Houston-based sociopolitical pop act, The Wheel Workers follows up its 2014 nomination as “Best Pop Act” at the Houston Press Music Awards with a total of eight nominations in 2015 including Best Local Recording for its current album CITIZENS, as well as Best Live Act. Bandleader Steven Higginbotham was also nominated as Local Musician of The Year and Best Songwriter, an especially noteworthy accomplishment for a pop band.
“I love artists who’ve had something substantial to say beyond the standard lyrical fare in pop songs,” Higginbotham says. The Houston Chronicle called The Wheel Workers’ previous release “one of the best albums made in Houston last year,” and now CITIZENS is earning similar praise, this time on a national level.
When Higginbotham talks about substance in pop songs, he’s talking about the pairing of sociopolitical consciousness with a memorable hook. After all, there’s a reason that listeners are still moved by the catchiest folk and punk protest songs of Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan, and The Clash. This approach to music-making by The Wheel Workers is the reason why the Houston Chronicle went on in that same piece to call the album a “thoughtful recording that offers new rewards during repeated playings.”
On CITIZENS, the band’s way of doing things has become masterful, as the album’s latest single “Burglar” proves. Higginbotham started writing the song the day after (guess what?) his home was burglarized.
“The singing style is reflective of my angry and vulnerable state at the time,” he recalls. Higginbotham didn’t finish the tune off until some time later when a failed relationship left him feeling that same way again. “So the song is ultimately about the break-up and looking back at what was lost,” he concludes. The music video for “Burglar” was recently premiered by Texas Monthly which noted the clip’s “Wes Anderson-inspired aesthetic.”
“The original idea for the song was written a day after my house was burglarized, thus the title,” Higginbotham explains. “Fortunately, they didn’t go upstairs, so my recording gear was intact! I had been drinking, and my singing style on the song is reflective of my weird, drunken, semi-angry and vulnerable state at the time.”
With all that’s going on for The Wheel Workers and CITIZENS, the band is already looking towards the future, having already tracked basics for its next full-length.
“While the vinyl press cools off from printing album number three, we’re already in the studio working on number four,” says band member and producer, Dan Workman. “We’re all pretty amazed with the number of great songs and sounds we are collecting. I think that we’re hitting our stride!”
Higginbotham and the band’s Craig Wilkins (a fellow Houston Press Music Awards nominee as Best Keyboardist) note that the next record will be of a more collaborative nature.
“On the last two albums I wrote most of the songs,” explains Higginbotham. “A lot of the next album is drawn from blank-page jam sessions held in the studio. I think the material is our best yet.”
Wilkins confesses to being “really excited and nervous about this next one. It will be our first truly collaborative process, and other local musician friends are helping out as well. We keep buying more synthesizers.”
Along with Higginbotham, Wilkins and Workman, The Wheel Workers is comprised of Allison Wilkins McPhail, and Tyson Sheth. CITIZENS by The Wheel Workers is out now. The Houston Press Music Awards are scheduled to be handed out on August 20th.