Kevin Jordan and Anthony Del Grosso knew the punk rock rulebook backwards and forwards. The duo behind This Wild Life grew up doing exactly what’s expected of kids growing up in the tightknit DIY scene in Long Beach – avoiding MTV and the radio, attending punk shows at Chain Reaction, the ear gauges, the tattoos. And of course, they started their own pop-punk band. They played fast, they played loud and they didn’t stand out from the crowd until they did the least “punk” thing possible. It was also bolder than anything in the punk rock rulebook: they got quiet.
Their Epitaph debut Clouded is the triumphant result of years marked by small triumphs, big struggles and countless floor shows, bringing This Wild Life’s heartfelt, melodic and acoustic punk-rock to a bigger audience they’ve earned. But their melding of punk and folk is just an extension of their adolescence. Both Jordan and Del Grosso played drums before they were out of elementary school and before discovering the thrill of being a misfit, they had to endure the indignity of being a “band nerd.” Jordan laughs, “I thought I was one of the rebels in the drum line.” Meanwhile, when Del Grosso first picked up a guitar, his parents coaxed him to learn Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young “Helplessly Hoping.”
Though they ran in the same circles in Long Beach, Jordan and Del Grosso didn’t meet until they worked at the same musical instrument store. They soon got on like lifetime friends, bonding over the music of their teens – hardcore, punk and screamo bands such as Thursday, The Used and Senses Fail. It wasn’t long before they started making music together as This Wild Life.
After their first EP and modest local success, a strange impulse came over the duo. Inspired by the brutal honesty and intricate acoustics of Dashboard Confessional’s The Swiss Army Romance, they turned their practice space into a veritable campfire and relearned their songwriting approach. Jordan claims he was more “inspired” in the new, intimate setting and during their recording of their second EP, “we were realizing what we’re really good at. We want people to connect with the lyrics themselves, and sing along.” Their second EP was split between full-band performances and acoustic songs with Jordan on vocals and Del Grosso playing guitar. Jordan says, “Sometimes its easy to get away with crap lyrics, you can hide them with big drums and distortion. When you’re playing acoustic, it’s gotta be your best work. If it’s not honest and strong, it’s gonna completely suck.”
The music itself connected with fans, even as it surprised them. And Jordan and Del Grosso made sure their transparency and staunch DIY ethics continued when the songs and the shows stopped. Emails get answered, tweets responded to and comments acknowledged. They let their roots show as well, covering Bring Me The Horizon’s “Sleepwalking” with a resulting video that currently has 2.75 million views. When asked about the biggest compliment he can receive, Jordan muses it’s “You guys sound just like the record when you play live.”
They take pride in making music based in hardcore and punk rock, but with wider appeal. “We’re not tough guys, but we don’t look like typical open mic night coffee shop types,” Jordan notes, aware of the tattoos and other accoutrements of their past. “We’re constantly surprised by the types of people who listen to our music, whether it’s punk or metal kids. There are people far older than us too.” Including Mr. and Mrs. Del Grosso. When Del Grosso’s parents first heard This Wild Life’s newly folky incarnation, he claims “they liked Kevin’s voice and that there was no screaming.”
Recorded with Aaron Marsh of Copeland, This Wild Life’s debut LP Clouded maintains the core attributes of their sound – Jordan’s vulnerable, expressive lyrics, DelGrosso’s nimble fingerpicking – while pushing themselves towards more ambitious sounds. “We tried out a string section, a female vocalist, pianos, different kinds of guitars, we didn’t want to limit ourselves,” Jordan notes. In contrast to the harsh music that This Wild Life grew up on, Jordan finds inspiration for his vocals outside the hardcore punk world. “Sara Bareilles is one of my favorites. Maybe people wouldn’t expect that. Or maybe they would,” he laughs. Clouded also bears the influence of electro-indie acts such as Daughter as well as pop-punk titans such as Paramore, whose self-titled record was This Wild Life’s favorite of 2013.
Having just completed a successful, first run in the UK, This Wild Life is taking the songs of Clouded on the 2014 Warped Tour, where they’ll play alongside peers and heroes such as The Story So Far, Yellowcard and Real Friends. Newly signed to legendary punk label Epitaph, they’re now within the lineage of the kind of uncompromising bands they grew up listening to. Because even if This Wild Life doesn’t sound like hardcore punk, they make accessible, honest music that speaks to the kind of kids they were growing up – “bands that can play softer music, but tour with heavier bands…that’s how we view ourselves.”