The Wilder Janes actually began as a joke. Heather Feierabend, who plays mandolin, tenor guitar and banjo, would often jest that she and friend Becca Babin should start a girl band. The two approached Jodi James with the idea. “It was like a really great first date,” Feierabend says of the first time the three-piece female ensemble played together.
When The Wilder Janes began performing last year in Baton Rouge—a town of mostly male bands—their audiences quickly swelled. “I always wanted a girl band to represent the opposite end of the spectrum,” explains Becca Babin, who plays harp, upright bass and guitar in the band. “There are so many men in music, and I feel like we offer different sounds.”
Known for their soaring harmonies, distinctive instrumentation and a blend of soulful and quirky songs, The Wilder Janes opened for Flatbed Honeymoon at Artspace Perkins within a few months of forming, and later for folk legend Ramblin’ Jack Elliot at the Red Dragon Listening Room.
Despite the glowing reception the band received, James decided to leave the project so she could concentrate on a career as a solo singer-songwriter.
Reluctant to disband, Feierabend and Babin began searching for a way to continue The Wilder Janes. Enter local musicians Rebecca Richard and Melissa Wilson, who each broadened the band’s sound by bringing a wealth of new instruments to the table. Richard plays piano, flute, guitar and violin, while Wilson plays marimba and snare drum. “Before, we had lush vocals, and now we have lush instrumentation,” Feieraband says.
Feieraband describes their sound now as “chamber folk.” Although the band draws upon many classical instruments, their songs’ particular folk appeal keeps the sound from falling into traditional territory. “It’s not two-dimensional,” says Wilson. “We have these different sonorities that have octave ranges, so the music is not just a linear thing. It’s got a lot of depth to it. It’s a very wide soundscape.”
The songs themselves follow no overall thematic pattern. The lyrics, melodies and rhythms constantly change, but where this might create chaos for another band, The Wilder Janes maintain tight control.
“What defines us is varied sounds,” Babin says. Each member crafts her own songs, and the group collaborates on how to best realize the sound.
The immense talent each musician brings to the band becomes clear during live shows. All four members play multiple instruments, and in between songs, they trade instruments or add an entirely new one to the mix.
Then there are the vocals. “There’s this dynamic of really sensitive playing and singing that you don’t hear much at all [on the Baton Rouge music scene],” says Wilson. “As a percussionist, I don’t get the chance to sing much. It’s really cool to be a part of the vocal aspect as well.”
Still, the group remains committed to growing their craft locally, having performed at Red Dragon Listening Room in December and January and eyeing venues in Lafayette and New Orleans. Find out more about the band at facebook.com/TheWilderJanes.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect a correction: The Wilder Janes opened for Flatbed Honeymoon at ArtSpace Perkins, not Joy Kills Sorrow. 225 regrets this error.