QSC Aspiring Interview: The Wild Things on upcoming album ‘Afterglow’

The way things have aligned for London’s The Wild Things is almost out of a fairytale — singer Sydney Rae White and guitarist Rob Kendrick met while on tour with The Who musical Quadrophenia, after which they would not only get married, but form the band together. This also exposed them to The Who’s Pete Townshend, who has produced some of the band’s music and has been a huge proponent of the band. Sydney White chats to Headliner about performing at Madison Square Garden and the Royal Albert Hall, the band’s recent singles and their upcoming sophomore album.

It’s a bitterly cold night in St Albans, as The Wild Things take the stage at The Horn music pub. The fact they have the Saturday night slot instead of a covers act like The Smyths or Pure Coldplay in itself says a huge amount about the belief in this band. And while it’s a relatively small room they are playing to, it quickly becomes apparent this band will play every show with the same swagger and energy — whether it be in a small satellite commuter city such as St Albans, or opening for The Who at Madison Square Gardens.

Energy is the key word; Sydney White may be a diminutive frontwoman, but she’s a vocal powerhouse, and her performance is perhaps brimming the strongest as she leaves the stage to jolt around the audience for this year’s single Heaven Knows. Rob Kendrick, who towers over his bandmates and the audience, is constantly demanding full participation, spending a lot of the set at the very front of the stage ensuring no one in the crowd is taking their eyes off this rock extravaganza.

White’s brother Cameron on bass and drummer Pete Wheeler do not share a misstep between them and are often beaming smiles at the mere opportunity to get to do what they’re doing. Other huge highlights are their recent single Paradise and their outrageous cover of Abba’s Does Your Mother Know? which predictably gets the whole room bouncing.

Speaking to Headliner a few days after the gig, White has a free day back in London to do laundry and recuperate before completing their first headline tour, concluding with a hometown performance at the 100 Club in Central London.

We’re not at a place in our career where it’s feasible to call this a concept album, so we’re calling it a ‘choose your adventure’ album.

“We’ve just recently come off tour with Kiss,” White says, with Hollywood Hulk Hogan, her bulldog, snoring away in the background. After doing huge venues with Kiss, she says this tour of grassroots UK venues is nice because “we get the opportunity to leave the venue and explore a bit, and we didn’t get to play some of these cities on their tour. We don’t really care where it is, we’re just happy to be playing! When you start a band, they don’t really tell you that playing shows is quite a small part of the job, there’s so much admin and social media to do, so we’re excited to be on the road again.”

Both White and Kendrick have appeared on screens, the former’s biggest role being in Uncle for the BBC and then Netflix, also appearing in other hit UK shows like Misfits. Kendrick meanwhile has popped up in many shows, none huger than Bridgerton. White is keen to stress that music is her first love (but don’t tell her agent that), meanwhile, Kendrick had never really thought too much about pursuing a band, but he didn’t take too much convincing to join the band.

“I started acting when I was nine years old,” White says. “My first job was Les Mis (Les Misérables) in the West End, and there is singing in that, of course. Because I always knew I wanted to do music too. I think as the band has grown, my love of music has overtaken acting — I find there’s a lot more creative freedom when you’re playing your own music, I find it a lot more cathartic. More so than reading lines, even though I do love it, and it’s nice to escape into a character. Although I do that on stage to a certain extent anyway — the Sydney that steps onto the stage isn’t the same Sydney who goes shopping in Tesco’s.”

If you listen to The Wild Things, you’ll likely be struck by what a classic rock sound they have, with big riffs that are more catchy than pounding, White’s vocals booming rather than shouty, and many of the tracks featuring a Hammond organ donated to them by Pete Townshend himself. It’s little surprise to hear White and her brother grew up with her parents playing lots of Elvis and The Who records in their formative years.

what is more rock and roll than drag? Nothing!

Speaking of The Who, White being cast in the ‘60s legend’s staged rock opera version of Quadrophenia was even more life-changing than she could ever anticipate. Cast alongside Kendrick, the pair have since become married, and Townshend, noticing both of their talents, has become something of a mentor for The Wild Things.

