Wildcat! Wildcat!: Taking it as it Comes

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Band: Wildcat! Wildcat!
Members: Michael Wilson, Jesse Taylor, Jesse Carmichael
Hometown: Los Angeles
Current Release: No Moon At All
For Fans Of: Passion Pit, Bear Hands, Phantogram

By definition, popular music never lacks for artists who set out to “make it” and, from the very inception of their careers, envision popularity as the end goal of their master plan. But Los Angeles trio Wildcat! Wildcat! epitomizes the truism that opportunity has a strange way of presenting itself when you least expect it—sometimes in an area of your life where it hadn’t occurred to you to make an effort in the first place.

Almost immediately, however, Wildcat! Wildcat! generated its own momentum, necessitating full-time commitment, business sense acquired on the job, a high degree of self-sufficiency and hands-on involvement with regard to decisions in all areas of the band’s operations. When opportunity knocked unexpectedly, Wildcat! Wildcat! responded with the requisite work ethic, the fruits of which are represented on the band’s new full-length debut No Moon at All, which was released three days after its appearance at Lollapalooza and opening slots for Interpol and Spoon that same weekend. Produced by M83’s Morgan Kibby (aka White Sea), the new album captures the band’s harmony-rich, heavily layered pop with a level of polish that demonstrates its rapid growth.

But Wildcat! Wildcat!, which essentially formed on a lark in 2013, was never meant to accomplish much more than play one show and provide its members with a fun creative diversion from their otherwise busy lives. When childhood friends Jesse Carmichael (drums, vocals), Jesse Taylor (bass, vocals) and Michael Wilson (keyboards, vocals) first convened to make the music that would become Wildcat! Wildcat!’s first two released songs, all three were working day jobs such as carpentry and art restoration in addition to their individual musical pursuits. Carmichael, for example, was also “doing the drummer-for-hire thing,” and tells an amusing story about touring the U.S. for almost two whole months with Seattle folk-pop outfit Ivan & Alyosha with one of the members’ 1-year-old baby in tow. “It made for little to no sleep,” Carmichael says with a laugh. Though he values his experiences drumming for other people, he characterizes that part of his musical life as mostly “un-creative”—which accounts for why he and his new bandmates felt such an affinity for playing with one another.

“The three of us all grew up together,” he says. “I met Michael towards the end of junior high and Jesse at the beginning of high school [in the Los Angeles satellite city of Thousand Oaks, Calif.], so we had this strong history and some pretty deep roots.”

Perhaps that familiarity factored into why external factors fell into place so naturally.

“We’d posted a couple of tunes online just for friends, and just so that people could come to the show and kind of know what to expect,” he explains. “We played at this venue that’s primarily like a blues-rock and roll club. They didn’t even want to us play there that much, but some friends of ours in this this band Last American Buffalo booked us there. They’re not around anymore, but they were doing a residency there and we were still buddies with them because the other Jesse and I had played in the band in the past.

“Their singer Kevin Compton had heard a couple of the songs that we did and was like ‘you guys have to throw something together and play one of our residencies.’ So we did, and we had a lot more people there than we were anticipating. It was like a perfect storm, where everyone walked away and was like ‘hey, you guys need to keep going and keep making music because you’re onto something.’ Then we started getting a ton of offers from other places in L.A. that wanted to book us, and we said yes to everything for a while. And then the two songs that we had online ended up getting a lot of blog attention. We actually got approached super-early on by a bunch of French labels who wanted to use our songs on compilations.”

Once the popular blog aggregator The Hype Machine flagged a European blog post featuring those first two songs, the attention snowballed from there, again much to the band’s surprise. Still, it’s taken a fair amount of negotiation for Wildcat! Wildcat! to “learn how to play together”—a process that’s made all the more challenging by the fact that the bandmembers don’t actually write together in the same room. Instead, each comes up with “more production-based” ideas on his own before attempting to adapt their individual arrangements into songs that work in a trio format.

“We’re all very opinionated,” Carmichael says, “but I think we’re all starting to fall into realizing what we’re good at and what we each bring to the table, figuring out our process and what it takes to work with two of your close friends. There’s a lot of overlap because we’re all songwriters and producers.” (Interestingly, all three also play guitar but have, at least to date, eschewed the 6-string in favor of the intricate meshwork of keyboards, bass and vocal harmonies that distinguishes Wildcat! Wildcat!’s sound.) “We can all come up with ideas for beats, basslines and keys, but we’ve become more drawn to focusing on our own instruments. There’s quite a lot of crossover, which leads to six different ideas for every section of a song or every melody.”

As Carmichael can attest, however, abundance of ideas can lead to gridlock.

“We don’t really hit ruts in terms of not having enough ideas,” he continues. “Instead, we usually hit walls because we have too many ideas and we don’t know which one to choose—which I think is a good problem to have.”

In this department, Kibby proved highly useful.

“She helped us make decisions,” Carmichael says. “If we had a bunch of different ideas for certain parts, she’d be like ‘okay, here’s what I think — ultimately it’s up to you guys, but you need to decide because we have to keep moving.’ Also, we’d always been in favor of layering a lot of vocals, but she was like ‘well it’s cool to do the gang-vocal thing when the moment’s right, but let’s maybe have some moments that are a little more stripped-down and fragile.”

Overall, the band took a great leap forward from its previous work—a smattering of individual tracks and a self-titled EP released last year.

“The experience of recording in a studio alone made a big difference,” Carmichael says. “We’d never gone into a proper recording studio before. We’d just been making music at home on our computers with whatever keys or programming we had, which is pretty limited. This time, we didn’t need to use the small library of keyboard sounds we had access to at the time. We did want to stay true to who we were and the sound that we’d created, but we needed to make some sort of progression. And that’s part of what Morgan brought to the table, like ‘hey, let’s really sift through things’”

Though Wildcat! Wildcat!’s career was basically kicked off by two songs that struck a chord online, the band nonetheless fashioned No Moon at All as something meant to be listened to as a complete work.

“We never even wanted to put out an EP necessarily,” says Carmichael. “We liked the sound we were creating, but a lot of those songs were written with putting out a full-length record in mind. We definitely thought of this new material as an album.”

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