Tim W. Jackson
Aug 7, 2023
The power of authentic expression
Wanda Wesolowski doesn’t particularly sound like a rock star name. The bespectacled, coveralls-wearing, unadorned young woman, still in her 20s, doesn’t necessarily look like a rock star, either. But the North Alabama southern pop rock singer/songwriter/musician is becoming well-known as a talented force in the area’s rich music scene, leading Wanda Band to release its second full-length album, “Only Feeling”, on August 11. As that album prepares to drop, Wanda shared a bit about her success, her sobriety, and her sexuality in a beautifully unassuming and authentic way.
Wanda grew up in Huntsville, Alabama, with supportive and musically gifted parents. She explains that her father, Chuck, plays guitar and bass while her stepmother, Jill, is a classical pianist.
“We had a music room when I was a kid,” she says. “Guitars on the walls and a drum set and a grand piano. So, I just kind of grew up around that.”
She started playing drums and took drum lessons at age 10.
“I played snare in marching band and vibraphone, xylophone—all the phones,” she says.
Wanda started playing the ukulele and then playing guitar and singing. By the time she was 14, she was gigging every week.
“My dad would take me to my gigs, and he would stay the whole time and walk around and listen and kind of let me know what people were saying and give me tips and pointers.”
She says that while her parents have always been very invested in what she does, it’s somewhat of a blessing and a curse, “because on the one hand, they're like, ‘Hey, what are you doing today for your music career to happen?’ I'm like, sometimes I'm doing nothing and that's okay,” she says with a laugh.
Early on, Wanda was performing covers and even jingles because they were quicker to learn. Eventually she started going to an open mic night in Huntsville that required acts to play originals because the venue didn’t pay its PRO (performing rights organizations) fees.
“That was really how I became a songwriter,” she says, “because I wanted to play and I was like, ‘I guess I have to write my own songs if I want to play at this open mic night.’”
That was The Foyer, which, as Wanda remembers, “was kind of a golden age in Huntsville that a lot of people still talk about, ‘Remember The Foyer days?’ It was a coffee shop open until two in the morning and was a great hangout for musicians and college students.”
In fact, it was at an open mic event in Huntsville where she first met its host, Andrew Sharpe.
Wanda explains, “He said, ‘Hey, you're really good. You need a band. I wanna be in your band.’ And then I went in the next week, and he was like, ‘Hey, I got a band together for you. We rehearse on Monday.’ So, I was like, ‘All right, cool.’”
And that’s how the Wanda Band was born. A few folks came and went but ultimately the band became a trio with Wanda on guitar and vocals, Andrew on bass, and Nick Recio (Black Jacket Symphony, the Artisnals, and Great Peacock) on drums.
“We have a lot of laughs and make fun music and it's good,” she says.
After its initial album, “One-Hit”, which was released in late 2020, Wanda Band signed this year with Single Lock Records out of Florence, Alabama, and has released a series of singles leading up to its release of the new album “Only Feeling.”
One of those singles, “Reggae Song”, was released in June as part of Pride Month.
I want a woman to touch my thighs
Who loves to sing and only smokes to get high
I want a woman to scream my name
She could be anybody, she just has to be gay
In this song, Wanda is more explicit about her sexuality, although she says, “I guess a lot of my songs are about queer heartache and that experience and some of my frustrations with living down in the South and being a queer person. I think it's important for me as a woman, a queer artist, to be out and to show that there can be queer joy, there can be queer heartache, and just kind of giving a voice to those who feel the same way and maybe have experienced the same things.” She goes on to say with a laugh, “I definitely think that whether anybody wants it to be or not, all Wanda Band shows are a pride event.”
Wanda says she’s been pleased with the reception of “Reggae Song” and the three other singles that have been released ahead of the full album.
“I like the idea of giving everybody a little taste pretty relentlessly, like once a month, of our music,” she says. “And then we'll just give them all 12 (songs) for the full release and that will be fun. I'm really excited for everyone to hear the whole thing as a cohesive album.”
