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On the Rise: Wheeler Brothers on Petri Dishes, Phoning it In, and Stardom

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Forget Tweeting or "Facebooking," the Wheeler Brothers have come up with a more direct way for their fans (and as you'll read, their nemeses) to interact with them. They've given me the authority to print their real phone number in this story. The Austin-based band, who will fittingly play SXSW in that city next month (Skinny's Ballroom on March 16), have established sort of a band "hotline" for anyone to shoot the shit with whichever member decides to pick up the line at that given time. The gesture is just the latest cool thing the band has done. Case in point: their latest video finds them dressed as a Mariachi band.

Mexican mayhem aside, the Americana band which consists of three Wheelers (Nolan, Tyler, and Patrick) and lifelong pal A.J. Molyneaux and Danny Matthews, have been on a roll ever since they released their debut album "Portraits" last summer. I interviewed two Wheelers (Nolan and Tyler) and Matthews, whom the brothers met at LSU, about the band's success thus far. I also asked the trio, who collectively answered via email, whether they could take on another sibling-centric group, Kings of Leon. Watch out Followills!

I'll start off with a generic one that I don't want to Google. How long have you guys been together as a band?
Well, the brothers have been together their whole lives. After the whole gang got together in college, we started playing dive bars and birthday parties and pretty much anyone that would have us. It was admittedly pretty bad! Lots of elaborate blues jamming and bad cover songs, no original material. We basically just wanted to play. Still, that period of time was good for us, we shared a lot of stage time and got really comfortable playing and rehearsing together. After college we started traveling to meet each other on the weekends and eventually decided to quit our jobs and pursue music full time. We all moved in together and started writing and rehearsing as Wheeler Brothers about 18 months ago, and started playing local shows around the same time frame.

Do you think the mainstream appeal of artists like Avett Bros. and Mumford & Sons helped you at all? Your sound is kinda, sorta in their wheelhouse, no?
Yes, we're glad to see "Americana" music becoming increasingly popular. Although, we wouldn't throw our hat into that ring altogether. Music goes in waves and at the end of the day, we are proud to see those kinds of groups able to be successful -- bands that still play their instruments and use their voices and are able to perform well every night. That is a concept we trust, that at the end of the day, once the computers overheat and the effects are all gone, a great band can still perform without any hang ups.

While we can't even begin to put ourselves in the same planet as those bands in terms of breadth of reach and appeal, they are certainly great anchors of a pretty healthy, modern musical economy. We definitely look up to those bands. Also, people are really opening their arms and ears to this style of music, and we are super grateful for that.

That's very cool to hear. What's the song writing process like for you guys?
We definitely don't have it down to a science. There is no formula and we like it that way! Some days, we may drive out to the hill country with ten cases of beer, a carton of smokes, a truck full of guitars, and see what happens. Other times, we may be on the front porch in Austin. Hours in the rehearsal space arguing, or maybe not. The one constant about our songwriting is that we insist on the process being a collaboration. We trust each other's ears and we never turn ANY ideas away, regardless of how it may sound up front. We really trust an depend on each other to compose.

We also listen to a lot of music together. Listening to other bands usually gets us talking and motivated to write. We go see a lot of shows together, listen to music in different mediums. Hearing other bands do well motivates us to write.

Is there any sibling rivalry between the Wheelers? Do you, Danny, and AJ know when to leave you guys alone when you're in the middle of a spat?
It's still early, so far 2012 has had zero work related incidences. Last year wasn't bad either, we only had one trip to the E.R. and still made it to the show. Danny and A.J. usually place bets on the good fights. All in all, the brothers get along surprisingly well. We drink entirely too much bourbon to think that an argument might not break out here or there. Usually, you can see it coming from a mile away.

Austin is such a strong music scene -- has it helped launching there?
[We] couldn't agree more. The Austin music scene is alive and well. It's so dense with talent! Everybody plays or records or writes or is involved in the scene in some way, shape or form. It has definitely helped us starting in Austin. The real reason is that it is a self-nurturing scene. Musicians try to really take care of each other, by our experience. And people in Austin are music-crazy! They are total sponges for what's going on in so many different genres of music. A new band couldn't pick a better petri dish. For all the same reasons, new bands have to work their asses off to get slots, and maintain their fan base. Austin is not for the lax musician, it's a place for serious bands who are ready to give everything else up for their art. We are no different. You got to be willing to work your ass off.

On an unrelated note, my son was born January 3 -- can you impart any words of wisdom to him?
Listen to your parents most of the time. The only way to know where the line is, is to cross it. Do this and you will turn out fine.

Don't listen, son. OK, lastly, who'd win in a fight between your band and the brothers of Kings of Leon?
Our bass player alone could take Kings of Leon with one hand tied behind his back. Although, I think they had to cancel tour dates because they were partying too hard, which means they could have a crazy streak in them. How much do you know about yourself if you never been in a fight? We're accepting all challengers, call us up at (512) 983-5934 if you want to set anything up.