The time is now for exciting Houston indie rock band Wild Moccasins.
It’s been a long four years since the quartet’s last album, 88 92, garnered national acclaim, but they are back and more confident than ever, touting their new – and best – album yet, Look Together. The band celebrates its release at White Oak Music Hall Saturday, July 7.
Led by songwriters Zahira Gutierrez (vocals/keyboards) and Cody Swann (guitar/vocals), and joined by Avery Davis (drums and percussion), and Nicholas Cody (bass), Wild Moccasins return after a grueling two-year tour cycle following the release of the successful 88 92, and two years of writing and recording their new album. The time away gave the band a chance to regroup and plan their next steps.
Their response: go bigger. Look Together eschews much of the jangly indie-pop of previous work, incorporating heavier guitar riffs and a healthy injection of synths, all the while retaining Gutierrez and Swann’s innate sense of melody. It modernizes their sound, drawing on ’80s new wave, ’70s disco, and today’s pop music.
“It was definitely all on purpose,” Gutierrez tells CultureMap, over a glass of happy hour wine at Houston restaurant, Brasil. “I think that, personally, Cody and I wanted to go a different direction. We wanted to work with a producer we never met before, we wanted to get out of Houston.”
That producer turned out to be Ben H. Allen III, who manned the soundboards for acclaimed acts such as Gnarls Barkley, Cut Copy, Matt and Kim, and Animal Collective. After an initial email that those in the band thought might not be returned, Allen invited the band to his Atlanta studio for several writing sessions, eventually recording the results.
“We found him because he did a wide range of indie records that we really liked, like Deerhunter, Cut Copy, and Belle and Sebastian,” Gutierrez says. “And he also did a lot of pop records like The Pussycat Dolls and Gnarls Barkley. For me, that was great because I love both of those worlds. It seemed really perfect.”
Not coincidentally, the album embraces some of the biggest influences from mainstream music. Gutierrez was listening to Mariah Carey during the writing of the album and it’s that vocal power that shines throughout the 12 tracks. “Seven to One” incorporates Duran Duran riffs, the stomp and wail of album opener “Boyish Wave” would have been a hit for Siouxie and the Banshees, and the self-titled track and “Shooting in the Dark” is vintage Blondie with a perfect mix of synths and electric guitar.
“I feel like it does sound bigger, but I feel like we’ve become more minimal as a band,” says Gutierrez. “Our plan with this one was that Cody and I would write songs on acoustic guitar or piano. The rule was if it didn’t sound good on an acoustic guitar or piano and a voice, then that’s it, it’s not a good song.”
Lyrically, Look Together is a break-up album. Gutierrez and Swann ended a nearly decade-long romantic relationship following the release of 88 92. They decided to stay together as bandmates, something difficult for anyone outside the confines of a music group, let alone two people stuck together in close confines, driving long distances between shows, spending hours at clubs, and doing press together.
But the break-up made the duo stronger as songwriters and friends. It also gave Gutierrez more confidence in her abilities as a writer and performer. On Look Together, Gutierrez comes out of her shell as a vocalist, any sense of the hesitant, almost twee, indie-pop sound of earlier albums obliterated by a woman who can downright sing.
In discussing the direction of the band before embarking on recording sessions, her bandmates gave her full support to take a more front-and-center role, one that she was initially nervous to take on, but one that she ultimately embraced. She now has a major say in how the band looks and sounds, her hands all over the unique group aesthetic apparent on album artwork and stage design.
“I think that I’m at an age where I know what I want and I only want to work with people who can make this particular vision come true,” says Gutierrez, now 29. “As a woman in a band, you’re constantly being told ‘You can’t do that,' or ‘You shouldn’t do that.’ Everyone makes you second guess yourself constantly and that’s something I really needed to get out of. I think it had to take me getting older and going through a break-up and disappointments, which is like most people as they get older.
Following Wild Moccasins’ album release show at White Oak, the group will embark on a 16-date East Coast and Midwest U.S. tour and there are plans to tour throughout the rest of the year. While the previous album put them on the radar of the biggest music publications, radio stations, and concert promoters, Look Together is their shot at the big time, the widescreen sound made for audiences in bigger venues and music festivals everywhere, while still being relatable through its tales of heartache and moving on.
“I feel like this one is more direct and honest,” Gutierrez said. “There’s not much reading between the lines, which is something I did on purpose because I wanted people to understand where I was coming from. I just hope it reaches a broader audience and I hope we can play for a lot of people.”
Look Together is now available for sale on the band's website and on all streaming sites. Wild Moccasins play their album release party at White Oak Music Hall, located at 2915 North Main St., on Saturday, July 7. Cult Camera and El Lago open. Tickets are $10 plus a $2.57 service fee. Doors open at 8 pm.