This was never supposed to happen. Metal Hammer is standing, beer in hand, shoehorned into a packed Roundhouse in the heart of north London, surrounded by 3,000-plus eager rock and metal fans, all decked out in Halestorm t-shirts and with slack-jawed expressions.
They’re staring, bug-eyed, at a man that is currently dressed as a marching band reject, stomping around the stage while twatting a percussive instrument that can only be described as…um… loads… of beer bottles… strapped together… all while belting out a cover of Back In Black so raucous it’s in serious danger of getting ASBO’d. We are now entering Wilson World, ladies and gentlemen – a bold new frontier defined by beer, showmanship, beer, rock’n’roll, beer and one of the most unlikely success stories our game has produced in recent years. Oh, and more beer./o:p
“That was crazy!” laughs frontman Chad Nicefield of the tour that saw them plucked from bar room obscurity and catapulted across the Atlantic to play in front of thousands. “For a band used to playing in small American bars where there’s beer flying everywhere, to crossing the ocean and playing to 3,000 people with a 10-foot barricade in front of us… it was very strange. It was the shit being a part of that, but we’re used to playing places where people’s faces are too close to my genitals!”/o:p
He’s not lying on that front. The first time Hammer came across the Wilson Party Machine was when we caught them propping up a five-band bill at the tiny Saint Vitus Bar in Brooklyn, NY, barely 18 months ago, and the last time they appeared in these pages they still hadn’t even nailed a record deal outside of their homeland.
Since then, the Detroit five-piece have been scurrying up a career spike that has seen them play abroad for the first time (and in some of Europe’s most iconic venues), get signed internationally, record a new album and share bills with many of their all-time heroes. Put plainly, since we last spoke to the guys, Wilson have become metal’s newest favourite party band. Is it safe to say that it already feels like it’s been a long time since they were going ball-to-face at 7pm in North American toilet venues?
“I don’t really know how to describe what’s happened,” admits Chad with a bewildered sigh. “It’s been a visceral thing, this trajectory that I can’t explain. My dream has always been to play somewhere like the Roundhouse, and to come from playing to 250 people in Brooklyn to playing in front of 3,000 people in London… there’s no rhyme or reason to how that happens.”/o:p
We can’t help but feel Chad is selling himself and his band a tad short there. After all, in 2013’s Full Blast Fuckery, Wilson produced one of this decade’s best debuts – a hurricane of chunky rock’n’roll grooves, bouncy hardcore riffs, arena-ready choruses and enough hooks to snag a wandering asteroid – and onstage they’ve crafted one of the most entertaining spectacles you’ll see anywhere in 2015.
And while their showing at the Roundhouse was decent, it’s in the dirty, sticky, sweat-soaked bar circuit that Wilson really shine as a live band; where there’s barely room to swing a proverbial cat and yet, it seems, just enough space to cram in a big, bearded bloke with a double-bass drum careering through the crowd like Hulk after one too many blue Smarties.
They are the band you’d want to play your 21st birthday before barring them from your wedding. The kind of guys that don’t just bring the party but bring it, destroy it and then resurrect it at 6am when everyone else is getting ready to toddle home for a cry and a Netflix marathon. Even if that doesn’t entirely explain what led them to start dressing like wallies and banging anything that makes a sound whenever they’re onstage….
“It came to a spot where we were just trying to give ourselves more interesting things to do,” explains Chad. “We tried to focus that energy, and I’d had this dream where, during one of the breakdowns of a song, I changed it up by doing different percussive stuff. And I’d always wanted to do that thing where you fill bottles up with different levels of beer and try to play those glass notes, so it was like, ‘Fuck it, let’s just turn it into a spectacle!’”/o:p
Showmanship is never unwelcome in this town, of course, but are Wilson not at least a little concerned that such antics – alongside a shamelessly simple motto that basically amounts to drinking, partying and, as Chad himself underlines, “living for the weekend” – could see them tainted with the dreaded ‘novelty band’ brush? No one wants to be a side attraction…
“That’s my worst nightmare,” Chad shoots back, a rather serious tone appearing in his voice for the first time this afternoon. “That’s something that I’ve been thinking about a lot more recently. We’re just having a good time, but I think that’s transcended above, a little bit, what the be-all and end-all of this is – and that’s that we’re a rock’n’roll band.
“We definitely don’t want to be some satirical, ‘funny’ band, but we want the show to shine, and we add these little parts to our set because we know that it takes a lot of energy and time to get people out of their houses and away from their computer screens. We want to make sure that the fans that come will leave being like, ‘I am excited that I decided to do that with my time and money.’ And obviously, smashing beer bottles and bass drums and running around onstage like an asshole isn’t the answer, but it sure as hell isn’t far off!” /o:p
There’s an unshakable no-nonsense, one-of-us vibe hanging over Wilson that permeates almost everything they do. There’s a reason this rabble of Michigan misfits have struck such a strong chord with so many people, be it the industry bigwigs backing them, the big-time bands taking them on tour or, most importantly of course, the endless list of converts that trail in their wake.
