Music Notes: Wylde Nept
It is very refreshing to come across something new and different that kind of wakes up your senses and gives you that kick to the eardrums you have been looking for. Wylde Nept delivers just that kind of sound.
Wylde Nept was started when a few of the guys found each other during a camping trip at a Celtic music festival and have been playing ever since. Their music, primarily inspired by traditional folk, is lively, fun and sure get your face smiling and foot tapping.
“I find the spirit of the songs and then link music to feelings,” says Westan James, Wylde Nept’s lead singer.
Listening to Wylde Nept, you can have tear in the eye during one song and then swing a beer wildly around while singing with a crowd during the next.
George Curtis Jr., the bands percussionist, says it’s their motto, “If it’s not fun, then were not going to do it,” that’s kept the band together so well.
That’s clear during each and every one of their shows.
Seemingly with out effort this band is able to take a crowded room of people from all different back grounds and ages and transport them all to a different place. The music starts and people seem to forget about their daily problems and issues and raise a glass with someone they may or may not even know and begin to sing along to an Irish tune.
The band plays many traditional songs like, “Whiskey in the Jar,” “The Scotsman” and many more. They also have many original songs like “Bewitchin’ Brenda” and “The Gallows.”
They have been called a folk band, rock band, and have even opened for Fog Hat once upon a time. But they don’t just perform the music, or try to re-create the songs how they may have originally been presented. Instead they capture the feeling behind the songs and do an incredible job at putting it to music and sucking in the audience.
“Come see us. If you don’t like folk music you might change your mind,” says George.
I can tell you for sure this isn’t like folk music you have heard before and being at a show brings it even further to life. Be ready to have fun, always keep your drink full at the ready, and when you hear the word “Sligo”, tip a glass with the rest of the crowd.
Wylde Nept: Press
"Wylde Thing, I Think They Love You"
"A long time ago, way back in history / When all there was to drink was nothin' but cups o' tea / Along came a man by the name of Charlie Mops / And he invented a wonderful drink and he made it out of hops."
So begins what singer Westan James cheekily calls "a very popular love ballad" entitled "Beer, Beer, Beer," perhaps the most beloved tune performed by the Cedar Rapids Celtic band Wylde Nept. The group's cover of this Irish ditty charted at number one on MP3.com's Celtic chart and number five on the Top 40 chart, and Wylde Nept musician George Curtis, for one, is happily surprised by the song's - and the band's - following.
"It's pretty much just a song about love and the appreciation of the golden barley product," Curtis explains. "It's a traditional tune that goes way back, and many bands have recorded it, but for some reason, when it comes to downloads on the Internet, ours seems to be the one."
Perhaps because listeners sense, in Wylde Nept, an honest affinity for the golden barley product?
"There are members of our band who would rather have soda," reveals James. "And that's just fine. It's a matter of taste. But we like it."
For the past decade, Wylde Nept - and yes, several of the musicians do wear kilts - has performed every conceivable sub-genre of Celtic music: mirthful ballads, songs of rebellion and victory, maritime sea chanteys, tongue-in-cheek parodies, and plenty of good, old-fashioned Irish drinking songs. The group plays both traditional Irish favorites and original compositions that, with song titles such as "Ugly Mrs. Fen" and "Bewitchin' Brenda," sound like traditional Irish favorites.
Yet, to hear James and Curtis tell it, a performance by Wylde Nept is augmented by the Wylde Nept audiences, who are encouraged to sing along, dance, and, on occasion, even engage in good-natured shouting contests with the band.
"There's an old pub tune called ‘Big Strong Man,'" says Curtis, "and basically there's a couple of lyrics in the song where the women get to shout one lyric, the men get to shout the other, and it's a contest to see which gender can make the most noise." And the winner, he adds, "doesn't even depend on the numbers of the represented gender. It depends on how into it they are. How bad they want it.
"We do everything we can to make it more than just a concert," Curtis says of the audience participation. "I mean, if people want to just sit there with a beer in hand and enjoy the music, they're certainly entitled to. But we want to make it a real event, where you've got something more to talk about than just the music that was played."
James agrees. "We're more than happy if you dance or stomp."
In addition to James, the group's lead vocalist, and Curtis, who plays the Celtic drum called the bodhran, Wylde Nept consists of James' brother Steven, who plays accordion; bass player Brian Fahrner; John Southwood, on guitar and mandolin; and Wayne Twombley, a guitar player and expert at what the band calls "pained screams." ("That's my favorite part," says James. "There are certain sound effects in some of the songs, and we like to put Wayne in charge of them.")
