The importance of going backwards
Injuring his hand might have been just what Richie James Follin's band needed.
The Willowz lead singer and guitarist hurt his mitt in a car accident in Paris last year. Doctors told him he'd never play another lick. "I just thought they were full of shit," Follin says when asked about his reaction to the potentially career-ending news. "Sometimes I think doctors say those things to get people motivated."
Follin spent hours re-teaching his hand how to play. His chops still aren't quite up to where they were before the accident, and that's OK with Follin. "I can't think of a guitar player I like that's actually a good guitar player," Follin posits. "After you've been playing for so long, it's important to go backwards. Hurting my hand kind of forced me to do that."
The Willowz' punkish garage rock is at its best when it's unrefined. Virtuoso performances would only hinder the band's mojo—retrofitted rock that gains force through austerity. The injury was a way for Follin to develop an even grittier style. "It made my guitar playing a lot better," Follin explains. "It made it a lot rawer."
Follin's bandmates were also pleasantly surprised by the car accident's side effects. The group was working on demos for its fourth album and, Follin says, the tracks sounded stale before the collision. "After this accident happened, I came in with like 10 songs and everybody got super excited about them," the front man recalls.
The Willowz asked Stuart Sikes to produce Everyone, due out this October. Sikes' work with the garage-leaning White Stripes makes him a perfect fit for the project. "The records he's done are some of the best-sounding modern records out," Follin says. "I think he really understood the band. It was a pretty simple choice."
For the first time, The Willowz decided not to record in the home garage studio that had given birth to three previous full-lengths. Follin says there was a push to reclaim some of the angst and nervousness that helped propel his group’s debut release. "With our first record, there was this urgency and almost confusion as to what we were doing," Follin recalls. "We wanted to go back in and try to make ourselves uncomfortable again."
Before the album came to fruition, Follin turned to early Ramones tunes for inspiration. He wanted to borrow a page from the band's youthful, arrogant punk playbook. "When you first hear that stuff, you think everything else kind of sucks," Follin says. “It's so simple, but there's something really magical about it all."
Everyone is a straight-to-the-point, sunny affirmation of unfettered energy. Follin's unblemished tenor voice gushes out of his throat and over vamping guitar work that’s unobtrusive yet crucial to the songs. "This is by far the best thing we've ever done," Follin asserts. "This is the most consistent and the most solid we've ever been as a band."
While The Willowz waits for its record to drop, the group is on tour in support of Southern alt.rock outfit Toadies. (Remember "Possum Kingdom"?) "They're just a good, solid rock band," Follin says of his tourmates. "There's a reason they're still selling out shows."
A Willowz performance has hints of bravado, but it's always done with a wink. "We try not take ourselves too seriously without being a joke band," Follin says. "You're playing rock ’n' roll. How serious can you be?"