BACK TO THEIR ROOTS — The Wiyos performed for preschoolers at the Springville Center for the Arts on April 24. Pictured, from left: Michael Farkas on washboard, Seth Travins on upright bass and Teddy Weber on guitar and percussion. Photos by Lizz Schumer.
SPRINGVILLE — What do a washboard, bike horn, garbage can, animal noisemakers and the human nose have in common? The Wiyos uses all of these, and many more, to create a collage of sound that marries the best of “old timey” Appalachian jug band music, jazz, blues and even a little bit of rock and roll. The Wiyos brings its brand to Springville this week, starting with a preschool concert that took place on April 24 and wrapping up with a concert on Saturday, April 27 at 8 p.m.
The Springville Center for the Arts was packed to the rafters with preschoolers, as the Wiyos took the stage, catering to the pint-sized set with hand motions, interactive songs and a little polka thrown in.
CAPTIVE AUDIENCE — Preschoolers from around the area listened in rapt attention to the Wiyos’ kid-friendly show, occasionally adding their own sounds and movements to the action.
“We know what the little rascals want to hear,” explained Michael Farkas, a former teacher, who provides washboard, vocals, noisemakers and kid-geared explanations, for the band. “We lean on the washboard more heavily, for the kids, but a lot of what we do, music that’s influenced by the sounds of the 20s and 30s, is naturally very kid-friendly. The music appeals to kids, but it gets adults moving, too. It brings out that delight factor, in all of our listeners.”
The Wiyos has been on the scene for about a decade, although the trio has played together, in its current configuration, for the last three or four years. The band’s range of venues has been as wide as its stylistic repertoire, from stadiums to coffeehouses and everything in between.
Teddy Weber, the Wiyos’ guitar and percussion player, said that the band got started playing in bars and coffeeshops and “came up the ranks, with a cabaret vibe.
“We’re not like these Internet sensations, who get one hit song on YouTube™ and shoot straight to the big stages,” he explained. “We started small and worked our way up, and that’s where we really like to be. It’s an experience, hearing your voice and your instrument, projected across this huge stadium. We’ve played as big a stage as you can imagine. But, that was never our goal. If it was, I think we’d play a different type of music,” he added, with a laugh.
“That never felt like our end game,” Farkas said. “This size venue is perfect. We’re most comfortable, in this type of room.”
One of the elements the Wiyos members like to play with, when the band undertakes a show like its SCA presentation, is the dynamics of the sound.
“At some of the big, festival stages, it’s hard to play a quiet song, because of the space,” Farkas explained. “In a room like [the SCA theater], we can see and experience everyone in the room. Our sound is complex, and we can really bring that out, in this venue.”
That sound comes from a variety of influences that the Wiyos have encountered, during their 10 years together,and before. Although the members listed the jug band sounds of the Great Depression era, as well as both rural and urban sounds from the 20s, 30s and 40s as their influences, the Wiyos also found kindreds among the Beatles, the Kinks and the skiffle music that was popular in the U.K., as well.
“I admit, I grew up listening to my dad’s rock and roll music,” said Bassist Seth Travins. “And that creeps into your consciousness, as a musician. If you think back, those bands were also influenced by the early jazz, blues and jug band aesthetic. When you peel away the layers, it’s all there.”
Farkas said that the Wiyos seeks to play “sound to fill the space,” using a variety of noisemakers, animal sounds and instruments from cultures, across the globe, to enhance guitar, bass and drums standards.
“We’ve gotten to know the sound quality, of each of these pieces,” he said, of his assortment of musical objects. “It’s fun, to have a bunch of instruments to fill the space. We add in sounds to catch your ear. People are used to hearing guitar, bass and drums, but these [different] instruments play to the visual aspect of it, all well. There’s an element of DIY involved, too. Everything is modified.
“The most important thing is that we write good songs,” Farkas said. “Then, the way we render them produces different things.”
“I think we’ve always heard a bigger sound,” Weber noted. “Being a trio, we have a more pragmatic approach. That’s why there’s a brush on the bass, for rhythm, and I’m playing foot percussion, as well as the guitar. We want to get more of those sounds out.”
Weber added that some of the Wiyos’ songs are a “double entendre” that appeal to both old and young listeners, in different ways. He noted that the band’s most recent album, “Twist,” is a concept album loosely based on “The Wizard of Oz.
“That album was funded through a kickstarter campaign, with our existing fan base,” Weber explained. “We were able to work in an amazing studio, with fantastic equipment. That was a real treat.”
The band plans to spend about a week in Springville, writing, recording and conceptualizing songs for its next album, in between shows, workshops and exploring the area.
“We want to take a more live approach, to this album,” Weber said. “We want to rehearse, perform the songs live, then come back to the studio and just nail it.”
“At least, that’s what we think will happen,” Farkas added, with a grin. “This album will be more stripped down. We’re shooting from the hip, a little bit, with this one.”
Travins added that he thought this next album could still comprise a “song cycle,” with similarities to “Twist,” but it will not be as much of a production as that album was. “There will probably be a theme,” he noted. “But it won’t be nearly as produced as ‘Twist’ was.”
“Twist” was recently nominated for an Independent Music Award.
The band toured the United States and Europe and put out several albums and toured as the opening act for the 2009 Bob Dylan Show. It was featured in the BBC television documentary, “Folk America – Hollerers, Stompers and Old-Time Ramblers.”
Recent performances included a family concert at Carnegie Hall and a U.K. tour. Since the members no longer live near one another, Weber said that they wanted to use their time in Springville, to get back to their roots.
“Who knows, a couple of songs could be hashed out, right here in Springville,” Farkas added.
The Wiyos also led a series of workshops at Springville-Griffith Institute High School, on April 26. An interactive workshop, focusing on group playing and dynamics, will take place on April 27 at 4 p.m. at the SCA.
The SCA is located at 37 North Buffalo St. in Springville. Tickets can be purchased at www.SpringvilleArts.org
, by calling 592-9038 or in person, at the Box Office at Arts Underground, located at 66 East Main St. in Springville. There is a charge for tickets.