The Midwest’s largest city may not seem like the ideal hotspot for up-and-coming folk bands but through the thicket of Chicago’s noise, Wild Skies is making an impression on the city’s local music scene. Just months ago, the four-piece band buckled down at I.V. Lab Studios with Chris Harden to record their debut full-length album Far From Below. It’s a compilation filled with rich folk instrumentation, lyrical hooks, catchy grooves and vocal harmonies; a creative step forward from the band’s 2015 self-titled EP.
“[From Far Below] was the first recordings we did as a band,” says guitarist and vocalist Aaron Lechlak. “The EP was originally a solo project for me before I met these guys. I booked some studio time and put out Craigslist ads for studio musicians. I had already done a lot of the tracking when [vocalist] Kristine [Sorum-Williams] came in and did some vocals on it. [Bassist] Tommy [Good]’s actually not on it and neither is [drummer] Andy [Kearns]. It’s just [Kristine, me] and the engineer [playing drums]. [With Far From Below], we finally got to pay the studio to record some music. We went down to Tommy’s parents’ house in Springfield and did a whole weekend of preproduction and worked through all the songs.”
Naturally, for a band that has spent a few years writing together, Wild Skies had built up a decent collection of tunes. Before committing to studio time, they needed to organize and democratically decide on which pieces to record which resulted in an 8-song record showcasing Wild Skies’ growth since their original formation. Prior to settling on their current lineup, the band played as a 6-piece, incorporating banjo and fiddle into their sound on top of the vocal harmonies, bass, guitar and percussion.
The fine tuning of their sound is in part due to time, but the band also credits their closeness, agreeing that for the first time, they feel like they’re all on the same page musically. “The core four. That’s what we call ourselves,” says Good.
There are certain songs on the record that speak for themselves. With “Black Water” audiences are treated to Sorum-Williams’ powerhouse vocals as she artful showcases her talent with incredible range and control. There’s also the angelic beauty of “Heaven Help Us” opening with guitar picked riffs and soft vocal harmonies between Sorum-Williams and Lechlak. Some personal favorites from the band include the album opener, “Fumes and Faith” and the album’s slower track,”Please Take Me Back”.
“‘Please Take Me Back’ really grew on me,” says Sorum-Williams. “I think from start to finish it’s the most polished. I think it slowly became my favorite.”
Without wasting time, Wild Skies jumped back into the studio only months after wrapping up Far From Below, this time at Rax Trax with Noam Wallenberg to record a few singles including their upcoming song”Glory”, expected for release by the end of 2018. While still rooted in Americana tones, “Glory” dabbles in the realms of pop and country.
“We waited so long to go in the first time that we already had all this other music that we were excited about, so we really just wanted to get back in and record again,” says Sorum-Williams. “For a long time, we kind of described ourselves as folk and we were feeling kind of penned in by that description and felt like we had to sound a certain way. I think “Glory” is the first song where we’re like, ‘Hey we can sound different and it’s still cool’. We don’t have to define ourselves.”
Although Wild Skies had just spent time in the studio preparing their record, they learned previous experience doesn’t always translate into a solid second run. “We did it backward. For the first record, we did a lot of research and a full weekend of pre-production and pre-recorded the songs so we could try to tweak things before we got in the studio and not waste a bunch of time,” says Lechlak. “This last one, we sort of rushed into it because we were all going to be out of town [and] we couldn’t connect. We were like, ‘Fuck let’s just get in the studio.’ We knew we at least wanted to do ‘Glory’, but we didn’t do nearly enough planning.”
Even without the extra planning, the upcoming singles have a more produced sound thanks to their engineer. “Noam is a magician with sounds and making sure the album sounds just right,” says Kearns. “We might have been back at square one if it wasn’t for him.”
Wild Skies doesn’t foresee another album in the near future but instead are planning on releasing singles in hopes of collecting press and working their way onto a curated playlist. They may even have a music video as Sorum-Williams pushes Lechlak to share the details of a potential location to shoot “Glory”.
“There’s a super cool broken-down church in Logan Square or something. It’s a building that’s been empty and falling apart for a while but a friend of mine is a photographer and she was in there for a photo shoot a couple months ago and posted some pictures,” says Lechlak. “It’s incredible, but it’s boarded up.”
As for other potential goals, the band is looking to expand into the Midwest market with possible visits to Indianapolis, Milwaukee and some cities in Ohio, although nothing is set as the band is still building their home audience and working to settle into a Chicago niche. “It’s a good city but there’s so much going on all at once,” says Kearns. “It’s hard to draw a crowd consistently cause on any given night you’re competing with theCubs being in the playoffs or Bruce Springsteen [playing or someting]. It’s a great for a music listener though. You can go out and see almost anything.”
Havings seen them on stage and witnessed the chemistry within their practice space, it’s evident Wild Skies has the potential to define themselves as one of Chicago’s leading Americana folk acts. Though they may not see it now through the stress of recording and trying to make sense of band management, Wild Skies is building something unique. They’ve managed to create an authentic sound and with a bit more time mastering their music, those milestone moments of Ribfest and Appleton’s Mile of Music will morph into slots at South by Southwest and Lollapalooza, stages that may seem unobtainable now, but are realistically within in reach.
Wild Skies’ next performance will be on Wednesday, October 11 at GMan Tavern. The night will also include performances by Marah in Mainsail and Distant Brothers.