Started at Bottletree, Now I’m Here


wray_press_hires_by2threefive

One of my favorite things to do each month is research for this column. Over the years, I’ve honed my process. I start by scrolling through emails I’ve filed that are announcing upcoming shows and albums. Then I visit bhammountainradio.com for their listing of upcoming concerts (and other events). Once I narrow down which bands I’m interested in interviewing, I start listening to all that good music. I count that as research, too (I know, I know…it’s a hard life).

I found this month’s band a little differently, though. Like most of you, I was waiting anxiously for this year’s Sloss Music & Arts Festival lineup. I was there for the inaugural festival (Did anyone else cry during St. Paul’s show?) Last year, I had a three-week-old baby and couldn’t go. This year’s festival is already marked in my calendar.

When the lineup landed in my inbox, I was wowed again. The headliners—Alabama Shakes, Widespread Panic, Sturgill Simpson—were great, of course. But my heart swelled when I saw some Birmingham bands listed, too. This city has certainly been making a place for itself as far as bringing in national acts, but our hometown bands are stellar, and props to Sloss Fest for recognizing that.

Wray, the band I’m talking to this month, holds a special place in my heart; I interviewed them a few years ago for B-Metro’s A-List, our annual feature that highlights the Magic City’s movers and shakers. And now Wray is taking the stage at Sloss. “Music is so ingrained in and has enriched our lives throughout, it was more how rather than why,” says drummer Blake Wimberley. The trio—which also includes lead singer/bass player David Brown and guitarist David Swatzell—formed in 2013. When I asked for a refresher on their backstory, Swatzell replied, “One night at Bottletree…,” which is how a lot of great stories have started, isn’t it?

In 2014, they put out their first album, Wray, on the Communicating Vessels label. They’ve recently released their sophomore album, Hypatia, co-produced with Lynn Bridges and mixed by Daniel Farris. “I have contributed to many recordings over the years, but none with such a prolonged production as Hypatia,” Brown says. “We had the time to sit and listen to everything over and over and over again in order to make the smallest of changes.”

“It’s something we worked very hard on and struggled through at times,” Wimberley agrees. “But ultimately, we are proud of it.”

The guys are quick to acknowledge that coming from a smaller city and trying to make it in a field like music isn’t for the faint of heart. Nonetheless, they’ve stuck with it—both music and Birmingham. “The hardest part for me my whole life was being a musician in a city where there was virtually no music industry and trying to get labels, managers, booking agents, etc. to notice you and work with you,” Swatzell says. “There was a lot of struggling financially trying to get out there on the road and be seen. Luckily, we now have some amazing labels, one of which we work with (Communicating Vessels), but we still struggle with getting solid booking agents working with us and good management to a certain extent. Even having a label supporting you, it’s still hard in the early days of a band to tour and get your name out there. You pretty much always have to tour your ass off, playing shows to hardly anyone and making no money when you are first starting, and that’s always a tough period to get through. It’s very encouraging, though, when you keep going back to towns and see your crowds growing.”

Birmingham, get excited—Sloss Fest is bringing some really great music to town. But even more, Sloss Fest is highlighting some of the terrific bands that are already here. See Wray at Sloss (July 15–16; visit slossfest.com for more info) and then see them again and again and again. High five them after their shows and say, “Thanks for making Birmingham better!” Because they are.

Leave a Reply