As Ricky Young saw it, moving to Nashville was the next logical career step. He'd already had some success fronting a rock band in his native Houston, and he longed for the greener pastures of the country music world's main mecca.
So at 21, with his parents' blessing, Young rolled the dice on big-time Nashville. "I just packed up my truck, and there wasn't a whole lot to take, so it was pretty easy," recalls the Wild Feathers vocalist and guitarist. "And then I holed up with my buddy for a while until I got my own place." Young was there on Music Row, ready to be recognized as the Next Big Thing.
At least that was the dream. But like so many before him, the truth proved colder and harsher.
"The reality of Nashville was, everyone wrote songs, and everyone was good," he sighs today, still embarrassed at his own temerity. "Especially the circle I was running in. Everyone was extraordinarily talented. So it kind of put me in my place, as far as wanting to work really hard. But that was great — it was the best thing that could have happened to me. I actually took a big step back and just focused on writing for a while, before I even performed in Nashville."
Young's introspective period would eventually lead to his formation of the Wild Feathers with Joel King, Taylor Burns and Preston Wimberly, all of whom were frontmen for previous bands, and Ben Jarvis, who wasn't. The band's Eagles-worthy harmonies shine brightly on the Americana ensemble's self-titled debut album. Released last week on the Warner Brothers label, it was produced by Jay Joyce of Cage the Elephant, Wallflowers and Emmylou Harris fame.
But before any of that could happen, Young had to spend the better part of a year woodshedding. "I learned how to not settle for a merely decent tune," he explains. "If a song took me all week, all day, every day, I learned that it's better to have one good song than five shitty ones."
Young contributes two originals to The Wild Feathers — a chiming, organ-buttressed "If You Don't Love Me," and a loping acoustic reflection on his Texas childhood called "Tall Boots." All but two of the rest are band co-writes, including the angular Tom Petty-like "American" and a 6:20 centerpiece hoedown called "The Ceiling."
The latter, says Young, was one of the album's truly magical moments. "We were at a cabin in the Smokies in Tennessee," he recalls. "Joel had that riff, and I'd had that chorus written for a long time, and Taylor had some other stuff going on. It all just kind of fit together beautifully, musically and lyrically. It just fit together like a puzzle."
The same can be said for the band itself, with the musicians taking turns on lead vocals. Blame it on youth spent listening to collectivist groups like the Band and Fleetwood Mac.
"I think because we love those bands so much, it just kind of dawned on us that we could share, not the burden, but maybe the spotlight. And it's fun. I love singing, and I know everyone in the band does.
"But it's also kind of fun to just sit back, play your instrument, and listen to your buddy sing."