After two decades of creating music together, Madison's Harmonious Wail continue to evolve. Their upcoming album finds them moving from their staple, Django Reinhardt-inspired Gypsy swing, to underground pop to classic rock and even Taiwanese melodies, all woven into a decidedly Harmonious Wail.
Mandolin player Sims Delaney-Potthoff started the band with Chris Wagoner, calling it Uncle Kachunk. Then came a name change and a multitude of personnel changes, including the addition of Maggie Delaney-Potthoff, Sims' wife. The quartet now includes Tom Waselchuk on guitar and John Christensen on bass. They are tireless travelers, playing virtually every continent and still searching for unique venues in unique locales.
"We're looking at Reykjavik, Iceland," Sims says. "We have some contacts up there."
"I tried to look up some clubs in Antarctica on Google," Waselchuk adds, "but I haven't had any luck yet."
The band's new album will be released on Philadelphia's Range Records in late summer or early fall. Label president Rich Myers, a longtime Wail fan, had developed a relationship with Grammy-winning producer Aaron Levinson. Levinson had wanted to work on a Gypsy swing record, though one with a modern flair.
"Aaron's very much into letting things happen organically in the studio," Waselchuk explains. "Which in practical terms means that you often feel underrehearsed. You come up with ideas on the spot, do a few takes, work for an hour or two, and then move on. And hopefully capture some magic. In a lot of cases we did."
"Our thing in the past has been rehearsing arrangements and then producing the record based on those arrangements," says Sims. "And this was all totally different."
"It was a roller coaster," Maggie adds. "And it was so cool."
Levinson suggested a new repertoire for Harmonious Wail, including Tom Waits' "You Can Never Hold Back Spring," the Velvet Underground's "Who Loves the Sun" and the Band's classic "Unfaithful Servant."
The Wail also contribute their own compositions, including a Waselchuk track inspired by a visit to the Lungshan Temple in Taiwan. As disparate as these songs seem, the group strove to create a cohesive whole.
"It's like a piece of art in a frame," Maggie says. "Somehow there has to be a thread of commonality running between all the songs."
In addition to releasing the new record, Harmonious Wail are planning another Gypsy Swing Festival, scheduled for Sept. 8 at Fitchburg's Art in the Barn. It will feature performances by Alfonso Ponticelli and Stephane Wrembel. The band has also contributed a few songs to a British indie flick called I Really Hate My Job.
New records, new tours, new films and new festivals. The band have 20 years behind them and a future full of new challenges. And through it all, as Maggie says, "We are harmonious."