With dual boy-girl vocals in the June-and-Johnny tradition, six classically trained musicians and charismatic alt-folk style, Wild Child is quickly growing up from its Austin indie roots.
The Texas-based band, touring in support of its second album, plays Belly Up on Friday, Nov. 22. The show marks Wild Child’s first time playing in Colorado, as its hometown buzz goes beyond the borders of the Lone Star State.
Wild Child’s songs range from quiet introspective folk to boot-stomping acoustic rockers, with Alexander Beggins and Kelsey Wilson trading verses over rich melodies of layered ukulele, violin, cello, keyboard and bass.
Their new album, “The Runaround,” released last month, offers up melodic and mellow songs like “Rillo Talk” and darker material, along with danceable pop folk offerings like the title track and the single “Crazy Bird,” an upbeat freak folk classic with a whistling chorus reminiscent of Edward Sharpe and the Lumineers. Beggins says to expect both sides of Wild Child in a live show careening from ballads to barn-burners at Belly Up.
“We always try to make it a roller coaster of a set,” he told me on his way to a string of California shows. “We like to start with the more upbeat boot-stomping stuff, and then make it more intimate and go up and down. So it’ll be all over the place.”
Their 2011 debut album, “Pillow Talk,” had a bare-bones orchestration backing it and a more subdued folk spirit. The band’s shows, by contrast, tended to morph into freewheeling folk rock, earning them a reputation as one of Austin’s top local acts.
On the new album, they aimed to capture the rollicking spirit of their live shows.
“Everyone we’ve talked to so far is happy to see we got out of our comfort zone a little bit,” Beggins says. “We expanded our sound and made it a little bigger and fuller. We have a fun, upbeat show, and wanted to expand after our first album, based on those shows.”
Ben Kweller — the Texas native, multi-instrumentalist and indie wunderkind — produced the new record. Beggins laughs as he remembers getting an unsolicited call from the Grammy-nominated Texas folk darling last year.
“We got a voicemail from him saying, ‘I’m sure you’ve got hundreds of producers looking to work with you, but I’d like to throw my hat in the ring.’ We looked at each other and we were like, ‘We don’t have any producers knocking on our door!’”
So the band met Kweller in an Austin dive bar, talked music, and then got to work on the album.
But once they crunched the numbers, they found they couldn’t afford to make a professional studio album the way they wanted. Like a lot of upstart artists, they then turned to Kickstarter and crowd-funded it last November. Tapping their hard-core fans and new ones alike, they raised $40,000 with 681 people chipping in to make “The Runaround” happen.
“We did it because we didn’t have the funding,” Beggins explains, “and now we maintain all our publishing rights and we didn’t have to sign some crazy record contract.”
He touts Austin as an ideal incubator for musicians, with its space and affordability, its vibrant live music scene, and the camaraderie and collaboration among musicians. Despite the town’s saturation of talent and ambitious young bands, Wild Child has garnered local and — lately — national attention, winning both the Best Folk Act and Best Indie Act awards at this year’s Austin Music Awards and getting gigs on National Public Radio and “Last Call with Carson Daly.” You may recognize their infectious new song “All These Years” from, um, Purina cat food commercials.
All that is to say that Wild Child is breaking out as a national act. As the band has their moment, Beggins says he’s always amazed to find fans wherever they go. He recalls a tour last summer, caravaning with a group of bands to festivals around the U.S. and Canada.
“It’s cool going to places we’ve never been and having people in the crowd who know the words singing with us,” he says.