The Wandas spent the holidays in Montreal last year, but they weren't there to do any celebrating. Instead, from Christmas through New Year's, the Boston band was holed up in MixArt Studios making an album that managed to beat out Bon Iver and David Bazan in Guitar World's list of the "50 Best Studio Albums of the First Half of 2011."
The recording, says frontman Keith McEachern, was done as live as possible following a year-and-a-half tour, during which the band found the sound it wanted to get down on record. "We did 11 songs in two days," he says, "and then we spent the last four days doing the overdubs."
The self-titled album that came out of the sessions is pure pop, inspired by the likes of Tom Petty, Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley — to pick just a few of the names McEachern rattles off. And as those influences might suggest, there's an immediately identifiable '50s through '70s feel throughout, which is just what McEachern and the rest of the Wandas intended.
"We're not trying to do anything different or trying to find something that hasn't been done," he says. "We know what we like and the sound we want, and we got that. And we know other people like it too."
McEachern has known that since the band began in 2002, when he and guitarist Brent Battey just happened to be living on the same floor of a dorm at the prestigious Berklee College of Music.
Over the next six years, they would make three albums with an ever-changing cast of musicians. It wasn't until a few years ago that the current lineup solidified with drummer William Bierce and bassist Ross Lucivero.
By the time the band released New Wave Blues in early 2009, it was time to get serious.
"We decided at that point, if we're going to make this into something, we had to do it as a full-time job," McEachern says. "We saved up as much money as we could and bought a 30-foot RV. It's a 1992, it's nothing fancy. It does its job. It sleeps all of us comfortably and we can fit all our gear in there. It's one of the best things we've ever done. Our only overhead is gas and we don't have to sleep on people's couches."
The New Wave Blues tour took up most of 2009 and 2010, making the band so road-tight that it was named Boston's best live act by Time Out magazine.
The RV is getting another workout this fall with an eight-week tour that takes the Wandas across the country to the West Coast, down to Texas and through the South before heading home for Thanksgiving.
"It's going to be a long tour," says McEachern. "But that's the way we do it."
As for the group's name, McEachern says rumors of an actual Wanda that Battey once met in a bar are completely unfounded. There is no Wanda, he maintains, and never was. "There's a Neil Young song called 'Kinda Fonda Wanda.' It mostly stems from that. That and a few beers. I wish there was a cooler story, but there just isn't. Maybe I should make one up."