Hailing from Birmingham, Ala., Wild Sweet Orange is making headway with their music. With tinges of folk rock, blues and even the occasional saloon-sounding uptempo country twang, Wild Sweet Orange is easy, pleasant listening—the kind of music that, after filtering through your ears, makes its way to your heart and has you believing its message. In an interview with RELEVANT, Wild Sweet Orange singer/guitarist Preston Lovinggood and drummer Chip Kilpatrick talked openly about life on the road, moon bounces and growing up in the “hyper-conservative” South.
You mention on your website that your new album, We Have Cause to Be Uneasy, is titled as such because our generation tends to get looked down upon for asking questions. What are the questions we should be asking?
Preston Lovinggood: This record comes from a place where, at 18 years old, my friends and I found ourselves already going through our midlife crisis … feeling helpless and sad, and feeling really poor spiritually and completely dissatisfied with what we grew up with. It was finally coming out of that cynicism and being OK with being unhappy and maybe not focusing so much on the sadness, or even the issues, but just realizing that we’re going to do something that makes us happy, and maybe everything will fall into place.
The questions we were asking were why. Why are things this way? Why do people spend so much money on houses and drive Mercedes while people are starving? Why are all of our parents having affairs? I think it was finally coming to a place of, “Why do I want to buy a Mercedes,” and asking those kinds of questions to ourselves. We’re all in this same boat together. The record is saying that we all do have cause to be uneasy, and we all have made mistakes. The generations before us have made big mistakes, but we’re going to screw up, too—especially if it stays being a pendulum, where one person does one extreme, and another person the exact opposite.
Your song “Land of No Return” was featured on Grey’s Anatomy. Did this serve as a springboard for you as a band?
PL: Even with David Letterman and Grey’s Anatomy, what those things did was give us a lot of street cred with parents, and maybe some grocery-store fame. Maybe we’re not seeing what it’s done for us, but it probably has helped us. Just being a part of pop culture, and playing on Letterman and Grey’s Anatomy was exciting, and really pleasing to be a part of people’s homes and living rooms.
How has growing up in the “hyper-conservative” South, as you call it, affected your perceptions of God?
Chip Kilpatrick: I met Preston in a Southern Baptist church in first grade. I was in church until I was 18 years old, and it’s affected everything. We grew up in a huge megachurch. We were the poster child for churches in our area. There were a lot of things that were happening genuinely, where people were trying to do good with what they had, but it ended up being a huge distraction for myself and a lot of our friends. It seemed like they took God and put Him in a big moon bounce, turning it into this thing where the focus wasn’t on your spirituality or your personal relationship.
PL: We’re all in this together. One thing I know is that it was an interesting place for us all to grow up.
CK: My spirituality has completely shifted. I find myself married to a Roman Catholic, and if you would have told me that five, 10 years ago, I would have laughed in your face. Part of the beauty for me is the beauty of the journey, which is a beautiful way to look at it, because it takes so much of the pressure off of you … and everything is part of it—this rock ’n’ roll show, even. We are all part of this.
PL: There is something about the creative person, and about the artist, that I think the Southern Baptist Church isn’t touching or relating to. But I want to say that my mom and my sister still go to that Baptist church and it’s really awesome for them. And I look back and I think about most of the people I grew up with, [and they were] the kindest people. I know I can call them, stranded in, I don’t know, Albuquerque, and they would fly and help me out. The thing about growing up in that “hyper-conservative” South was that there was this absoluteness about who God was—which is good in some ways, but if there was anything that threatened the things that people thought about God, it was thought to be untrue. We all have a soul, and we all have a brain, too. We all should be able to look at the sun, and ask what it means to you personally, or ask how a rainstorm makes you feel. I think God is so big and so beautiful and fully compassionate and fully love. And it’s not that we didn’t learn those things [in church], but when there is just so much pain and sorrow and beauty and life, I think that to put God in a box can be really hard for a lot of people.
What I want to be, more than anything else, is just a human being. A normal person experiencing life. And the thing (for me) about growing up in the South, and growing up in that church, was that I didn’t feel a part of humanity. I don’t want to feel different because of some self-righteous view.
You were all in a band together before Wild Sweet Orange, called Old American Dream. You broke up, went to college, only to reunite as Wild Sweet Orange. What changed the second time around?
PL: I think it was me finally pushing that arbitrary thing off my back, feeling the pressure from my town and parents to go to school. It was finally me realizing that I didn’t have to please them;I can please myself, and it can still be a good thing. Sometimes I wish the everydayness of working and having a home and a family was for me. There is something romantic about that. And someday we will have that, but it’s going to look different for everybody.
Are you ever tempted by that?
CK: Nope. I thought I would be, but I’ve always known I wanted to play music for a living, so I’ve tried to make that what I work toward. But, as most musicians will tell you, you have to find something else to do in the meantime, or else, you know, you’ll starve. I learned how to make cabinets, and that was what I did for a while.
What’s your advice to people wanting to pursue music?
PL: The thing about being creative, and being an artist, is that touring (or whatever you do) is for people, for the world. If you don’t have people listening to you, or caring about what you care about, it’s easy to get really depressed and to give up. My advice to someone who has searched their heart, and knows that music is what they want to do, is simply not to give up. Do everything [you] can to take steps every day to get better at your art. Not necessarily to get famous or rich, but to get better at your art. Then I think once you’ve created something like that—something that is truly art—then the world can’t help but take notice. That’s what we did.
As a band, what are you trying to say with your music?
CK: It’s interesting for me because I’m a drummer, and while I feel like I can express myself through my playing, it’s hard to put these thoughts into words—because playing instruments, you put your emotions fully into the music. For me, when [Preston] first started writing these songs and bringing them to me, I thought they were great. So what I tried to do was lift them up, and play around them—not to be distracting, but to be supportive. I feel like that’s what it’s like for all four of us. It was this beautiful pedestal. We want these songs to be shown to people clearly. Anything I do, while getting my emotions out doing it, I don’t want to distract from the meaning behind the music.
PL: I have this image in my head every time we play of a big, empty house. And someone walks in and smells the house, and remembers every single thing has happened in their life leading up to that moment. Remember how beautiful life can be, even though everything is a nightmare. Where we [all] are right now is important, because it’s all we have.
Wild Sweet Orange on Letterman