Rising out of Baltimore’s notoriously fertile music scene, Wing Dam has gained a following for its 90s-influenced brand of upbeat alt rock and indie pop flavored with crunchy guitar solos and rich vocal harmonies.
Following two albums and a whole lot of touring, the trio of bassist/vocalist Sara Autrey (a guitarist , guitarist/vocalist Austin Tally, and drummer Abe Sanders surprised its fans earlier this year by announcing plans to relocate from Charm City to San Diego. Fittingly, the band’s latest record Glow Ahead (out 8/19 on Friends Records) touches on themes of transition, taking stock of what’s working out ok and what’s not, and making change, even when change is difficult.
“Re-Move Me,” confronts this head on in very personal ways. Written by Autrey and set to deceptively cheery-sounding melodies, the song relates to her previous struggles with drinking and reaching out for support.
Check out “Re-Move Me” below, and read our interview with Autrey about the band’s upcoming cross-country move, the dynamics of dividing songwriting duties, and her insight on some ways that musicians struggling with alcohol can cope with temptation while on tour.
She Shreds: Can you share a little about your plans for the big move and how this transition influenced the songs on Glow Ahead (for example, “Mostly Concrete”)? How much do you believe a band’s surroundings affect their music, whether in attitude, aesthetic, or musical development?
Sara Autrey: Well, thankfully we all wanted to move to San Diego. I don’t know what I’d do with my life without Wing Dam‒besides start another rebound band immediately.
Austin and I had wanted to relocate there ever since we tasted our first West Coast burrito. And when Abe jumped on board, we were so ready to make it happen. Abe’s ladylover moved there a few years ago and the long distance thing gets a little old after some time, especially after a few years. Abe had been in Baltimore for a really long time at that point, eight or nine years, and I think he was just about as ready to shake things up, location-wise, as we were.
We’re all so weirdly close and intertwined that it just seemed like the right thing to do, you know? Best friends follow each other around the country like psychos, right? Plus, living in the inner city was starting to really get to me and Austin. We hated our jobs (see “Job,” “No Waiting Tables”), we were disgusted by rats eating our plants and filling our yard with rat shit–it stinks like hell, and the plague is so unchill (see “Mostly Concrete”), and we were totally overwhelmed by the lack of outdoor nature zones. I don’t drive, so I was basically stuck in the city.
Plus, with me getting a lot more clarity this year, vis-a-vis not drinking, I realized I had been seriously unhappy about something and I think that something was the need for a dramatic life change to knock me out of the zombie-like autopilot state that I had been living in. When I live in one place for too long I get really snowblind to the awesomeness of wherever that place is. I love Baltimore‒that city has my heart‒but I am ready to miss it.
When I’m desperately needing some sort of life shift, I’m not very creatively inclined. I’m usually in banger-writing mode when I’m fresh, invigorated, when my surroundings and self feel renewed and re-grounded. The transition/big move haven’t even really influenced me or Austin yet, because we still have so much work to do with this tour before we even begin thinking about the fact that we’re actually moving. It seems more like a far-off event that you know is coming and you’ll be more excited once the time is nigh. Yes. Nigh. I know that once we all get out there, though, it’s gonna be amazing. Amazing for all of our relationships to each other, our music, creative processes, you name it. Can’t wait.
On Glow Ahead, you and Austin split the songwriting duties. How do you feel your individual styles complement and contrast each other, especially in regard to the new record?
Glow Ahead is the first album where Austin and I have equal songwriting duty. Thick Phase/No Splash was all Austin, Shifter Bliss had a few of my songs, then Glow Ahead was like, “yeah, here she is!” I used to have another band that I wrote songs for called Which Magic. It’s actually still revived from time to time, solo or with a rotating cast of my buddies. But as I got more and more invested in Wing Dam, so did my songwriting. Which Magic got put on the back burner because I was really feeling how Wing Dam transformed my songs into what I never imagined they could be.
It’s pretty funny to note the difference between Austin’s and my songwriting styles. All of my songs are about myself. Literally. My nickname is “Princess” for a reason. They’re all songs about myself but in a self-discovery sort of style. For example, I’ll write a song, not really know where the words came from, and then later when I hear it I’m like, “oh shit, this about that one time that hot dude fucked me over!” Or, “that one time I felt really awkward at the party!” Austin always writes very specifically and consciously about real situations/people, relationships, events, time periods, cats (see “Paws”), etc. He’s deliberate with what the song says, and how he says it. He majored in poetry at Johns Hopkins with a minor in French Lit so, he’s got a way with words that’s way more nuanced than mine. I think my vague bluntness and his meticulously worded specificity play off of each other really well. No two songs are alike, but they’re all so g-d Wing Dam because they all have so much of our hearts in them. Please weep now.
