Homemade success stories seem rare in this age of prepackaged groups and trendy artists who routinely pop up on the mainstream radar. But once in a while, a band evolves from hard work, perseverance, and in the case of Wine Field, a great sense of timing. Their homegrown development, highly befitting their folk roots, has been aided by a series of auspicious events many artists yearn for. Some would write it off as dumb luck, but given the aspirations and energy which the group possess, destiny seems a more appropriate term.
The Portland, Maine-based folk-rock group began life nearly five years ago simply as the core duo of singer-songwriters Jimmy Landry and Shawn Tooley, two talented twentysomething University of Southern Maine students playing in separate rock bands. Although initially aware of each other by name only, they were united by fate when Tooley needed a place to live at a time when Landry needed a roommate. Tooley moved in, and eventually they began jamming during their spare time.
“Next thing you know, we started to collaborate on some songs,” recalls Landry, speaking on a conference call with Tooley. “First we started out kicking around on some covers, and doing a few gigs here and there just for money. We started writing together and found right when we started singing together that our voices linked up pretty well.” Tooley notes that “a following started to occur. More and more people were starting to see us, so we thought we had something.”
The chance to return to their acoustic roots was quite appealing, and their musical alliance — strongly defined by the interplay between the guitars and vocals of Landry and Tooley — felt quite natural to them. Indeed, their vocal harmonies are quite striking. Wine Field tunes are generally low-key mid-tempo numbers, but there are also some more rocking songs like the radiant “On a Beating Heart,” which closes out their debut album. Their sound has drawn favorable comparisons to REM, Indigo Girls, and Crosby, Stills & Nash.
Before they thought of recording, Landry and Tooley honed their chops and refined their material during the next couple of years. Eventually unsure of where to head next, they sought input from the Manhattan-based entertainment lawyer for Landry’s previous band. “We brought a full P.A. system into his office one day,” reminisces Tooley. “He said ‘What the hell are you guys doing?’ And we said ‘Just sit down and listen. Take a little break today.’ We played him seven songs, and he listened to them without saying anything straight through. He told us his opinions later on, and he said ‘I’ve got a drummer for you guys. He wants to go in that direction.'”
That drummer turned out to be Jonathan Mover, an experienced skinbeater who has played with the likes of Aretha Franklin, guitar shredder Joe Satriani, and prog rock legends Marillion, aside from various studio gigs. He helped give the twosome some direction, and would also end up playing drums and keyboards on their first album, which he also produced. After signing with indie label Watchtower Entertainment, the newly-recharged Wine Field, with transitory bassist James Cruz in tow, began recording their self-titled debut last year in New York.
Fate would soon intervene for the band yet again. As Landry and Tooley were walking through a Manhattan subway station on their way to a recording session, they heard something which captured their attention. “We hear this crazy violin playing,” explains Landry. “We walk over to look and there’s this older guy in a tuxedo literally chasing people around with this violin. We miss the train because we’re baffled by this guy, and he’s looking at us, he’s all crazy, running around chasing people.”
Impressed by his performance, the duo dropped him their card. “He ends up calling me,” says Landry. “He’s a nice guy, he’s just out there. So we get him in the studio — he’s the one playing violin on ‘Tripping.’ He had never really played in a studio before.” Bizarrely enough, Tooley later called Landry to report that he had seen their guest violinist, James Graseck, on VH-1. He won the runner-up position for that channel’s contest for Best Street Performer in the United States and had been profiled by the station.
Once their album was finished, Wine Field needed to score some more gigs. And, not surprisingly, another unlikely chain of events occurred. “We know an agent over in Europe from our old bands,” states Landry. “I sent him a press pack. He’s got some pretty influential ties over there, so he ended up passing it around and got it to a radio station over in France. Next thing you know, we had some spins over there. One thing led to another, and we got offered a small tour for two and a half weeks over in France.” And the group — which on tour includes Mover and different bassists — ended up selling a lot of records while overseas last December.
Following their European jaunt, Wine Field undertook a lengthy college tour on this side of the Atlantic, the result of showcasing for an organization called NACA (the National Association for Campus Activities). “We’ve been involved with NACA for awhile,” remarks Landry. “It’s a means for artists like us to be able to get exposure and play colleges. It’s a great association, but a lot of people don’t know about it. You submit your credentials, your record, everything. Around 600 bands per region end up submitting, and then they pick ten to showcase at this huge seminar, and you book a tour right on the spot. That’s how we got the 30-day college tour this past year. That’s really helped us out a lot. This year we’re going national with it.”
Wine Field certainly are good at making themselves known. After the initial pressing of their debut sold well regionally, national distributors Koch International (who handle Ani DiFranco) picked up the album, and now over 450 radio stations are spinning the disc. On top of all this, Landry recently relocated to New York City, but he says this won’t affect his musical bond with Tooley. “I go to Maine quite a bit, and Shawn comes down to New York. Whenever we’re on the road, we’re always practicing and writing new songs. We switch tapes back and forth all the time.” What will more likely be affected are their lyrics. Most of the songs on their debut were inspired by life in Maine, but they say their 20 to 22 new songs are about different topics as well.
At the moment, Landry and Tooley are focused on building their fan base and would like to play in the California, Midwest, and Northwest regions. “Our goal this year is to play 150 colleges,” declares Landry. It’s an ambitious plan, but judging from the way things have been going, they’ll probably accomplish it with ease. And who knows, maybe Lady Luck will step in once again and land them that ever-desirable major label deal. Stranger things have already happened to them.