Mark your calendar for May 13 because that’s when you can purchase your very own copy of Wild Ponies new album, “Radiant” out on No Evil Records. While I found the whole album to be brilliant, buy it for the single, “Love Is Not A Sin,” alone. Trust me on this one.
Here’s a snippet of a verse: “It doesn’t matter who you love, when two lovers find each other, I’d say it’s sanctioned from above …”
The tune was written long before North Carolina’s H.B.2 and similar legislation was recently enacted, but it addresses the issue head on in the Wild Ponies unique rootsy, rock and oh-so eloquent way.
Natives Doug and Telisha Williams came full circle on Saturday night for the album’s release party at The Rives Theatre in downtown Martinsville, Virginia. If you missed them, you can hear them perform at Rooster Walk Music and Arts Festival set for May 26-29 in nearby Axton, Virginia.
“My mom started hosting house concerts in early 2001 in her basement,” Doug explains. “She had Hayes Carll and The Green Cards as backup bands along with a bunch of others. We then helped start an organization called Artisan Cafe in town.”
That Artisan Cafe eventually merged with another group to form ARTS at The Rives Theatre, where the couple played on Saturday to an appreciative hometown crowd including parents, cousins and longtime friends. “We knew family that owned The Rives and we helped start the nonprofit ARTS at The Rives before we moved to East Nashville. We stayed for a long time trying to turn it around and make it an artisitic place.
“We’re thrilled with how it’s going. They are doing just an awesome job and we’re excited to have our album release party there.”
The Americana, folk, alt-country group also includes Megan Jane and Fats Kaplin who produce a sound on the album that seems to radiate from a much larger, fuller band.
“Radiant” is the sophomore album for Wild Ponies, formerly known as Doug and Telisha Williams. They decided to change the name of the group because it was more than just the husband-and-wife duo, who have been playing together since high school. Their longtime collaboration as musical partners — Doug on guitar and Telisha on stand-up bass — and life partners is apparent on stage and they say translates into a telepathy that other bands may not have.
“We changed over to Wild Ponies with the last record, ‘Things That Used to Shine,’ ” Telisha explained in a recent phone interview. “When you hear two names, it’s what you envision, pretty folk, acoustic and kind of not how our music was going.”
Indeed. “Born With a Broken Heart” and “Unplug the Machine” from “Radiant” are perfect examples of the band’s evolution to a harder-edge sound as well as “Trigger” from the aforementioned album. Doug added, “We felt like things are shifting and changing and even as a duo it didn’t accurately describe who we were. Wild Ponies shifted a little more electric.”
Telisha adds that she and Doug believe in building a creative community and participating in a creative community. “I feel like this is such a record of collaboration ,” she said, adding they co-write with friends on a regular basis.
One of the collaborations they are most excited about is the title track they co-wrote with 12-year-old Mariah Moore, whom the Williamses met through volunteering with the Country Music Hall of Fame’s Words & Music program.
“I have to admit, there’s probably a little defiance in all of this,” Telisha said in release. “Bucking the way things ‘should’ be done. We just want to make good art, and that usually means bending some rules.”
“Tower and the Wheel,” partly inspired by an old tree on Doug’s grandparents’ farm, signifies another theme — celebrating the past, with a few modern twists. The song includes details about the tree that’s stood for generations on the family farm, but the B-sections were inspired by tarot cards. I personally hear shades of Nanci Griffith in Telisha’s voice on this particular track.
“I’ve known that tree my whole life. It knew my mom and my grandparents even way back before that. That tree was really old before anyone in my family owned the farm. But she’s still there, strong as ever,” Doug said. “It’s where we’d tie the horses, and where we’d pull the porch chairs around in the shade and the dirt and play songs, where Telisha and I cut our wedding cake.”
But when Doug and Telisha were writing the chorus sections of the song, they took an unconventional approach “Nothing we were trying was working, so we laid out eight Tarot cards and wrote all those B parts right from the way they fell. They lined up perfectly between our verses and finished the story for us.”
For Doug, Radiant is about reaching out from within, looking at the world around, relating to it, and trying to find some empathy. For Telisha, it’s also about standing still, tall, and true.
“Listening to our last record, I hear the struggle. I hear the transition of a victim pushing, pulling, letting go, standing up, and shouting,” she said. “This record is more stable and secure in some ways but raw and exploratory in others. There’s an acceptance and love for myself. I’m feeling confident in my own skin. A skin that’s full of battle scars and flaws, but that I’ve learned to love and appreciate, maybe for first time.”
There’s no slowing down Wild Ponies it appears. Doug says this summer the band plans to make an all-acoustic record at his grandfather’s farm in Galax, Virginia.