I met with Dave Fish and Melody Bickford recently to talk about their band Invite the Wild, a blues rock quintet that plays local night spots from the apres ski Widowmaker to the late night Roost to my own neighborhood hangout, Tuck’s Ale House. I asked them to tell me about the beginnings of the band.
“The Delta Roots way back in the day, that was the beginning of it all,” said Fish before launching into a rock and roll tale that included Barack Obama’s inauguration, band member departures and arrivals, and three or four name changes.
But we’ll get back to that.
In more recent history, Invite the Wild released a self-titled album last fall. It’s available on all the major streaming platforms, and the band also has cds which they sell online and at shows, where sales are still brisk.
The album showcases the band’s bluesy style on a collection of originals, Bickford most often on lead vocals, delivering a Bonnie Rait kind of confidence to songs like “Please Find Me” and “Rearview Mirror” and showing her vocal versatility when she effortlessly tackles the more country “Goin’ Down to Nashville.”
The band is full of songwriters. Fish contributed clever lyrics to the dynamic “Trade it In,” where lines like “I don’t know what I was thinkin’/I thought we were the perfect match” approach the Dylanesque. Guitarists D.J. Taylor and Joe Hodgkins show off their story-telling talents in the rags to riches to rags saga “Comin’ Back from Nashville” and the ghost tale “Moses Varnum.” Deft guitar work from both Taylor and Hodgkins shows off their bar band pedigrees.
The work is the product of several recording sessions with Farmington native Jon Gaither at his home studio in Portland. Bickford and Fish have fond memories of the recording process which involved the band settling into Gaither’s Victorian house for entire weekends and setting up in his third floor studio. “We worked 9 a.m. to midnight the whole time,” said Bickford, bolstered by “lots of coffee and Chinese food.”
All the tracks were recorded live, not an easy feat in a small studio space, but the team found a way to make it work, with amps tucked into closets and the drums in an adjacent room. Gaither handled the technical side, recording, mixing and mastering the album. “Jon knows what he’s doing. He’s learning all the time,” Bickford said. “Vocals got laid last most of time, but at the end of the day when we did the vocals he had the same energy and attention to detail.”
If Gaither seemed like a sixth member of the band on this album, it’s no surprise. He was in the very first version of this group, back in 2009 when he and Fish and drummer Chris Goodwin, returning from a trip to Washington D.C. to attend the inauguration festivities for Barack Obama, decided to form a band. “Jon had a beat up old drum set, and we started playing in our living room,” Fish recalled. That was the Delta Roots, who played together for several years until Gaither moved to Portland. Then Goodwin and Fish placed an ad on Craig’s List only to discover their perfect fit in Melody and Joe Tinkham, a couple they had never met before, but who lived only a mile away. They called the new band Quick Fix and kept playing, that is, until Tinkham left the band.
Meanwhile Fish knew D.J. from sharing gigs with the band Nigels Thornberry. “I always knew I wanted a band with Melody and D.J.” said Fish. “And I was literally sitting next to D.J. when I heard Joe was quitting.” The offer went out to D.J. immediately, and “a second life was breathed into our musical career.” It was about this time that the band became the Usual Suspects, and they gigged together as a quartet for several years. The next iteration came when “magically we found Joe [Hodgkins], and it changed a lot,” said Fish.
Playing Alex Fest at Titcomb Mountain with Hodgkins was a band highlight. “It was unbelievable,” said Bickford. “Beautiful weather. So much local music, so many local bands.” The event was a fundraiser honoring Alex Witt who died tragically in a ski accident in 2017. “We learned Grateful Dead songs because Alex was a Dead fan,” explained Bickford. “We found our songs learning those songs and playing that gig.”
Once the band had an album to put on music platforms they realized just how many “usual suspects” were out there and another name change was in the works. Taking inspiration from a Nikita Gill poem they decided on Invite the Wild. “The poem deals with the idea of Red Ridinghood, and what if she invited the wolf in willingly?” explains Bickford.
Since the album release, Fish said, “we’ve been able to be a little more selective with gigs. And we play more what we want. We play a lot more originals now.”
Bickford agreed. “Once you lay an album, once you have that, so much pride and confidence comes from that. I feel so much more comfortable filling the set with originals.”
“And we always get good reactions from them,” said Fish.
Many of the band’s covers are from the sixties and seventies and their originals are inspired by the same era. “I can’t picture us playing anything else, “ said Fish. “It’s all any of us have loved since we were young.”
The band seems to agree not only on musical style but on just about everything else. “We love each other like family,” said Fish. Chris and I don’t communicate, we just play. He’s definitely the quiet guy. The four of us, he said, referring to the rest of the band, “we don’t argue or debate.”
“We have the only guitar players on earth who don’t have egos,” agreed Bickford.
The camaraderie has carried over to their songwriting, and the first song on their album is a good indication of what’s to come. “You Keep Me From Home” sounds like it could be an angsty love song but in reality the lyrics are about the band’s relationship with music. Fish came up with the chorus and then each band member contributed a verse. “This is our solid band song,” he said. Lots of songs for their next album are ready to go, all of them written as a band. They also have live shows booked into next fall. “We’re happy to stay local,” said Fish.
“The music scene around here is really great,” said Bickford. “There are a lot of places in Western Maine that support local music.”
Currently the band is excited about a new song they are working on called “Red,” what Fish and Bickford label as a feminist anthem, drawing inspiration from “Girls of the Wild,” the same poem that inspired their band name. “It’s one of my favorite songs to play now,” said Bickford.
Bickford and Fish seem confident about the band’s future, but they also said that sharing “music and life philosophy” with their bandmates has kept them in the “now.” “I find myself knowing how to live in the moment so much easier,” said Bickford. “And that shows in the music big time.” It inspires their approach to recording, writing and playing live. “Because that moment is special,” she said. “That moment is powerful.”