Rabbit Wilde is arguably the biggest Bellingham-based musical act at the moment. The 4-piece band has a joyful and earthy sound. They recently released their second album and we recently had a chance to sit down with all members of the band.
Zach Hamer—lead guitar, vocals, kick drum + harmonica
Nathan Hamer—ukulele, vocals + mandolin
Miranda Zickler—vocals, banjo, rhythm guitar, percussion + piano
Jillian Walker—cello + vocals
I heard you first at a car show, then saw you again at an all-ages show after Jillian joined and it seemed like you found a missing piece. Did it feel like that for you guys?
Nathan: Yeah. It gave us those ambient tones. There is way more that a cello can do than a plucking base—it can sustain and swell. That changed the dynamics of each song.
I have heard the story a couple times. You had to go to New York to become friends and come back here. Tell us about the decision to come back here to make a go of it.
Miranda: Actually, the day we met in New York was the day before I was leaving to come back to the Pacific Northwest. Zach and I individually had been hopping between Brooklyn and Mt. Vernon. Nate was in school. We didn’t know where we were going to end up. I came back for what I thought would be a month. Zach was unable to find an apartment in New York so he came back to the Northwest and we started playing together.
Zach: After I had been home for a few days I was asked if my brother and I would come play at a spot in Mt. Vernon where we used to play all the time. I said, “well he’s in New York but there is this other person I’ve been playing with. Can we do it?” Two days later we went and played a show.
Miranda: It was rough!
Nathan: I came back from spring break, the three of us played together and we felt something. I was home over the summer and we played some shows. It was picking up steam. We did the Br’er Rabbit EP together. We made the decision to do this for two years as I entered my last semester. We would put all of our effort into it and see if anything came out of it. Even if it failed miserably it would only be for two years.
Miranda: And it didn’t fail miserably!
So when is the two years up?
Jillian: We’re way past 2 years.
Nathan: Well actually I came back from school in 2013 and then we said let’s try this for real.
Everyone: So it’s been three years.
Miranda: When we came back we toyed around with the idea making our homebase either Bellingham or Seattle. We chose Bellingham because it’s such a cozy, nice scene. It is a really nice place to come home to. The plan was to tour a lot from the get-go. We wanted somewhere where we could rent a house with a music room and be comfortable without stressing about how to pay the bills. Having the Green Frog and the Wild Buffalo has created a really cozy home base for us here.
Zach: Miranda was actually the one who suggested Bellingham. I had been living in Mt. Vernon, had spent most of my young adult life in New York or somewhere else and had only played a couple shows in Bellingham. I didn’t really know the town. We just kind of moved here. It turns out it is the perfect size. It has a small town feel but also has some bigger city things.
Miranda: The music scene for a town of this size is just insane.
Zach: Yeah. The amount of live music venues is great.
Miranda: Like What’s Up Magazine—it’s crazy to have a free music scene publication in a town the size of Bellingham.
Nathan: After being on tour for a month or two to come to a town that is thriving but not huge is good. There is already enough chaos in big cities.
Zach: We play in small cities and big cities and we’re in lots of towns with other energies. It is nice to come home to a place that is calm.
Where the excitement is subdued?
Jillian: [haha] Yes. You hit that nail on the head there.
As people who constantly travel to new places what does Bellingham need?
Miranda: Whole Foods
Well I have good news.
Jillian: They’re actually coming. I am very happy about that.
Zach: I don’t know. Maybe this is controversial but I think that we need Uber or Lyft.
Jillian: We do have Uber now.
Zach: Well nevermind then—it’s perfect!
Nathan: The cool thing about Bellingham is there are enough people interested in the art scene that they are constantly developing things to make it better—like all ages shows. Between the campus, Make.Shift, and the Green Frog more places for all ages to experience concerts are popping up.
Miranda: Honestly I’m still trying to come up with something that Bellingham needs.
Nathan: A veggie grill!
Miranda: A vegan restaurant!
Jillian: Yes, that would be lovely. It is actually shocking that there is not a vegan restaurant in Bellingham already.
