An interview with lead guitarist Phillip Vilenski
by Michelle Harper
November 2015

Wayland - photo by JR Wyatt

photo by JR Wyatt

One hundred and sixty four miles from Lincoln City, the birthplace of legendary rocker Bob Seger, is a town called Wayland, Michigan. With a population of around 4,000 people, it’s safe to say that unless you’re from the area, you probably have never heard of the place.

Enter Wayland, the band. Their hot, searing vocals, combined with a blues/rock fusion sound will make sure that, not only will you know about the town of Wayland, Michigan…

You’ll never forget it.

Their new single entitled “Bloody Sunrise” is taking the radio waves by storm. I had the privilege of speaking with lead guitarist Phill Vilenski, as he and the band were driving down the road in their tour bus somewhere between Memphis and Shreveport.

Maximum Ink: I read that you and Mitch (Mitch Arnold, lead singer of Wayland) met in California around 10 years ago.
Phillip Vilenski
: It’s funny because we’re all Midwestern guys, we’re all from Michigan, Mitch is from Indiana, and we met in Los Angeles.

MI: That is funny.  So how did you guys meet? Did you meet in a club? Were you auditioning for groups? What happened?
Mitch and I met because I moved into his apartment complex, and I didn’t like the people I was living with, and I happened to run into him and his roommates one day and he said “why don’t you come stay with us”? And I was like “cool”. At that time I was 18 years old. I had a guitar and a pillow, and that’s about it, and I stayed with them, slept on the floor, for about a year in that place. Mitch didn’t know how to play guitar, but he had a guitar, so I started teaching him how to play, and the trade-off was he was going to teach me how to sing. He’s just an amazing singer, even at that age. And we started playing together on the streets of L.A. to make a living. We’d go down to Venice Beach, Huntington Beach, we’d just play all day collecting change and cash, enough to pay the bus fare there and back, and that’s how we started cutting our teeth, until we got asked to play some bar gigs, and we needed to be louder, so we had to put a band around us.

MI: Did you play some of the clubs around there, like the Whiskey?
Yeah, once we got our foot in the band, and got rolling, we were the house band at Whiskey-A-Go-Go for about six months. We played the Sunset Strip, and um, we were that band that lived in L.A. that hoped that Capitol Records was gonna walk in one day with a limousine waiting out front for us. It wasn’t until we met Jude Cole…Jude manages the band Lifehouse…he had a record label with the actor Kiefer Sutherland…

MI: I was going to ask you about that, because I saw his name in a list of people that were included in your team at one point, and I thought “is that THE Kiefer Sutherland”?
Yeah, Jude and Kiefer were the ones that really came to us and said “listen guys, let’s make a record”, and we said look, we don’t want to be an L.A. band. We want to get back to the Midwest, get back to Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin, where we are from. We want to represent that heart, that west Michigan and Midwest work ethic. And they agreed, so we made a little record, and we went back to Wayland Michigan, my home town, and we rented this pre-Civil War farmhouse for the winter. We set up the living room like a studio and we rehearsed there every day, and we chopped wood in the mornings to keep the place heated, and basically lived this rural lifestyle. We went from Los Angeles to living out in the woods, which is total culture shock. It was really good for us. And January of 2012, we booked a little tour, and we got on the road for maybe 3 days and I think we all kind of looked at each other and said “we’re not going’ back”. We just started playing for 50 bucks a night, if we were lucky, and desperately selling t-shirts, and knockin’ on radio station’s doors begging to come in, and by July of that year, “Welcome to my Head” got to number 36 on the active rock charts just from the relationships we had built.

We really had a lot of help from Jesse Dupree, we met him that year. He’s the lead singer for a band named Jackyl. Jesse’s been like a big brother to me, and he’s been our manager for the last four years. He has really empowered me to manage our band. He’s kind of taken this model of “no one’s gonna look after your band like you are” , so he’s kind of taught me to make the right decisions, and do everything with integrity, do the right thing, which has really proven to work out.

