Last month I caught Thomas Wynn & The Believers at The Knitting Factory, where I also had some words with their brother and sister duo, Thomas Wynn and Olivia Wynn. The two were laid back and genuine Florida folk, who entertained my questions and talked about their new music, their rock and roll cowboy of a dad, their blood harmonies, and what it is that they believe in.
Kelly Knapp: When did you guys start making music?
Thomas Wynn: I was maybe 9 when I first started playing…drums. My brother and I started about when I was about 12 or 13, and that evolved into a few other bands. Then, Olivia and I started playing together maybe 8 years ago, in a band called the Wynn Brothers Band. It was originally just my brother and I – she was at school, and then she came home from school and joined. Then our brother had a kid and said ‘I’m out!’ so we started this new band. That was about 4 and ½ years ago.
KK: So did being in those other bands lead you to this, trying out different sounds, or were they all sonically similar?
Olivia Wynn: His first band was a hardcore band. And our brother Jordan was in a punk band, and then we started the Wynn Brothers Band, that was just southern rock, and when Jordan left we started this – Thomas Wynn & the Believers.
TW: Yeah, it leads to it. It’s kind of like going back to the roots. When I was about 13, we found The Band, the album Music from Big Pink on vinyl. Started listening to that. Didn’t really play that, but it’s that Americana – even though everybody’s Canadian but Levon (Helm) – it’s the Americana feel. After growing out of hardcore – nothing against hardcore – but after growing out of it, we came back to what we had grown up with, and that’s what this is.
OW: Our dad’s a drummer. He’s full rock n’ roll cowboy. We grew up with that – he started the whole music thing with us.
KK: Since you guys are brother and sister, what’s that dynamic like? Do you write together?
OW: He does most of the writing. I have suggestions here and there. I write all my harmonies. Sometimes we’ll mess around at a friend’s house if it’s late, we’ll go play around with a bunch of instruments.
KK: Your bio has something about you guys being on the edge of this new southern rock…
TW: People say a lot of stuff. That was a review. I don’t think we’re reinventing the wheel. Music is good enough if it’s played with intention and played with heart. Maybe it’s new because there’s been a lack of, in our opinions, heart and a lack of truth to most of the music that’s been coming out for the past 10 years.
KK: So it’s something you feel is lacking in the music scene in general?
TW: I’m not saying we’re the only ones doing it, but what I’m saying is that I believe there is a resurgence of truth and reality, and I think we are doing that. I don’t think we’re the only ones. I don’t think that it’s completely lacking all over, but for the past decade it might have been. But we’ve met lots of bands on the road, played with lots of bands at home that have that same genuine truth about them, and their music. They’re not trying to be something for fame and money. They’re writing from their heart and a place of hope, and appreciation for the gift that they have.
OW: It’s a big compliment when people say we’re on the edge of something, because it’s nice to not be so easily categorized into something. Even after they hear us, people are like, what genre are you? I don’t know, what do you think?
KK: Do you think this is also a product of where you’re from? Would you still be making this music if you were from Seattle or something?
OW: Hard to say.
TW: I think that as people, we are products of our own environment.
OW: Not everyone thinks Florida is the south, but we know different.
TW: There’s great bands that are from everywhere, it’s just when you get down to the heart of it, it’s just playing good music. That doesn’t have to be southern rock, it just has to be from the heart. I wouldn’t categorize it as southern rock, except that we are from the south and we play rock and roll.
KK: So what it is about your sound that you think defines you? That authenticity?
TW: I think authenticity isn’t really a sound, it’s just a feeling. Certainly, our harmonies is kind of a stand-out. We’re brother and sister, so it’s blood harmonies. If we can’t harmonize together, we shouldn’t be doing this. We could have our own bands and be good, but together it’s exponential. The sum is greater than the parts.
KK: When you’re performing, do you do a lot of improvisation on stage, because you have that connection, and make it work on the spot?
OW: There’s moments of that – normally of covers, but I think that’s just because we don’t know it. I like to know what I’m doing. He’s a little bit more…he’ll go off on something, but I’ll kind of snap out of it if he does it. Makes me look like I messed up.
TW: There’s room for movement. There’s room for organic improvisation, but we don’t practice enough to really settle parts, but we play a lot so we find what works and find what doesn’t, or she tells me what doesn’t. And I’m going, well I can hit it.
OW: And I’m going, well that’s not a challenge – I can hit it too!
TW: So we settle into things.
OW: And people like that familiarity. They hear the same thing over and over again – they like that. They can sing along, mouth the lead.
TW: You go see someone live and they do it completely different from the album…
OW: And you’re singing it but then you feel like a nerd because they change it, and you’re like, I thought I knew it! We don’t wanna upset anyone.
KK: What other bands are you guys into right now?
TW: Alabama Shakes is great.
OW: Bon Iver is great – I love him.
KK: So you guys don’t have to fight over who DJs in the van.
OW: It’s whoever’s driving. We were listening to Frank Zappa on the way here.
KK: So, Thomas Wynn & the Believers – what do you believe in the most?
TW: I believe in the authenticity of music. The authenticity of being that; of allowing the gift that I believe we’ve been given by our maker to come through. That it’s a truth, and it’s not necessarily what you believe in or who you believe in, even though I subscribe to a certain thing, I know other people in my band don’t.
OW: When people ask where we get the name, I always say that you have to believe in something. Whatever gets you through – everyone has different beliefs and backgrounds, but you have to believe in something, even if it’s nothing. You have to go full force, all or nothing. Whether it’s music, or whatever.
TW: I think that’s a good answer. There’s multiple answers.
OW: That’s the fun of it.
TW: It’s not that our answer changes, except that it does change, because we change. As people, we evolve and we grow and our core belief system grows and evolves, even if it’s based around the same thing. Even if it’s planted firmly into something, you still grow in that. You still learn from your mistakes and learn from succeeding, and that causes faith. And that’s what belief is.
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