Remember those FreeCreditReport.com Advertisements?
The ones with an innocuous band singing about credit score pitfalls, while making noise at a seafood restaurant, a Renaissance fair, or a subcompact car?
Well, a FreeCreditReport.com jingle was the first thing Wanda Wesolowski learned to play guitar.
“When I started,” she says, “I couldn’t really imagine learning full songs, and I really loved those commercials. I was just playing jingles to my parents to make them laugh. Then, at age 16, Wesolowski entered a contest to write jingles for the software company his mother worked for. And she won.
Fast forward to the present. Wesolowski is in her early twenties and one of Alabama’s most promising young singer/songwriter/guitarists.
One recent afternoon, we meet for an interview at a cafe on the west side of Huntsville, near her home. She wears faded jeans and denim jacket, a yellow t-shirt, translucent eyeglass frames, and an honest smile. Now using only her professional first name, Wanda releases her debut album on November 13.
The first single from the album is a heartbroken indie-rock song titled “Lazy Susan”. On the track, Wanda’s beautiful blue voice caresses the melodies but never compresses them. Meanwhile, his four-piece band sparkles simpatico, blending jazz and vintage R&B into the sound.
She spent three years writing “Lazy Susan,” born to a skillful and infectious guitar intro. “Every time I got to the guitar, I started playing it,” Wanda says. “And finally I got that first line.” She quietly sings this line, “I’ve been getting screwed for days,” to me. “And I was like, ‘Ooh, that sounds like a jingle! It’s almost like this (pharmaceutical) drug business feeling of, ‘Are you bound to be too stoned and think about your ex? Well , listen to the band Wanda. You know, that feeling of just being in a bad space but I like that.
Wanda says it’s easy for her and the band “to waste four hours playing together, switching instruments, whatever. We all kinda like the same things. Drummer Nick Recio is known for his work with Americana combo Great Peacock and classic rock cues Black Jacket Symphony. His ride cymbal simmers on “Lazy Susan”. More on Wanda’s follow-up single “Talking to Yourself”, a track evoking the best of Radiohead – you know, when Radiohead sounds like a band instead of an art installation.
Wanda bassist Andrew Sharpe of local UK rockers Toy Shop has been a friend since they met years ago at an open mic hosted by Sharpe. She considers Sharpe a musical mentor. It was guitarist Jasen Tehan who lent Wanda a Stratocaster, the iconic guitar that has now become her go-to. Turns out a Strat was a glove for his fingering game, honed over his years as a solo acoustic player. Wanda met keyboardist Bransen Edwards at a cafe where she was a barista. Her Wurly solo on “Lazy Susan” sparkles like starlight.
Narrative music videos, compared to live music videos, can be risky for local or even regional artists. It is too easy to exaggerate, to overact, to overproduce. And star-power is not subscription-based. However, Wanda’s “That ’70s Show”-inspired video looks like it could slip in between clips from hot national talent such as Snail Mail and Soccer Mommy. Taylor Provencher directed the “Lazy Susan” video. It’s basically the Wanda band jamming and chilling amid the wooden panels while wearing thrift store clothes. Still, he looks fantastic. Without looking thirsty. When asked the key to making a non-embarrassing music video, Wands said, “It’s about finding the right people to work on it. People who think it’s cool, who understand the vision.
Wanda and her band recorded and produced her album at Studio 144, with Shoals The Pollies singer/guitarist Jay Burgess. The 10-song set changes genres, from the shadows of The Cure to the soul of Muscle Shoals to Johnny Cash. Wanda, a fan of the Pollies’ psycho-tinged power-pop, credits Burgess with helping tie all those decades together. During the sessions, she stayed at a nearby motel to keep the mood going. “I’m far from home, I’m breaking a record. I did it very intentionally,” Wanda says. She pauses and then adds, “I take it very seriously.”
Wanda decided to do the mononym after many people had trouble pronouncing and spelling her surname. “It was just easier,” she says. “And honestly, there aren’t a lot of women named Wanda these days, so I think that’s pretty cool.”
She and I talk about some of the coolest musicians of the same name – Slash, Madonna, Sting, Cher, etc. Wanda says Pink is her favorite: “I like a good anthem.” Shades of Pink’s power-pop can be heard on Wanda’s track “Virginia Is For Lovers,” though it’s an organic recipe.
Speaking of names, Wanda’s album title is brilliant: “One-Hit”. As in “One-Hit Wanda”, a play on the showbiz term “one-hit wonder”, i.e. an artist with only one hit in his entire career. “The band and I thought about what would happen if we were one-hit wonders and how that’s almost the dream,” she says. “So we were like, ‘Let’s just predict it.'”
And if you think about it, there’s never been a better time to be a one-off wonder. Between reality TV, social networks, television commercials and nostalgic tours, there is no shortage of ways to fall back into pop culture. Once a star always a threat. Additionally, Wanda says, “I’d rather be a has-been than a never-been.”
I have known Wanda Wesolowski for years. Back when she was a teenage singer/songwriter, she was certainly solid in that area. Since then, it has progressed at the speed of Ferrari. “It was just a good five years, formative years, playing as much as possible and consuming as many songs as possible,” Wanda explains. “I’ve had these songs for a while, but they didn’t really translate with just a guitar and a singer. I felt like those emotions in these songs are bigger, so I need a sound bigger. I need a group.
Wanda and her band will perform an album release show at 7 p.m. on November 14 at Huntsville’s Golden Sprint Coffee, address 2515 9th Ave. SW Huntsville rock band Them Damn Dogs opens the show. Coverage is $7. More info on www.wandaband.com.
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