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By Nathan Coker
In Featured Slider
Jun 30th, 2019

article by Vanelis Rivera and photography by Andrew Bailey

John Gleason, drummer and second guitar of the duo Whys of the Wise, believes that wisdom in general is a worthwhile pursuit: “The only way to really gain wisdom is to try to deal with some of the difficult things and ask some tough questions that we don’t know the answers to.” Initially when Gleason thought the phrase up, it had negative connotations, but the more he and frontwoman Haidyn Long composed tracks, the more it took on a new life. Suddenly, the cryptic name fit the band’s message of asking hard questions to seek truth.

A Farmerville native, Long’s musical education began when she was three years old. “My mom said she came in the living room and found me like, I had one of those little baby pianos and I was teaching myself how to play ‘My Country ‘Tis of Thee’ and ‘Nothing But The Blood of Jesus,’ just like random,” recalls Long. In early high school she was involved in a youth praise band, while also getting her first guitar and self-teaching. “I was super, super shy. And I would never play guitar in front of anybody, I would never sing in front of anybody. And then finally, I guess, being in that praise band really helped kind of break those barriers down,” she says. Like Long, Gleason also grew up around music. He played a “little bit of whatever,” but he found himself needing to switch from bass to drumming because nobody needed a bass player. To improve, he turned to what he claims is the “single biggest thing” developmentally in drums—the multiplayer phenomenon, Rock Band! He played the game so much in college that when he finally switched to a real set the transition was seamless: “I was like, Oh my gosh, I kind of know how to play. I’m actually pretty good at this.”

The duo’s path converged at the First Baptist Church Farmerville via the youth praise band. In that time, Long started dabbling in songwriting where her confidence steadily peaked. Gleason would help lead worship with Long occasionally, which advanced into playing and messing with tunes after practice where they shared ideas back and forth until they had a first song. “Okay” was written by Long and appropriately begins with a question: To make it on your own makes you resilient, right? The song-and-rap track is reminiscent of the hip-hopera genre in contemporary musicals and was so well received in its first performance at the Wesley’s creative art festival that it solidified Long and Gleason’s music collaboration. Though Long had been writing songs solo, it wasn’t until she attended a Twenty One Pilots concert that she decided to challenge herself lyrically. “I’ve never dabbled in that side of songwriting,” says Long, referring to digging into “deeper things.” She was used to worship music and creating worshipful and authentic songs, but they were “put together and pretty.” After the concert, she started jotting down ideas and came back with the intention of writing about the hard things, the kind of stuff that she previously thought nobody would want to hear about. “But whenever I opened that door, it just kind of led to, things that, like all kind of lyrics, I’d never even knew could be possible,” she says.

The initial phases of that exploration was therapeutic for Long, as she wrote about topics that interested her and experiences she went through or seen others go through: “It almost started from that, almost like poetry, and just writing down things and then somehow performing them into more like a music miracle.” The pair almost never start with a melody or chord progression. The lyrics come first because they want the feel of a song to capture what the lyrics are trying to convey. “There’s some metaphors in the song structures, in the song feels as well,” adds Gleason. For Long, word chaos ends up having a self-evident flow. Most of their lyrics are a collaboration with some lines in the versus belonging to each, which for Gleason is strange and for Long funny, especially when you can tell which line belongs to which songwriter.

At that point, Whys of the Wise had yet to venture outside the Wesley or BCM, until Grandma’s House. For the last three years, Ruston youth have been resurrecting the concept of punk-rock basement shows from the seventies. Predominantly attended by a college crowd, these shows are music-driven, bringing in local and out-of-town acts. Grandma’s House was a by-chance creation when a band had a show date in Arkansas that ended up cancelled while they were halfway there. A Ruston connection introduced the idea of playing a show at a friend’s house. A bunch of people were invited, and after that, others got the idea to take advantage of all the random connections that existed in coinciding circles. At these house shows local bands are usually honored first, but bands from Hattiesburg, southern Louisiana, and Texas have ventured to these exclusive performances. The originator of Grandma’s House, David Love, a friend of Long, asked the band to perform in one of the shows, but he asked that they perform five songs. At the time the band only had four, so Long and Gleason wrote “Detonate” in the span of four to five days. Written mostly by Gleason, it was the fastest song they have thrown together. “I wanted to end with pure chaos,” says Gleason, referring to the crescendo of the song. With Grandma’s House they caught the performance bug they needed to keep booking shows. “I think we played every coffee shop in this town,” laughs Long. They kept doing house shows in Ruston with the most recent played at The Farm, another house-based music venue for people of all ages.

Though the band grew a steady footing in the local scene, the doors didn’t fully open until Love, who moved to Nashville to pursue audio engineering, asked them to visit him and record. It was an easy step. It only took them two days to record ten songs, five of which have been published as singles on Spotify. Gleason considers Love an important piece of the band. Love helped in recording, producing, and editing tracks. The plan is to release a split album (side A, side B style) that symbolizes the before and after of their progression. “We have the half that kind of looks at some questions, and then kind of some life experiences before we really started investing in our relations. A story will play out through the lyrics, a play on dark and light, going from obscurity to knowing. The breaking point of that shift, according to Gleason, happens with the song “Detonate.” The upcoming album becomes an amalgam of Long and Gleason, a form of character that reaches an understanding by side B. “That’s the kind of saving point of our character’s story,” says Gleason.

While pretty firmly indie rock, Whys of the Wise holds that whatever they’re currently listening to comes out in their music, such as pop band Imagine Dragons and of course electropop/indiepop band Twenty One Pilots. With vocals that have been compared to Janis Joplin, Joni Mitchell, Gwen Stefani, and Bishop Briggs, Long’s vocal range is the exclamation point on all the songs, an impressive feat for someone who never took vocal lessons. “One of the things I would always do is listen to different artists and almost try to mimic them, like trying to mimic different sounds and the way that they say different words even just try to break apart every little piece and make sense of it. And then somehow it kind of like started forming my own style,” says Long, admitting that even then her voice was still on a higher register, Gleason humors, “Squeaky, squeaky. It was really, really, really high.” Around the time that Whys was kicking into gear, Long began experimenting with her voice, things like yelling or screaming, finding a raspiness that complimented the tone of their songs. “It’s just so funny, like how I was so scared to even try before. And now I’m not really scared of messing up. I’m just like mess ups are gonna happen,” explains Long, adding, “I’m not really afraid to do some weird stuff now.”

For a first time listener, the band’s songs merely navigate the difficult tides that come with existence, but their songs are mostly faith-based. They don’t want their music to only connect with Christians, because they don’t want to be pigeonholed into one specific audience. Their message is for the world, not just a specific group of people. “Past the faith stuff, we feel like there’s like, just good encouraging messages to work through difficult issues,” says Gleason. The concept of their music is to open up conversations and allow for listeners to press into difficult life ideas and gain some understanding through whatever process they are going through. “We want people to understand what we’re talking about. But we also want people to ask questions, which is kind of the whole point of everything in the first place,” says Long.

Much like the Socratic paradox—a wise man knows he knows nothing—Whys of the Wise believes there is a truth to be found and that it begins with asking wise questions. “The only way you can know what truth is, is to get to the author,” says Gleason. But more than anything, the message they want to send is to not be afraid to ask hard questions because it’s through the process of answering those questions that wisdom is gained, and ultimately, that is the key to being true to yourself.

Listen to Whys of the Wise on Spotify and give them a follow on Instagram.