California-based indie rock and folk band Little Wings hit Phoenix on Sunday, June 24, for their first visit in nearly a year.
The project was formed by Kyle Field back in the late '90s, and he’s the fuel that keeps things burning. He maintains the position as the stationary member while being joined at different times by a rotating cast of collaborators.
In more than 10 releases since the band’s inception, Field has continuously delivered poignant songs about life via beautiful melodies and his unique voice, loaded with jarring pitches, sincere rasps and cracks, and untethered warbles.
Oh, and by poignant, we mean magically soul-shattering. They haunt, but not without some hopefulness and happiness in their peaks and valleys. Listening to Little Wings is like taking a family road trip — the ride comes complete with a mixed bag of emotions, and it’s a journey you don’t forget.
Field's approach to creating doesn't involve any kind of "get rich (or famous) or die trying" ethos. He's content with the natural evolution of things, as long as he's creating. We caught up with Field to talk about this Phoenix show, next steps for Little Wings, and his other music and art projects.
Hey, Kyle. You’re about to hit Phoenix. When’s the last time you were here?
I was there last fall, when we were touring with Big Thief.
As the driving force behind Little Wings, a show can be just you or include other musicians. Are you bringing anyone for this Phoenix show?
That’s to be determined.
Do you ever roll into town and invite area musicians to play with you?
That has happened for sure, but I have a batch of friends that I can pick from that I play with regularly, so there's basically a band nowadays.
You are doing a release with Phoenix label Moone Records, right?
Yes, it's a maxi-single with Japanese band, Maher Shalal Hash Baz. I'm going to hear the test pressing while I'm in town. My song is really long, over seven minutes, and then I also made a field recording about the central coast of California.
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That’s your first release in a while, right?
You’re correct. I haven't put anything out in a few years, and I'm working on finishing up several different records that I've been working on to be released over the next year, but yeah, I have some new songs that I can play now for this show.
Nice. The show will offer a mix from the Little Wings catalog.
Yeah. I guess I'm kind of not centered around album cycles. I never have been, because I keep all of my songs in rotation constantly. I'm not focused on just playing brand new tunes.
You don’t seem to follow traditional or linear approaches with your projects, in general. Is that how you’ve always worked?
I think I like that way better. Variety is the spice of life and I will often say yes to collaborative ideas; I get offers to do stuff often. I like every day to be a little bit different, so one day I'm doing music, and designs for t-shirts for a friend's band, the next. I'll do album artwork for almost anyone at any time. I've never been good with labels wanting demos, and them getting to approve or not approve of songs. I just don't think they really know the music the way I know it. I'm the maker of the songs. I just do it my way, like Frank Sinatra, but on a much more modest level (laughs).
Bucking convention for happiness is a beautiful thing.
My main goal is to never have the creativity dry up. That's what makes me happy, being creative as simple as that sounds. I just really enjoy writing new songs, and making new things, and so I realized that if I can do it completely on my own terms that's what seems to work the best.
And you can shift your focus without sacrificing quality?
I think my focus isn't that intense on any one thing, that's my style. I don’t want to be defined as an artist or musician or as just one thing, so maybe by doing different things, I am undefinable. That's what feels the freest to me.
Thanks for continuing to prove we can succeed at multiple, simultaneous pursuits.
Maybe people don't think it's professional to be that way, but I'm interested in dirtbags of our culture, the rugged individuals and the underdogs — those are the people I like to read books by and study, because I identify with them in some way. If success means wearing brand new tennis shoes that look like they've never been worn, and sitting in a mansion where you never encounter dirt or the world, to me, that's not success. I love the natural world, and I think being in touch with the natural world is important for our mental health, at least for me.
When did you first start making music?
I'd say I was around 16. My brother was taking guitar lessons and I borrowed his guitar. I couldn't figure out how to play it. I didn't touch an instrument for a few years after that. Then, when I was 19 I started playing bass and within a year I was in a band. Around that time, I thought I should try guitar again, so I did. I was playing other people's songs at first, but knew early on that I really wanted to make my own songs and applied myself to writing, at that point, and trying to figure out how to elaborate feelings into poems.
Was your sound back then influenced by anything in particular?
Yes and no. I liked so many different kinds of music, it wasn't so much based on genre, though. I think around the time I was doing that first band, I was really into some of the SST Records bands. Firehose and the Minutemen were probably our heroes, and the music kind of reflected that.
How about now? Do you seek out new music?
