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By Laia Gore Music Photography
By Laia Gore Music Photography

WD-HAN aka WE DON’T HAVE A NAME … but they do!
Florida based indie pop rockers WD-HAN were in town for a quick reconnaissance mission and to play a few selected dates. AM’s Greg Phillips caught up with Spencer, Cal and Lea from the band for a chat.

Self-belief is a powerful thing. Florida based trio WD-HAN (short for We Don’t Have A Name) know in their heart that they have some strong songs, a great live sound and are intent on taking it to the world one step at a time. Late last year they released their debut album Kings of Castles, featuring ten quality, impeccably produced pop rock tracks. Across America, they’ve had a few little wins along the way, each time reaching further into the market they’d dearly like to break. The wins are becoming more frequent, the reach is becoming wider. They’ve played gigs in various American cities, toured Taiwan last year and at the time of our interview were in Melbourne, Australia.

The AM interview

Lead singer Spencer Barnes grew up in Melbourne but moved to America in 2002. He’s visited a couple of times since but for guitarist Cal Henry and drummer Lea Campbell, this is their first Australian trip. I attempted to obtain Cal’s opinion on the Melbourne music scene from the short time he’d been here but he was more excited about another aspect of Melbourne’s culture.  “The food here is so delicious'” he beamed. “That’s what amazed me first. I have been friends with Spencer for years and he’s always saying you gotta come to Australia but I never once heard about the food.”

The band used the wedding of Spencer’s sister in Melbourne as an excuse to come down and play some shows. Most of them, like the wedding were private shows but they did mange to squeeze in one public gig at the Old Bar in Fitzroy. WD-HAN are no strangers to playing private gigs and most of them are for charities. Their trip to Taiwan was an example of the band’s commitment to compassion. “We all sat down when we first formed the band and agreed that we would try to be a bit more than just about the music,” explains Spencer. “It’s easy to get … to use an Aussie phrase … up yourself but if we know of a charity that we feel we can help out, come down and play some music for, we’ve done it. Last May with the Taiwan trip … that was an incredibly serendipitous thing where  a social betterment enterprise was looking for some people to tour around Taiwan, to do human rights education. So it was educating the school kids and university kids on the declaration of human rights. We thought it was a worthwhile cause and the organisers loved our music so we got a chance to go there. We spent a few weeks really being in amongst it. Cal had his big guitar case walking the streets. We’d perform acoustically for the kids, Cal playing guitar and Lea playing percussion on the guitar case.”

The album Kings of Castles was put together in a relatively short period of time. It began with a few songs and a couple of five hour trips to Miami to lay down initial tracks. Fortuitously, their producer Matt LaPlant then decided to travel to a studio closer to the band and under more convenient conditions, the remainder of the songs and recordings emerged quite rapidly. The sound which the band has arrived at is partly just a sum of its parts but also a result of producer LaPlant’s creative input. “Initially, we showed Matt our existing stuff and some ideas that we had been playing with,” recalls Spencer. “Wearing the producer hat, he said it’s time to refine this into a band sound, so I would say we play pop, rock with a blues flavour. A lot of Cal’s taste is … well, we all love classic rock but with Cal, I think he has every Hendrix CD ever released. I’ll talk about him like he’s not here but Cal plays an incredible blues guitar with that great crunchy tone and we will just write a pop song that we think is fun and then add Cal’s flavour to it.”

Impromptu Melbourne jam
Impromptu Melbourne jam

Inspired by their debut album experience, the band is keen to start workshopping some new song ideas and begin toiling on a follow up recording. Spencer in particular learned much from watching LaPlant weave his production magic on Kings of Castles. “I was really fascinated with the process layering of sounds,” says Spencer. “To give you an example, we were working on one of the tracks, Shoot Me Down, the first track on the CD. I was sitting in the control room and started whistling along to one of the riffs. Matt, the producer turned around and said, THAT!  What did you just do? He got me in the booth immediately and said do that whistle. I did it and he said do it again, and then do it again, and again. So I had these layers. He then said now do it backwards. We worked out how to do it backwards and I’m thinking, the guy’s mad. So with reverb and compression, he got this choir of whistles happening and Cal layered some guitar over it. I thought it was going to be this mish-mash of a thing but he added this whole layer to the verse of the song and I loved it. So I think what I learned as a musician was about that thinking outside the box and it’s not always just guitar based. Anything that makes a sound is available to you.”

With so much happening sonically on their album and only three people to recreate the songs on stage, WD-HAN make clever use of technology to embellish their live sound but without ever detracting from the human experience. “It’s just to fatten up any electronic part that we need, that the three of us couldn’t do with just guitar and claps and drums,” says Cal. It’s all launched on stage by drummer Lea. “I do some triggering to bring in some of the album sounds,” says Lea. “I have a pretty cool system. It’s called a Roland TM2, so it’s the brain with the different pieces and we have samples of sounds from our album. I’l play my normal drums and have my drum triggers which key the sounds we need. Cal has his guitar and a whole slew of effects. He does vocals, I do vocals. Spencer does vocals and whistles and percussion. I have percussion … so we beef it up. I don’t try to fit everything that is on the album into a live show because it would sound messy. We pulled out specific parts that we thought would enhance the show. It takes it to a whole new level. ”

Gear-wise the band doesn’t require an armada of equipment to achieve their sound, just the right kind of tools. Cal Henry gets great value from the few pieces of gear he utilises. “For the album, I used mostly the gear that I own,” he says. “I have a Taylor DN4 acoustic. There’s a luthier up in the Seattle area named Mike Lull and I have one of his guitars which I love. It’s got Lindy Fralin Pickups. Our producer brought in a guitar which his dad had … some sort of Gibson acoustic which we used for the song Steady Hands and that sounded cool. I want to get one but really I stuck with what I had. We were able to use the effects through the computer and I have the AxeFXII and I haven’t explored even 95 percent of what it’s capable of doing. I love the real natural sound you get out of it. But I kept to what I had mainly so that I could replicate it live.”

WD-HAN play the Old Bar
WD-HAN play the Old Bar

The only other gear to be found on stage apart from Lea’s  Roland TM2 sampler, is her drum kit. “I’ve got a Gretsch Catalina maple kit, all Zildjian cymbals, so I get warm beefy tones. I got it just over a year ago. Prior to that I had been using my starter kit from when I was a kid.”

Spencer, Cal and Lea are proud of the many things they have achieved so far but the creation of their debut album still ranks at the top. “We’ve had some great moments,” says Spencer on reflection. “We won a competition and had our video played in Central Park, New York to 30,000 people. It was before the Global Citizen Music Festival in 2012. That night they had Alicia Keys, John Mayer, Kings of Leon and Stevie Wonder playing. Just before Kings of Leon came on, we had our video played on this huge screen. We were in the front row, it was incredible. We have opened for bands like Motion City Soundtrack and New Politics. So those things are nice, like little beacons on the road but the achievement I am most proud of is our album, a ten song album that we funded ourselves and promoting ourselves and working with a great producer. For any other musicians reading this, they will understand how much work and persistence there is to getting an album out.

Apart from the fact that the three band members are all talented musicians, possibly the band’s greatest virtue is that they are best friends. They love creating music together, feeding off each other’s creativity and don’t mind a bit of hard work. They even devised a personal mantra of ‘drill, drill,drill’. Upon return to Florida they’ll begin writing new material, refine their live show and build on their ever-increasing fan base. For lead singer Spencer Barnes, the plan is quite simple. “We’d just love to play to as many people as possible, see the world and make music.”

We fire six more quick ones at WD-HAN at the Grace Darling Hotel

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