The Indie Band, WILLAMENA Discuss Their Latest EP, “The Other Side Of Loneliness”, Favorite Memories and Why They Are The Hardest Working Band In Michigan!
Posted On 20 Oct 2015
Tag: AAA, All Access, All Access Music Group, Aris Hampers, Artist Interview, Bell's Brewery, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Cameron Webb, Chad hendrickson, Charles Dickens, Dr. Gene Foley, E Street Band, Jefferson Starship, John Hiatt, Kalamazoo, Kelly Clarkson, Kevin Beamish, Lance Hendrickson, Lost in the Shadows, Lou Reed, Lukas Ross, Mackinaw Harvest Studio, Matt Costa, Michael Crittenden, Mickey Calhoun, Mike Roche Seymour, Motorhead, Neil Young, R.E.M., Reba McEntire, REO Speedwagon, Ryan Adams, Spinal Tap, Ted Mitchell, Ten Lanes Wide, The Black Keys, The Continental, The Hold Steady, The Light Ahead, The Other Side of Loneliness, The Things That I Forgot, The War On Drugs, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, U2, Way Back When, Willamena
Meet the indie band, Willamena! The band consists of Lukas Ross, Chad Hendrickson, Mickey Calhoun and Ted Mitchell.
Their tracks, “The Other Side of Loneliness” and “Way Back When” from their latest EP “The Light Ahead” have been picking up airplay all over the place lately.
Check out the EP’s five tracks stream on Soundcloud here: https://soundcloud.com/willamena
Learn more about Willamena in the following All Access interview here:
Thanks for your time! How’s your summer been going?
Summer has been great! Too short. We spent a lot of time working on the new record with Grammy-winning producer Kevin Beamish (REO Speedwagon, Jefferson Starship, Reba McEntire, etc.) at his place in Arkansas — pre-production and basic tracking, which was pretty intense! We also spent time recording for the new one in Kalamazoo.
Can you talk about your single, “The Other Side Of Loneliness”? Where did the inspiration for it come from? Generally, where does the group get the inspiration for your music?
That song was written in Chicago in 2012, and we were finally able to get it tracked for the most recent Willamena release ‘The Light Ahead.’ At first this tune was kinda seen as a throw-away song, a not-serious tune (if you can believe that!). But our manager Lance Hendrickson does a ton of stuff for us — we call him the “secret weapon.” He heard it and started turning it over in his head and told us that he heard great possibilities. So… we spent more time on it and got our live arrangement together and noticed how strongly and positively people were reacting to it live, even though it was unrecorded at that point. Now it is our highest nationally-charting single to date!
The song was born from a feeling of frustration in general from a world that seems to be better at isolating folks from each other rather than dealing with all the things and emotions we share with each other. In America we have politics that separate interests rather than building coalitions and that is frustrating. We are a band that discusses history (our drummer Ted Mitchell has a PhD in History) and politics often and this song came from some of our band discussions.
To me Bob Dylan, Neil Young and R.E.M. were influences we looked to for this track.
What artists have inspired you and the band’s music? Who would you love to work with in the future? What would be a dream collaboration?
Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers are a big influence on us as well as R.E.M. (especially early R.E.M.), Neil Young, Bob Dylan, U2, John Hiatt, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band and many others. The original mission of Willamena was to try to use The Band as an influence in the way their musicianship and honesty really shined through their craft. We also like Lou Reed a lot (particularly Luke!). We try to stay away from allowing any “band of the minute” to influence us, but we all like Ryan Adams, The Black Keys, The Hold Steady, The War on Drugs and other great modern acts.
As far as the future, we should mention that we have worked with a TON of outstanding guys like Kevin Beamish (he worked with us on parts of “Lost in the Shadows” as well). Kevin has become a great friend of Willamena and we trust him on every level. Also, we’ve worked with very talented engineers in West Michigan including Michael Crittenden at his Mackinaw Harvest Studio, and Mike Roche at his Broadside Studio in Kalamazoo, MI. Luke discusses our Grammy-winning friends John Seymour and Cameron Webb below. Honestly, we are lucky to have worked with so many great people to date, and we’d work with them all again (if they will have us back!). I can see us keeping all these relationships going, but we are also open to working with other new connections as well as long as they have open minds and are willing to put in the time necessary to make a great record.
We’ve made some awesome memories to date! Winning a very big West Michigan live original band competition was special for us (thanks Aris Hampers!). We’ve played well over 500 shows so far, but headlining Martyrs in Chicago was really cool, playing The Continental in New York shortly after a snow storm was pretty great, showcasing in Nashville last year was a LOT of fun, jamming a packed Bell’s Brewery in Kalamazoo is always a special night… but I think getting our first nationally-charting Triple A single was special (The Things That I Forgot) and breaking into the top 100 on FMQB’s national Triple A radio chart was also really cool (“The Other Side of Loneliness”), probably because we promoted that record to radio ourselves (and I was the radio promoter!).
