There’s a veritable chasm twixt the musical realms of D.C. hardcore and heartland rock, but Quiet Hollers founder Shadwick Wilde managed to bridge the gulf with a single self-released album and a pull-together show.
A Kentucky native, Wilde cut his teeth growing up playing guitar in so-called “street punk” bands in Louisville. He eventually landed gigs as a guitarist for hire in a couple of national touring punk bands, including a notable Washington, D.C. hardcore outfit.
But around 2010, Wilde decided he needed a new direction and new sound. Noting the crossover Americana success of old-school punk rockers like Chuck Ragan of Hot Water Music and Tim Barry from Avail, he wrote and recorded a 13-song alt-country solo record, “Unforgivable Things,” full of traditional instruments and lyrical allusions to life in the rural South.
Wanting to showcase the new material, Wilde gathered a handful other of local musicians for a one-off show at a Louisville club. “We had a huge response,” Wilde says. “At that point, the band became its own thing.”
None of this is to say that Wilde’s transition was inauthentic. His early punk leanings notwithstanding, Wilde says he was a longtime fan of artists like Townes Van Zandt and Steve Earle. A talented lyricist, Wilde also had longstanding writerly aspirations that squared well with his alt-country turn.
“I’ve been writing since I was in middle school — fiction, short stories, poems,” Wilde says. “I don’t think of myself as a virtuoso singer or guitar player. I’m a voracious reader, and that has a huge influence on the things I write.”
Wilde admits, however, that some of the self-conscious trappings of traditional Americana fell away after the debut of “Unforgivable Things” — the string-band trappings, the Southern Gothic-approved song titles like “Kentucky Tobacco” and “Destitution Road.” His old post-punk roots began to show again, and his subsequent work with his newfound band settled comfortably into a space at the juncture of his disparate influences.
Indeed, the Hollers’ sound today is at once ruminative and compelling, bolstered not a little by lyricist Wilde’s hyper-literate yet personable musings. It’s of a piece with contemporary folk-rockers like Fleet Foxes, with heartland punks like the Gaslight Anthem, with alt-country stalwarts like the Jayhawks.
“I’m always amused to hear which genres listeners put us in, what artists they compare us to,” Wilde says, chuckling. “I have my ideas, but everyone seems to have their own interpretation. I usually just say that we’re indie rock, because that’s broad enough to encompass a lot of different sounds. There are elements of rock, folk, and traditional music in what we do.
“I think what’s most important is that each song decides which direction it’s going in, rather than us deciding it’s going to go a particular way. The magic lies in the fact that each song creates its own world for it to exist in.”
Right now, the Hollers are touring in support of their 2017 release “Amen Breaks,” a record Wilde considers to be his most thoughtful and accessible work to date. “A lot of my stuff is pretty introspective,” he says. “There’s a lot of self-criticism and inner struggle, sorting through complicated feelings.
“Our newest record widens the lens. We’re living in a world now where a lot of people are experiencing fear and anxiety. The record isn’t so much a shift toward social commentary as toward the fact that these issues are affecting all of us now. I’m not being didactic or preachy, saying, ‘I have the answers.’ It’s more a matter of asking what kind of world we’re going to have a few years from now.”
Quiet Hollers will play Preservation Pub Wednesday, Sept. 13 at 10 p.m.