I don’t care how sophisticated your algorithm is. I don’t care if your latest metrics show that making music a certain way will lead to an increase in popularity among the most coveted demographic. And I certainly don’t care that society has become entrenched in the mindset that paying for music is as archaic as expecting parents to raise their children without government intrusion.
The reality is that there’s an unquantifiable human element in play and no amount of money or research will ever be able to replace what Victor Wainwright brings to the table. His unpredictable, bats-in-the-belfry approach to the blues is anchored by howling vocals and a rollicking piano style that evokes Jerry Lee Lewis at his most dangerous.
Sample a few snippets of “Boogie Depression” and “Train” from Wainwright’s most recent release, and you’ll quickly realize that there’s still plenty of music out there worth investing in. I spoke with Wainwright recently regarding his work and upcoming show at The Tralf on March 28, so, if you’re still undecided after reading this, let me put it this way:
Would you rather shell out triple digits to see a Buckingham-less Fleetwood Mac at KeyBank Center or pay a reasonable $19 to experience one of the most fiery blues bands on the scene today?
You make the call.
MNOD: How did growing up in Savannah influence your musical direction?
Wainwright: Well, my father and grandfather were musical, and I naturally wanted to be like them. As for Savannah itself, it’s a very musical city. You can hear a variety of sounds coming out of all the pubs on River Street and the trolleys are a great way to experience everything the scene has to offer. It’s just a beautiful town that draws you in every time you’re there.
MNOD: How did your family respond when you decided to pursue music on a full-time basis?
Wainwright: Their response was lukewarm at first. They wanted me to get a college degree and stressed the importance of having something to fall back on in the event that music didn’t work out. They ultimately told me that I could be anything I wanted to be, so, in my own stubbornness, I told them that I wanted to be an air traffic controller. I ended up going down to Daytona Beach where I enrolled in an Air Traffic Management program at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.
MNOD: Your current band, The Train, has garnered a lot of attention for its unique approach to roots music. How did the lineup come together?
Wainwright: It’s actually been 10 years in the making and is a project that continues to grow. My previous band was called The WildRoots and we decided that the band should be renamed to reflect the new musical path we’re following. Calling it The Train is symbolic of the forward momentum of the music and the image of a runaway locomotive is how I like to think about the direction our sound is going in. A lot of people react to our curious approach to roots music, because it doesn’t adhere to any one notion of what this music is supposed to be. My band and I come from a very bluesy background, but we’re constantly turning over stones and expanding upon what the blues can be.
MNOD: Who are some of your influences as a singer and piano player?
Wainwright: Besides my family, I’d have to say Jerry Lee Lewis, B.B. King, and Ray Charles are my primary sources of inspiration. Their records were some of the earliest I heard and the soulfulness with which Ray Charles sang was second-to-none. As a piano player, I sort of developed my own style, so I don’t really play like anyone other than me.
MNOD: What type of environment do you prefer when sitting down to write a song?
Wainwright: We’re on the road pretty much all the time, so I write mostly in hotel rooms or sometimes in the van while we’re travelling. For me, it’s about having some alone time and getting out of my head for a while. I mostly write about universal themes, because I want the listener to relate to the music without me injecting too much of myself into the narrative. I get personal on occasion, but the songs work much better when someone can interpret them freely without me telling them how I feel or how I think they should feel about a particular topic. We cover a lot of ground and actually have a song called “My Dog Riley” on the next album, so not every song needs to be an Odyssey or a Moby Dick to speak to people.
MNOD: What was your reaction upon hearing that you were nominated for a Grammy in 2019?
Wainwright: Being nominated was both a surprise and a thrill for me. The added exposure has helped us a lot in selling more tickets to our live shows, which is great. We have a humongous sound and I think getting the nomination has sparked interest in our music from those who maybe hadn’t heard it before or didn’t think that roots music could be played this way. Our last album, The Train, was the second most played contemporary blues album of the year after Buddy Guy, which was a great honor.
MNOD: What does the term ‘roots music’ mean to you?
Wainwright: I think roots music is the father of us all, really. It’s anything that is delivered in a soulful way with minimal production and electronic influence. Roots is like an umbrella under which everything else falls, because, while a lot of what we do is bluesy, we have fun exploring other ways to write and record that people don’t normally expect from the genre.
MNOD: Have you noticed that your live audiences bend toward a particular demographic or are they pretty diverse?
Wainwright: I think it depends on the venue. Certain places attract a certain type of crowd, so it’s different everywhere we go. Newer spots will attract a younger crowd while more established blues clubs will draw older people who have been coming there for years. What I like about it is that younger generations who might have no clue about Willie Dixon can become familiar with his work through our approach to the blues. Our music is designed to reach everyone regardless of generation. Streaming has really helped our music get out there to younger people, because it exposes us to people who may not consider themselves a fan of traditional blues music. It’s an identity problem. People who may have never liked the blues before become fans after seeing what we do, which speaks to how this music should never be confined to one specific pattern. The average age of the people who stream our music is 28, so we’re very proud of the impact we’ve made thus far.
Victor Wainwright & The Train play The Tralf Music Hall on March 28 as part of the Howlin’ at The Tralf series.
The band’s Grammy-nominated, self-titled album is available now wherever music is disseminated, but do us all a favor and pay for a physical copy.