Mike Wiebe on High Tension Wires' first tour and the Denton music scene
Photo by Gary Copeland
When Mark Ryan formed the Mind Spiders, who hit the Turf Club earlier this year, it wasn't his first experience in pulling together musical all-stars in Denton, Texas. He is also a member of High Tension Wires, who last year released their third LP, Welcome New Machine, on Dirtnap Records. Now the rotating cast has embarked on their first tour. The St. Paul show on Thursday includes a line-up of Ryan (Mind Spiders, Marked Men, the Reds), Mike Wiebe (Riverboat Gamblers), Chris Pulliam (the Reds), Jeff Burke (who played on the High Tension Wires first record), and help from the Birthday Suits' Hideo on third guitar.
In preparation of what is sure to be a wild set at Turf Club, Gimme Noise talked with Mike Wiebe about what's it's like to take High Tension Wires on the road, and how its different than playing with his better-known band.
Gimme Noise: How does the touring version of High Tension Wires vary from the studio band?
Mike Wiebe: We don't get to play live very much and, to be honest, we have never really toured. We have done a few out-of-state shows. And we don't really write songs in the same room or even the same city. It's a different recording/writing process from any of my other projects. It keeps me on my toes. Live it's just fun.
You haven't been an actively touring band and your last record came out over a year ago. Why tour now?
It was that rare Jupiter aligning with Mars moment that we all had free time to do something. Our schedules aren't very complimentary to touring, but this worked out.
With all of the members having other bands and different routines, how does songwriting work for High Tension Wires? Is it an individual or group process?
Those guys give me songs and they are done. I write lyrics and vocal melodies. If I was in the room, I probably would be asking for longer choruses or shorter verses or whatever, but I don't have that option and it makes me have to write outside of my songwriting box. I love it. It's difficult at times but I think it makes me a better songwriter.
Riverboat Gamblers, who you also play with, are known for a pretty entertaining and somewhat rowdy set. How is High Tension Wires different onstage?
We keep it fun and entertaining, I think, too. I have a guitar so I am a little tethered down. High Tension Wires tends to change the set up a bunch. I feel like I am always on my toes trying to remember minutiae of songs and keep up guitar-wise with these guys. I don't want my sloppy guitaring to let them down...
Riverboat Gamblers have played festivals and larger stages. What is it like to come back to a place like Turf Club with that experience? Is there any comparison between a small club and a large arena?
We still play plenty of small clubs so I haven't forgotten that or anything. But small rooms and big festival stages are very different animals. I like them both for different reasons. Small rooms are more intense and you can get a better connection with the crowd, whereas big festival stages are kind of about big movements and really trying to sound perfect for the people in the back. You can get "nuts" with the crowd at a festival but no one really knows or gets to see it.
From my knowledge of the Denton-Dirtnap scene, it seems like everybody has multiple bands and is constantly releasing records with each other. Is that an accurate assessment? Do you have downtime, or is the local scene a constant flux of people between various tours?
Those guys are crazy busy. I am in Austin now and it was like that when I lived there. And Daniel and Greg, who played on the last record, have more bands than I can count (that being said, I can only count to 11). But still they are at it. I try to keep up the pace between Gamblers, High Tension Wires, and Ghost Knife, so I try not to have downtime. I would rather be working on something new than going camping or something unpleasant like that.
I read in another interview that you're a Denton native. Is that correct? What is the city's culture like? Is there a divide between students and natives?
There wasn't for me. I never really noticed the difference. In fact, I think I connected to the people that were coming here for school or who moved here to do music and art more than most of the natives. I pretty much talk to the handful of people that I would want to from before college days... two of them being Chris and Mark who are the band originators. FULL CIRCLE! BAM!!!
High Tension Wires, Gateway District, Teddy & the Turks, Baby Boys. 21+, $8, 9 p.m. Thursday, September 20 at Turf Club
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