How does one describe those precious moments in life when we are able to transcend our small daily self-interests, and can somehow hold onto those rarified breaths of the deeper human experience? Radiant, the new Wild Ponies album, out May 13 on No Evil Records, explores those moments with alternating delicacy and raucous abandon. At times, it’s as though Telisha is sitting right beside you, fingers on your shoulder, whispering in your ear. Seconds later it’s hard to believe this full, confidently reckless sound is coming from only four players (Telisha Williams, Doug Williams, Megan Jane and Fats Kaplin).
Doug and Telisha Williams, the duo at the heart of Wild Ponies, aren’t afraid to roam wide of the usual boundaries. The 11 songs on Radiant pull inspiration from poetic tweens, Catawba trees, homophobic politicians, dying small towns, and tarot cards. The stunning title track is a co-write with Mariah Moore, a 12 year old student Doug and Telisha met through volunteering with the Country Music Hall of Fame's Words & Music program.
“I have to admit, there’s probably a little defiance in all of this,” Telisha said. “Bucking the way things 'should' be done. We just want to make good art, and that usually means bending some rules.”
“Tower and the Wheel,” partly inspired by an old tree on Doug’s grandparents’ farm, signifies another theme – celebrating the past, with a few modern twists. The song includes details about the tree that’s stood for generations on the family farm, but the B-sections were inspired by tarot cards.
“I’ve known that tree my whole life. It knew my mom and my grandparents even way back before that. That tree was really old before anyone in my family owned the farm. But she’s still there, strong as ever,” Doug said. “It’s where we’d tie the horses, and where we’d pull the porch chairs around in the shade and the dirt and play songs, where Telisha and I cut our wedding cake.” But when Doug and Telisha were writing the chorus sections of the song, they took an unconventional approach “Nothing we were trying was working, so we laid out eight Tarot cards and wrote all those B parts right from the way they fell. They lined up perfectly between our verses and finished the story for us.”
For Doug, Radiant is about reaching out from within, looking at the world around, relating to it, and trying to find some empathy. For Telisha, it's also about standing still, tall, and true.
“Listening to our last record, Things That Used to Shine, I hear the struggle. I hear the transition of a victim pushing, pulling, letting go, standing up, and shouting,” she said. “This record is more stable and secure in some ways but raw and exploratory in others. There’s an acceptance and love for myself. I’m feeling confident in my own skin. A skin that’s full of battle scars and flaws, but that I’ve learned to love and appreciate, maybe for first time.”