Defying Expectations | Music | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly

Defying Expectations 

Wild Child's new album shows off a willingness to be playful and experimental.

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click to enlarge SEAN DAIGLE
  • Sean Daigle

On the set of a music video recently shot in Terlingua, Texas, the leaders of the indie-pop band Wild Child—Kelsey Wilson and Alexander Beggins—did a live take of their new song, "The One." There happened to be an outdoor bathtub on the property, so they filled it with bubbles and Wilson got in on a whim. In fading daylight, the duo delivered a hair-raisingly beautiful performance of the plainspoken folk song.

"It was a last-minute thing to do it that way," Beggins recalls. "The cameras were set up and the crew was like, 'You've got two takes before the sun goes down, so don't fuck it up.' But, yeah, it came out cool. A lot of music videos feel cliché and storyboarded, so it's nice to bounce strange ideas off the wall."

The video certainly is strange. It shows a fully clothed Beggins strumming his ukulele and trading verses with Wilson, whose body is covered only by rapidly disappearing bubbles. Their voices interweaving in harmony, they sing together: "We don't mind staying up all night/ Because we talk a lot sweeter with booze/ Never can remember even half of the fights/ But you'll never forget when I lose."

The song is simultaneously goofy and touching, which is a good way to describe most of Wild Child's four-album catalog dating back to 2011's Pillow Talk. The spirit of the music is a reflection of the seven carefree personalities that make up the mini-pop orchestra, and it permeates their new album, Expectations.

Speaking with City Weekly ahead of Wild Child's April 23 local stop, Beggins says they worked with several producers to create Expectations. The Austin, Texas-based group traveled to locations as far-flung as ex-Death Cab for Cutie guitarist Chris Walla's studio in Tromsø, Norway, and a makeshift setup in Wilson's abandoned childhood home in Wimberley, Texas. The result is a multifaceted album cobbled together from wildly different recording experiences, covering styles as disparate as the disco-funk of "Think It Over" and the soul-inspired "Back and Forth." The songs don't have much in common sonically, but they're held together by the lyrical theme of personal awakening in the aftermath of heartbreak.

The album's dreamy closing track, "Goodbye Goodnight," was recorded at the home-built studio of Dr. Dog's Scott McMicken in Philadelphia. Rather than assuming a traditional producer's role, McMicken picked up a bass and essentially joined the band for the four-day session.

"It worked well with Wild Child because we were vibing on a basic level," McMicken says. "The truest criterion that defines the quality of a recording session ends up being the vibe—like, if we laughed a lot. It's not too heady a process, and certainly not one that allows a lot of stress and anxiety. With those guys, we had a kinship on that level because they're joyous people. I just thought of myself as another member of the band—not the boss of the situation, but another head in the mix, you know?"

The demo version of "Goodbye Goodnight" was more up-tempo, but McMicken encouraged the band to slow it down, fall into a 6-by-8 shuffle and adopt an old-time aesthetic à la Elvis or The Righteous Brothers. True to the spirit of Wild Child, the members of the band were all for it. "Those guys were in such a cool headspace," McMicken says. "They were so open-minded and so willing to try it out, thankfully. If they weren't, I probably wouldn't have pushed very hard, but they were down for whatever." For his part, Beggins appreciates that McMicken didn't suffer from "demo-itis"—the inability to hear a song a different way than it was originally presented—and that he advocated for his own vision.

McMicken also helped with the vocal arrangements. As a backup vocalist, Beggins provides an effortless and casual counterpoint to Wilson's virtuosity as a soul singer. The way Beggins tells it, Wilson sang backup when Wild Child first formed, but then they started going back and forth more often as her voice developed "more grit and soul," he says. Now, she's stepping into the lead role, with Beggins mostly laying down foundational, low-end vocals and sometimes backing off entirely.

As Wild Child's primary songwriters, Beggins and Wilson usually figure out harmonies by sitting at a piano and experimenting with chord combinations—the stranger, the better.

"I think the vocal harmonies are pretty pivotal for our music," Beggins says. "Kelsey is so good at finding different ones quickly, so we can play around with them, and it's usually the weirder harmonies that just seem right. Then we run them through different effects and use different mics and whatnot. That's the really fun part of the recording process, for us. We love clowning around with different sounds."

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