While playing a 30-minute set at Lockn’ in 2014, Erin & The Wildfire guitarist Ryan Lipps broke a string on every guitar he brought, so to cover the lag in the “squeeze-in-as-much-you-can-set,” drummer Nick Quillen told a long, drawn-out joke.
“It wasn’t exactly the best thing we’ve ever done, but it was certainly memorable,” Quillen says about the bandmates always having each other’s backs.
There have been many on-stage jokes in the five years the Charlottesville-based band has been performing. Quillen, Lipps, bassist Matt Wood and powerhouse vocalist Erin Lunsford met at UVA. Recent additions include Garen Dorsey on saxophone and keys and Austin Patterson on trumpet, who Lunsford says helped the group transition from folksy Americana to funk and soul.
On Thirst, the band’s debut, Lunsford draws on her bandmates’ support to tell stories of heartbreak, angst and unrequited love. “Great Love” recounts lessons learned from a painful breakup.
“I’ve had all these misses and I’ve realized what I need and want, and it’s a great love. It’s a release, a surrender of sorts,” Lunsford says. “I feel like I need the support of my friends to say things like that.”
The album takes listeners on a sensory journey, as space, textures and grooves waft from track to track. “Thirsty for Your Love” opens with sounds reminiscent of stalactites dripping in caverns, seeping into jazzy horns, guitar and drum riffs, while Lunsford croons, “Ache in my temple / there’s a throb in my chest. / Just one little sip / and I’m obsessed.”
The track “Hot Slice,” the album’s artwork and a recent photo shoot of the band members all reference a shared passion for pizza. Quillen says a running joke when they’re on the road is finding the nearest Sheetz and ordering tons of food.
“The guys in The Wildfire are some of the most fun-loving, easygoing and positive people you’ll ever meet,” Lunsford says. Even when bandmates caught the flu and Lunsford couldn’t sing due to a head cold, she says recording was a “jolly” experience.
“I don’t know of any other thing I could be doing with the same people for 12 hours a day, and not be in a bad mood at the end of the day,” says Quillen.
Quillen is most proud of the album’s bookends, “Every Single Song On My CD Is Gonna Be A Hit, Pt. I” and “Every Single Song On My CD is Gonna Be A Hit, Pt. II,” calling them a nod to funk forefathers and the band’s inspirations, which include Stevie Wonder, The Jackson 5 and Vulfpeck.
“Pt. I” features Rodell Tolliver, a friend of the band, who explains the differences between gold-, platinum- and diamond- certified records. “Pt. II” acts as a reprieve—ending with a charming decade-old voicemail of Lunsford’s father singing “I Just Called to Say I Love You.”
Known for her range and powerful vocals, Lunsford’s talent is refined on this album. “I keep thinking ‘less is more,’ over and over again, with my singing, playing and writing,” she says. “The band has grown so much. I would say we’re the best we’ve ever been at this point.”
Fun-loving funk rockers Erin & The Wildfire were not amused when Facebook denied an advertising request for the group’s new album, Thirst. A post on the band’s page begins: “Well, apparently one skin-tone colored lady nipple in a piece of art is just too much for Facebook in 2017… seems like our money and thousands of years of artistic precedent aren’t quite enough to overcome gender inequality even in these seemingly modern times.”