Essentially carved out of the three separate acts of Bluebird Radio, Glade and The Devil Whale, the folk “super-group” of The Poorwills came together on a whim and spent nearly half a year putting together their debut album, Drinks On The Wing. Now, with a fully formed setlist, a release show on May 13 and possibilities of a tour, this on-the-fly project may be one of the best groups to emerge in 2011.
The Poorwills originally formed out of a temporary necessity. Glade Sowards was picked to perform in the 2010 City Weekly Music Awards, and he opted to create a backup band for the showcase rather than perform solo. He picked up bassist Jake Fish from The Devil Whale, and both Wren Kennedy and Joey Pedersen from Bluebird Radio for guitar and drums, respectively. As usual with the Utah music scene, all four had already worked together in various groups such as The Platte, The Black Hens and Dead Horse Point, so putting together a band on the fly under the short deadline wasn’t difficult.
Sowards may not have moved into the CWMA finals, but the evening proved fruitful as the newly created folk-pop quartet decided they liked what they heard and stuck with the lineup. The foursome delved into a pile of songs that Sowards had in reserve and began honing their sound while playing select shows around town and experimenting with the band’s identity in the process.
“I originally thought it would be an a-cappella harmony kind of deal,” says Pedersen on the creation of the group. “Which I thought would be cool, but it was nice to incorporate the instruments too, since we all play different stuff.”
Taking on the name of the Whippoorwill’s western cousin, The Poorwills officially formed in March of 2010 as an opening act for The Devil Whale and Bluebird Radio. The initial focus was strictly on the harmonies and pulled little influence from their other works in order to be more folk-pop oriented. After a few months, the group planned to take it on the road, but quickly realized they needed an official release for touring, and made the formal decision to head to the studio that May. The majority of the songs may have been written by Sowards ahead of time with his vocal range in mind, but in the planning stages, The Poorwills found themselves switching out singing duties based on the needs of each song, at times removing all instruments and working together to find the harmony of the song itself. By doing so, the group created a more folk-pop sound compared to their other projects.
“It’s fun for me to have people who are willing to go out on a limb,” says Sowards on creating folk-pop music. “It’s so hard to get people who want to do that. There’s this kind of threshold people have when it’s veering into a ‘pop thing’ and it’s becoming corny, they have a natural tendency to push away and do something edgier. I appreciate that these guys are willing to go out on that limb.”
After nailing the setlist, the initial plan was to record everything live in single takes. But the group was met with technical limitations and discovered tracking was harder than they assumed. The setback led them to formally cancel their plans to tour and forced them to take a different approach to the album. Looking to work with people they trusted, The Poorwills picked The Black Hens drummer Jesse Ellis to record and produce the album and used Jay Henderson’s studio, Feral Frequency, for mixing.