I really don't. I read a lot of books, and I watch a lot of movies and such. For music, I think it goes back to my age, but when I was 12 and we had Walkmans, I'd get a new tape once in a while — I probably had the same five tapes for three years — and listened to them over and over. And that's still my thing, listening to tracks over and over again, going deep into every lyric and thinking about what it means now. I do the same thing with reading. I reread books like 15 years later, and discover passages that I forgot about — I trip out on that. I'm a repeat listener, for sure. I've been listening to Steely Dan for the past seven years, kind of deeply, as well as Lil Wayne's mix tapes for the last six years or so. I almost don't listen to the kind of music I make, so to speak. I want it to live in its own world, and want it to come from within as much as possible.
So, if that's the case, do you care when people compare it to something specific in the genre?
I mean, comparisons are odious, as they say, because half the time they're shallow or based on some aesthetical similarity. I try not to do that to other people who play music. After I see a band, I might say something like, "You guys remind me of the Meat Puppets but if the Meat Puppets were you guys – it’s that same kind of energy." I'm careful to not tell people they sound like someone else because it can be frustrating. It can level you a bit sometimes. If you have facial hair then for some people it's like, "Oh, Iron and Wine — I get it." Makes you want to just wear a mask.
Do you have ways you deal with those kinds of comments?
I just try not to listen that much to what people say after a gig unless it's constructive or positive. I'll get things like, "Hey, I've never seen you before but it's just like Father John Misty, I get it!" And I'm thinking, you so obviously didn't get it but thanks for seeing Angel Olson play and enjoying my music in the process!
Those "I get it" statements are often not about you, the music, or the show at all in many cases. It's about the person's own need to determine a point of connection.
I get that. There are many people that play and when they reach a certain level never go out to the merch booth or talk to fans after the show, unless it’s like someone stalking them by their bus, and they keep a bubble around themselves so they don't have to hear anything. And that's another thing, as far as fame goes, a little dab will do ya, and you can never go back from being ultra-famous. There's nowhere to go but down. I feel like I've been pretty moderate about that. I always want to play but I don't have a need to be in every kid's lunch box, so to speak. So many people that actually get very famous, they do want that. They want to be recognized at the restaurant but then you know, they can't really lead a normal life.
You like engaging after the shows.
I do. I can usually relate to them or understand why my music speaks to them.
You’ve been playing a long time now. Have you ever been pressured to follow that path to "fame?”
I don't have any management, per se, so there's no one to put any of that type of pressure on me. I'd get label pressure, back in the day, to tour and sometimes would do it.
And touring is something you love?
I do. It's like a home away from home. I really love the people I play music with, and now I joke that it's just one big tour with breaks in between to stop at home. I really love it but it can be exhausting and that's hard sometimes. Like how waiters work at night, and sometimes drink and stay up after the job, and then sleep in the next morning. I stay up till 1 a.m. or 3 a.m. and get up at 6 because I can't sleep in very well, so I spend a lot of time awake on tour, usually.
Especially playing quieter music, do you ever want to ban phones from your shows?
It doesn't drive me nuts but I recently asked at a show in Portland if hey, can we just not video tonight. You can take a pic or live story. I didn't see more than one or two phones all night, and I was transported back to 2003, and I really felt it and it was so soothing.
We are in such a challenging time, politically. Is that influencing any of the new music you’re working on?
I think so. I don't know how to put it into words, the current political climate, but I think I'm in the group of people that are frustrated and can't believe what the fuck is happening. It's crazy-making. So, I think if anything, those feelings come through (in my music) in a melancholic sense, almost goth, like, "Oh no, maybe we can't change this," rather than a punk, "Smash the system" kind of way.
Whether you’re consciously trying to talk about it, it's almost like how can you not?
What else are you working on?
Be Gulls — it is Little Wings doppelganger group. A little more experimental.
Do you get together with no plan and just see what happens?
In the past, it's gone a few different ways. The first record had lyrics but no tune to the lyrics, so I sang while the band created music as I went along. We've also improvised music to sing over later. This one was prewritten and then recorded, so, the most traditional. The songs are all weak, kind of. They're purposely weak, like taking less care in an intentional way.
What can we expect from this Phoenix show?
New songs and hopefully a well-stocked souvenir booth with drawings and such. And Gene Tripp — that's exciting.
You'll be selling some of your original artwork?
Yes. I call them tour drawings — they're bigger than postcard and longer, but around the same width.
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Do you still show your work in galleries?
No. I haven't in years. I used to have a few galleries representing me. I liked it okay but I didn't love it. I prefer selling art directly to people. They bump the prices to make their commission so drawings I'd sell at a lower price point become so much more. In a way, that cuts out who can own your art, to me.
What else should we know about you?
Nothing, really. Whatever is in the music is what I want them to know, kind of. I'm happy to still be able to play and that people still come out to shows. I thank anyone in advance that's planning on stopping by.
Little Wings perform at 7:30 p.m. at The Lunchbox, 4132 East McDowell Road, Suite 7. Tickets are $10. Gene Tripp opens. Visit lunchboxphx.com.