MI: I read that you had said back in a tour log in 2014 that you had said “Everybody has been up, working out, doing laundry, and taking care of their individual duties for the band”. I’d love to hear more about that. It sounds like that ties in to your model.
Absolutely. Everyone is going every morning, and Tyler our drummer handles a lot of the website stuff, all bus maintenance, the route planning, Dean does our tour managing, managing our shows, updating our master contact list as far as everyone we’ve ever met on the road. Mitch handles all our promotion, reaching out to all the local bands that will be opening for us all over the country, working with promoters to make sure we’re on websites, and I book all the shows, I work with all the radio stations all over the country, and I work on all the big picture plans and strategies with Jesse, and that’s kind of what everybody does. We’re an independent band. We have our own tour bus, and now we have a crew that works for us. It’s pretty incredible.

MI: I’ve read that you guys tour a lot. Like, a lot a lot.
Yeah this is our fourth year being on the road, and we tour over 300 days a year.

MI: How is that with your families and loved ones? Do they support you in that?
I mean…we chose a different life than a lot of people choose. It’s like joining the circus. We live in a different dimension than most people. We never touch our feet to the ground. When you do that, when you have that thing burning inside you, I think you have a different set of priorities that your heart and mind connect with. You kind of give up on the word “home”, and…you do miss a lot of weddings, and birthdays, and celebrations, and that can be painful at times. And, certain people don’t understand why you can’t be there, and that’s a really unfortunate side of what we do, but we are extremely, extremely dedicated and obsessed with what we do. We think about our band 24 hours a day. You don’t see a different person on stage and off stage.  I don’t get off the stage and, you know, get on the phone and trade stocks. I’m a rock and roll guitar player.

MI: Your bio on the band’s website has just one item: An almost 18 minute video of you showing an interviewer your gear. I really picked up on when you said “as a guitar player, it’s so much fun to keep it fresh to your ear. Play something differently”.
Yeah absolutely, every night we kind of do that. The four of us do that for each other on stage, for the audience every night, and for the sake of the songs, and I think the songs deserve it.

MI: I could totally tell that with your new single “Bloody Sunrise”.  It’s this fusion of blues, rock, kind of a southern rock, with an almost Bob Segar-like storytelling aspect to it. Especially the guitar. I had read somewhere that you and the band were really interested in bringing back guitar solos into songs. What was the inspiration behind writing “Bloody Sunrise”?
So, the singer, Mitch, he’s a really sensitive guy.  He gets inspired by almost everything around him at all times. It’s a really unique trait to have. He’s just kind of a sponge for art. And, he’s watching a movie called “Lawless”…have you ever seen that? It’s a great movie. It’s about these families that run moonshine between state lines, basically, and all the complications that come with that. And, it just sounded like a really romantic idea. So he and I sat down and wrote these words, kind of infused it with a “Bonnie and Clyde” story, lovers running moonshine that basically get shot up by the law.

MI: What is your song writing process? Do you have a method?
We try to not put ourselves in any kind of box, or limit ourselves in any way. Sometimes we get lucky and a whole song will pop out in fifteen minutes. Other times, I’ll come to the band with a riff and we’ll build from there. Other times, it might be a phrase that one of us comes up with, and we’ll build a whole song on that, and other times we’ll sit down and say man, I really want to write a song about this topic, and we just start brainstorming ideas and let it go from there. Songs come all different ways for this band. I feel really lucky to be a part of a group of guys that are willing to keep the table open like that.

MI: I noticed your fans are called “Wayland Warriors”. How did that come about?
That’s a pretty cool thing, because someone had told us you gotta start a fan club, and I thought, that’s kind of weird, I don’t know, seems…dry. We’ve always been really transparent with our fans, we don’t try to put on any kind of act you know. We are who we are. We’re four dudes from the Midwest writing songs, playing as hard as we can every night. But it was actually a fan in Illinois that decided to start calling ourselves the Wayland Warriors, and all of a sudden, all these Wayland Warriors tattoos started popping up, and people started hash tagging #warriorstrong…it really happened organically, and so we accepted the idea with open arms. Wayland Warriors, I gotta say is a very dedicated, intense group of people that we’re SO thankful for, I can’t even tell you. I mean, they have been there for us, for online voting and posting pictures, it’s just…it’s crazy the way people believe in our music. It means so much to us.

MI: That’s so fitting that that term came from your fan base, because your story sounds like you’re just, you’re out playing for fans, and that’s your life. You take it wherever you go. Sounds like your fans give back to you too.
Yeah, they really have.