Zach: That would be the one thing.
Nathan: Not a hoity toity vegan restaurant either.
Zach: A junk food vegan restaurant.
Miranda: Yeah, for sure. No raw foods. [Ha ha]
Jillian: A vegan bakery maybe?
Nathan, did you end up finishing school?
Miranda: He’s the only one. [laughs]
I have my two year degree—did the Running Start thing.
Zach: I have my AA as well.
Jillian: I think I might have my AA. I went to school one year in Washington State then about a year and a half total at Western. I was there for a full year, took some time off to work. Then as soon as I had a plan and declared my major I met these guys. I thought, well my parents will probably be happy that they don’t have to pay this time. If I ever had the time or money to go back I probably would, but i’m ok right now.
If money were no object and you had all the time in the world what would you go study?
Nathan: Music and Film.
Zach: Studying for me—if I’m not going to a university—is just experience. I would, write, direct, act and make movies. That is one of our goals anyway but it requires a lot of money to do yourself. I would study through that experience.
Nathan: If I had unlimited time and money I would just make as many art projects as I could without needing to work.
Miranda: If school is the question I think it would be SO fun to study Musical Theater—and SO dorky. But also I went out to New York with the intention of studying ASL interpretation because I had done several years of that through Running Start. I think I would add that to my other passions.
Jillian: I think I would be on the art track as well. I would do photography, painting, or I would go back to dance and work on that.
What do people misunderstand about being a professional musician?
Jillian: They think it’s glamorous 100% of the time.
Miranda: Do people really though? I think now with the internet it is a lot easier for people to see that it is not glamorous.
Nathan: I’ll say this and I think this is what a lot of people entering into the music profession think—you never ever feel like you’ve made it or are accomplished. We are not anywhere near the level that a lot of our idols are at. We’re still bottom rung and climbing up. We have grown at a surprising rate but we are always wanting to reach more. You gotta enjoy the journey.
Zach: There is no such thing as making it. You shouldn’t ever “make it” because that would be a plateau.
I think probably the biggest misunderstood thing is just the amount of work. We work all the time. When we are on the road it’s like twenty-four hours of work. When we’re not working we are sleeping and our sleep is brief.
Miranda: Now we have a manger and a publicist who work while we are sleeping.
Nathan: We are doing all the ground work ourselves so when we are not playing a show, or preparing for a show, or rehearsing, we are doing the groundwork.
Zach: It’s a lot of office work.
Miranda: It’s a lot of social media. It’s also a lot of manual labor to load in and out of venues.
If we go on stage at eleven we get to the venue at five, four, or earlier and it’s a least a two hour drive from our house or hotel. So our day can start twelve hours before we get on stage.
Jillian: Even sitting in the car takes a lot out of you. I don’t know why or how but it physically tires you out if you do it for a month. Even the time we’re relaxing in the van is work.
All reports are that you guys have a blast on stage. You are all smiles. You seem like you are having fun and it’s infectious. Is it hard to get to that point after being in the car all day?
Miranda: Sometimes it really is. Sometimes the first five minutes on stage are like—Ok time to go. I’m happy and excited and I so want to be here.
Zach: Part of it is the kind of music we play. We write and play music we enjoy. Even if we are all in a bad mood when we get out of the van when we start playing most of the things I feel tend to melt away.
Nathan: Unless there is a huge issue on stage, which rarely happens, I find myself in a good mood by the time I get off stage.
Zach: Even if an amp explodes on stage I find myself getting back into the groove three songs later just because I enjoy the music. It’s hard to be mad when you are listening to music.
Jillian: If I can tell that the audience is having a good time that can turn it around for me. If I can see people, smiling or dancing or even just grooving.
Miranda: We also write pretty frequently. So we rarely get to the point where we are playing a song live so much that I get sick of it.
Zach: Songs are always changing. The older the song the more it changes. Were always trying to make our songs better.
Nathan: I find once a song matures to the point where I can go blank, zone out and play it I can try different things vocally or on the ukulele. You can truly enjoy a song when you no longer have to think about it.