And a quick thanks to all the Triple A stations that so far have taken a chance and added Willamena singles these past three years! Too many great stations to list here but we appreciate EVERY station and director supporting Willamena. That is very personal to us as we are making our own connections and we know just how competitive the environment is in radio right now.
What do you hope is the message of your music?
Great question. I have re-written my answer five times now! Honestly, life is tough as nails. It can, will and does break you down. But Willamena is all about how and when you get back up, ‘cause you gotta get back up. Willamena is all about that personal fight and will always be about that fight. The internal fight, Man against Self, and that fight never ends. Keep slugging, and long live indie!
How did you 4 meet each other? What made you think you could start this group together?
Back in ’96 Chad was living in Kalamazoo and started a band with a school buddy of his. They had everything but a singer, and it happened that our first drummer Nate Dynak was the drummer from my High School band. He called me up and we clicked immediately. Playing, writing, everything. Nate moved to Oregon and after a short stint by our second drummer, Brad Frank, we again needed percussion (insert Spinal Tap reference here). Ted Mitchell’s audition consisted of watching a Red Wings game at my place and drinking beer. We had a great time, he also happened to be an outstanding drummer, so we kept him. Years later Ted played with our third bass player Mickey Calhoun in another band in the Outer Banks. Chad drove up from Florida to jam with Mickey one time, and recognized the great fit. He’s since gone out of his way with travel and hospitality to play with us.
Why is Ten Lanes Wide the best label for you now?
Ten Lanes Wide is our company but not a label. But we do just about everything that a small label does, from assigning ISRC numbers to radio promotion to retail distribution. And we’ve out-charted some of the big boys. Ten Lanes Wide is its own label, it’s our “hustle and muscle.” When we find the label for us we’ll be well versed in what we know we want and what we can accomplish. We would be happy to have bigger backing and resources. Lots of the biggest acts today were passed over by just about every label out there at some point, so we’re still very much in the market for the real thing.
Willamena was the name of a character in one of our first original songs. (It’s also Charles Dickens’ cat’s name, but that sounds more high-brow than the actual truth of how we picked the name.) We started gigging around the Midwest right away, so by the time we thought much about a better name it was too late to change. I think it’s rare for a band to have a name they love and I’ve heard far worse than Willamena. If we had to do it over again I can think of about a dozen names I’d prefer.
What was it like having Grammy winner, John Seymour mix your record? How did that relationship come to be?
Our lawyer/manager Lance Hendrickson (Chad’s brother) knew we needed professional production help when label attention started picking up in ’05, so he contacted Dr. Gene Foley. Gene liked the music and put us in touch with John to produce an EP in New Jersey, and he did a great job. That EP never was released, but three of the four tracks wound up on “Lost in the Shadows” and one is now on “The Light Ahead.”
Lance later found us two more Grammy winners – Kevin Beamish and Cameron Webb (Motorhead, Kelly Clarkson, Matt Costa, etc.). Those three incredibly talented guys have done terrific work with “Lost in the Shadows” (John and Kevin) and now “The Light Ahead” (Cameron and John), even despite our uber-indie “as-and-when-and-how-we-can-record” constraints. I think it’s primarily because they liked what we’re doing. We take their interest and efforts as gigantic compliments; they all could (and do) make a ton more working with their choice of artists.
Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers about yourselves or your music?
If we didn’t believe we have the goods, we’d go do something else. But Grammy winners tell us we’ve got something special, our live show is excellent (and an award-winner), the press has called us “the hardest-working band in Michigan,” and even without insider connections or promo money, our records chart nationally and get on the radio around the world. We just need somebody in the industry to look past Facebook likes or Next Big Sound graphs or whatever, listen for themselves, and understand how and why we’ve been doing this on our own.
This band’s been tested many times. We’re living around the country now but we always find a way to push forward. We’ve outlasted scads of A&R reps who’ve told us “we like your music, but we’re passing for now, good luck.” Things got dark when I was diagnosed with colon cancer in early 2013 just as “Lost in the Shadows” was coming out. I was scared and shaken to my core to be honest. But I found my strength, got back up, beat cancer, rallied the band, and we were back playing live shows five months later – in fact, we were out doing radio promotional stops while I was undergoing chemo.
We didn’t stop then, and we won’t stop tomorrow. We are driven to do this, and we’ll all keep making Willamena music for as long as we can; it’s who we are. Thanks to AllAccess, all our fans, and everybody in radio for this opportunity!