Why You Should Listen to a Band Called Wardell

If you read this you’ll probably figure out what I’m doing here, but it might be easier if I explain it. I had the opportunity to interview and then watch the band, Wardell, perform at the Fine Line in Minneapolis. In this piece, I will first provide a review of their new(ish) album, Love/Idleness (the title derives from a flower in Shakespeare’s work called, Love-in-idleness). Next, I’ve got some interesting tidbits that I learned about the duo during an interview and, finally, there’s the concert review. If you like music, I think you’ll enjoy Wardell. And I think you probably enjoy music. You’re on a music website after all. Anyway, enjoy.

Wardell’s first full-length album, Love/Idleness, came out last month by way of the brother/sister duo of Sasha and Theo Spielberg. Sasha sings. Theo plays the guitar. She has solid range, decent power and her lyrics are meaningful enough to keep you interested. And though he’s not Prince, he knows his way up and down the fret board. Together (and along with the other three members of the band) they create a dreamy, west coast pop sound that fits nicely in the female led indie pop band genre. The band isn’t breaking the Internet with the album but it’s a nice listen.

There’s not any single thing that makes Love/Idleness enjoyable to listen to but rather, a collection of elements highlighted and punctuated by: great vocal range on “Dancing on the Freeway” and a soft, heart felt track titled, “Virginia, Wait.” There are subtle and well-used digital effects in the songs, “Waters” and “Act My Age.” Then you’ve got the power and attitude of “Uptown Era” and the vintage rolling pop styling of their musical manifesto, “Opossum.” It’s an eclectic mix of style and sound that demonstrates range and leads a listener to believe that they can be many things for a number of albums to come.

The knock on the group is that they, for one obvious reason—female vocalist in an indie pop band—share a sound with established contemporaries Beach House, Camera Obscura, Best Coast and Tennis (to name a few). Comparatively, Wardell’s album, Love/Idleness, is simpler and not as dreamy as the music in Beach House’s catalogue, not as consistently hooky as Camera Obscura and they can’t hang with the power pop of Best Coast. On the other hand, they’re not as brooding as Beach House. Love/Idleness isn’t as mopey as a lot of Camera Obscura’s work and they’re not as musically redundant as Best Coast. Wardell’s first full-length album, is simple and digestible; it doesn’t try too hard and for the most part, they fall into comfortably into the middle of those familiar female-led groups.

Is Love/Idleness great? I guess that depends on how you categorize great. But by most standards, it’s more good than great. Regardless, it’s a fine debut album from the young L.A./NYC-based brother and sister duo.

Interview with Sasha and Theo: Before their show at the Fine Line in Minneapolis I sat with Sasha and Theo to chat about their tour, their album Love/Idleness, hypothetical autobiography names, mixed tapes and what their dream show looks like. Instead of writing out the entire interview, the following is a collection of what I learned from chatting with the brains behind Wardell.

When I asked the two to label their band, Sasha said, “Familiar and familial.” As in, they’re familiar with each other as family and that dynamic has evolved since the two started playing music together a number of years ago. Theo commented that they get labeled as quirky—a tag based on awkward stage banter and funky dance moves. But that’s just who they are. So if what you get is quirky, then yeah, they’re quirky.

I asked them if this feels like a job. Theo was quick to answer, “Yes and no.” The obvious strains that take place with the constant daily/nightly routine of unloading, playing, packing, driving, repeat is difficult. However, Theo said “As soon as we finish a set it’s like, yeah! Let’s do the next one.” The perpetual motion is grueling but in the end the reward outweighs the running.

Asked if they could choose another artist to replace the other one Theo said he’d trade Sasha for Prince, and Sasha said she’d sub D’Angelo for Theo. Not bad choices. We dove into their musical influences, which range from Fleetwood Mac to Christina Aguilera with some early Elton John and the Bee Gees thrown into the mix. When asked about mentors, they noted that it was their uncle who played a large role in shaping their interests and skills from an early age. They also gave credit to that their current tour mates, Milo Greene, saying the band has been key in helping Wardell’s progression from studio to stage.

I asked them what one question they’re sick of answering. They responded with “The Spielberg question.” It’s not something they’re ashamed of, obviously, because they love their family—that was clear. But enough is enough.

