“We love Wilmington!” The Menders’ lead singer and guitarist Jesse Watson says about their return to the Port City. Their upcoming show at Reggie’s 42nd Street Tavern is this Saturday, Dec. 3. “[Wilmington is] our keyboard player Jonny Boswell’s old stomping ground. We can’t wait to play and hope to see a bunch of folks come out.”
This weekend’s show will be their second in ILM just over the past three months, and The Menders will take the stage along with local act Slomo Dingo and The Halves. This will be one of their last gigs before wrapping up 2016 as well. “So we’re looking forward to having a hell of a time!” Wes Forbus (rhythm guitar, vocals) adds.
Forbus and Watson are one-half of the North Carolina folk-rock-Americana band based in Gastonia, NC. The Menders’ four-piece is complete with Boswell (keys, vocals) and Phil Anderson (drums). What started as a more bluegrass and folk three-piece outfit in 2011 has since expanded in sound, with more rock, indie and punk influences taking over.
“We’ve really grown as musicians,” says Watson, also a founding member, “and for the first time, all members are on the same page. We understand each other better, we communicate better, and genuinely love what we’re doing in a way we haven’t before.”
It’s not to say The Menders haven’t kept one foot in the bluegrass/folk world with their song structures and lyrical themes, according to Watson. They’ve simply continued to embrace and incorporate all their collective influences in music.
“I think that’s what gives us our unique sound,” Forbus adds. “We don’t try to write to a genre, or stick within the parameters that a lot of folks put on a band. We just get together and write and you just really never know what’s going to come out!”
They’ve most recently headed back to the garage to work on their third independent album, “Nina.” Leading up to their record’s digital release (iTunes, Amazon, CDBaby, and Spotify) in February 2017, The Menders will debut two tracks off the album in the coming months, starting with “Where Are You Now.” “It still has the folk influences,” Forbus clarifies, “but it definitely speaks more to our ‘60s and early ‘70s rock influences.”
Bluegrass murder ballads still remain heavy themes. Yet, Watson says they’re now embracing a collective love of classic rock (The Doors, The Kinks, The Beatles) and marrying it with indie-rock and punk. “We try to mix it all and let the song become whatever it wants,” he continues. “We tend to deal with dark themes—death, loss [and] uncertainty—because [they] speak to every walk of life. . . . We all have different influences and continue to as we progress as a band and as individual musicians.”
“The icing on the cake is we’ve all grown as friends as well,” Forbus adds. “We all support each other and are there for each other in our personal lives, and I think that makes our chemistry as a band that much stronger.”
Watson and Boswell tend to write most of the lyrics and develop a basis for songs that make it through the garage sessions. However, they’ve started with as little as a guitar riff from Forbus or drum beat from Anderson. Ideas flesh out, dynamics and harmonies added, and structure eventually forms. Songs are, as a whole, collaborative efforts until something “clicks.”
“It always becomes something different than I expect,” Watson says of the process. “We try to play as many shows as possible so, by the time we’re in the studio, we could play the songs in our sleep. On [‘Nina’] we tried to do our best to reproduce our live sound and energy.”
“Our writing process is one of my favorite parts of this band,” Forbus tells. “Our ability to take little bits and pieces of song ideas and mold them into a cohesive collaborative song with all of our fingerprints on it is a lot of fun. . . . It’s also really nice to have a group of guys that don’t let ego get in the way of writing. Everybody is really open to suggestions and changes to make the song the best it can be.”
The Menders’ latest work can be heard this weekend at Reggie’s 42nd Street Tavern starting at 9 p.m. Upon release in February, their record, “Nina,” will be available for purchase at shows or online at themendersnc.com.