MI: Who are your biggest influences?
As a whole, we all love The Beatles. We love the Foo Fighters, Led Zeppelin, Greenday. Mitch and I from a songwriter standpoint, lean towards certain people. We love Butch Walker, he’s an amazing songwriter. As a guitar player, I love a whole different group of people, like I love John Mayer, I love Eric Clapton, Jimmy Hendrix, I love Chicago Blues, Blackberry Smoke is a big one for us. We love bands like The Killers, Muse, The Black Keys, we’re all over the board. I know Mitch’s absolute favorite song writer is Marc Cohn.
I was raised on Bluegrass music. My dad plays bluegrass.

MI: Oh, your dad is a musician too then?
Yeah, he plays bluegrass.

MI: When did you get your first guitar?
Well, we always had guitars in the house. My mom plays piano, my dad plays guitar, and he had a little guitar for me when I was in like 4th grade. I remember taking lessons that I hated. It wasn’t until 6th grade when some of my friends wanted to start a band, our first band was called “The Albino Chickens”, and my dad went and traded one of his acoustic guitars so I could learn electric guitar, which was pretty cool.

MI: So it sounds like your family was supportive of you getting into the music business.
They have always been EXTREMELY supportive. I could not ask for a more supportive family. I mean, they weren’t always super supportive, like having a loud rock band in high school playing in your basement at nine o’clock at night on a Wednesday, but we got through that.

MI: So this is a question I like to ask musicians, and I would love to know your answer. If you could make a “super group” with musicians other than people in your band and yourself, what musicians would be in your “super group”? It can be past, present, anybody.
Oh MAN, that is an AWESOME question! Well, I’m gonna have to put John Bonham on the drums.

MI: Excellent.
I’ll have to put Paul McCartney on bass. And probably some vocals. Um…..gonna put Dave Grohl on rhythm guitar.

MI: Hmm.
Um…Ray Charles on piano. Ok, do I get to play guitar in the band?

MI: Yeah, you can. You can play guitar in the band. You would have to, if you’re creating this group…
Maybe I could just manage the band. I don’t know.

MI: Yeah, you’re managing this band, so you can take yourself out of it and get a different lead guitar.
Perfect! Ok, Dave Grohl’s on rhythm, got Ray Charles, John Bonham, got Paul McCartney. Hmm. Man. I’m gonna have to put the Staple Singers on backup vocals. They’re from the 60s, they’re a gospel group. They’re gonna be the backup singers.

MI: Ok.
Gosh, a lead guitar player. I’m gonna have to go with…(long pause) Buddy Guy! I think he’s gonna be the best. And then for the lead singer? Lead singer…I think it’s…ooh…this is so hard.

MI: This is the hardest one.
I’m gonna go with Robert Plant. I’ve got two members of Led Zeppelin in there, but they’re the best, what can I say.

MI: The biggest question I have is this: When are we going to get more new music from Wayland?
Well, we just finished a record in Memphis, Tennessee. I should say we are finishing a record in Memphis, Tennessee.

MI: Is it a full length record, or is it an EP like the last one?
No, it is a full length record, with all brand new songs. And, it will be getting out to people early in 2016.

MI: Can you give any hints to what we can expect?
I can tell you that “Bloody Sunrise” is the tip of the iceberg.

MI: Wow. 
Wayland lives life on the road, and as much hard work as it is, they love every second of it. Phill sums it up best:
We’re very reflective of everything we do. Being with your four best friends day in and day out, you are living in a big, spiritual mirror. As an artist and a musician, you travel through this world not having a home, being far from your family, all you can look for really is a meaning behind it. Why are you doing this? Are you doing this for the money? Well, good luck. Are you doing this to get chicks? Well that’s gonna get old. Are you doing it to get high? Well, then you’re not gonna last. So what are you doin’ it for? And you have to dig deep every night. You have to dig real deep to find out exactly why you do this, and make sure it’s in the forefront of your mind that you’re truly doing this for the sake of touching people’s lives with music.

Wayland is made up of Dean Pizzazz-Bass, Tyler Coburn-Drums, Mitch Arnold-Lead Vocals/Guitar and Phillip Vilenski-Lead Guitar. Wayland is playing the High Noon Saloon in Madison, Wisconsin on Wednesday, November 25th. For tour dates and information on the band, go to www.waylandtheband.com.  Their new single “Bloody Sunrise” is available for download at Amazon, Spotify, and iTunes. Follow them on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and watch them live on the road via the Periscope app, available via Google Play Store and iTunes.

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