Rabbit Wilde: Growth, grit and heart

New album The Heartland set for release Feb. 19

by Hayden Eller

The birth of beloved group Rabbit Wilde (Miranda Zickler, Zach and Nathan Hamer, and Jillian Walker) and their particular brand of bluegrass/americana is proof to never underplay the importance of seizing opportunities whenever/however they enter life – especially when they are presented thousands of miles away from home in the form of other gifted-PNW locals.

“Zach, Nathan and I were all in NYC for different reasons and at different times, but we all happened to be in Union Square on the same day (in 2012), serendipitously, and recognized each other from Facebook, etc,” said Miranda, attributing their meeting to the “magic of the internet.”

Since the band’s inception in late 2012 (when the Hamer brothers, who had been performing as The Hamer Brothers in Skagit/NY venues, began working with Zickler), they have built a reputation for their “Wilde-ly” (ha) entertaining live show. While the development of their individual stage personas has been easier for some, the importance of having a “performance” aspect to their live show has been essential since the establishment of the band.

“I’ve always felt like a performer first and a musician second, so that was a really important aspect of it for me,” Zickler said. “Part of how I made my living in Brooklyn was by busking on subway platforms, which built up my vocal strength and my (still growing) ability to roll with various punches while performing,” she added.

Zach, credited as one of the group’s most musically gifted members, has had to grow into the role of performer, but each member is quick to note that all have “had amazing growth in terms of confidence and stage presence in the last three years.”

Rabbit Wilde credits their decision to return to the Pacific Northwest in the Summer of 2012 to Bellingham’s artistic-atmosphere and “wonderful(ly), cozy music scene.”

“Bellingham has been a really lovely place to come back to and call home. The band house is close to everything and The Green Frog remains one of our very favorite places in the country to play,” Zickler said. In fact, it was The Green Frog where Jillian Walker (cello/vocals), the band’s fourth and final member, became acquainted with the group, leading to her joining the Rabbit ranks a few months later. Walker and Zickler had grown up a few blocks apart as children, and after reintroducing herself, Walker was promptly asked to play cello on the group’s new set of songs (which became the band’s EP The Wild North, released in October 2014).

When it came time for the band to head out on tour, the question of Walker’s role was an easy one. “When it was time to tour, we asked if she was interested and she promptly left school and her job as a barista to come on the road with us.”

While all four members had played in bands previously, they are quick to point to Rabbit Wilde as their first “real band experience,” as it was the first time each had individually decided to commit their time and resources to music. “We all ended up back in the Northwest, and we sat down and decided to dedicate all our time and resources to this project, try it out and see what happened,” Zickler said.

The group’s wide array of musical influences (from Bikini Kill and Sleater Kinney to Robert Johnson and Beethoven) has had an integral role in the development of their unique sound, but the underlying beauty of Rabbit Wilde’s music is best summarized by Nathan: “I play an oddly varied playlist of music when I’m in the driver’s seat on tour (anything from dubstep, Leadbelly, Punch Brothers, to Beirut), but I’m definitely inspired by artists who combine poetic and unique lyrics with catchy melodies.”

No matter the wide reach of their individual songwriting influences, the writing process has been wholly collaborative since the band began, Zickler said. “Generally one person will write the bones of a song and bring it to the group to flesh out. Some are more fully formed at the start and each member will just add their own instrumentation, and some are just a set of lyrics or a melody and are a fully collaborative process.”

The Heartland, the band’s upcoming full-length release, is set to be available Feb. 19 and while the bulk of the record was written while out touring the country this past year, the band decided to return to Bear Creek Studios to track the songs. This was due in part to their wonderful experience recording the Southern Winters EP at Bear Creek this past summer (the EP was released in September), as well as the skills of in-house engineer Jerry Streeter.

“Bear Creek is a really special place – it’s in a huge converted barn so it’s got this really open, comfortable vibe about it, and I think anyone who visits can attest to the feeling of magic that permeates it. Jerry (Streeter) was our producer for Southern Winters and The Heartland. I’m not using hyperbole when I say he is a genius at what he does, and it doesn’t hurt that he’s become one of our favorite people and closest friends.”

When asked about any goals the band has in conjunction with the upcoming release, they’re quick to shed light on the importance of the management team they have around them. “We have a great radio campaign company that has our music spinning on independent stations across the country, a publicist out of Seattle who helps us get it into the hands of some big names in the industry, and our manager, Andy Palmer, who’s already helped so much in boosting us to the next level in terms of touring and festivals,” Zickler said.

The band recently scored a showcase at this year’s SXSW Festival in Austin, Texas, further proof that their success and popularity is far from happenstance.

Although the inception of Rabbit Wilde is due to a chance encounter, their continued success and rise within the music industry is due to the passion and tireless work ethic that drives all four of the band’s members.

LIVE SHOW: See Rabbit Wilde at the Wild Buffalo on Feb. 5 with the Warren G Hardings. The band’s new release The Heartland will be available Feb. 19. For more information, check out rabbitwilde.com. 

In other news, Miranda will sing in a Motown-themed show with the Seattle Rock Orchestra and Whatcom Symphony Orchestra at Mt Baker Theatre on Feb. 13. Tickets are available via the Mt. Baker Theater website.

Published in the February 2016 issue of What’s Up! Magazine