The folk-rock band from Cambridge, Massachusetts, Billy Wylder, has recently released a new album 'Strike the Match'. We had the opportunity to talk tothem about activism, family, and traveling! Check our the interview below!
You named the band after your grandmother Wilma “Billie” Hotaling, which is really special and inspiring! Can you tell us anything more about how the name and band itself came to be?
My Grandma Billie was a very impactful person in my life. She was a prolific painter, author, musician, and educator. She wrote Count the Stars Through the Cracks, a harrowing historical fiction novel about a young brother and sister’s escape from the Antebellum South along the Underground Railroad. Grandma Billie showed me what creativity looks like and how critical art can be as a form of love and resistance.
In 2011 I returned from the Israel/Palestine where I was working with Heartbeat, an NGO that unites Palestinian and Israeli youth musicians to transform conflict through music and co-creation. I was deeply moved by the experience and started to write a bunch of new songs, and I brought some close musician friends together to bring the material to life. When it came time to name the band, I was looking for a name and spirit bigger than myself. Grandma Billie’s came to mind; her wild and rebellious spirit and I decided to name the band after her.
Your latest album, ‘Strike the Match’ (released on Sept. 7), deals with some pretty heavy issues at home and around the world. What was it that ‘sparked’ the idea to start this album and why is it important that we acknowledge and discuss these issues?
Music and activism have taken to me five continents over the past five years, some of the most beautiful communities, cities, and landscapes. I’ve also been to territories that have been colonized and occupied in the Middle East, North and West Africa, the South Pacific, and Standing Rock here at home. We’re living in a critical time: humanity has become our own greatest threat to survival and sustainability, not to mention the 8 million other species that we’re “co-existing” with on the planet. There are 7.6 billion people on the globe and the systems of modernization and capitalism have spun out of control. We have the power to build a new legacy and change how we inhabit the earth, and it’s going to take a major consciousness and behavioral shift. On my journeys and amid the struggle, I have experienced the creative spirit rise up in the face of darkness and adversity and it is the most life-affirming feeling I have witnessed. Strike the Match carries the feeling of urgency and equally is filled with songs of love, adventure, and imagination.
I love the hint of Tuareg sound on your single ‘Great Blue Heron’. I’ve been to Morocco and enjoyed its ‘desert music’; the track really takes me back! Why do you love the Tuareg sound, and will we hear it throughout the album?
Cool to hear you were in Morocco; I’ll be there in January! I toured with Bombino for three years and was deep in the Tuareg tradition. It has definitely infused my guitar playing and songwriting. Africa is the bedrock for Western music, so it’s definitely woven into this album.
Can you briefly describe the meaning/inspiration behind each track?
I’d prefer to let the listener establish their own meanings of the songs. The lyrics are available with our vinyl records and on our Bandcamp page: https://billywylder.bandcamp.com/
Previously you toured with Bombino – what an honor! How did these three years of touring influence ‘Strike the Match’?
Profoundly! We were on the great caravan, performing for so many different cultures from Brazil to Niger to New Zealand to Europe, and all over North America. What a trip! I was honored to play with Bombino, to learn his deep tradition, sing in Tamasheq, and share the beautiful and hypnotic music with people all over the world. The experience is inseparable from me as a person and an artist. It’s a part of in me and the record.
I’m sure you have a lot of memories from touring with Bombino. Could you share a particularly special one with us?
In 2015 Bombino took us to perform in Niger and one of the shows we played was for a traditional celebration for a newborn baby. We played right on the desert flow with rocks holding the drums in place. Everyone was dressed up in their colorful tunics and there was reverie in the air. I was one of two American’s in his band and was wondering how I would be received. After a couple songs into our set I was surrounded by Tuareg boys and men who were cheering me on, “alcas, alcas!” and belting out the words with me. The women were dancing in the center; it was transcendent. I was uplifted by their warm and infectious energy, I’ll never forget it.
You’ve traveled around the globe, from the streets of Jerusalem to Standing Rock, and everywhere in between. Is there anywhere, in particular, that’s on your bucket list? If so, what draws you there?
Cuba! I am hungry to get to Cuba. I really want to explore and dig into the music and culture. It’s an interesting time for the country and I’m also worried about the threat of American colonization and development. Cuba is the great melting pot of Afro-Latin culture. I hope to go next year!
The Wylder Family is made up of a diverse group of musicians. How do you find new people to join the family?
I am fortunate to have such great musicians and people in my band right now. Rob Flax is a wild violinist, multi-instrumentalist, singer from Chicago. We’ve been playing together for six years; he’s a wizard and a dear friend. Krista Speroni is our bassist, singer, and farmer from Hawaii. We met at Occupy Boston. She was playing the Sabar drum and I asked her spontaneously her to join us for our performance there. We became friends and have collaborated a bunch over the years. Zamar Odongo is a virtuosic drummer from Nairobi. He brings his deep pocket grooves and worldview to the band. We were brought together through our mutual friend, Mohamed Araki from Sudan. I’ve been connected with the musicians in the Wylder family through a natural thread of meeting good people and musicians that often leads to meeting more good people and good musicians.
Outside of music, what else do you enjoy doing? Is there anything in particular that keeps your creativity flowing?
Jumping into cold fresh water! I love the mountain. We try to make time for hiking and jumping into rivers on the road.