“It was my first ever tour, I moved out, I met my boyfriend and now husband. I met Townshend, and every night I was singing what I consider to be one of the best albums of all time. And it gave me this insight into this world of mods and rockers — my dad was a mod back in the day, he was on Brighton Beach [referring to when violence broke out between the mods and rocker groups in 1964]. It was this way of transitioning into adult life for me, and sparking the journey of the rest of my life.”

The first of The Wild Things’ new singles this year was Heaven Knows. It opens with a riff that is a total earworm, but when the drums kick in, its catchiness doesn’t undermine the fact it will get heads banging with ease. Meanwhile, the chorus is brimming as White sings “Heaven knows my name” repeatedly. And, like quite a few of the band’s recent tracks, you can hear the Hammond organ that Pete Townshend donated to the group. It’s not hard to see why White particularly loves performing this live so much.

“I need to check this with my brother, but it might be the organ he wrote and performed Baba O’Riley on, which is insane,” White says. “It’s definitely my favourite song to play live. For this one, I have my guitar taken off me, so I get to run around like a mad woman and get my cardio in for the day. It’s such a fun song to sing, so cathartic to sing, scream and let it all out.

“We wrote it just as we were about to go on the Kiss cruise — we wanted to have something really punchy and upbeat for that. That was also when we decided to cover Abba because it doesn’t get much more rock and roll than that. But Heaven Knows was so much fun to write that it just flowed out of us and was a really quick writing process.”

Next up was Paradise, a Summer release this year for the quartet. This may sound like a big statement, but its chorus really could be counted among the best to be released this year. Juxtaposed by a bluesy riff and lyrics that are comparably snarled in the verse, the chorus soars with gorgeous guitar work from Kendrick as White switches to more angelic vocals and croons: “Days go slowly / Years run by / Nights are lonely / Ink’s run dry”.

When asking White about this song and its lyrical content, this instead prompts her to reveal the concept behind their upcoming second album, Afterglow. “We’re not at a place in our career where it’s feasible for us to call this a concept album,” she explains. 

“So we’re calling it a ‘choose your adventure’ album. The whole record is about this fictional town in America, and an event that happens over the course of one evening, almost a bit Twin Peaks, supernatural type thing. You can listen to the songs in any order you want and make your own story out of it. But each song tends to be about one person in the town. Paradise is about a female character in the town looking back on her life, and it ties in with a couple of the other characters.

“But from an outsider perspective, when you haven’t heard the rest of the record, it’s about nostalgia, and how that can simultaneously make you feel great and terrible. It’s very cathartic for us onstage. Because we can so easily look back at last year and think, wouldn’t it be so good to be back onstage at Madison Square Garden, isn’t that depressing? But it actually isn’t depressing at all, it’s absolutely amazing.”

While waiting for the new album, there’s just the small matter of The Wild Things’ latest single, Red Side Of The Moon, which is both a cover and collaboration with drag queen Trixie Mattel, star of RuPaul’s Drag Race.

“A few people in our inner circle questioned us doing this,” White says. “But what is more rock and roll than drag? Nothing, I’m sorry! I came across Trixie Mattel on Drag Race, and I was immediately taken with her. I then found out she was a songwriter, and I did not expect it to be this folk and country-style music. I fell in love with Red Side Of The Moon, and just used to sit upstairs at my parents’ house singing it with my guitar. And then last year, we were doing this thing called the singles club, where each member of the band would choose a song for us to cover.

“So when we covered Trixie’s song, she ended up seeing it somehow and asked us if we’d like to release it as a single. So, after I stopped hyperventilating, we got it recorded and sent it to her, and then she sent a version back with her singing on it. And I’m just so grateful. We’re playing it on tour and it’s a nice dip between the heavier stuff in the set.”

And with their headline UK tour wrapped now, it’s just a case of trying to get any last details out of White regarding the next singles and the album release, with its date not scheduled just yet. With a wonderful air of freedom, she says, “In terms of the next singles, it’s completely up to us because we’re an independent band! So expect lots more from us, and the album will definitely be out next year. We’ve been sitting on it for a while, so I’m so excited to be sharing it finally.”