Prior to their June 1st Great Scott gig, we had a chance to chat with Max Helmerich from LA-based Wilderado, an alternative indie band whose mix of folky grittiness and anthemic rock may bring to mind the likes of Kings of Leon or The Fratellis. Hear the story behind the name change from Bird Dog to Wilderado, learn the identity of “Petra Rae,” and what to expect for the band’s upcoming single.
THE STORY BEHIND THEIR OLD NAME, BIRD DOG
Basically there was a Bird Dog, and I think there still is a Bird Dog in Brooklyn. When we chose the name, I grew up spending lots of time with my grandpa and hunting quail, that’s his bird dog, so I kinda thought that was a cool ode to that and when we did the mandatory check to see if there were other bands… there’s like fifteen, and one of them was started in the 80s, a couple of them were cover bands, you know what I mean? I almost thought there was protection in numbers. So I went ahead and bought the trademark and we just started operating under that name.
And then we ended up playing twice in Brooklyn in one month, just kind of randomly, and after the second show we ended up getting a pre-cease and desist where the guy who runs the other Bird Dog sent us a letter saying his lawyers were prepared to take action if we didn’t change our name because they had had it and they were getting ready to put out their third EP and had been working under that title for a while.
So, long story short, was there was no point in trying to fight it. It just seemed shitty to take their name if they actually were using it and trying to continue using it. We ended up just having to bail on it, which was hard because I had an emotional connection to it and my grandpa passed away not too long after all that happened. At the end of the day I understood where they were coming from and if I was in their shoes I would’ve felt the same way.
ON CHOOSING THE WILDERADO MONIKER
Anyway, the first day of tour the drummer and I had to go ahead of the rest of the guys. We were driving late at night and we just passed this little town in texas called Wildorado. They spelled it with an O so it kinda looked like “wildo rado,” and we kept seeing “dildo” when we looked at that word, to tell you the truth. So we changed it to Wilderado. It was an awesome name; we felt like it embodied our music, it was nowhere online, and we liked the idea of it being a single word, and it having this, not confusion, but almost, like mystique, to it… wondering what it is and what it’s about. Just kinda perfect, you know?
Also our drummer does all of our design stuff and it’s a really great symmetrical word. It kinda hit all of our boxes so we all got pretty stoked on it and went to work on making the transition. Which was nice because it was pretty early on. We didn’t really have too much going or that large of a following. So to be able to switch at that time was a blessing in disguise.
ON THE STORY BEHIND “UNDER THE WEATHER“
I come from a big family and the youngest girl had just gotten out of a relationship. Her and I are really close. We always joke, she’s intimidatingly cool—she’s the baby and just came out somehow way cooler than all of us. She was going through some heartache and I thought it was kinda a funny way of relating to somebody by telling them it’s OK, there’s times that it’s alright to be an asshole, or hurt, just as long as you’re honest about it and don’t remain there. That was just me trying to relate to her and give her some advice and let her know that, even when you’re really hurting, people still love you while you’re not at your best.
I’ve always kinda wondered if people thought that [it was about sex]. That [line, “I promise I won’t come”] honestly was kinda a joke, because she’s always like, sarcastically, if I was to come hang out all of a sudden it would suck. It was an inside joke of I’m going to send you on a trip but don’t worry, I’m not going to come with you. And Chief is the name of her cat.
ON MOVING ON FROM THE BACHELOR STUDIO
The [Latino Canyon] one is gone now. Basically that was like, the bachelor studio, if you will. Then I got married and Tyler got married and it stopped being as cool for us to not be around our families. So we said goodbye to it, and we have a little basement spot that I found on Craigslist in Englewood California, which is like South LA.
We share it with one other band so we split it and we kinda just use it for where we rehearse and write and work. And it’s got a cool upstairs garage that we both keep our miscellaneous gear and stuff. It’s kinda like the storage room slash rehearsal space. It’s a game changer. When you’re in town to be able to go and have your stuff already set up and not have to build it and tear it down… it’s kinda the difference between doing it and not doing it.
ON FINALLY DOING THEIR HOMEWORK (GETTING LYRICS UP ON THEIR SITE)
We get a lot of questions on that, which I love… that’s my favorite part. It’s cool for people to be wanting to read it. It was kind of a joke in between us, just because there are so many things our management is asking us to do, and since we do it all ourselves we kinda feel like high school boys that just won’t do anything, you know what I mean? For months and months we were like ‘we gotta get the lyrics on the site, we gotta get the lyrics on the site…’ so once they were up it felt like we did our homework for once.
ON THE TITLE OF “PETRA RAE”
That’s my wife! On her birth certificate her parents only gave her Natalia P—she never had a whole middle name or a word for a middle name. So she called herself Petra Rae, which I thought was funny. She spelled it the same way my mom spells her name, Rae, so I just thought that was a cool word to try to put into a song.
ON SONGWRITING: GOING FROM VAGUE TO SPECIFIC
My favorite thing in writing lyrics is to go from the vague to the specific as often as I can. I’ve always loved that in other people’s writing. I just saw Matt Berninger in the grocery store (he’s from the National) and I think he does that a lot—where he’s talking about something pretty broad and then all of a sudden he’ll say something specific, or a name, or… I just think it’s cool because it hones in on it being personal while allowing it to also be whatever it happens to be to someone it doesn’t relate to at all.
ON CONCEPT ALBUMS AND ANDY SHAUF’S THE PARTY
Honestly, I’ve talked never talked to the dudes about [concept albums] but I’ve always loved that idea. I love screenplays and I love reading those and thinking about those films or TV shows and I always thought that is such a cool musical adaptation of the screenplay to basically score something like that: do a concept album where you try to take a big idea. But I thought that [Andy Shauf] record was so cool; he did it so perfectly. Everyone knows what it’s like to go to those parties and there are so many personal stories every time you go, especially if you get really fucked up. There are so many pockets of times where weird little things happen. I thought he did such a good job with of pinpointing all of those.
ON MUSIC THEY’VE BEEN LISTENING TO LATELY
Microwave—literally on the road we play that every time we’re in the car. There’s something so good about it. I don’t know if their singer writes all their songs or how it works but whoever does it… they’re not very ABAB, they’ve got these cool intricate parts but a lot of singable hooks. I’m a sucker for the collective moment. You gotta check that record out. It gets a little bit… hardcore is not the right word, but he really screams at some points and it’s just so, so good.
Hold on, I’ve got it right here. (Sounds of rifiling through things.) Yeah, Microwave, Much Love.
ON WRITING SONGS ABOUT HIS DAUGHTER
The struggle for me is, how many times can I stop myself from saying Milly or Amelia in a song because at some point it’s like bro, stop saying your kid’s name in all of your music. But I think that’s the stage in life that I’m in so whenever I’m writing she’s somewhere in there. Our very next song that we put out will be the first one I ever wrote for her—it’s just called Milly. She’s in a lot, like I said, all I can do is think about where I am. She’s cool though, it’s a trip. It is a trip.
You can catch Wilderado perform live, opening for British act Blossoms, at Great Scott tonight.