Wilderado's Max Rainer Talks Fatherhood

Cara Robbins
Wilderado is fueled by friendship and now fatherhood.
Wilderado's 2018 EP Favors was generally met with excitement from the indie-rock world, as was the group's recently released acoustic companion, Favors EP [Acoustic].

With six EPs and counting since 2017, the Los Angeles-based quartet has gotten quite a bit of tread out of eloquent harmonies, big sing-a-long choruses and earnest songwriting while trying to figure out the ins and outs of being a touring band. 

Ahead of Wilderado's show at the Gothic Theatre, singer, principal songwriter and guitarist Max Rainer spoke to Westword about the promising growth in the band since it began releasing music, the idea behind releasing an acoustic version of the Favors EP, how fatherhood has radically changed his life as a musician, and his daughter's opinion of his music. 

Westword: What prompted you to release an acoustic version of your latest EP, Favors? Was something missing from the first version?

Max Rainer: Honestly, I don’t think it was so much about something missing from it as we basically were doing a lot of touring and started playing a lot of radio stations — and the songs were pretty high up in my register, and really I have to send it, if you will, to sing all those tunes.

It was really not fun to do early in the morning, and just something that I just didn’t feel like I was forced to feel the need to do to make people listen to, you know? Everything’s in these small rooms, and you’re one person, and it kind of didn’t feel like it would do the songs justice to try to play them on acoustic guitar instead of the way that we do at our shows and how we recorded it.

I thought it’d be fun just to do different versions of them — not be different songs, but sort of lower, more appropriate for the morning, and we ended up liking those versions and thought it’d be cool to release. And honestly, it’s been really rad. It kind of makes me want to do it for everything we do.

Let’s say you have to do another version of Favors. What's that version?

[Laughs.] Like the polka version?

Polka, reggae, death metal...

Maybe we would go ’90s country and see if we can do it however Brooks & Dunn would have.

With six EPs since 2017, it’s obvious you’re writing and recording. So why no LPs? Are you building up to it? Are you just riding this current wave of EPs? 

I would say kind of both. We started writing a record. It was twelve songs, and we were going to release just on our own, and we ended up putting out the first song, “The Ocean and the Sea." From that, we were just trying to put a team together pretty quickly. We ended up just putting out that record as two EPs, and I think it was a really smart choice. It kind of allowed us to get out on the road and start playing before just dumping all of our content out.

It really spaced out the band. We had a bunch of content we were sitting on, but we had never really played shows ever, to tell you the truth. We just went to this developmental state of learning how to play our songs and how to play together as a band. We decided to just spread out the releases.

It just kind of continued from there. We’re always on the road — not to mention it’s so expensive to record new music. We’re trying to be particular about owning all of our music, so it’s kind of worked out where the amount of time we’ve had to record plus the amount of money we had to spend on recordings has looked much more like EPs than it has a full-length.

That being said, we do have plans to put one out. I’m not so sure we’re going to say when or where, but that’s definitely in our stars and something we’re all very romantic about doing.

What’s been the biggest way you’ve seen the band grow together since the first EP?

Man, just as players in general. We really were just four buddies that kind of wrote some songs and liked singing them and had no idea of the rigors of performing and learning to play songs live. Not many of us came in with fifteen years of guitar under our belts, you know? It kind of started with hanging out, and then you realize people are listening to your music, and the thing you do is go out and play it.

We’ve kind of learned how to do all of that together, and by having to do it so much, we’ve all become better on our instruments and have become more confident in it, and that leads to different songwriting. We’ve just recorded a bunch of new music, and I think our music has evolved, as far as the musicianship goes.

Was it difficult trying to form a band identity with friends?

It was challenging with the friends that ended up not being in the band, I guess [laughs]. It was a group of us, and I guess I had written all the songs, mostly, and then we started singing them together, and then the guys have just been on them, adding parts, and to tell you the truth, I’ve really loved Tyler and Colton’s voices and the way that the three of us sounded together. It just kind of went from there.

In all honesty, it hasn’t been hard. I would do it a hundred more times and do it that way as opposed to another way. I’ve done bands before where it’s only about the player and so weird being stuck with people and not getting along. People are playing their parts rather than the song, and it really is cool that everybody has such ownership of our relationship and our songs. It’s a special thing.

It seems like any other job, where having relationships outside of work has the potential to improve the work.

Yeah. And accountability, too. We really are letting each other down if we aren’t figuring out how to get better and better individually. The idea of letting one of them down is a pretty tragic thought, and I know they all feel that way about me. I think it’s a good environment.

What’s the first thing you do when given time off between touring?

Oh, man. I quickly become a stay-at-home dad. I get home and, yeah, it’s crazy. We were just talking about it yesterday: You really do live two different lives, because the tours are always just so go, go, go, and there’s huge highs and really low lows, and then you come home, and you really don’t do anything other than write.

My wife’s working — she’s a florist — and we’ve got a three-year-old; she’ll be three in fifteen days. I just try to gain back the time I missed. Jump back into the system they have going. Just that. It’s very uncool, but I love it.

It sounds refreshing and life-giving.

And I think you know she’s getting to the point now she realizes her dad’s a songwriter and a part of that means sharing those songs with the people that made them special and are listening to them and giving them life. It’s been pretty cool to watch her piece the stuff together.

She’s coming to see us in Oklahoma City. That will only be her second time to see us, but she knows and loves the guys and is always talking about them, and they’re always FaceTiming her. Sometimes we’ll FaceTime her and prop up the phone so she can watch us load in and soundcheck. It’s cool. ... She gets that I do something that I love, and then when I’m back, I get to put all my attention on her.

Have you started to figure out if she’s going to be a musician, too?

I hope not [laughs]. I don’t know. I’m afraid I do. If someone was really forcing me to guess, I would say yeah. She is so impacted by music. She’s really involved in the songs I write and the new material I’m writing, because I always show her. She responds to different ones and in different ways, and it’s an interesting filter, her being a three-year-old, because she connects with them. She connects to the mood and energy of it, and she’s now starting to grab words.

It’s not like she has the say-all in our music [laughs]. But If I make a little demo, I definitely go home and show her, and she’ll either pay attention to it or she won’t, right from the start. It’s kind of interesting to see how that translates to other people when I share new material.

But she also walks around and makes up little guitars and always wants to turn on records and jam along with her fake guitars, always singing. It’s crazy.

It sounds like you have a co-producer and co-writer at home.

Yeah, it’s crazy. But the last thing I want to do is make her a songwriter. But you can tell. Maybe it is just the habit of being around music, but it's cool.

How has fatherhood changed your life as a musician?

It’s definitely made it much harder. She’s just kind of always on the mind, and it’s very strange spending so much time away from your kid and wife, but I think it also puts a certain amount of seriousness to it all.

What we’re doing is so not just a game. I understand the seriousness of what we’re doing and the sacrifice that we’re making to do what we’re doing. If it wasn’t for going around and seeing people and meeting people [who've] somehow [been impacted by] songs I’ve written and songs we sing together and kind of made them their own — if it wasn’t for that, I think I would really reconsider what I do, because it is so much fun, but you only have a little kid for so long. Every time you come back, they’re a completely different person than they were before, and it’ll never come back. It’s a sacrifice and a sobering thought, but it seems worth it to me.

Just because you have a kid doesn’t mean your life should stop and you should stop being in love with the things you’re passionate about. I think it’s a huge example for a child to see that your life should be about what you’re passionate about.

Mt. Joy, with Wilderado and Whitacre, 8 p.m. Tuesday, March 19, Gothic Theatre, 3263 South Broadway, Englewood,