Interview: Conor Stratton of Wheels


Though it is perhaps more likely that a confident Americana quintet would emerge from the streets of Yellow Springs, Ohio, than someplace in the U.K. (i.e. Mumford & Sons), it’s still surprising that five guys barely out of high school would emerge so fully-formed, refined and with an older-than-their-years sound steeped in folk tradition. But that’s exactly what you get with Wheels, who sold 1,000 copies of their debut, Fields on Fire, and raised $6,000 via Kickstarter a year later for their breathtaking follow-up, Big Feeling.
As is the case of all progressive bands, a willingness to rest on laurels isn’t part of Wheels’ DNA.  Already planning an EP, writing for a new full-length, booking 2013 tour plans and picking up instruments they’ve never used before, Wheels are headed in one direction – to the next-level.
Ghettoblaster recently caught up with guitarist Conor Stratton, discussing the band’s participation in the recent Downtown Dayton Revival festival, his college studies and their ambitious future plans and new artistic directions. Here’s what he told us …
Were you an original member of Wheels?
Actually I joined last year. Jamie (Scott) and I became good friends about two years ago. We were going to school together at Sinclair and we started hanging out and playing music on our own time. When Wheels was looking for another guitarist and songwriter they invited me to play with them.
Was it a difficult decision to decide to pursue college plans versus trying to do the band full-time?
It would have been a difficult decision, but since Sam (Salazar) and Sam (Crawford) are so young they needed to graduate from high school before we could hit the road too hard. In the meantime, the older guys figured that there wouldn’t be a better time than now to try and get as much college as we could out of the way.
With the atmosphere the way it is with major labels now, do you think it is important to handle your own destiny by being a career music businessperson?
The coming of age with technology has had a huge effect on record labels. Downloading, iTunes, YouTube have made it so that people don’t have to go to the record labels as a source for their music delivery. So labels have less of a role in how bands succeed in the music industry. The desire for a record label has diminished with our band because there is seemingly less of an advantage to going that route and having a label. There are more resources available now for people who are trying to do things on their own.
You guys have had some significant success doing things on your own; you raised $6,000 for your latest record via Kickstarter, right?
Yeah, that was definitely a good experience for us. We didn’t know what to expect with the Kickstarter. None of us knew how well it was going to end up going. It was very satisfying to have so many of our supporters communicate to us that they wanted the album so badly that they were willing to pay for it.
You guys had a big summer; you played the Downtown Dayton Revival, correct?
Yeah, that was pretty awesome. Working with Matt Luongo, who invited us to play, taught us a lot about how to get your foot in the door with bigger things like that and shined a light on it. It helped me a lot in how I approach booking now.
Where do you see the band’s direction headed in the future?
Early on in the career of the band the influence was definitely Old Crow Medicine Show, The Avett Brothers and other stuff like that that took heavily from the folk and traditional music side of things. If you were to ask us today, I think our songwriting influences have changed. What is predominantly going on right now is that we are seeking other options. We are seeking a wider spectrum of things that we are able to do.
With Big Feeling we experimented with electric instruments and piano, which we’d never used as a band and was somewhat limiting. We also have a drum set now and we’ve been using that for a lot of songs. We want to be able to be as versatile as we can and have the most exciting shows that we can play. So we have three new songs with a typical set up with a drum set. It still sounds like Wheels, though. We want to maintain those roots that we established when we were busking on the streets of Yellow Springs, but also be conscious of making moves that will allow us to go into a concert atmosphere and get people rocking out too.
Our fans have been fantastic to us, especially here in Dayton. And we’re super excited to play at Canal Street. Every time we play there, the longest and truest of the fans that we have come to support us. We always have such a good time there.