As for the album, it was recorded with producer and musician Jay Burgess (The Pollies) at his studio in Greenhill, Alabama, which also happens to be the hometown of Jason Isbell.
“Once it was done,” Wanda says, “Jay showed it to Ben (Tanner of Single Lock Records in nearby Florence) and Jay asked if Ben could put some stuff on it. So once Ben put all his keys on it, he was like, ‘I really want to pitch this to Single Lock and see if they want to put it out.’ So, they came to us and that was really special to me because it meant that they actually wanted to be involved with it. Using their resources has been extremely helpful and we're really thankful for their support in that way.”
It probably doesn’t hurt that Wanda was a student of John Paul White’s in the music department at the University of North Alabama. White, a noted singer/songwriter in his own right, is a co-owner along with Tanner and others of Single Lock Records. Wanda’s Shoals-area connections paid off in landing her a spot in the 2022 version of ShoalsFest, a musical weekend event brought to the area by Jason Isbell and his team.
That was a dream come true,” Wanda says. “When I first moved to Florence, I worked ShoalsFest. I tore down the stage. I stood up on that stage and looked out and I was just like, ‘Now imagine yourself being here next year.’ So just being connected in the Shoals really has helped our career skyrocket in a way that it wouldn't have been able to just sitting in Huntsville.”
In addition to the album release, another important date is looming for Wanda. She’s closing in on five years of sobriety.
“I just was like ‘I guess if I'm an artist, I need to be troubled,’” she says about her early days of drinking. “As soon as I got out of high school, I just started drinking and smoking and doing a bunch of things I shouldn't be doing because I thought, ‘Oh, this is what it means to be young. This is what it means to be a brooding artist.’ And I took it a little too far and realized after about four years of regular heavy drinking that it wasn't helping me. It was kind of making me hate myself for not pursuing my dreams in the real meaningful way that I wanted to because I was so concerned with drinking and partying and being an artist in that way—and not really focusing on my art.”
She realized, “Some people can casually have a drink or two. I was not one of those people. It was like, as soon as I have a drink I'm blacking out. It was not good and not healthy. So, I finally made that decision (to choose sobriety) and started The Wanda Band like six months later and just really poured myself into my art and my music. In a way, maybe I traded one addiction for another— just being addicted to working on the band. But it was a healthy outlet for me, and it helped me pass the time and gave me a creative outlet that I didn't have when I was drinking all the time.”
The focus on music has definitely paid off. The band has gotten more notoriety, and not just because of what has become their trademark coveralls.
“I just got a pair of coveralls one day and thought, ‘Hey, I look pretty good.’ And then the boys were like, ‘I wanna wear some coveralls.’ So, our first album release show we got matching coveralls for the event, and we never looked back. We were just like, ‘I guess we're a coveralls band.’
“It's so funny,” she continues. “With the coveralls, I don't have to think about (what to wear). I'm just like, what color do I want to wear today? Sometimes I forget to tell the boys what color to wear and they'll show up to the gig with all of their coveralls in the back of their truck. I like that they're into it. They both work in construction, so it kind of just goes with their aesthetic.”
Catch the “coveralls band” in a handful of album release shows in Alabama and the Florida Panhandle, and give the album a listen on your streaming service of choice. And keep your eye on this rising star who stands as a testament to the profound impact of music when it emerges from the heart and soul of a genuine artist and storyteller. Wanda’s dedication to her craft and ability to connect with audiences will ensure her indelible mark on the world of music, reminding us all of the power of authentic expression.
For more on Wanda Wesolowski and Wanda Band, visit her below at any of the following links:
*Cover photo by Andrea Belk
Tim Jackson is a seasoned journalist and author with a penchant for all things dark, macabre, and somewhat sinister. He lives in Tuscumbia, Alabama, with his artist wife and their remote-chewing dog, Maple.