Are there ever any challenges with this structure, as far as determining what ends up making the final album cut or tour playlist? If so, how does Wing Dam work through them together?
We’ve only ever had one disagreement over the whole “whose song are we going to cut from the album” argument. As far as sharing the writing responsibilities, neither Austin nor I have ever felt “threatened” per se, by the other, to be more of a “lead singer” or “head honcho” or whatever kind of title you want to give it. It’s always a very supportive creative environment. If one of us is making work while the other isn’t, it does kind of turn into a motivationally competitive situation where the one of us who isn’t writing is like, “well, if YOU wrote a song then I’M gonna write a song.”
We both also will pick a topic, event, or whatever to write a song about and each write totally different songs about the same thing. “Lights” and “Most High” are both about the same vacation to Asheville, but you’d never know it unless you’re a psycho super-fan who’s been stalking us and micro-analyzing our lyrics.
The one time we‒I‒actually got pissed about what song makes the cut was recording Glow Ahead. Our amazing engineer/producer Rob was saying he didn’t think we could record and mix eight songs in four days and all of us were deciding which song to cut. Abe and Austin wanted to cut “Smoke Entwined,” and I lost my damn mind. I was, and still am, so beyond proud of what that song stood for, and how kick-ass it sounded. The thought that they wanted to cut this banger from the album kind of broke my heart. Luckily, Rob the engineer is a fucking superstar and recorded them all. It was a ton of work for everyone, and really stressful, too. But I would’ve burned the world to the ground if that song slipped through the cracks. Ego check! Next!
On “Re-Move Me” you revisit your earlier struggles with alcohol abuse. What led you to write so openly about your experiences and share that with your listeners?
“Re-Move Me” is the first song I wrote after I quit drinking. It’s a breakup song in a way. Kind of how like even when you dump a total douchebag asshole who treats you like shit and ruins your life, you miss them after you’ve spent a long time with them. But, you’re also glad they’re gone. I like to share about my struggle with addiction to anyone who will listen. If someone hears this song and can relate, if they know they’re not alone out there suffering through some real shit, I’ve done my job.
Also, if nobody listens to this song and nobody relates to it, then I still got something out of it because it reminds me of how shitty I felt every single day and night of my life before making a change. Basically, I’m happy to share about it because I don’t really like the stigma that comes along with addiction in general. It can happen to anyone, suddenly or over a long period of time, and to break the barrier that holds people back from sharing and relating about the issue is really, really important.
The majority of live music events in our country take place in settings where alcohol is always around, which can be especially challenging for musicians (or anyone working in the live music industry) that struggle with alcohol management. Do you have any tips you would share with musicians working through similar struggles?
Man….alright. If you feel like you’re struggling with alcohol maintenance, I guess I do have a few tips. These worked for me. They might not work for you, so just take ’em with a grain of salt because everyone is different.
For me, the hardest part was being in bars for so dang long. Arrive at 6:00 for a sound check, then you’re there more or less until 2:30-3:00 AM for load out. That is so long to be in a bar if you’re trying not to drink, and a long ass time to be drinking in a bar if you drink like me.
I always make sure I roll around on tour with at least a case of LaCroix so I have a “drink,” and don’t feel awkward with empty hands when everyone around me is drinking. I also take killer walks after sound check, and explore the city I’m in a little. Get a treat, thrift a little, ask around where the cool parks and sights are, and then I go off on my own personal adventure. Listen to music, a podcast, call your mom or bestie in your headphones, and have some much needed alone time. On tour it’s so, so golden to have a few minutes to yourself each day. I also use guided meditation apps on my iPhone to take ten minutes out, reground myself, and get some clarity.
One of the other hardest things for me to realize and overcome about drinking too much on tour‒and other times‒was that tour doesn’t follow a normal schedule, it’s almost impossible sometimes to know what to do with your time in a foreign, strange place with almost no money, especially after you feel like crap after eating (probably) poorly all day, sleeping on a random couch for a few hours the night before, and being in the car all day long. You don’t feel good at all.
For me, the quickest and best solution was to start drinking and I’d get the immediate relief from feeling like shit. That is, until I couldn’t really tell when to stop drinking, then I’m hungover and more broke, on top of all the other things going on on tour that don’t lend themselves to feeling healthy and great. For the nine-week tour I’m about to go on, I’m bringing my yoga mat, running shoes, a lot of books, so much LaCroix, and I’m making a killer list of things I want to do in each city so that I don’t have to sit at a bar and figure it all out later. Having a plan has helped me so much. It’s not hard for me not to drink anymore. You best believe it was at first though. It actually makes things so much more simple, and I feel like an actual person on tour instead of a hungover zombie.
Please, please don’t take this as any sort of judgement on people who drink. It’s not. This is just how I am, and what’s helped me.