Poetic edge: Punk quartet Wild Rose is beholden to beauty

Formed through Charlottesville’s DIY punk scene, Wild Rose sources the botanical world for its thoughtful lyrics powered by high-energy musicianship.
Photo by Farrah Skieky Formed through Charlottesville’s DIY punk scene, Wild Rose sources the botanical world for its thoughtful lyrics powered by high-energy musicianship. Photo by Farrah Skieky

Climbing into your mom’s minivan when you’d lied only slightly about your whereabouts for the evening, reeking of cigarettes and blaming it on your friends when it really was you who was smoking. Claiming you’d only been drinking Pepsi and then trying to figure out how to throw away the beer bottle caps you’d stuffed in the pockets of your jeans without your parents spotting them in the bathroom trash can.

These are the things the members of Wild Rose remember about their introduction to punk music.

“It was awesome, wild,” says Jack Richardson, Wild Rose’s guitarist who grew up in Charlottesville and, like vocalist Josh Phipps and drummer Sam Roberts, started going to house shows on JPA and gigs at Dust warehouse (now Firefly) when he was a teenager. Bassist Will Jarrott grew up in Washington, D.C., but says his experience was largely the same, adding that the best part was finding a community of people who were into the same music—Dead Kennedys, Thin Lizzy…none of that Creed or N*SYNC stuff—and who were playing music of their own.

Caught up in the immediately lucid energy of punk music, they all ended up in bands eventually, and about a year ago started Wild Rose. In January, the band released a five-track demo tape that, with its sped-up, often melodic hard rock, garage-influenced, proto-punk sound, is a throwback to the ’70s.

Wild Rose hasn’t been pigeonholed yet, and avoiding it shouldn’t be too tough for an act that draws as much from Black Sabbath’s heavy metal and Annihilation Time’s punk ’n’ roll as it does Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass.

Typically, Richardson sprouts a riff and lays it down on a 4-track cassette recorder then shares it with the rest of the band; Jarrott and Roberts write their parts and Phipps composes the lyrics. It’s important to Phipps that the lyrics accentuate a certain feeling or sound the music is giving off.

Phipps says he turns inward when he writes lyrics of “things that are so close to inexpressible, things that you feel the strongest” and writes until he finds a set of words that captures that feeling. On “Gilden Chain,” Phipps half-howls, half-squeals about wanting to feel like a living thing and how it’s tough to do when balancing expectations and responsibility with desire.

Phipps spends his days doing horticultural work, so it’s no surprise that botanical themes pop up in his lyrics. “There are a lot of allegories for life and experience to be found in living things and the way they grow,” Phipps says. “Wild Rose,” which the band considers to be a sort of theme song, is an ode to those people who stick out in society like bright red wild roses growing in a green pasture or a meadow, “the most wild and interesting thing growing [there],” Phipps says. And then there’s the Whitman influence. On “Body Electric,” Phipps references some of Whitman’s poems directly: “I breathe a body electric / I sing the song of myself / My lack of thought can be crimes but I harbor no hatred / I seek peace of mind and I seek forgiveness,” he sings.

On Saturday night, Wild Rose will play a palpably energetic set at Magnolia House, one of Charlottesville’s more resolute DIY venues. It’s hard to say for sure, but it’s likely a few teens will be there, soaking in the sound and the cigarette smoke and shoving bottle caps into their jeans as Wild Rose plants a seed of what’s to come.

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