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Lighting it up

Wild Pink hits Johnny Brenda’s stage Sept. 15

John Ross and Wild Pink will be appearing at Johnny Brenda’s on Sept. 15 in support of their highly acclaimed album, ‘A Billion Little Lights.’ Image | Mitchell Wojcik

Wild Pink will be in town at Johnny Brenda’s on Sept. 15 in support of their recent album, “A Billion Little Lights,” which came out back in February

Hailed by Stereogum as “one of the most exquisitely pretty rock albums in recent memory” and named “2021’s best rock album” by NY Mag/Vulture, “A Billion Little Lights” was one of the year’s most critically revered albums, seeing additional praise from the likes of NPR, Pitchfork, The AV Club, Uproxx, Paste, Billboard, MTV, FADER, KEXP, Consequence, BrooklynVegan and more. The album saw frontman John Ross explore life and love across the United States, ruminating on the small moments while simultaneously keeping an eye on existential issues. 

The band, which is rounded out by bassist T.C. Brownell and drummer Dan Keegan, formed in New York City in 2015 and put out a handful of EPs before releasing their critically acclaimed self-titled debut in 2017. It was a sophisticated showing for a band’s first album, but it was the striking maturation of “Yolk In The Fur” in 2018 that established Wild Pink’s unique sound: a glistening variety of pastoral indie-rock akin to The War On Drugs, Death Cab For Cutie, and Kurt Vile, but informed by classic American rock poets like Bruce Springsteen and Tom Petty. 

Even though Wild Pink was operating within the relatively modest world of contemporary indie-rock, critics likened them to the types of revered rock auteurs who rack up Grammy nominations. So for “A Billion Little Lights,” they actually made that leap. The record was produced, mixed, and co-engineered by producer David Greenbaum, who’s worked with the likes of Beck, U2, Cage The Elephant, and Jenny Lewis. Like all Wild Pink records, the songs were entirely written and arranged by Ross, who shaped them into high-quality demos over the course of a year in his new home in New York’s Hudson Valley. But unlike previous Wild Pink albums, Ross enlisted a deep bench of session musicians and friends to perform a litany of additional instruments, finally granting Ross’s musical visions the space and sonic resources they needed to achieve their finest forms. 

The 10 songs on “A Billion Little Lights” are adorned with fiddles, violins, wurlitzers, saxophones, accordions, pedal steel guitars, and a variety of richly textured synths and keyboards. In addition to the instrumentation, Julia Steiner of the Chicago band Ratboys provides beautiful harmonies throughout the record. On past records, Ross’s breathy delivery rarely raised above a hushed murmur, but here he sings with a melodic confidence that makes songs like “Pacific City,” “Die Outside,” and “The Shining But Tropical” some of the catchiest, most anthemic cuts in the Wild Pink catalog. The band has never sounded dated or nostalgic, but the lingering twinge of Americana in their sound has always given their songs a familiar, classicist resonance. On “A Billion Little Lights,” there are little details like speckles of auto-tune, flashing synths, and even trip-hop-esque drum loops that subtly yet effectively rebuff the notion that Wild Pink’s music yearns for a bygone era: the album sounds at once timeless and unmistakably modern.

Get tickets for Wild Pink’s show at Johnny Brenda’s at eventbrite.com.

PW recently caught up with Ross to talk about the album and upcoming show.

Wild Pink has been around since 2015. How did you get together? 

The lineup has changed a lot since 2015, though the core group came together around 2016 when Dan joined TC and I for the S/T album. I had met Dan at a show in 2013 and we became Facebook friends. Then we needed a drummer right before a lengthy tour and recording the S/T and luckily Dan was down for it.

Your third album, “A Billions Little Lights,” dropped in February and was called your most ambitious to date by Upset Magazine. How is it different from your previous albums? How did it come together, and did the pandemic pose any challenges?

My goal for “A Billion Little Lights” was to make a dreamy, big sounding album. I wasn’t trying to pivot to a new idea. The S/T and “Yolk In The Fur” were headed in that direction already and “A Billion Little Lights” was like the final installment of the trilogy. It was all pretty much finished just as the pandemic kicked off so that didn’t affect the production of the tunes, though it definitely put a wrench in the release plans – especially when it comes to touring on this album.

One of the recording sessions for Wild Pink’s ‘A Billion Little Lights’ took place right here in Philly. Image | Mitchell Wojcik

You told Atwood Magazine that one of the recording sessions that stood out to you took place in Philly. Can you talk a little about that session?

The Philly session was a lot of fun because so many of the instrumentalists recorded there over two days. Mike ‘Slo-Mo’ Brenner did all his pedal steel parts plus all the piano, accordion and a lot of the strings were done over the two days. It was a pretty blissful 48 hours as these ridiculously good players came in and did their thing over the songs. I owe Mike Brenner for sourcing the players and recording engineer for that.

How eager are you to get back on stage? What will your fans see when they show up at Johnny Brenda’s on Sept. 15?

I’m so, so excited to get back to touring. We’ll be doing the whole album as a five-piece on this tour and anyone who likes the new album is going to love the live show.

What’s ahead for Wild Pink? And what are the best ways for your fans to stay current with what you’re doing?

We’re doing a new album this fall that I’m very excited for. Follow us on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook to get updates on that plus more tours.

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  • Eugene Zenyatta was raised on old-time Memphis 'rasslin' and strongly prefers the company of dogs to people. His greatest heartbreak came in the 2010 Breeders' Cup Classic.

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