The idea of a high school band is nothing new. It is the dream of many teenagers to grab guitars, hit the stage, and woo the girls with their talent. Reality often falls short of these dreams. In Yellow Springs, Ohio, the dream never ends.

Wheels, a high energy roots outfit, puts their high school competitors to shame. Rourke Papania, Sam Salazar, Jamie Scott, Sam Crawford, and Conor Stratton may not be the star athletes, but they are local celebrities. With an album Fields On Fire under their built and another in the works, they have taken the Greater Dayton music scene by storm.

I first stumbled upon them while browsing Avett Brothers videos on Youtube. I found a cover of them playing “I Killed Sally’s Lover,” and was very impressed, it felt like the band I always wanted to start. One video led to several more and I passed them onto friends. Over the summer while at an Avett Brothers show I spotted them in the crowd. I approached them and they were so excited to be recognized. After connecting on Facebook I have been following their progress very closely, and it is impressive!

Since they began, Wheels has played with the following bands: Tim O’Brien and Brian Sutton, The Heartless Bastards, Ekoostik Hookah, Freekbass, Pearl and the Beard, Caravan of Thieves, and the Rumpke Mountain Boys.

This March they will be playing shows with Holy Ghost Tent Revival (March 10) and the David Wax Museum (March 28) at the Canal St. Tavern

I had the pleasure of talking to Rourke Papania last night and he answered a series of questions for me

How did you guys get started?

Well, little Sam and I went to Friends Music Camp in Barnesville, OH in the summer of 2009, and even though we’d seen each other around before, that was the first time we’d ever played music and even really talked. By the end of the summer, we played  “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” when we serenaded the girls’ dorm (a tradition there). When we got back to YS, we started out playing ukuleles in front of Tom’s Market in town, and all we had was Sam’s little black Bob Dylan songbook. Eventually, I switched to guitar, then Jamie joined us one day on a harp he’d never played before, and it just kind took off from there!

Sam switched to mando a couple of weeks before we played our first open mic, in January 2010, and Manchild (Crawford) joined us in December of that year. Then Conor, our newest member, just recently joined in this November.

What are the ages of all the members?

I’m 17, Conor’s 19, and Jamie, Sam, and Manchild, just turned 17, 15, and 15, respectively, all within a week of each other.

Is Wheels your first attempt at a band, or were you guys in projects before this?

Well, I know it was Sam, Manchild, and Jamie’s first go round, but Conor was actually in a band, which rotated names every once in a while, from Yazoo Street Scandal, to Mercury Mouth, to The Drugstore Records, now they’re called Speaking Sun’s actually, just to give them a plug. But anyways, one of those incarnations actually gave me and some other friends the inspiration to start our first band, an alternative rockish group – we played some Cold War Kids, MGMT, Dispatch… But this is the first time any of us had really played roots music.

What is different about playing roots music as compared to Alt-Rock?

Well, I was the singer and I played bass in the rock band I was in, but I just generally knew nothing about music, so there wasn’t a whole lot I could contribute – but I did my best, and it was my first foray into collaborating with other musicians so it gave me a bit of experience. But as far as the approach goes, it’s a lot of the same, just a will to play good music.

Why did you make the switch?

Well, I continued to play with the rock band, even when I came back from music camp, but eventually it just fell apart and that’s exactly when Wheels started taking off. Personally though, I like to rock it up sometimes, just separate from Wheels.

Your lyrics are much more mature and honest than most boys your age, how do you go about writing them?

Well, I, at least only like to write from experience and things I’m really feeling. All of the songs I write are very literal, drawn from my experiences. I like to just crank out what I’m feeling all at once too, just really spill it onto the page in one session. But i know Sam and Jamie take more time. Sam has these magnum opuses that he’s worked on for nearly a year, but he and Jamie generally work on their songs for a week or two. There are a couple of songs we just don’t play anymore because the emotional connection is gone. We need to be able to really feel the music.

You have played with a lot of pretty big acts, to what do you owe this success?

I would have to say our biggest friend has been word of mouth. I would attribute nearly all of our success to that. We’ve made amazing friends that have set us up with some good people. The festival circuit actually got us our New Year’s Eve show with Ekoostik Hookah last year, which was one of our first really big shows. But knowing venue owners and performing well at those venues really helps. When you prove you can draw a crowd, you get more calls. It’s really as simple as that. That’s more or less how we got our shows with the Heartless Bastards, Tim O’Brien, even David Wax and HGTR, but we also met those guys at shows, connected, and gave them a CD. We’d been working with Holy Ghost to get a show together last year, but this is the first time it’s worked out and we’re really excited!

What becomes of the band when you and Jamie go off to college next year? 

Well we’ve been having some conversation about this. Jamie’s going to Sinclair next year, so that’s not an issue, but I’m still applying to colleges. We’re not making any decisions at this point, and we’re just going to talk more about when the time comes. For now, we’re focusing on preparing material for our next album, which we’re all excited about!

We’re trying to self-record our forthcoming album, and we’re trying to fund the equipment with a kickstarter, which we’ll have up soon. If you check our website or Facebook for information and donate to the cause, we would be eternally grateful. There are even rewards for donating! You could get anything from a copy of the new album, to the band delivering a turkey sandwich to your door, to us coming and playing a show for you, in your house! (See my last post about Pledge Music)

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