In a town where Americana and country color the sounds of a great many bands, The Sedonas are doing something different.
Cue up the group’s latest self-titled offering, in fact, and it’s not hard to imagine James Connor Wike and his bandmates stumbling out of a time machine sent to the future from the 1970s, when brawny rock chords punctuated a down-and-dirty swagger that’s often missing from local stages.
“The self-titled album by Free — they’re a big inspiration to us, and that was kind of the vibe we wanted to go for instrumentally,” Wike told The Daily Times recently. “Vocally, I was listening to a lot of The Guess Who and a lot of hip-hop — Eminem and Kendrick Lamar, for example. I kind of like to bring modern stuff as far as the vocals go, and the guys are more into that vintage vibe on things, so there’s this flair of bringing two different ages coming together.
“As far as (guitarist) Ryan’s (Sise) playing goes, he’s definitely inspired by guys like Mick Taylor, Duane Allman, Eric Clapton and B.B. King. And Casey (Green), our drummer, has definitely got more of a country vibe. One track on the album, ‘Trace the Rain,’ I’ve got to hand that one to him. We’ve all got a bunch of different genres we listen to, and it just becomes this melting pot, and I think that sometimes adds to the swagger of everything.”
Wike and Green put the band together in Knoxville in January 2016, and in the early days, The Sedonas featured a quieter, more songwriter-driven aesthetic. The guys eventually began to incorporate more jam band-oriented elements before trimming the fat to make “The Sedonas” a sleek-sounding muscle car of sound, coming out of the gate swinging with the one-two punch of “Happens Right” and “Livin’ Fastly.” With punchy power chords and Wike’s vocals landing somewhere in the vicinity of Judas Priest’s Rob Halford, The Sedonas provide plenty of head-banging material on their latest — a process that begins in Wike’s head and grows into the final draft when his bandmates put their personal stamp on his creations.
“I write demos on a keyboard and stuff, then kind of make them into beats on my computer, and then I send them over to the guys in the band,” Wike said. “Casey and Ryan fill in with their own riffs — they’ll build them up, add in the licks and solos in some areas and fill in other areas to bring life to the track. I don’t really consider myself a musician — I’m more of a performer and a singer, and there’s only so much I can do as someone who gets the structure and chord changes out. Those guys, they’ve got the technicality down, and that’s their areas of expertise.”
The Sedonas originally released a self-titled EP centered around Wike’s soulful ruminations, and while he certainly hasn’t jettisoned his more tender side — “Trace of Rain” is proof that, if anything, it’s a comfortable wheelhouse for him — his partnership with Sise and Green have paid rock ‘n’ roll dividends that put The Sedonas on another tier of sound. (Bassist Adrian Mastin rounds out the quartet.) In 2017, the guys released the album “American Paint,” and while the self-titled album only came out last summer, the guys already are planning another trip to the studio before year’s end.
And that, Wike said, means continued evolution. While the harder material on “The Sedonas” was certainly a turning point, it’s not the final resting place for a crew that has a penchant for sonic exploration.
“I think on the next album, we’ll be moving toward a more melodic sound,” Wike said. “I’ve been listening a lot to the latest Dan Auerbach record (“Waiting on a Song”), and it’s just got some great melodies. I’d like to make songs that just have a lot of melody in them, classic stuff like The Byrds. Right now, that’s where I want to lean, in contrast to the last project being heavier.”
Not that the heavier material is being retired. Although shows are few and far between these days because of COVID-19 — The Sedonas performed in June at Smokies Stadium in Kodak as part of the Drive-In Concert Series, and there are some scattered out-of-town gigs on the books, but when the band gets to perform in East Tennessee again, the new material will certainly have a place in the setlist.
“As far as live shows go, the heavier stuff is the more fun stuff to play,” Wike said. “The ballads and slower stuff are fun, but I like to really get into it on stage, and that’s some fun stuff to perform with.”