I was also curious about their musical awareness so I inquired: “If you were making a mixed tape for the world, which song of yours would you put on it and where would it appear? Also, what song would come before and after?” They agreed quickly that their song, “Waters” would be their contribution and it would be following Prince’s “I Would Die 4 U” and followed by TLC’s “Creep.” The next question was about favorite opening tracks off a record. Sasha: “3 Peat” and Theo: “Is This It,” “Second Hand News” or “Badlands” from The Strokes, Fleetwood Mac and Springsteen albums. When asked about Wardell’s next album they said they’re working on new material and they hope it’ll be on the way sooner than later. The sophomore effort will be more vocally challenging and Theo plans on pushing the music a bit more. The goal is to spend more time in the studio (they recorded Love / Idleness in eight days) and really pushing themselves sonically.

Because it was -4° the night of the show, I asked the obvious question: why should a person brave the cold to see Wardell? The answer came quickly and the proof was seen later when they were on stage. Theo said, “I wouldn’t say we’re a sloppy band but we embrace the elements of live music. We don’t feel the need to play the song the same way twice.” Sasha added that she likes to mix up her vocals and on a given night she’ll see how far she can take them—sometimes it goes well and other times it doesn’t.

I asked Sasha if her greatest accomplishment to date is making the album or fake punching Shia LaBeouf in the face (in the 2008’s Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull). She laughed and said, “Making this album.” Theo added, “She actually faked making this album and really punched Shia.” When asked about potential names for their autobiographies, Theo chuckled and said “I’m Always Coming up With Names for My Autobiography,” Sasha followed with “Can You Please Turn that Down.”

The final question was: “Dream show. Where, who are you playing with and what happens at the end? They responded simultaneously, Hollywood Bowl (and they’d be headlining). The opening act would be their siblings—all 5 of them. And the end of their dream show features the whole family on stage (Von Trapp style) with their mom and dad, Steven and Kate, overwhelmed with pride, in tears.

The concert: Spoiler alert—it didn’t end in tears. Five people walked onto the stage. Each of them performed admirably, precisely and well. But only one of them owned it. Sasha Spielberg was lovely and charming—the perfect host. She was exaggerated and her presence and voice filled the room. Having listened to the album I knew she could sing but during the show it was punctuated, this girl can sing!

They opened with their first single “Opossum” followed by “Pray to the City” and “Waters.” Next came the opening track off of Love/Idleness called, “Funny Thing.” One of the things I noticed at this point was that Theo and the band were a lot funkier live than on the album. They’re more rock and roll and charismatic than their ages and experience would suggest and they played like people who genuinely care about what they’re doing. It was refreshing.

Throughout the 10-song set, Sasha gesticulated, danced and Theo played with ease while flowing with the sound he and the band were creating. True to the comments they made about their playing style, it was different from the album. Not in the same way Bob Dylan rearranges “Simple Twist of Fate” to sound like a Bob Marley song but they mixed things up a bit and had fun with what they’ve got.

The next songs they played were the fun, synth driven dance jam “Dancing on the Freeway”—a song that’s refrain, vocally, reminds me of Fleetwood Mac’s “Everywhere.” They kept cruising with “Act My Age,” the title track “Love / Idleness” and “Heaven’s Keepers.” They closed the show with a simple, powerful song that’s lyrics spawned from a dream, “Virginia, Wait.” In the interview Theo had mentioned a new song and they closed the show with it. Because I don’t know the name of the track, I’ll just call it “New Song.” The track, presumably to be on their next album was as described—a steady build that melds with African funk and straight up rock and roll. “New Song” delivered for me and it was a nice way to end their set, a solid performance and a good evening. I don’t know what their sophomore album will sound like but I look forward to hearing it.

If you’re in Indianapolis tonight, get out to First Friday, have a drink at Sun King then hit up the Chatterbox, maybe stop by Silver in The City to pick up something fun for your date, dog or mom and get over to the Old National Centre to watch Wardell open for Milo Greene at 8. It’ll be fun. Like the guy in the Men’s Wearhouse commercials says, “I guarantee it.”

FDRMX Eyes: You should also check out a band called Lucius. Below is a music video for their song called “Hey, Doreen.”

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