Despite naming their debut album Youth, Nashville’s Wild Cub bring a decade’s worth of experience to their diaristic synth-pop. Singer Keegan DeWitt — who penned their full-length after celebrating his 30th birthday — began his career as a film composer while in college and he, along with multi-instrumentalist Jeremy Bullock, bring a new perspective to a universal subject. Hive talked to frontman DeWitt about the common teen moments that informed their debut, the duo’s decision to take a month to home record it, and what there is to gain from revisiting one’s formative years.
Stream Youth in full below.
Your debut is all about and is called Youth. Were you feeling nostalgic when you wrote it?
I was thinking about that word [nostalgia] a lot. It almost has this patronizing feel. When you think of something nostalgically, you’re thinking idealistically. Before I wrote the record I got married and had my 30th birthday. It was this transition — trying to understand what’s valuable and what isn’t. I read this quote by Jonathan Lethem in the Paris Review that said, “Teenage life — possibly adult life too … is all about what you want and can’t have. And then about what you receive and misuse.” That really was compelling to me: Trying to maintain that ignorant passion as you transition out of youth. What’s so compelling about youth is that it’s this giant waiting room where everyone is bouncing off the walls and exploring different things. The moments that actually stick are passing ones, like sleeping in with a friend until 10 in the morning [or] getting lost while driving and spending the night trying to find your way.
Driving is another activity that feels like a waiting room and there’s a lot of references to being on the road on this album. Specifically, the titles “Drive,” “Streetlights,” “Straight No Turns.”
Yeah, my best friend growing up is this talented filmmaker called Aaron Katz — I’ve scored a couple of his movies — and every night growing up in Portland, Ore., I would pick him up at 10. We were 17, not cool, had acne, and couldn’t drink or do anything so we just drove. Every once in awhile we’d park at a lookout spot or sit in a parking lot for two hours and just talk. There’s something about that innocence that lets you turn a parking lot into this place where you sit and have all of these amazing moments with your friends. Then life sours you to the point where you aren’t available to experience those things.
How important is home recording to you? Was it an aesthetic choice or a necessity on this album?
It was out of necessity. To have a month to record wouldn’t happen to us unless we had crazy 1990s major-label money. That’s why we set up the home studio. But we also wanted to use our limited means as effectively as possible. It was important to figure out a way to make everything feel authentic, almost like a diary entry or a shoebox of pictures. A lot of times we would do the home recording and take out everything that we had sequenced– that sounded all slick and nice — and run it through a TASCAM 4-track tape recorder. For example, all of “Hidden in the Night” is sequenced out and then run through a crappy cassette tape and then we ran it back in on computers.
“Hidden in the Night” has a lot of velocity. What prompted you to make the instrumentals a bit more forceful in the song?
I feel especially proud that “Hidden in the Night” is a simple drumbeat, a simple bass line, and when the guitars come in they arrive with purpose. “Hidden in the Night” is a good example of us being a little more selective in instrumentation. A band who’s really great at that is The xx. Their [self-titled] debut is so thoughtful; there’s nothing on that record that doesn’t need to be there, so it has an intimacy and effectiveness to it.
Were you intending the guitar to play along with the narrative?
I don’t write stories, I write moments. If you picked up a still photograph and there was air running through it, like a GIF — that’s how I think. I can’t read or write music, so everything I do is built as quickly and impulsively as possible off rhythm or momentum. We built a lot of songs on this record from a drum part. I’d build a loop and just start stacking and building things out of rhythms and sounds before building a melody.
There’s a lot of warmth in these songs. Where do you imagine listeners experiencing the album?
I write music for the late-night drive home. You’ve been around people all night, talking, all of these distractions; you drop the last person off and there’s a quiet moment when you get to throw on a song, crack your windows down, and listen.
Stream Youth below and you can pre-order it via Bandcamp.