Yes, he’s at it again. Those who savored Dave Wheeler’s delectable licks in his former band, Carousel, a Pittsburgh act that remain one my personal local favorites ever, have an obvious reason to get excited over his new project, Limousine Beach. Think of the inaugural EP (part of a series of “concept” pieces) as the first course in a 70’s Metal tasting menu that will leave your belly gnawing for more. I recently spoke with the creative and talented Mr. Wheeler about Limousine Beach, whom I was fortunate to catch on stage a couple of times on the club level prior to them ever getting any of their songs down on tape. Filled out with members of Cruces and Fist Fight In The Parking Lot, those in the know can tell it’s bound to be a hoot before hearing a single chord. Here’s what the prolific axeman had to say.
Darren Lewis: Is there a key difference between Carousel and Limousine Beach? Is it accurate to call the latter a continuation of the former?
Dave Wheeler: Yes, I think it’s fair to say that it’s a continuation. The idea for what eventually became Limousine Beach occurred while Carousel was still happening. After Carousel’s second LP 2113, I wanted to make music that was more polarizing. I wanted people to hear the music and either love it or hate it, so I figured let’s exaggerate what we already do. There was a trend with bands that we were playing around that time toward slower, more psychedelic sort of stuff, so I figured “let’s do the exact opposite of that.” So I decided that on the next album we should make sure all of the songs were under 2:30, but that we’d add as many layers as we could on top of the core idea. That way we would be forced to eliminate any unnecessary parts. Same thing with the lyrical themes. I wanted to move away from all of the dark heavy subject matter that I was hearing so much of and just try to have fun with it. So I think the main difference is that the songwriting is more focused, the arrangements are more layered, and it’s more fun.
Darren Lewis: How did you get from Carousel to Limousine Beach?
Some of the songs that ended up as Limousine Beach material were written while Carousel was still a band, and I think we even played an instrumental version of one song live on our last US tour. That band of course broke up before we could explore that new direction, but a few months later some of the guys from Cruces contacted me and asked if I might want to get together and jam. I had this idea for what I wanted to do next and I really liked all of them as people and players so we gave it a shot. Thankfully, they were into the direction I wanted to take things and we moved ahead with it. I had a few songs almost entirely written already but of course they’ve all shaped the sound since then. Evan wrote a lot of the riffs and melodies that ended up in our set. He’s also like a song title machine. Any time I’m with him I find myself whipping my phone out to jot something down that he said and later it becomes a lyric. Dan (Bhutta) and Dan (Hernandez) have a very distinct style as a rhythm section that has had a huge influence on our sound as well. Jason’s a total ripper on guitar, which is nice when we want to put a song over the top with an extra hot lead.
Darren Lewis: What are you trying to say or accomplish with Limousine Beach?
Dave Wheeler: We want to layer as much melody, harmony, and as many riffs into 2:30 as we can.
Darren Lewis: How has COVID-19 affected you as a musician?
Dave Wheeler: It’s almost impossible to say something about this that hasn’t been said. Let’s just say we’ve all had a lot of time to stockpile riffs.
Darren Lewis: Do you think fans of your other project, Outsideinside, will dig these series of EP’s?
Dave Wheeler: I’m sure some will and some won’t, but as I explained above that’s partially by design. It’s quite a departure in tone and feel from that band. There is an improvisational, bluesy element to Outsideinside that’s been exchanged for a poppier sensibility in Limousine Beach and that might not appeal to everyone. I’ve always tried to incorporate strong melodies and hooks in everything I’ve done musically. Whether or not my bands have accomplished that is not totally up to me, but fans that have latched onto that will probably enjoy making the leap.
Darren Lewis: The Thin Lizzy influence has been apparent to me since I first heard your work with Magic Wolf years ago. What is it about Thin Lizzy that draws you to their music so much? Which other bands have significantly rubbed off on you throughout your life?