Everything they’ve got so far, they’ve worked their fucking nuts off for, and if this is as good as it gets for them, so be it; at least they’ve sunk a few beers and got to play a few cool places along the way, right? In Chad’s estimation, it was growing up in one of the US’s most economically and socially difficult cities that ingrained in them a drive to work hard, trust their guts and do whatever it takes to make sure that whatever size the venue, the party never stops rolling.
“In Detroit, you do things because you have to,” asserts the frontman. “Like, ‘This is how you’re able to survive.’ You were told not to go to certain places or do certain things as a kid, because it was scary, there was crime and there were people that might fucking kill you there. In Detroit, you have to know what you’re doing, and every decision we make is down to how we’re gonna survive as a band. We make guttural decisions because that’s how we’re programmed. When we write, we don’t think, ‘Well, how will people in Los Angeles like this song?’ We’re writing because we like the way it sounds.”/o:p
If that’s the case, then new album Right To Rise – a fitting title for a band on the up – tells you everything you need to know about where Wilson are at right now. Whereas Full Blast Fuckery wasn’t so much throwing everything but the kitchen sink as juggling three of the fuckers, their sophomore is focused, streamlined and more measured in its punches. It leans more on the straight-up, riff-heavy rock’n’roll that permeated much of their debut without sacrificing the beer-fuelled mayhem and sense of fun that made it such an emphatic knockout in the first place.
“For Full Blast Fuckery, we were kicking and punching blindly at your genitals, trying to connect in any way, shape or form,” agrees Chad with a chuckle. “We had no idea what we were doing! We wrote 10 songs, we recorded a record and we put those 10 songs out. When we were recording this album, we wrote many things that didn’t make it. We were doing more preproduction and putting more energy into things that we didn’t before because we didn’t have the time. It’s like, first we were clawing at your genitals, but now we have a crosshair, and I’m not gonna [accidentally] kidney-punch you – I’m gonna hit you right in your sack!”
If Wilson can hit the right venues and be brought to the audiences that will appreciate them most – and given that Right To Rise sounds like it could ably soundtrack an entire series of Sons Of Anarchy, we’re not hedging our bets on the kind of crowds they’re gonna be feeling most comfortable with on this run – then that’s a lot of popped nutsacks.
But what of the grand plan? If these beered-up vagabonds can make it across the pond and into world-class academies in a matter of months, what’s stopping the Cult Of Fuckery taking over and assimilating itself into metal culture itself? Is there even a glass ceiling on this band any more? Unsurprisingly, Chad remains humble about his aspirations.
“My dad was super-stoked when we played the Roundhouse because he used to watch all these documentaries on it back in the day,” he offers thoughtfully. “He was like, ‘You played the fuckin’ Roundhouse, man! You made it!’ I was like, ‘I get what you’re saying, but I’m not headlining the Roundhouse.’
“The past 18 months have been a whirlwind – a crazy tornado that we’re spinning around in and grabbing at whatever object is closest to us that can keep us steady. We’ve done these amazing things, but we’ve done them on the back of other folks. Going forward, we’d like to do all of these things of our own accord. We’ve done things on the backs of our peers and people that have worked themselves into that position, but it’d be wonderful to be the band that can extend that same hand out to younger bands to grasp onto. That’d be a really great feeling; to flash-forward 10 years and be headlining.”
Wilson headlining the Roundhouse? Surely that’s just not supposed to happen…?
RIGHT TO RISE IS OUT JUNE 30 VIA RAZOR & TIE/o:p
Chad’s five essential steps for the ultimate heavy metal party!/o:p
1. Find a house in close proximity to neighbours
“Go to a house in the most square of uppity neighbourhoods. Gather your friends into a room with the most bitchin’ stereo system in the house.”
2. Put on a copy of Wilson’s awesome new record
“Put in your brand spanking new copy of Right To Rise. Crank that fucker all the way up to 11.5!”
3. Take out one bottle of bourbon per person
“Open it with your teeth (don’t be a pussy) and get drinking!”
4. Open one bottle of Gold Bond therapeutic skin cream
“Open the front of your pants and pour two tablespoons of Gold Bond onto your most private of parts. Feel the tingle?”
5. Load a YouTube play-list of instructional Karate Videos
“Take a step back from your friend of choice, close your eyes and kick your friend in his or her genitals. Take turns, drink more, repeat!”