“EVERYDAY I SAID A PRAYER FOR KATHY AND MADE A ONE INCH SQUARE”
“We didn’t know what the hell we were doing,” Harney laughs. “We were the least career minded band I’ve ever come across. Everything was about magic. Like children. We just let it fly, the rest be damned.”
Formed by two students at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth – Scott Levesque (vocals, guitar) and Brendan Harney (drums), soon afterwards joined by Ricky Brennan (guitars, vocals) – WHEAT was originally conceived as an art project. About the only thing that was known for sure about their 1998 debut MEDEIROS at the time of its release was that it was mixed with Brian Deck (Red Red Meat): the band’s official bio was little more than a chronology of the band’s various line-ups, first names only, and the album’s artwork gave away even less. Despite this, however, the mysterious, hazy, low key debut yielded an NME Single Of The Week, Death Car, as well as a bumper crop of superlatives from the press on both sides of the Atlantic.
HOPE & ADAMS, its follow-up (released in 2000), saw the band shift up a gear, employing renowned producer Dave Fridmann to develop their ideas whilst remaining true to their original intentions. The response to HOPE & ADAMS was unanimous: a truly great American indie rock band had arrived, and in Don’t I Hold You – employed to great effect by Cameron Crowe in the movie Elizabethtown – they had one of the most simple but heartbreaking love songs of the year. The band, meanwhile, toured extensively, building up an impressive reputation for both stretching out their songs and their charismatic stage presence – Levesque as frontman was coy but captivating, Harney as pearl-necklaced drummer an eccentric but hypnotic force behind the kit.
WHEAT looked all set for mainstream but unusually uncompromised success. As so often happens, however, fate (or perhaps poor management) conspired against them: the band was advised to leave their European label in favour of another that, unbeknownst to them, was about to fold. Mere days after the deal was signed news reached them that their album was now an asset of a company that had gone out of business. Dense legal battles followed, and though the band emerged intact over a year later to sign with Aware / Sony, the record – the typically cryptically titled PER SECOND, PER SECOND, PER SECOND… EVERY SECOND – had not emerged so unscathed. Instead it had been remixed and in places re-recorded, largely at the label’s behest, and was consequently rendered comparatively lifeless (although it still went on to sell 30,000 copies in the US).
In the end – fortunately, some might argue – it was never released outside of North America. Brennan quit the band while Levesque and Harney retreated into a long silence, exhausted and disillusioned. Rumours that WHEAT had broken up were not too far from the truth.
“We couldn't do the monkey suits and the handshakes well at all,” Harney explains. “We were terribly unhappy so we started to play it in a way where we could just get out and get on with life. It didn't work out 'cause it was a completely fucked-up fit. Scott and I started WHEAT as an art project, and the second we let other people's opinions slip in is when it started to come apart. We needed to walk away from the whole thing. The things we loved, the art of what we did, the control of what we were about seemed to be slipping, so we had to jump.”
After a while, however, Levesque and Harney began to talk again and, restless to make music once more, they reconvened in the summer of 2005 to try out new tracks just to see where the songs and ideas might lead.
This time they had no label. They had no recording schedule. They had no deadlines. But they remembered the old rituals, and in doing so, discovered they were able to reclaim the supernal sound, ineffable chemistry, and music-magic of Wheat.
“We were in that great spot again,” says Levesque. “We make records in our own little world, and that’s where we went to. We really tried to get back into the flow with this music, the abstract nature of communicating with depth and detail, communicating what we all feel when we love. We work hard at keeping the spirit of the original thought alive, which is why we try not to "perfect" anything. We wanted to challenge the idea of a professional record. Everything today is made as perfectly as possible, and we wanted to have this feel as real and as human as possible. I think we did that, and we did it without sacrificing the power of the music.”
With EVERYDAY I SAID A PRAYER FOR KATHY AND MADE A ONE INCH SQUARE, WHEAT are back amongst us in our world, right where they belong. What began 10 years ago as a brilliant art project in sound has now been restored to its beginnings, original luster restored. From the celestial shimmer of Closeness, which opens the new album, to the pastoral instrumental poem, Courting Ed Templeton, which closes it, EVERYDAY I SAID A PRAYER… marks a splendid return to the incandescent form that yielded 1997's delicious MEDEIROS and 1999's indie-pop gem HOPE AND ADAMS.
And the album’s curious title? “It’s about remembering through a ritual”, Harney clarifies. “We lose things we love, sometimes, in life. People turn corners and things change, and we try to remember. We make art, but art becomes stylized. Then we decide to make a square, simply to remember. Or hope, maybe.”
WHEAT still don’t know what the hell they are doing. They are still the least career minded band you’ll ever come across. Everything remains about magic. Like children. They just let it fly, the rest be damned.