Formed with the strategy of getting its foot in the door with fans and venues across the Southeast through cover tunes, Knoxville act Homemade Wine has reached the second phase of its plan. In the past year, the quintet has shifted its focus to its own original material, and its following seems nothing but grateful.
Homemade Wine began, admittedly, as something of a bar- or party-band, capitalizing on a built-in Parrot Head audience for its “trop rock” and Southern rock covers played in coastal gigs. After constant touring, playing up to 200 dates a year, the Trojan horse unveiled its true nature to the delight of a fan base that sprawls the Eastern seaboard. Though many of the coastal hubs of Homemade Wine present flocks of tourists expecting to hear Jimmy Buffett and other trop-rock mainstays, the band’s gradually reinvented honky-tonk/blues sound and image have yet to disappoint.
“It’s been a more recent change — within the last year — due to us coming together as a band and starting to write as a band more,” says vocalist/guitarist Ryan Sheley. “I think the songs reflect that. We’re proud of our material, and I think audiences respect that. We used to get bombarded with requests for covers, and now people just sit and listen and let us dictate the show. ... There comes a point in time as a musician, if you genuinely want to make a name for yourself, where you have to take that leap of faith and just go with your gut. That’s where we’re at. It’s been liberating thus far.”
“We still enjoy playing some of the cover tunes that we’ve played for years but based solely on the fact that we make them our own,” adds guitarist Andy Westcott, “and I truly believe people recognize and respect that. It’s what sets bands like us apart from bands that just simply learn the songs and repeat them over and over, night after night.”
To accompany its newfound identity, Homemade Wine tells that a corresponding image is important. Far short of disingenuous or excessively cliché costumery, the band simply dresses its part, acknowledging their being recognized as a band while on the road is a selling point not to be overlooked. Furthering the band’s image as a raucous alt-country/Southern rock act is its new sponsorship with a local moonshine company, East Tennessee Distillery (Piney Flats, Tenn.). This new partnership will prove mutually beneficial in spreading both band and brand names.
“We got in contact with East Tennessee Distillery back in January and arranged a meeting to talk business,” recalls Sheley. “Once we met, we had a natural connection and felt that we could both help each other going forward.”
Having begun the song selection process for its third full-length album, Homemade Wine looks to self-record and produce the record at its Corryton studio for an anticipated late summer release date. The band intends to capture the group’s endearing live energy with mostly live takes. Leading up to the release, the band will stick to its formula of perpetual touring in the year to come. Pleased with the momentum it has built on the East Coast, Homemade Wine will take to the West in support of this year’s release. The act admits its following is bigger outside of its Knoxville base, but doesn’t seem worried. Allegations that a band must first dominate its hometown before reaching national status seem moot in the age of social media, and Homemade Wine may be the proof. Nonetheless, the band never neglects its hometown faithful and will continue to perform locally about once a month.
“We’re constantly on the road,” says Sheley. “We’ve put nearly 80,000 miles on our van since December 2011, so we spend a lot of time burnin’ up the highways. We try to play in town once a month or so — sometimes more, sometimes less. We played Knoxville exclusively the first year of the band’s existence and eventually felt like we were oversaturating ourselves here. We booked some gigs out of town, had fun traveling, got some great responses, made some fans and then decided that we should do it more often. It’s grown from there.
“We have pockets of loyal fans all over the country thanks to our travels, and in retrospect I wouldn’t change a thing because our past has set us up for success in the future when the road will truly be our lives. We have a great following all through Florida and the Carolinas as well as a loyal base in New Jersey and New England. We’re planning national tours behind our newest studio release that’ll take us from Seattle to Key West. We plan on going everywhere.”
Friday night the band takes the stage at The Well with The Corbitt Brothers. Music kicks off at 10 p.m., and admission is $5.
© 2013, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
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