Sometimes, being in a rock band can seem like kind of a foolish thing to do. That might be what you are thinking if you’re in a hard-touring indie folk-pop troupe who, despite three albums and a half decade of gradually rising through the ranks from barroom venues to festival mainstays, is standing outside a broken-down bus in the Tulsa heat. But then again, you don’t get there in the first place with that kind of attitude.
“We’ve had an adventurous couple of days,” says a remarkably upbeat Alexander Beggins, the ukulele player and singer who started the Austin-based Wild Child with violinist and singer Kelsey Wilson while they were both touring with different artists. From those humble beginnings as hired hands, Wilson and Beggins now lead an independent band that seems poised for mainstream breakthrough, with rave reviews from NPR, Paste, Pop Matters, and others as well as a smattering of network television performances and songs seemingly tailor-made for commercial licensing.
Still, this is a ragtag DIY effort, even though the group briefly graduated to tour buses before jumping back in the van. But the sunnily dispositioned Beggins doesn’t lament the auto mishap as a stroke of bad luck. Instead, he marvels at the kindness of fellow bands and strangers.
“This experience has shown us how many amazing people there are in the world that are willing to help you,” Beggins points out. “We have these angels that we just met — this woman named Catherine, who brought two pickup trucks to pull us and our trailer six hours to St. Louis so we made the show. This amazing band in St. Louis lent us their van for a couple of days, and then one of the guys in St. Louis rode up with us to drive it back. Having people like that around, seeing good people from traveling, makes all the difference.”
And turning hardships into effervescent reminders of joy is kind of what Wild Child does. The duo originally started out as more of a folk-rock act, with most songs rooted in Beggins’ ukulele strums and Wilson’s feathery vocals, but the central premise of the group was there from the start — easygoing melodies and happy hooks that belie the sadness of heartbreak and loneliness at the core of the group’s lyrics.
“It’s gotta feel good for us, and it’s gotta feel good for you,” says Beggins of their songwriting rapport. “That’s what music is all about, emotion. Feeling it, conveying it. Harmony, melody, all that stuff doesn’t matter — you just gotta feel good about it.”
And the mantra seems to work. Even as the band matured from good-natured songs to charged, rhythmic indie pop, there’s an effortlessness to these compositions, riding strong melodies and ready hooks, even as the arrangements and instrumentation gets more complicated.
This is borne out by the way Beggins describes the songwriting process. He shapes the chords, Wilson crafts the harmonies, and then they flesh it out together. “We usually know pretty fast when something’s going to be good,” he admits. “If you have to work too hard at it, then maybe it’s not the right idea.”
You can feel that approach on even the most polished efforts from Wild Child. Take “Fools,” the brawny title track from their 2015 LP. Riding a throbbing guitar riff and a bouncy, pedal-distorted bass line, the song shimmers with the beautiful lightness of a sunrise, even as Wilson and Beggins sing about “playing the fool” in the dissolution of a relationship. It’s both a sad song and one that embraces their singular musical approach.
This instinctual, gut-level approach to the band seems to carry over, from how they respond to overheated tour vans to their shifting, highly accessible sound, which flits through indie pop and Americana with a free-spirited looseness that makes them sound like a rollicking, gypsy-like the Head and the Heart in one moment and a more assured, less overbearing Sara Bareilles the next.
“As people started listening to the music, and we started to grow as an entity, we could start to grow the band and add more instruments, increase our production, our knowledge of production,” says Beggins. “I think if you tried too hard to figure out whether you are mainstream or independent, you’re missing the point of what making music is all about. You gotta make music that makes you happy and let the fans decide what it is.”
He does, though, seem to like the gypsy comparison. “That’s largely because we have some strings in the band, violin and cello. And fiddle does play a large role in gypsy music,” Beggins points out. “But it’s also the attitude we have as sort of vagabonds, traveling musicians living a gypsy lifestyle.”
More than anything, Beggins just seems enthusiastic about living his own particular version of a musician’s dream.
“Now we have a real nice, good, big band,” he says, “and we have a real good time on stage.”