WINGS THAT GENERATE A SOOTHING BUZZ
By Jim Price
Whenever a new musical endeavor begins, the situation can often compare to a painter with a blank canvas. As any painter has the opportunity to create something unique and original, so too does that musical endeavor.
The Mercersburg-based group Wings That Buzz began to paint on their sonic canvas after forming six years ago; created from the ashes of a previous alternative rock band, Josa Step, by guitarist Klaus Funk and bassist Sean Grove. Joining the pair initially was Sean’s friend, acoustic guitarist and lead singer Jason Kipe. That trio would record and issue the group’s 2011 debut album, Aloft, and its follow-up, 2013’s My Beaten Heart. Sean then departed the group, with bassist Dave Holzwarth, keyboardist and singer Caitlin Allen and violinist Scott Matlock coming aboard; that line-up last year recorded and released the group’s third album, Every Pretty Thing. Scott has since left the group but still contributes to their live shows, and drummer Michael O’Keefe recently joined to add his beats to the group’s sound.
Wings That Buzz has evolved an acoustic-driven buzz that sounds familiar yet unique. Their music is upbeat, fueled by Jason’s energetic, percussive style of strumming, accented by Klaus’ soaring electric guitar layers and Caitlin’s gentle keyboard fills. Their songs embrace warm textures, and contain frequent vocal harmonies riding along major-key melodies.
According to Caitlin, “Some people say it sounds sort of like Crosby, Stills & Nash meets an indie-rock band…an indie soundtrack to a movie.”
Klaus adds, “There’s a little of a mystical quality to it…natural, organic.”
The musicians cite a myriad of influences. Coming from a classical background, Caitlin brings a sense of delicacy and nuance to Wings That Buzz’s distinctive mixture. Klaus credits U2’s The Edge and Red Hot Chili Peppers’ John Frusciante for informing his atmospheric guitar playing style. Dave taps the classic rock influences of the Beatles, Todd Rundgren, Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin; while Mike’s drumming influences come from the jazz world and the legendary Gene Krupa.
Wings That Buzz doesn’t follow a set formula for creating music, and anything goes with their songwriting process. Dave explains that the group usually doesn’t use predictable structures for their songs, and will sometimes reverse melody lines and choruses to take their songs on a different path.
The songwriting journey usually starts with Jason, who comes up with the initial guitar melody and the vocals. After recording those parts, he sends them to Klaus, who adds in electric guitar, before the other band members contribute and layer their parts into the music.
Klaus further explains: “Jason will send me a song, and as soon as I see an email from Jason I get excited, because I think there is a song attached to it. If there is, then that very night, I’m listening to it over and over again. And I’ll spend anywhere between an hour to four or five hours working on one song. And I’ll come up with multiple parts. At that point, I’ll either give it a few days and then come back to it…or, sometimes I’m writing something, and as soon as I do write the part, I immediately know it, and don’t even waste my time even going back to listen to what else I did.”
As the group’s chief lyricist, Jason likes to contemplate life, its struggles and meanings with his words. However, he prefers to leave some ambiguity in his lyrics and keep them open to interpretation by the listener. “A lot of music I like is like that,” says Jason. “I listen to a lot of Pavement, and I can’t really tell you what he’s singing about, but I know the way it makes me feel when I listen to it, and I enjoy the experience of putting my headphones on and going into that music for a while. So I try to tie the ideas together, but I don’t want it to be so spelled out that someone can look at it and be like, ‘That doesn’t apply to me.’ I want to leave it open so that someone can put themselves into that story and relate it to their own personal experience…”
In creating the Every Pretty Thing set, Wings That Buzz wanted to develop a fuller sound from the previous two recordings. They subsequently fleshed out their sound, adding more bass and violin, and gearing their arrangements to give the instruments more breathing room.
Joining the group after the release of the new recording, Michael’s impact was immediately felt in the live setting. “Mike behind the drums really makes the music come more alive,” says Klaus.
Caitlin adds, “Also having Mike, we’re able to get those harmonies off the album; we’re able to do those live now…Jason loves to harmonize and layer, and one of the signature sounds of Wings That Buzz I think are those harmonies.”
On the live stage, Wings That Buzz’s music is free to soar even higher. The group often builds momentum through each song, elevating the intensity and lifting the audience higher toward crescendos where the full connection has been achieved, and audience members dance and celebrate. Their music is joyous, and smiles ensue as the band members generate their soothing yet vibrant buzz.
The group’s mixture of classic and alternative acoustic textures, melodies and vocal harmonies has been received well so far, and appeals to a wide range of listener tastes. “Whether it’s a 7-year-old daughter or someone in their 70s, it seems like the music is accessible to a lot of different people,” observes Klaus.
Excited to have already produced three albums of music, Wings That Buzz keeps writing new music, and continuing to create is at the forefront of their long range goals. Having performed mostly within a 100-mile radius of their Mercersburg home base thus far, the group hopes to expand outward and continue to bring their music to new faces and audiences.
As a band that flies without a net and does their own original music, the reward is making the connection with those new faces. According to Jason, “That’s really all I need, just somebody that was listening, loves music and says that they appreciated it, what (we) are trying to do.”
Wings That Buzz thanks the people who have supported their journey so far; including Jason’s wife, Trish, who helps with show bookings, assistance and feedback for the group. They also thank Sean Grove for his contributions and for helping to establish the initial blueprint for their sound, and all their fans and supporters.
Wings That Buzz will maintain a light performance schedule during the upcoming summer months, and plan to book more shows for the fall. Keep checking their website, www.wingsthatbuzz.com, for show updates. And their recordings can be obtained through the website, or digitally through online sources such as Spotify, CDBaby, Amazon and iTunes.
(Jim Price thanks Alexis Schumacher from his COMM 260 Newswriting class at Penn State Altoona for her contribution toward the creation of this story.)