Excepting a few personnel changes, Curtis says that Wylde Nept's style hasn't much changed since the band's origin in 1994. "A few people have moved on to different things," he says, "and we've had a few people join, but it's essentially the same shape. I think people who would see us now as opposed to 10 years ago would be seeing about the same band."
And, appropriately enough, the concept for the group first came about ... over a few beers.
"We came back from our camping trip and went to a local pub we're very fond of," says Curtis, regarding the Cedar Rapids bar The Red Lion. "They had a Celtic music jam going on there. And we were sitting there listening to it, and we all kind of realized, ‘Hey, we all know this stuff. Why don't we - if for no other reason than just for our own amusement - kind of put together a band and see what we can do?'"
Curtis continues, "I think it started out as being kind of funny to us. Like, ‘Hey, we're making this band - where could this possibly go? Har har.'"
Both Curtis and James admit that the musicians' first rehearsal was a relatively low-rent affair - "I didn't have a bodhran," says Curtis, "so I practiced on a bucket" - but a decidedly inspiring one.
"I think, actually, we surprised ourselves at how good it went," admits James. "That's probably what gave us the momentum to keep going."
Curtis laughs, "Things took off pretty quickly from there."
The band needed a name, which eventually came through James' studies of Celtic lore. "I was reading a book about ancient inventions," he says, "and I came across a reference to a plant that was used before surgery in medieval times. It was part of a potion called dwale, which is made out of henbane - which is a poison - and wild nept. The henbane would basically knock you out, and then they'd operate, and then, if you woke up, the wild nept would help you get rid of the henbane." Add a Celtic spelling, and the moniker Wylde Nept was formed.
But the band also needed material, and in addition to a host of established, beloved Celtic tunes, much of what the group found came through research on Celtic songs and traditions. "We're still discovering songs that have not been recorded in 40 years or have never been recorded," Curtis says.
However, the group also wanted to compose their own songs in the Celtic style - "there's not, like, anyone designated as the songwriter or arranger," Curtis says of Wylde Nept's original output - which, as any musician will tell you, can be a challenge.
"Sometimes the inspiration and the tune is immediate," says Curtis, "and other times it can be a real labor. And then once the songwriter brings it to the band, sometimes it takes a while to flesh it out. And sometimes you can tell right away, too, if it's just not gonna work.
"Anything brought to the band is given its fair chance, though," he continues, "and then we sit there and kind of look at each other and go, ‘Ew, did that work?' or 'Wow, this is really comin' together!'"
James says, "We definitely never expected, when we began, to turn into songwriters at all. And the success of that ... we're amazed at how well those songs are embraced."
Wylde Nept's first professional performance took place at a St. Patrick's Day event in 1995, where the group played a 12-hour set, from noon to midnight. James says, "We performed at a local pub, in the round - in the middle of the pub - and played all day long for, like, $100." He laughs. "And we knew about 30 songs."
"It got a little repetitive," Curtis adds, also laughing.
More local gigs resulted, though, with Cedar Rapids audiences embracing the group's high-energy performance and signature style, and in the fall of 1999, Wylde Nept even found themselves performing their traditional Celtic music on stage alongside ... Foghat.
"We don't know how that happened!" exclaims Curtis. "It was a music festival in Cedar Rapids - Rocktoberfest - and I think they decided they wanted to find some of the more popular bands in the area and put them on stage in front of Foghat. I think they were more concerned about ‘What do people want to hear?' as opposed to ‘Does this fit?'
"We were setting up," he continues, "and Foghat had not yet come out on stage, and one of their sound guys was out in back, and he hadn't yet seen the James brothers in their kilts yet. And he comes up to me and says, ‘So, what's the name of your band? What do you guys do?' And I was, like, ‘Well, we're Wylde Nept, and we play Irish and Scottish drinking songs.' And he goes, ‘Ha ha ha ha ha! No, really.' It was definitely a strange mix."
Since then, Wylde Nept has continued a steady tour of Midwestern concert appearances - they performed for Moline's annual Robert Burns Dinner this past January, and are set to return to the Quad Cities for Rock Island's Erin Feis festival on September 17 - and has released four CDs, with their most recent, All's Fair ... , released this past March. Good news for fans, and especially good news for the group's most enthusiastic fans.
"There's a handful of people out there who are proud to call themselves Neptiles," says Curtis with no small measure of delight.
"We can't say enough about 'em," adds James. "We're very humbled."
"We can go to a venue," Curtis continues, "like an event or a pub we've never been to before that's a long ways away from home, and we'll find out that the first people to grab tables and get 'em early are people we've seen before. And we really appreciate that. Not just for the support on stage, but they kind of get the rest of the crowd going, too. People who've never seen us before - who might not know what to make of us - suddenly have an idea. Because there's something more going on here than sitting quietly and listening to music."