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The Sad Little Happiness of Wild Cub

It started with bottles clanking together – a tiny bit of ambient sound from a TV down the hall, a recorded loop. Keegan DeWitt called some musician friends together to build on the loop, and eventually the group carved a song from the tidbit – “Thunder Clatter” – a triumphant ode to the small life-changing instant when DeWitt met his wife.

From that one song – now in rotation across the country – the band Wild Cub formed, as the group of musicians fashioned the album Youth, recently released through Mom + Pop Records. DeWitt, who was a singer-songwriter and has composed film scores, writes about the seemingly mundane experiences in life that feel universal. The music that emerges is effervescent and nostalgic but filled with creeping melancholia, because all moments must pass, even those ordinary and perfect.

In December, Wild Cub came to the LC Pavilion for CD102.5’s Holiday Show, driving straight through the night from a set in Omaha to make the concert. As this year began, the Nashville band readied for a headlining tour of the U.S. that will bring them back to Columbus on February 10.

You described Youth as being a collection of auditory memories. Where did that idea come from?
There’s a Southern novelist named Walker Percy, he has a great quote in The Moviegoer, which is kind of his first really big book, he talks about something called “the sad little happiness.” And to me that was a really exciting thing. It’s like these little moments. It’s like when you’re 16 and you can just drive around with your friends and nothing is happening, there’s no big moments, but for some reason it feels like the entire world is happening at the moment, you know?

I felt like the virtue that I have to tell stories is using these little glimmers, these little sparks out in the darkness that can trigger things for other people because I’ve always felt like people’s interpretation using their own personal experiences, their own emotions, their experience of things that I could spark out there in the darkness for them is way more interesting and way more dense and way more nuanced than anything I could put together for them if I wanted to literally tell them a story.

You’ve talked about these little captured moments that inspire your work – what is your first memory of music?
I remember I was like 12 years old and walking into the room, and my older sister was watching [U2] play “Sunday Bloody Sunday” in black and white on Rattle and Hum, and I was like, “Holy shit, this band could change the world.” That’s a big thing, you know? It made me start to acknowledge the thing that I’ve always linked into about music: that it allows people a way to acknowledge their own feelings and their own emotions and, hopefully within limitation and tastefully executed, that can be a really valuable and awesome thing.

What are you most excited for about the 2014 headlining tour?
Some [bands] never get to exit out of the phase of essentially performing and being like [fake panting], “Hey, we’re Wild Cub. Wha’d you think?” You know what I mean, like, “Hey, listen to us!” We feel super, super lucky and really excited to be able to go out, and hopefully over the next year instead of spending all of our time and energy getting people to actually go, “Oh what is it? What’s the name of your band? Interesting. Ok cool, I’ll look it up,” to being like, “We’re here, we’ve been waiting to come here, let’s share this entire thing together.” It’s a whole new world when it gets to that point.

Is it an exciting time to take advantage of the newer methods of reaching audiences, or is it a struggle to try to find your place in an industry that’s still figuring stuff out?
That was a big reason that we went with [record label] Mom + Pop, not only because we really respected what they had done musically with other bands before us, but because the people behind Mom + Pop were like, “Hey, nice to meet you. Here’s our plan for you. Here’s detail. We’re gonna start on Monday. This is the thing: we’re gonna go to these places, we’re gonna go to those places, and that’s not enough – and then we’re gonna do this.” And that was really exciting ’cause we went to plenty of meetings where literally you walk into the room and they’ve got your face up on the TVs with “Ken Burns Effect,” you know, zooming in and out, and they’re like [business-douche voice], “We wanna make you the biggest band in the world.” And you’re like [skeptical-realist voice], “What does that mean? I don’t know what that means.” You know? [laughs]

Onstage, you seemed pretty appreciative and thankful to CD102.5 for sponsoring the Holiday Show and asking you to play. What role do you think independent radio serves for bands like yours?
If you want to ask a question about the music business, that’s the question right there because it seems trite, like of course we’d be like, “Thanks so much for havin’ us! Thanks so much!” But it’s really real because all those people when you meet ’em, it’s a thankless job. When you go into the station, it’s not like they’re in there with a margarita machine bein’ like [radio-douche voice], “Next up, Wild Cub!” You know what I mean? They’re underfunded, and they don’t get appreciated, and it’s their job to find music and it’s their ass if that music isn’t good. As much as everybody thinks that it’s just like the major labels deliver records to these people and they play ’em – especially Lesley [James] at CD102.5 – really takes pride in curating what she plays, and that’s a big deal.

Okay, I haven’t heard anything about the origins of the name Wild Cub so I feel obligated to ask, and you can bullshit me because apparently there’s no reason on the Internet yet…
[laughs] The truth is that it’s pretty meaningless. Like I said, we were shifting from a world, especially in Nashville, where if you’re a singer-songwriter, you’ve got a picture of your face on the record, and it says “KEEGAN DEWITT” in big letters, and you open up the CD and it says “Guitars blah blah blah Keegan DeWitt.” On the CD – “Keegan DeWitt.” And I just felt like I loved the idea of creating a world where it is purely about people being able to experience these moments and have an association with them without even thinking about who I am. And so we just kind of picked a miscellaneous name that was like, “Great, Wild Cub. Sounds good. Let’s make the record all black and have a single photo on it, and just not even [print] our names inside of it, just have it be this quote, the photo, and blackness.”

Wild Cub will play The Basement in the Arena District on February 10. For more info, visit www.wildcubmusic.com.

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