Though progressive rock band wARM only formed a year and a half ago, the Memphian four-piece has already attracted lively crowds at venues like the Hi Tone, U of M campus events such as battles of the bands, and various house parties in the tri-state area.
College-aged men and women alike are usually found at a wARM show, Pabst Blue Ribbons in hand, moving and shaking. Dancing happens frequently during wARM’s performances despite the fact there are no catchy hooks to sing along with. The group is a purely instrumental project, but members of wARM contend that there was no particular plan to be this type of band when they formed.
“We didn’t really know what we were doing,” 25-year-old guitarist Jacob Wilkerson said. “We were just jammin’ it out, coming up with stuff that we liked, and it got built to a point where we didn’t really have room for vocals.”
wARM bassist Josh Matz had a similar excuse.
“We didn’t set out from the beginning like ‘We want to be instrumental,’” Matz said. “But the more we wrote songs, every song we wrote was just full. We didn’t need another layer because it stood alone as instrumental music, and it sounded pretty good.”
Guitarist and U of M psychology graduate Logan Ragsdale had a simpler explanation.
“None of us can sing, and we didn’t want another guy in the group,” Ragsdale said.
Four seemed like the right number of members for wARM, and as a result the band has been able to operate democratically. Each musician takes turns naming the group’s new songs, and the name of the band itself is an acronym for the last names of the four members.
“Wilkerson, Alexander, Ragsdale, Matz,” Matz said. “It was actually one of our buddies Seth that came up with it, and we were all just like... we just wanna play. I don’t want to think of a band name for the next five weeks, let’s just pick it and do it.”
Since May of 2015 the band has just “done it,” writing jammy, instrumental tunes like “Necessarily Obnoxious” and “ET (The Jedi)” for their self-titled EP release, which they recorded at American Recording Studios at 2272 Deadrick Avenue. The wARM EP was mixed by Will Gilbert and uploaded to bandcamp.com in December 2015.
“Some of the songs have funny stories behind them,” drummer Zach Alexander said. “There is this reference out there that perfectly explains how E.T. the extra-terrestrial is actually a Jedi sent to earth, and it actually makes perfect sense. There is a lot of evidence.”
Alexander, a 2013 U of M sports science graduate, said the EP was recorded a very specific way.
“Since we are instrumental, and we like to have that live sound, we don’t record to click tracks or take-by-take,” Alexander said. “We record all instruments. We’ll do three takes of each song. We’ll see which one sounds the best, and we’ll roll with it because we want to keep that authentic raw sound. There may be parts in songs where the tempo seems to wanna pick up just a smidge and that’s just how it feels.”
According to Matz, playing “funky” or “psychedelic” instrumental rock with wARM has always felt right.
“We love playing,” Matz said. “It’s not about selling records and making it big. We just want to play, so making sure that we can recreate what we sound like in the studio on stage is very important to us.”
The bassist explained the trials and rewards of being an instrumental band in Memphis.
“Being without a vocalist like you have to be engaging enough as a band to get the attention of a crowd,” Matz said. “Most of the time people, unless they’re musicians, rely on vocals to kind of connect with the music so whereas that kind of limits us, we use it as an opportunity to try to push ourselves and make ourselves do certain things that we wouldn’t do if we had a vocalist.”