Chicago – LA trio Wildcat! Wildcat! don’t play around. That’s not to say they don’t know how to have a good time – as you can see in our interview – but these guys work hard and pride themselves in it. Not only did they perform at Lollapalooza this year, but bassist Jesse Taylor, keyboardist Michael Wilson, and drummer Jesse Carmichael also played a handful of after-shows and #UberLIVE pop-up shows during the four-day weekend. I caught the threesome opening for Spoon at Chicago’s historic Metro just days before the release of their debut album No Moon At All. The indie hip-pop stylings of W! W! had the crowd dancing, clapping, and swaying to beats reminiscent of 90s hip-hop and R&B. The guys performed tunes off their self-titled EP like “The Chief” and “Mr. Quiche” and some new songs, including the dreamy “Circuit Breaker.” After their phenomenal set, I sat down with Wildcat! Wildcat! for a little chitchat; the three were wildly amusing! In between laughs we talked about cat costumes, being an underdog, 90s R&B, and impromptu sax sessions.
Sarah Hess: Two Jesses… I assume you have nicknames for each other, to know which Jesse you’re referring to?
Jesse Carmichael: We usually just refer to each other by our last names. It’s kind of how it’s been our whole lives.
SH: In the video for “Mr. Quiche,” there’s a man in a cat suit roaming around and dancing. Is there any significance to that, other than the obvious connection to your band name?
Jesse Taylor: There are two people involved with the cat.
JT: (laughs) Yeah, I know! We cheated! There’s a break-dancer and then I’m the other one, the one that walks. I’m the walking one. Two: drama cat and dancing cat. (laughs) It does have to do with our name. It seemed like a good move, a natural move in the beginning. We rented the mask at a taxidermy place in Burbank. (everyone laughs)
SH: No way! What?
JT: Yeah, we had a friend shoot that video for us, and he got a bunch of traditional mascot heads and we were like, ‘Mmmm.’ So we dug deeper. It was a $1500 deposit, and my wife added the eyebrows because it just had these big, huge open eyes. (everyone laughs)
SH: I love the song “Hero.” What inspired it?
Michael Wilson: Wow! Well, I think that throughout our journey as a band, we never really felt like we fit the mold of an indie band or wherever you’re supposed to get after your first show. Kind of always had that feeling of being an underdog of a bit, you know we haven’t really fit into too many scenes in LA. We pretty much just play and go home and that’s it. We have a really heavy work ethic. Discipline is our number one. I think [those ideas] came across in that song naturally. When we were writing lyrics, I was spitting off some random melodies with lines, and I said that line, ‘Taking on your hero.’ (points to JC) He was like, ‘that’s a great line! Let’s work on that more.’ We filled the holes and then it became this underdog anthem, but an anthem that’s not necessarily [one where] he wins in the end. It’s not necessarily a happy ending; it’s more like an acceptance of being who you are, which just might be an underdog.
JC: It’s like somebody who wins the battle but doesn’t win the war. (laughter ensues) Jesse Carmichael, out!
SH: And who are your heroes?
JT: Our fathers!
JC: Yeah, we have some awesome dads. Shout out to dad! All of our parents are amazing. We have to go with that. Parents! (laughs)
SH: Your music has been described as indie R&B and you’ve dubbed it indie hip-pop. What musicians and genres have influenced your sound?
JC: The Fugees for starters. Rufus Wainwright, David Bowie, and The Fugees. That’s a pretty good spectrum right there.
MW: We all definitely love 90s R&B and referring to and sampling older music, bringing it into the light, like the Fugees did or people like Mase. Just throw back stuff that might not have been very cool at the time, but was still really good to listen to.
SH: Really? When I was growing up, it was really cool in Chicago; people loved Mase and all that “old stuff.”
MW: Yeah, being a little kid and listening to it, I felt pretty good about it, but I guess I was always kind of afraid to be really into it because your friends were like, ‘No, let’s get into punk. We’re from California, let’s do this!’ You know?
JT: My sister was listening TLC, and I would kind of ‘sneak it’ sometimes. (laughs) I did get some flack for it. It was the same thing, but I really liked it. ‘Red Light Special!’ All the way from Mase to Ace Of Base!
MW: I think it’s funny too because in a strange way that genre now a days has affected indie music more than indie music knows. They wrote these really hooky lines under strange arrangements of instruments. If you listen to Ace Of Base, it’s the weirdest sound ever, but nobody remembers the sound. They just remember the lyrics. I feel like indie music has gained a lot of credit that way, because it’s gained this popularity where indie does stick in your head. If you have a hook, it’s not uncool to now get into an indie song. Like with Spoon, everything off of Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga is totally in my brain right now.
SH: You toured with Lolla alumni Alt-J. They’re an amazing band to see and hear live. How did sharing the stage with them impact the way you guys perform?
MW: They are very classy fellows. They let the music speak for itself. They’re not flashy in any way. They basically are very good at choosing in a song what is featured and what isn’t. Everybody is heard on stage when they need to be. It’s not just everyone is playing, and that’s something we’re trying to iron out. You can’t just all make a lot of noise at the same time and expect everybody to be like, ‘Oh that’s a cool part and that’s a cool part.’ People can only hear so much, but with them it’s so dialed and so to a T that you can listen to the drums if you want, listen to the keys, and [so on.] It was inspiring to me. They were very nice and very soft-spoken, but yet live, they were just animals with their music.
JC: I agree with that. They play their songs with a lot of accuracy and proficiency. As a musician it was definitely inspiring to watch them be so precise with everything and so polished. They write great songs and let the songs do the work, they’re not crazy showmen; they just play and play very well.
SH: During your set, you brought a local sax player on stage to join you for “The Chief.” Tell me about that.
JT: We did a similar thing at South By in Austin when we needed a sax player… We’ve done it a couple of other times, but it hasn’t gone so hot. One time this kid took shrooms and f***ing tanked! (laughs).
MW: The kid knew how to play saxophone. We saw him on stage. He did really well in advance. No doubt he could play the part. So he gets on stage – We were at this college festival and were like, ‘Hey man, we have this part and we’d like for you to play it.’ He had this amazing idea to go back to his dorm room and take a lot of shrooms. I don’t think he even learned the part – so we’re playing the song and we look over to him like ‘it’s your time, come on out!’ and so he comes out all crazy and he didn’t hit the one note we all want to hear. It was the worst! But today we were walking to an interview and there was this guy on the street playing the sax. We were like wouldn’t it be funny if we just asked him. It was a total creeper move, too. I was like, ‘Do you have any plans tonight?’ (laughs) He was like, ‘No, I’m not doing anything.’ I said, ‘Well, if you’re down, we’re playing at the Metro tonight, and we have this part.’
JT: He’s going to play with us at Lolla, too!
MW: Why not get a sax player from Chicago when you’re here! (everyone laughs)
Agreed Mr. Michael Wilson, agreed! Wildcat! Wildcat! are currently on a North American tour. Head over to their facebook for dates near you, including an upcoming fall tour. No Moon At All can be purchased on iTunes. You can also order it on vinyl through the band’s website.
After attending The School of the Art Institute in Chicago, Sarah went on to study education at Dominican University, earning a degree in history. When not teaching, writing, or taking in a show, she is most likely to be found with a camera to her eye or hanging out in a darkroom.
You can follow Sarah Hess on twitter at @Sarahhasanh and view her music photography on her website: smhimaging.com.