The Wheel Workers. Photo: Allison McPhail
A couple of years ago while record shopping I stumbled across a double vinyl record from a band called The Wheel Workers, and the fact that it was ever released was one factor that intrigued me. To date, I don’t know any other unsigned or local bands that would release a double album, nor do I know of any who’d have it pressed to colored vinyl either. However, that was just the beginning of getting to know a band that works harder than many signed bands you might be familiar with. While they’ve been hard at work on their latest release, their last EP, Citizens from 2015, was one of the most masterful releases to drop that year, alongside multiple videos and a cover that looked like it was done by famed artist Shepard Fairey. While Fairey wasn’t responsible for that artwork, the band would go on to release the singles “Silly Boy” and “White Lies” last year, and now they’re ready to showcase their energy heavy live show for those attending this year’s FPSF. Free Press Houston was more than thrilled to catch up with them before their appearance at the festival in early June.
Free Press Houston: You guys have been a band since 2010, does it feel like it’s been seven years already, and if you could, would you change anything you’ve done in that time as a band?
Steven Higginbotham: There’s always little things, like shows that weren’t that great or money you could have spent more efficiently, but overall I think we’ve done okay.
Craig Wilkins: We’ve gone through so many lineup changes, it almost feels like more than 7 years. And I’ve known Steven since I was a little kid so damn, how long have we been doing this?
FPH: You guys aren’t political in the Rage Against the Machine way, but your lyrics are typically more political than most bands today. Do you ever think it’s bad to be political as a musician?
Higginbotham: Yes, definitely. I know we’ve turned off some people. I get that many people just want music to be a fun escape, but I’ve always been drawn to songwriters that aren’t afraid to get into deeper issues. I teach history, economics, and politics, so my mind is often in that space. Social movements always have a soundtrack of some kind. I guess I see us as part of the movement to challenge the nationalism and bigotry represented in people like Donald Trump.
That said, I know conservatives that like our music, and if they can just enjoy us on a musical level, that’s fine, too.
Wilkins: Bad if you care about playing to the lowest common denominator and trying to please everyone. Fuck that.
FPH: You guys work pretty hard in that you’ve now released two full length albums, a double album, and lately a couple of singles alongside videos for a bunch of your tracks. Has there ever been a moment where you doubted all of the hard work you’ve put into being a band?
Higginbotham: Sure. I have doubts all the time. But I’ve always been driven to create music and do what I can to get it out there. Every time I finish an album, I can’t wait to start the next one. I’m driven mostly by the feeling that I haven’t really written the best record I can yet.
Wilkins: I leave the worrying to Steven. This is nothing but fun to me.
FPH: When I hear your music, it reminds me of REM mixed with hints of the Flaming Lips and Pearl Jam. What do you guys think The Wheel Workers sound like?
Higginbotham: I think that’s pretty accurate. It’s always hard to answer that question because you’re in too deep to be objective. So I’ll trust your description. But I do think we’re evolving and our sound a few albums from now may be quite different.
Wilkins: Yeah our stuff is kinda getting all over the place. This next album, I think more than ever, is really going to highlight that. We don’t have just one mood or sound space that we’re comfortable in.
FPH: You guys have been working pretty hard on a new album, do you have a name for it and a releases date yet?
Higginbotham: Yes! This album has taken longer than I’d hoped, but we’re basically done with the audio now. It’s going to be called Post-Truth. We don’t have a release date yet. We’re still working on artwork and other stuff that goes into releasing a record, but it’s coming soon.
Wilkins: Filling your ears with warm sticky music this year, I’m hoping.
FPH: Your live shows often have visuals and you play with an intense energy that seems like you conjure up something nutty to perform. For those attending the festival who’ve never caught a set from you, what do you have in store for them?
Higginbotham: Performing live gives you a sense of freedom and expression that is really cathartic. For those shows where everything comes together, it’s one of the best feelings ever. At FPSF, we’re going to put together a set that features our strongest high-energy live songs, and maybe one or two from our next album that haven’t been performed live yet.
Wilkins: If melodic rants set to spacey guitars and walls of synthesizers are your thing, come check us out.
The Wheel Workers are easily one of the strongest live acts performing in Houston today. You can catch them at this year’s FPSF when the festival makes its triumphant return to Eleanor Tinsley Park on June 3 and 4. The Wheel Workers will perform at 11:30 am on the Neptune stage. The festival, featuring live performances from Solange, Charli XCX, The Shins and many more is all ages with tickets between $148 and $999.