There is no bandleader in Wild Fur. There are only equal partners Nick Jaeger and Wylie Hunter, two veteran songwriters and sidemen hoping to explore ideas they might have missed in previous groups—a move that can often feel like an act of faith.
"A lot of it," Hunter says, "has been letting go of ego and pride and being honest with each other."
For the last decade, Hunter and Jaeger have moved in similar musical circles. Jaeger has played with the crafty roots-rock and pop bands Luego, The Tomahawks and Schooner, and he spent a few years behind the guitar for Roman Candle. Hunter led the bold and intimate Americana act the Cazadores.
But as Wild Fur, they're using those experiences to push their songs into unexpected shapes by writing everything together, as collaborators. That exploration is a challenge to leave old stylistic ruts behind. So far, the varied results, from the soaring, Jim James-like chorus of "St. Gloria" to the upbeat soul-rock of "Made in the Shade," have been convincing. It's not pop, rock, soul, country or electro so much as it is a vibrant export of them all at once. That last song arrives through Wild Fur's debut, a split seven-inch single, to be released Friday at The Cave. They're patching together a full-length album, too, but they're not rushing. They'd rather get it right than get it out quickly, and this process of mutual surrender is a slow one.
"We've been unafraid to take our time," Jaeger says. "If we're rushing something for the sake of rushing, it's not going to be something we want to stand behind. Patience has been a big part of doing it."
Hunter and Jaeger have both led bands with a direct, one-writer structure. The songwriter sits at home, puts together some words and chords, brings it to practice and shows the members how it moves.
Jaeger calls that reactive songwriting, something Hunter says makes it hard for the songwriter to let go of a part that doesn't work or try something they hadn't intended. The band becomes less about the songs than a vehicle for propping up the leader's ego.
"My whole frame of mind with music has been to move with intention instead of reaction," Jaeger says.
"We both got a little disillusioned in the past," echoes Hunter. "That was what brought us together as a musical team."
Asheville's Joshua Carpenter, who claims the other side of the Wild Fur's split single, played with Jaeger in Schooner, getting to know him in the studio or touring in a minivan. He says the decision to start a purely collaborative songwriting project is a daunting challenge, because co-writing exposes the false starts of making music. When Carpenter writes a song, for instance, all the early stumbles take place in private; with a songwriting partner, there's the potentially unwelcome intimacy of having another person witness the mistakes made along the way.
"Saying 'fuck it' and putting yourself out there in front of someone else ... it's gotta be the right someone else," he says. "There's a real comfort zone when you can deliver a finished product and nobody knows the dumb steps you had to take in order to arrive there."
From the start, Wild Fur's solution was to say that there are no bad ideas. Hunter and Jaeger agreed to try any suggestion that came to mind, so long as it might fit the song at hand. They're both playing guitars and keyboards, something neither has ever done in the same band. Jaeger has even lifted a page from hip-hop production, using samples of reversed cymbals to stretch the textures of the tunes.
As a duo, of course, they can't manage all of that live. To fill the gaps, they tapped Some Army and Wichita Falls drummer Brad Porter and Mount Moriah bassist Casey Toll. Porter plays a dual role, drumming and triggering samples. Such expansion might suggest that Jaeger and Hunter are compromising the intimate, democratic focus that formed the foundation of the project—breaking their bubble, allowing interlopers into their brain trust. And all of these acts—Schooner, Wild Fur, Wichita Falls—fall under the Potluck Foundation umbrella, a loose, label-like confederation of stylistically divergent bands that often feature the same members. The leader of one band plays bass in another, and so on.
But Hunter says that this shared-songwriting approach has challenged everyone, live members included, to stretch musically. Jaeger points out that Porter is an adaptive, flexible drummer, capable of shifting style changes to fit the situation, just as he did on a Schooner tour when he replaced Carpenter behind the kit.
"As the tour progressed, Brad started playing more and more like Josh," Jaeger recalls. "I just saw Brad become what he needed to be."
Rather than sacrifice the lessons of co-writing—exercises in creative openness and diminished egos—Jaeger and Hunter share them by working with area musicians with résumés and tastes as varied and deep as theirs.
"Our M.O. from the beginning has been moving with purpose," Hunter says, glancing at Jaeger and anticipating what he'll add.
"That's been through the whole project," Jaeger answers.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Domesticated partners."