The best rock & roll doesn’t have to be heady or pretentious—it has to hit you square between the thighs. The genre’s name was always a feverish, rollicking euphemism for sex, and too often these days, that base, primal essence of what once made it so great is diluted to the point of powerlessness. Nashville band The Wans are a potent antidote to this lack of passion—a pure, concentrated shot of life-saving adrenaline stabbed straight into the flatlined heart of rock & roll.
Singer/guitarist Simon Kerr, bassist Thomas Bragg and drummer Mark Petaccia craft epic, unapologetic rock anthems with instantly memorable hooks built to last. Now gearing up for their third release, the new EP Run Baby Run, they’ve grown into impressive songwriters—not necessarily in the tradition of Bob Dylan or Leonard Cohen, but in the way a band like Led Zeppelin was able to uniquely fuse unforgettable guitar lines with wailing rock vocals, ushering in an era where it was impossible to separate song from performer
“We’re basically a gang of pirates,” Kerr says, “roaming from city to city and hoisting up our flag.” But it’s not just ‘70s stadium rock The Wans are pillaging. They also dabble in turn-of-the-Millennium garage revivalism a la The White Stripes and The Vines, and—above all else—’90s grunge, channeling Alice in Chains and Soundgarden in a way that incinerates the memory of every shitty nü-metal band those two pioneers inadvertently spawned, rewriting history as the space-time continuum branches off circa 1995, going in a different and much more fulfilling musical direction.
“Being in the band and knowing Mark and Thomas for this long inevitably translates to the songs,” Kerr says. “When we’re writing, we can be vulnerable. It’s almost as if we’re of the same mind, even down to the subconscious level. We’re definitely coming into our own and finding our sound.”
The hard-touring Wans have been on the rise for a while now, playing major festivals like Austin City Limits, Forecastle and Hangout Fest, and sharing bills with Pearl Jam, Beck and Queens of the Stone Age. They recorded their 2014 LP, He Said She Said, with Grammy-winning producer Dave Cobb (Jason Isbell, Sturgill Simpson, Chris Cornell), the acclaimed record landing them press at USA Today, NME, Consequence of Sound, Flavorwire, The AV Club and more. Not only that, the band’s music has been featured everywhere from major motion picture Point Break and TV shows like Nashville, Longmire and Necessary Roughness to a powerhouse commercial for BMW's 4 Series Gran Coupe, which was soundtracked by the band’s muscular riff rocker ”Black Pony.”
The Wans’ new six-song EP, Run Baby Run, was produced, recorded and mixed by Vance Powell (Jack White, Arctic Monkeys, Red Fang) at Sputnik Sound in Nashville using all vintage analog gear. The songs were fresh going in, a month old at most, and had only been played on acoustic up to the point they were recorded, so there was a lot of sculpting in the studio, the band experimenting with arrangements and instrumentation, adding Moog synths to sweeten a few of the tracks.
Run Baby Run is chock full of the two essential elements Iggy Pop once said were required to make real rock & roll—sex & danger, as many of the songs are vignettes and meditations on the band’s wild, wanton encounters during a heavy season of touring. But the EP also takes some key inspiration from a less obvious place. “I was listening a lot to Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly, and it really blew me away,” Kerr says. “I think some of the vocal rhythms on Run Baby Run—the way they flow, the lyrical cadence and delivery—were influenced by Kendrick in a big way.”
After four years together, The Wans radiate a rare kind of closeness and camaraderie that comes through their shared experiences on the road, where they strictly adhere to old rock & roll sage Cowboy Jack Clement’s mantra—we’re in the fun business. If we’re not having fun, we’re not doing our jobs. “That’s the mentality we try to bring to it,” Petaccia says. “We do our best to have a good time and capitalize on all the energy while we’re out there, so we can turn around and put it right back into the songs.”
With all of the rock & roll icons we’ve buried this year, it’s high time the next generation of would-be heavy hitters steps up to the plate. It’s a calling that is not lost on The Wans. “When Bowie died and released Blackstar earlier this year, it really affected us,” Kerr says. “We ended up thinking a lot about exactly what it is that musicians do. With The Wans, we’re more committed than we ever have been to leaving behind something of value. Something that—30 or 40 years down the road—will still have an impact. We aim to leave our mark.”