Miranda: There is a sweet spot for sure.
What is the sweet spot for recording? Is it the time you are talking about—when you feel free within the song?
Zach: That’s tricky. Our recording process changes every time. The last time we did it we did two releases, two separate records, in one session. We went into it being able to play all of the songs as a four-piece before we went into the studio which we couldn’t do the time before. Our producer, Jerry, also is really good at filling in all the little gaps that we miss.
Miranda: Having a fresh set of ears helps.
Zach: I would probably venture to guess that after a couple of months of playing a song live would be the best time to record.
Miranda: There is so much logistical stuff that goes into recording an album that you don’t get to choose.
Nathan: On the business side of things we can’t be playing a set of eight new songs that won’t really exist for another year. There are always things that we wish we could change in the recordings. We have this one song, Sailor and Siren. We added a really cool drum beat to it in the live version which isn’t in the recording. There is something about building a song from scratch then discovering the song in the studio. I think there is something fresh and energetic about that that helps rather than coming with a song that you have been playing for a year.
Jillian: It’s kinda cool to go to a live show and hear variations of what you already know. You go to the show for the performance and the experience.
Miranda: There are people like Brandi Carlile who went into Bear Creek, her last album, and did the entire thing live in a room. Every musician in there had to be completely locked in and knew what they were doing for the entire album. I think it’s fun to experiment with whatever phase you are in when you record. You are really capturing that one moment.
David Byrne from the Talking Heads will actually record all of the music then will go into the studio another day and write lyrics over that music.
Jillian: I had no idea he did that. That’s cool.
So you guys have had some terrible luck with names. For people who haven’t heard that story talk about how you walked through that and also brought your fans with you.
Miranda: Br’re Rabbit was something that we named ourselves very early on and it seemed to fit us in the moment. Since then we have learned a lot about the music industry and running a business— which is essentially what we are doing—and we decided to change our name to something that felt like us and was easier to spell and pronounce—Wild Rabbit. It’s pretty common knowledge now that there was a lawsuit from a cover band in Texas who had some connections to a trademark attorney. The whole thing seemed absurd to us but rather than go to Texas and fight a lawsuit we changed our name again to Rabbit Wilde.
Zach: We don’t have to say their name but I’ll just say that their name was NOT Wild Rabbit.
Miranda: We had a fan in Austin who also happens to be an attorney and checked in on us. He ended up representing us in all of the back and forth. It was incredible to see the support system that emerged from that. It was really amazing to find love and support from people all over the country and all over the world during that hard time.
Nathan: The bottom line is that the music is the most important thing to us and we will battle through. For all we know we may have to change our name seven more times. On the career paths that we’ve chosen we could get sued for many different things down the line. It’s a lawsuit-heavy country. We can’t lose sight of the music.
Jillian: We could just keep changing our name. That could be our thing. [laughs]
What makes Heartland different?
Miranda: It hops around between genres a lot. Unlike our older stuff especially our really early stuff that the guys wrote when they were teenagers—the Br’re Rabbit EP and things like that which we no longer speak of. We have matured as songwriters. We don’t try to fit into a specific genre. This album exemplifies that. It is less straight folk and has more melding of influences than the Wild North.
Zach: The cool thing is there are distinct voices to each song. The four of us are making these songs come to life. It’s the first time all of us have sat down together to bring a cohesiveness to our songs. The songs have changed, shifted, and melded as the four of us work and develop them. Before I would bring a song and say this is the song let’s try playing it. This is really a collaboration.
Nathan: We also played all the instruments this time. On the first album we had a bunch of guest musicians. We tried to get it close to what the live sound would be while also making it a record you’d want to listen to. The core was each of us picked the main instrument that we would play if we were playing it live. Then we went back and added extra things on top of that to make it a special recording.
What’s next for you guys?
Miranda: We’re on the road quite a bit this spring and summer. We’re playing a lot of festivals which is super fun for us. It’s where we are really in our element.