Dave Wheeler: The guitar harmonies of course, and the fact that Phil was one of the best vocalists and songwriters ever. Their music just has everything I love. They are absolutely perfect. At age 42, it’s difficult to write a comprehensive list of my influences, but I can tell you that for Limousine Beach my number one musical inspiration has been The Sweet. They were an absolutely brilliant band. The musicianship was top notch, but more than anything they had incredible songs. I think some people dismiss them because of the pomp, but man they just cranked out great tune after great tune. I love the ridiculous vocal harmonies too.
Darren Lewis: What challenges do you face as a local band? What could be better about the Pittsburgh scene? What are we doing right?
Dave Wheeler: I try not to think of any of my bands as local bands. I try to think of us as being part of a national or international network of artists. I think that’s the best way for bands to think about themselves. It’s easy to get bogged down by what happens politically or socially in the scene here, but I found that as I widened my horizons and the expectations I had for myself and my music, I came to realize that nothing that happens here really matters, good or bad. You can be on top here and then you go one town over and no one gives a shit. Or you could be invisible here and go somewhere else and everyone loves it. When I say things that happen here don’t matter, I’m not saying that Pittsburgh is musically insignificant. There are great bands here and plenty of successful acts. I’m just saying that it can be liberating to set your boundaries beyond your own city limits, no matter where you’re from. Obviously if you live in a particular city, you’re forced to be part of the community there and you can’t just ignore it. I realize I’m making it sound easier than it might be in reality to change your point of view. The conversation about what the scene here does well or poorly that has been in full swing for the past couple of years doesn’t seem to me like it’s been very useful, although I’ve certainly engaged in it. There has been a lot of talk about what bands or venues or promoters or labels or media outlets “should” or “shouldn’t” do, but I’d really like to stay away from that. The truth is if you play music you shouldn’t feel compelled to do anything in particular. People are going to tell you that you need to post 5 times a day on social media or that you need to create a certain amount of online content. No you don’t. That stuff has its benefits but whether or not you want to play that game is determined completely by whatever goals you have for yourself and your art. If you want to be famous or something, then yeah, you probably need to do stuff like that. If you want to make music for its own sake, and you are willing to accept the limitations of not participating in self promotion, then who is to say you should be compelled. There are all sorts of levels in between as well. So I guess I think if a band “should” do anything it’s decide what you want and just do that and only that. It sounds simple, but it’s really easy to get distracted. I speak as someone who has occasionally fallen victim to those nagging voices. The underlying assumption behind a lot of this type of conversation is that a certain kind of success and popularity is something that is or should be sought by all bands, and that if we come up with the right improvements we can cultivate a culture that produces this type of musical success. No amount of popularity or social media fame will make a shitty band great, and no lack of it will make a great band shitty. Who’s to say which is which anyway. But if you make music you believe in, then it’s out there in the world whether or not anyone cares, and no one can take that away from you. If you don’t believe in the music you make you have nothing, even if everyone loves it.
Darren Lewis: Name a current band or a few new bands or any band you’re binging on at the moment. What’s your ear candy jones right now?
Dave Wheeler: I’m so glad you asked that! I’ve been listening to The Dirty Fences a lot. They are from NYC and do Ramones-y garage punk but the songs are just incredibly catchy and well written. Two of the members of that band have another project in the same vein called Metalleg that is also phenomenal. We got to play with them in Brooklyn. The bass player from that band has another called Brower that does a T. Rex type of thing. My other faves from there include The Golden Grass, which is more of an early 70s hard rock trio (their song “Please Man” is one of my favorite songs of the last 10 years), and Mick’s Jaguar (gritty rock and roll on Riding Easy Records). I highly recommend all of those bands. Aside from that, I’ve been listening to a lot of Venom lately.
Darren Lewis: Finally, sell us on Limousine Beach. Why should we take this road trip with you?
Dave Wheeler: You’re curious what happens when guys who look like BTO play music that sounds like The Sweet?