GRIT ‘N’ ROLL: Thomas Wynn and The Believers bring powerful Southern rock and soul to Satellite

“Powerhouse” seems an inadequate word to describe the vocals of brother and sister Thomas and Olivia Wynn. They have the modern rock and soul heard from the likes of Alabama Shakes, paired with the grittiness of Drive-By Truckers and Gov’t Mule, and are compelling with every lyric like great Southern-rock songwriters such as Jason Isbell. They first began singing together in youth at church. “Being in the choir we learned how to mold and meld voices together,” Thomas describes.

FEEL THE MUSIC: Thomas Wynn and The Believers are heading to ILM’s Satellite Bar and Lounge with their latest record ‘Wade Waist Deep,’ available on vinyl. Photo by Jim Arbogast
FEEL THE MUSIC: Thomas Wynn and The Believers are heading to ILM’s Satellite Bar and Lounge with their latest record ‘Wade Waist Deep,’ available on vinyl. Photo by Jim Arbogast

Thomas originally started a band with his brother, Jordan, dubbed “The Wynn Brothers.” Though, he didn’t know anything was missing from their repertoire until Olivia came aboard. She has a fine ear for harmonies and takes to new songs quickly, according to her sibling.

“She just made us sound really good,” Thomas says. “I can’t say enough about her ability—it’s pretty remarkable. As time went on, Jordan moved on to do other things, and Olivia and I kept it going. I just sing and do what I’m going to do, and Olivia, almost without hesitation, knows where I’m going to go and is able to be where she needs to be because of it.”

Now, with David Wagner (bass), Ryan Miranda (drums), Chris “Bell” Antemesaris (harmonica), and Colin Daniel Fei (keys), they complete Thomas Wynn and The Believers. It’s been a few years since the Wynns have been to Wilmington; their last stopover was at Greenfield Lake Amphitheatre with JJ Grey & Mofro in 2013. Their return will bring them to Satellite Bar and Lounge, with a brand new album “Wade Waist Deep” (released May 19), and a free show this weekend.

While Wynn and company have recorded a handful of albums to date, it’s only the third they’ve released to the public. Also, it’s the first The Believers put out with Mascot Records. In every recording process prior, they did it piece by piece, week by week. For this album, they spent the month of August 2016 in Nashville with GRAMMY-winning producer Vance Powell. 

“That experience was just amazing,” Thomas says, “to spend so much time dedicated to one purpose. It was a huge blessing.”

“Wade Waist Deep” has been finished since October. While it has left a lot of time for the band to listen to and mull over the work, there’s nothing they’d change about it. Thomas says their music doesn’t sound perfect, like polished pop radio—nor is it what the band is trying to accomplish. And it’s certainly not what they do live. They wanted to capture a rough, booming experience at their shows.

“That’s what makes you feel,” he says. “Vance would let us work for hours, getting tones and the right feel for a song before we even started rolling the tape everyday.”

Songwriting has been Thomas’ responsibility since the days of The Wynn Brothers, and life experience is often where they’re derived. Throughout his tenure he’s realized scribing solo often meant pulling from his own heartbreaks or “bad spaces” personally.

“I don’t want that to be how I have to be inspired,” he tells. “As I’ve gotten older, it’s changed a little bit. I’ve been able to develop some empathy for situations around me or other people’s plights—hopefully, capture how other people are feeling, not just myself.”

Thomas wrote a handful of songs alone on “Wade Waist Deep.” The others were cowrites. Before the record, he was often married to his songs as they were.

“We’re all very delicate creatures,” he quips. “But it’s awesome to branch out, especially when you start trusting people and realize they’re not trying to hurt you by saying, ‘Change this and that.’ They’re trying to make it better. Once I got out of myself a little bit, I realized other people can make things better.”

“You Can’t Hurt Me” was written alongside Justin Beckler, who used to be in The Believers. They’ve been playing the tune for several years now. Thomas wrote the first guitar riff and chorus, and Beckler suggested some lyrics. This was back when the singer-songwriter was hellbent on writing verses.

“I’m reading [Beckler’s] lyrics, and they fit really well and go right along with the story I’m trying to tell with chorus,” Thomas explains. “I couldn’t fight it; they worked, and I’m so glad I didn’t because it wouldn’t be the same without those verse lyrics.”

Both “Man Out Of Time” and “Mountain Fog” are Thomas’ favorite songs on the record and were written with producer David Plakon. Completed in two days, based on loops Thomas recorded, Plakon added fake drums, synthesizers and synth bass to lay tracks. It was a completely new process for the artist.

“It was a really cool experience,” Thomas notes. “When I brought it to the band, we kind of stood back and said, ‘These are really cool—how can we make them The Believers?’ And it took a little while, but I think Vance and the band did a really good job with those two songs that are outside the box for us.”

The title “Wade Waist Deep” lends itself for an almost all-encompassing visual of the music—not just what folks hear but what they feel. Soundscapes mix in a swampy yet calm pool, and build into choppy, thrilling waters of an open sea. The record is going to be released on vinyl, which is another first for the band. “It’s so worth it,” Thomas says. “It’s tactile: You hear the needle and you feel it more.”

Most tunes can stand as acoustic pieces as well as full-on rock songs, too. The title track and “My Eyes Won’t Be Open,” “Heartbreak Alley,” and “Mountain Fog” have all gone over well acoustically.

“Not that all rock songs have to be able to be played acoustically in order to be good,” Thomas observes, “but if they’re good they can be played both ways.”

Folks can check out Thomas Wynn and The Believers’ new record online or pick up a copy at their Satellite show on May 27.

Thomas Wynn and The Believers
Saturday, May 27 at 9 p.m.
Satellite Bar and Lounge
120 Greenfield St.

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