliver exceptional performances and draw huge crowds, but the real credit belongs to the bands that grind it out week after week. Bands like The Wheel Workers — playing Saturday, June 2nd, at 12PM on the Budweiser Stage — make Houston’s it the musically diverse and competitive scene it is today.
Kicking off a day which will end in The Flaming Lips performing their version of Dark Side of the Moon (from their latest album), The Wheel Workers will set an appropriate tone with their spacey yet very resonating sound. Sharing the stage with the Lips would be an honor for any up-and-coming band, but the Wheel Workers have earned this privilege and deserve it.
Steven Higginbotham and company produce keyboard and guitar lines that resemble Mogwai, but not as hopeless. Working from his classical background, Higginbotham constructs complex walls of sound using a variety of woodwinds, guitars, and ambient synthesizers, realized by the talents of Craig Wilkins. The vocal harmonies from Allison Wilkins and Higginbotham on the band’s debut album, Unite, have a gospel quality; think of a demure Polyphonic Spree, without the abrasive, cultish feeling.
Jason Carmona brings talented, pop-driven rhythms on the drums, while bassist Jason Williams moves it all along just beneath the bustling yet serene surface. On Saturday, The Wheel Workers will no doubt have the early birds of the 2012 Summerfest up on their feet and dancing along.
In a recent conversation about the upcoming festival, Higginbotham explains that, “The best thing about Summerfest is the way [it] supports local music alongside some of the biggest artists in the world today.” Coming up in the back-breaking, gas-guzzling Houston music scene, he understands the value behind this newly-minted Houston tradition. This is a city where a band can cover 50+ miles in one night just to play multiple gigs.
Many of the venues available for new talent have a hard time accommodating the increasingly complex audio needs of bands such as The Wheel Workers. Situations like “showing up at a venue where they own 2 mics, and one of the two PA speakers is blown” happen regularly to local artists struggling to distinguish themselves. According to Craig Wilkins, “Steven and I are pretty against that whole back-to-back, guitar shredding, singing-into-the-same-mic thing. Apparently that was pretty rad in the ’80s, and we’re no Whitesnake.”
But braving the Houston scene has paid off. The band’s opened for Miniature Tigers and The Coathangers. Tracks from Unite air across 150 stations nationwide, and they’ve charted on CMJ reporting stations. Their struggles and successes make it all the more sweet that this city has a nationally-attended festival that works hard to highlight the local talent. Houston deserves it. Come on, we have SugarHill Studios!
Speaking of, The Wheel Workers signed to ZenHill Records late last year and will release their second album this fall with the help of SugarHill’s Dan Workman, Ross Wells, and Sarah Gregory. “Spidermaze,” one of a pair of singles off the album to be released next month, is an auditory example of how Houston’s local talent can thrive with a bit of help. A more mature melodic style and refined mastering demonstrates the capability this city possesses.
As the cards fall in favor of this band breaking through to a national audience, we local fans need to do our part. We’ve all benefitted from cheap-to-free shows at places like Fitzgerald’s, The Mink, and Cactus records. Now, it’s time to pay up. In the words of Higginbotham, “Get there early, before the crush of the crowds, and enjoy many of the best local bands Houston has to offer.” Show the out-of-towners how much we value our local music.
If the above hasn’t motivated you to check out The Wheel Workers this Saturday, Craig Wilkins finished out his interview with a last ditch effort: “Halfway through our set, I’m getting naked and will perform a Theremin solo with my junk.” That should be all the motivation you need! END
(Photo by Patrick Bertolino. Feature photo by Mark C. Austin.)