Bands of brothers stick together.
After playing together for nearly half of their lives, the brothers of Tenderness Wilderness sought to find a sound to call their own. Two years ago, they found that sound by rooting themselves in inspiration from nature.
The collaboration includes three brothers, Pat, Mikey and Kevin Kelly. Ben Volkman joined the band a year ago. He is not a blood relative, but they still consider him one of their own.
“Ben is like a brother from another mother,” Mikey said.
After trips to the Niobrara River and camping in the north woods of Wisconsin and Minnesota, the band members began using music to reflect on their natural surroundings.
“I wouldn’t call us hippies,” said Mikey Kelly, one of the band’s guitarists and vocalists, “but we appreciate nature.”
Pat Kelly, also a guitarist and vocalist, agreed, “Inspiration comes from the people I care about in life and nature,”
“Nature is definitely a huge part of our songwriting process,” he added.
In order to incorporate nature into their album, the group captured the sound of waves on a lake in Lutsen, Minn., and used the sounds as transitions between songs.
“Someone thought it was a lawn mower between songs, which is kind of ironic,” Mikey said.
They added natural sounds to ensure the album is “anchored in something that’s real,” according to Mikey.
The band came up with their name, “Tenderness Wilderness,” during one of their various camping trips.
Mikey and Pat were camping on the Niobrara River, enjoying a campfire and listening to their band’s sound.
“We discussed how it (the sound) can be both hard and soft while often we change melody and time signature mid-song. And it can be wild and tame,” Pat explained, “hence, the name Tenderness Wilderness.”
The other members agree their tracks tend to transition mid-song. Mikey described the music as “pretty quiet and reserved,” while at other times it’s a “wall of noise.”
“It’s hard to put us in a genre,” Volkman, who plays guitar and bass, said. “Guitar rock with a mixture of folk and country blues. We play a lot of different styles.”
The members have played together since high school. Volkman and Mikey used to play “Rilo Kiley” covers on guitar, which was when they first started making collaborative music. Though the brothers headed to different colleges, they continued to email recordings to one another for critique.
Playing together as brothers for so long has only strengthened their relationship. Many times they said they find it easier to work together because they are so close.
“The fact that we’re brothers helps keep us in perspective,” Pat said. “At the end of the day, we’re all still family and small stuff doesn’t matter.”
Because the band members have been playing for nearly half their lives, they said the music is in them. When he hasn’t played with his band, Mikey said he starts to get antsy. He described making music as a part of him.
“It’s fulfilling, like eating a piece of cake,” he said. “It’s a natural thing; it’s nourishment.”
Their Wednesday performance at this year’s Lincoln Calling festival is only the beginning for Tenderness Wilderness. So long as the process is fun, the band will continue making music, according to Pat. He has hopes for the band to travel around the U.S. and “follow the music.”
After finding a sound and a name, the group is ready for an audience.
The youngest brother and drummer, Kevin, said, “Playing for people to hear is one of the best aspects.”
“When it comes down to why we do it: it’s for the people who come to listen,” he said. “That’s why we do it. We do it for the people who come to see us play. At the end we look forward to putting it out there and seeing how people react.”