The Wild Ponies are riding high, leaving a cloud of dust more suggestive of stallions on the move. As I write this they are nearing the end of their U.K. tour and moving into other realms of Europe before returning to their native roots. Doug and Telisha Williams now live in Nashville, Tennessee in the U.S., but grew up in the same small town in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, near Galax, the title of their new album peremiered here on Folk Radio UK.
This recent interview gives insight into their unique history as well as the genesis of the album and their creative process. They spoke admiringly of their U.K. audiences and provided a humorous and fascinating look at a couple who have grown up together and yet still thrive on each other. They are a dynamic duo whose blend of bluegrass, folk, and progressive rock is attracting much attention in America and Europe.
FRUK: Given that your new album is titled for the famed bluegrass festival site, Galax, Virginia, in what ways does Galax inform your work?
Telisha: Galax, the town, and specifically the farmhouse, is where we learned to play music. I bought my first bass at the Old Time Fiddler’s convention from a guy camping and jamming for the weekend and played my first notes on it at the farmhouse, right by the shed where we made this record. Doug learned most of what he knows about playing guitar from watching Snake Smith’s right hand.
FRUK: You now live in Nashville. Clearly Galax has been an influence. Does now being in Nashville influence your art?
Telisha: Nashville is such a wonderful artistic community. It inspires us to work harder and always try to get better at what we do. The best players and writers in the world live there. It’s also a really supportive community though, more so than people might think.
FRUK: How would you characterize the new album, Galax relative to previous albums?
Telisha: It’s a distillation of who and what we are. We took a few of our friends from Nashville (Fats Kaplin, Will Kimbrough, Neilson Hubbard and Audrey Spillman) and met up with some folks from Galax that Doug’s grandfather used to play with (Snake Smith, Kyle Dean Smith and Kilby Spencer). We set up a few mics in the shed behind the farmhouse and just hit record. We didn’t even listen to anything until we got back to Nashville. Just sat around in a circle and played, recorded everything we did. It’s maybe the first time we’ve really been able to just “be” without thinking about it too much. It’s a much more acoustic and raw record than we’ve ever made before. You can hear all the sounds of the farm, the crickets, the tin roof popping in the heat. I love listening to it because it takes me right back to those moments. Fats Kaplin had been trying to get to Galax since he was a teenager, and was a perfect fit. Will Kimbrough is one of the nicest, smartest, and best players around. Snake and Kyle Dean were central choices for this project. We wouldn’t have done it without them. They both played music with Doug’s grandfather, Perry Frye, when he was alive, and are the main reason for wanting to do this project.
FRUK: How is playing in the United Kingdom different from playing in the U.S.?
Telisha: In many ways, it’s the same, but we do love how intently folks listen here. People often come up to the merch table at the end of a show and ask about the third verse of the fourth song we played, and that doesn’t happen as much in the states. Audiences are so polite here as well! Sometimes, it actually takes us a few shows to get used to it. Here in the U.K., there seems to be a different level of investment in the arts. Folks will come out to shows any night of the week! Our Lewes show more than doubled in attendance from our last show there, so we’ll take that, for sure!
FRUK: Speaking of your art overall, who are your biggest influences?
Telisha: Willie Nelson, Steve Earle, Hank Williams Sr., Hazel Dickens, Patsy Cline, Jane’s Addiction, the Beatles, Cash, the Clash. And, we are inspired by our friends, we actually have a friends and neighbors playlist that we’re constantly adding to.
Ron: You seem to indicate a new high point in your career that coincides with the release and early acceptance of Galax. No Depression had a piece indicating you might be the next big thing in Americana. Do you have any sense of your profile growing?
Telisha: It’s interesting. That’s such a hard thing to see from the inside. We set out to make Galax, feeling like it was the least commercial project we might ever make, but we didn’t care. We were inspired to make this record and felt very urgent about it. Turns out, it seems to be something that people are connecting to.
In closing, I asked the pair each to describe their lives at this point in their careers, and they had the same answer: “It’s a wonderful life. I get to be with my favourite person every day. On stage, and in the van. There’s no place I’d rather be.”
ORDER GALAX: https://lnk.to/wildponies
Photo Credit: Neilson Hubbard