Most bands don't make it to their second month much less deep into their second decade. Wrinkle Neck Mules seem to acknowledge their defiance of the odds on their sixth studio album I Never Thought It Would Go This Far, out February 17, 2015 on Atlanta's Lower 40 Records.
Celebrating 15 plus years together in 2015, the WNM aren't slowing down despite being a study in fits and starts, dichotomy and contrast. They have amassed a long list of bizarre accomplishments that hardly seem capable of attribution to the same band. They were insulted on "The Don Imus TV Show", featured in mainstream television commercials (Geico and more) and have recorded with Bonnie 'Prince' Billy. A few of the band members even started a successful clothing line called Howler Bros. during their down time.
Reviewers called them both "ascendant and essential" and "under the radar". Every term available in the Americana lexicon has been used to describe Wrinkle Neck Mules' music: indie rock, Southern rock, roots rock, newgrass, bluegrass, country, alt-country, alt-Americana and even something called "heavy folk metal".
The players include Andy Stepanian (guitar, vocal), Brian Gregory (bass guitar, vocal), Chase Heard (banjo, guitar, vocal), Mason Brent (mandolin, banjo, pedal steel guitar, guitar, vocal), and Stuart Gunter (drums, percussion, and vocals). Their last album, Apprentice To Ghosts, explored "the fertile crossroads between rock and country, the outfit is essentially a rock band with a country-bluegrass heart, or perhaps vice versa... many pleasures to offer." Popmatters
They've earned all of these genre-bending descriptions in some way because they often flank their rock framework with country instrumentation and bluegrass-style singing. The band splits songwriting and lead vocal duties between Andy Stepanian and Chase Heard resulting in tunes ranging from rustic and old-time to anthemic rock.
On I Never Thought It Would Go This Far, the band does not abandon its heritage but more often steers into lush and epic, often mellow, sonic territory rather than the back porch stomping grounds of the past. The thirteen tracks were recorded over eight days live to analog tape in Barboursville, Virginia with the help of engineer and co-producer Rob Evans (Dave Matthews Band, Old Calf) and organ and piano player Mark Goldstein.
"The album title is appropriate", said Stepanian. "We never contemplated that we would still exist 15 years later and certainly never considered the patience it would take to keep it together this long. We've taken our share of ass whippings during our history both individually and as a band. Car wrecks, scarlet fever, you name it. In the end, though, the salve has always been the music and the process of collaborating and working together. I think a lot of that theme comes through on this record".
The title is drawn from the track "Never Was The Bird" - a song that laments never having the bird firmly in hand. Fittingly though, the song ends with the narrator hearing a curlew's call – presumably another bird to chase. "We made that sound using a Moog Prodigy synthesizer hooked up to a vintage Echoplex", said Stepanian. "The part was literally played by 3 of us at the same time - two people on the Prodigy and one moving the Echoplex."
Similarly, the first single, "Whistlers & Sparklers" celebrates pushing through periods of disappointment and pain, including a dangerous car crash Stepanian experienced in 2011. The chorus could be a slogan for the band's evolution and history; "there's a fine line between disaster and the best laid plans."