It’s a Sunday night in November of 2014 at The Satellite in Los Angeles. Five young men playing their first show together, bow their heads in a huddle behind the stage and make a quiet commitment to each other and to their music. They’re unheard of, untested, unknown.
The next day, they are invited to headline The Satellite’s residency in January. The next week, they are invited to provide tour support for Young the Giant, of whom a few members were at the show. Within a few months, they’re in Austin for SXSW, performing at some most coveted showcases, including an intimate performance with Charles Bradley at Arlyn Studios. By summertime, they’re in Bob Clearmountain’s studio at Apogee recording their debut EP. In less than a year, these five individuals have transformed into a unit that is winning the hearts of music-lovers and music-makers with every show. And they’re about to hit the road. They are Wildling.
While the rise of Wildling from obscurity to touring act looks quick on paper, their path has been a journey of patience, persistence, and dedication to their music.
Lead singer Ryan Levine and keyboardist Andrew Ampaya were the first of the five to begin making music together. Their chemistry was special and their first project landed them a major label record deal. However, they were lost in a shuffle of label restructuring. Where others would have been disheartened, this lit a fire inside Ryan and Andrew pushing them to continue writing, playing music and moving forward.
Their next big break came, when they wrote an illustrious track entitled “Hummingbird.” Ryan sent “Hummingbird,” directly to DJ Kat Corbett of KROQ. Immediately, Kat heard a hit, and began spinning the song in regular rotation on her show, “Local’s Only.”
Motivated by the radio play and response it was getting, Ryan and Andrew started playing out together. At a show at the Hotel Cafe in Hollywood in August 2014, Ryan’s younger brother, Justin, was in the audience. Onstage, Ryan and Andrew were trying out a new bass player. Justin had a wake up moment, and realized he couldn’t sit on the sidelines while his brother was embarking on a new journey. He was determined to join the band, and became the new bass player.
Amongst all of this, Ryan met songwriter and producer Erik Janson at an ASCAP writers expo. Instantaneously, the two hit it off, and began working on new material together. Weeks later, the band invited Janson, who by now was a friend to all, to join them as the lead guitar player. Believing in the project and the songs he had created with Ryan, Erik committed, putting his songwriting and producing on the back burner to give focus to the band.
All the band needed now was a drummer.
Casey Wojtalewicz (pronounced wah-deh-lev-itch) had moved to Los Angeles from Minnesota for a job with the Sierra Club. Upon observing the large community of artists making a living off their craft, he decided to give music a shot, being a songwriter and drummer himself. He wound up behind the drums in the band Cayucas, and brought the band from its first basement shows in Santa Monica through two years of international touring.
Casey parted ways with Cayucas in October 2014. A few days after the split, he was getting lunch with Sameer from Young the Giant, who he had become friends with earlier in the year. Sameer mentioned a new band he had been following closely that was in need of a drummer, and the next day, Casey got coffee with Ryan.
The five played together for the first time later than month, in Wojtalewicz’s cramped studio. They all gelled immediately, and within a week they had booked their first show together at The Satellite.
Since becoming a full band, Ryan, Andrew, Justin, Erik and Casey have worked relentlessly to prove they deserve every bit of the success they’ve earned. They’ve practiced tirelessly while holding bill-paying jobs, improving their performance and constantly writing new material. They’ve performed new songs at nearly every show, testing them out and continually honing their set and their sound.
One night, Andrew and Casey were riffing on a piano and drum beat, when Erik made a strange connection to Neil Young’s “Heart of Gold.” They worked out the arrangement that night, and are set to release their take on a song that is dear to all of their hearts this August.
Their debut EP, which will be released in October, will feature a collection of songs that have stood the band’s test of dozens of shows and months of practice. There’s the energetic hip-hop-beat-turned-explosive-double-bass outro of “Anywhere We Are;” the calm but passion-filled urban groove of “We Go All the Way;” the arena-filling gang vocals and anthemic resonation of “Wolves;” the can’t-help-but-move-and-sing-along sway of “Palindrome;” the driving, upbeat “Doesn’t Really Matter,” and a newly-tracked “Hummingbird” that conveys the incredible energy and heart the song has developed since the band came together.
The band has worked with different producers on different songs, including Doug Boehm (French Kicks, Dr. Dog), Caleb Shreve (Phantogram, Bear Hands), Ted Gowans (Tegan & Sara), and Ben Greenspan (Fences).
Frontman Ryan keeps the audience riveted with his electric performance, which many have compared to that of Bruce Springsteen. The interplay between Ryan and his younger brother makes it clear to all how sincerely thrilled they are to be onstage together —best buds since the beginning. Backed by the solid musicality and experienced stage presence of Janson, Wojtalewicz, and Ampaya (who’s been playing piano since age 4), the overall passion and energy of the band is undeniable. They make wonderful use of dynamics, bringing the audience in—keeping things smooth, tight, and contained—and then turning it all the way up, losing themselves in the unique energy of the night, the performance and the space, and bringing the crowd with them. Levine is bound to surprise when he picks up his bass or guitar to riff along with Janson and his brother.
In the tranquil moments between songs, the essence of who these people are comes through. These are not five green wannabes, they are real, down-to-earth, earnest people who love playing music and do it with passion and humility. They have become brothers.
You may not have heard of them yet, but as they continue to win the hearts of fans and fellow musicians through their live performances, and with their debut EP out now, be prepared to see much, much more of this band.
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