The Wild Ponies have a lot to be excited about. To begin with, Southwest Virginia natives Doug and Telisha Williams are about to wrap up the first season of their thoroughly entertaining podcast. They’re also setting up to host an annual whiskey tour this summer that mixes Americana music and spirits with a new gorgeous boutique hotel in East Nashville. But perhaps the greatest impact on the husband and wife duo just occurred with the purchase of a new house in Music City where if all goes as planned, the Wild Ponies plan to record the follow up to 2017’s stripped-down and live masterpiece, Galax. In the meantime, the Wild Ponies are joining their friend Caleb Caudle for a tour that turns toward Macon on March 26th. I caught up with Doug and Telisha on the road in North Carolina to talk about music and whiskey– two of my favorite things. If you happen to be any acceptable “where” with a good bourbon at hand, pour a sip or two to enjoy while you read.
I put one of those Ear Trumpet Labs Myrtle mics on my wishlist– which is probably where it will remain…
Doug- Fantastic (laughs)! That’s awesome!
I’m diggin’ the gear guide… You just wrapped episode number five. How did all that get started?
Doug- We’ve been doing a radio show for a long time on WSM Route 650 called Whiskey Wednesday, and we wanted to do something where we could be a little more in-depth and kind of dig into some of the artists that we’re friends with and people that we admire– kind of look at their careers in a long-form way. We just got the idea to turn it into a podcast, just hang out with the people we want to hang out with in front of an audience and then let everybody else listen to it later.
Telisha- Yeah, that was a big piece of it– doing it in front of the small intimate audience. I feel like you get a really good sense of an artist and how they present themselves in that kind of environment. We’ve recorded all of season one so far. So we’ve got a few more coming out over the next several weeks and it’s been great.
How many episodes are you planning on doing for season one?
Telisha- Season one is gonna be eight episodes and then we’re not planning on taking very much of a break between season one and season two. We should be able to get rollin’ with season two this summer hopefully.
Any hints or previews on who’s coming up through the rest of this season?
Telisha- And Grant-Lee Phillips.
Oh, those are great! Having the live aspect of it at the Bowery Vault, it truly makes it unique to have that “show” sense. Was that always the plan from the beginning?
Doug- That was the plan from the get-go. We weren’t sure we were going to do it at the Bowery. We were looking for the right room to do it… We actually tried it down at Layla’s downtown to start off with and it was just a little too loud and touristy. But we wanted to do it in front of a live audience. We weren’t even gonna do the intros and outros originally. We were just gonna record the whole thing and just pump it out as it came. But we’re good friends with the folks that own the Bowery Vault. We love Emily and Vero and we love that little space and we’ve been in there a few times. It’s a super cool room, it’s in a great part of town– or the part of town that we like– and so we just got to thinkin’, “There’ll be a good spot to do it!” It’s one of those rooms where you can get 30 or 40 people in there and it’s jam-packed– but if you get 10 or 15 in there, it still feels really good. It’s a cool vibe. Doing it in front of a live audience was important to us because we wanted it kept to the artists doing their things.
You brought up a Whiskey Wednesday, your radio show… You guys have been doing that for a little bit. Do you get the opportunity to decide your playlist? Do you walk in with it and go, “Okay, this is what we’re doing today.”
Telisha- Oh, yeah! We produce the whole show ourselves and we do them from wherever we are. We’re gettin’ ready to head out on this fairly lengthy Caleb Caudle tour, so some of those will be comin’ to you from the van (laughs) and from green rooms and from hotel rooms… We just record ’em wherever we are and try to theme them each week based on what’s going on, what’s happening with us, where we’re gonna be, new people that we’ve listened to… We even sometimes try to get like non-musicians to participate– like venue owners and waitresses or bartenders or whatever. We just like to capture the whole experience of what it’s like.
Doug- WSM’s been really good to us. They let us roll with whatever we want to do for the most part.
Telisha- It might be the most diverse playlist that gets on Route 650!
Doug- We’ve played Taylor Swift, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Jane’s Addiction… All kinds of things that don’t necessarily fit into the Americana genre in the traditional sense, but we kind of weave it through and it makes sense.
Well, I don’t know? You might make the argument that all of those things individually combined did directly contribute to what we’re calling Americana.
Doug- Oh, I would! Would there be Americana without John Lennon and Paul McCartney? Let’s be honest.
I dare say no.
They cut Buck Owens songs with Ringo singin’ back in the day. And to me, a bunch of guys from Liverpool playin’ West Coast, California country songs– that’s pretty Americana.
I agree. Let’s talk about the Wild Ponies Trail Ride. I’ll admit that I was actually unaware of this event…
Telisha- I’m sorry for that!
And it sounds like one of the greatest things ever! You’re going into your seventh year. So it’s whiskey, it’s music, it’s a slice of East Nashville for people to come and appreciate. Tell me how you started that and tell me a little bit more about the event itself.
Telisha- Like a lot of things we do, we just had an idea sittin’ around the house (laughs)! We did the first five years of the Trail Ride in Kentucky along the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, and it was one of those things that… We always wanted to go tour the Kentucky Bourbon Trail because we’re bourbon and whiskey fans, but it’s really hard for us to convince ourselves to take any time off to do anything like that. So we came up with the idea with a friend of ours, Lindsay Hayes, who’s still our trail boss, that we would just see if our fans wanted to do it with us. The first year was a small year. We just had about 24 people that first year that we did the Kentucky Bourbon Trail… And nobody died (laughs). It went really well! We did five years in Kentucky and last year was our first year in Nashville. Last year sold out way, way ahead of time. This year we’re already three quarters sold, and it gets a little better every year. Usually, a little more than 50% of the people are return visitors, and they sort of consider it a reunion, coming back together to drink whiskey and listen to music.
Doug- This year we’re taking over the whole Russell Hotel, uh, which is a new hotel in East Nashville. It’s an old church that they turned into a hotel and it’s gorgeous, it’s beautiful.
I know! I looked it up and saw the pictures.
It’s cool isn’t it? We’re going to post a little video this afternoon actually of us kind of wandering around taking a tour of the place. But yeah, we love it. We’re taking over the whole hotel– just for us for the entire weekend. And it’s walking distance from a lot of the cool places in East Nashville, so should be a good time.
Is it too early to divulge any special guests or new activities for this year?
Telisha- Being able to take over that hotel is going to be a real centerpiece of the weekend because it’s just such an amazing property. But we’re going to be doing a cocktail party there on Friday night and then Pennington Distillery is going to be a big part of this year’s Trail Ride. We’re really excited about that because they make a bunch of different spirits. They do some vodkas and whiskeys, and they do some of the mixed canned things. So this one’s going to be a Trail Ride not just for the whiskey fan but anybody.
Doug- And we’ll definitely have some special guests and some folks come play with us. We’ll hold on to that for now, but it’ll be good.
I’m a bourbon and a rye guy myself. I’m a fan of all of that. Telisha, I’ll ask you first– what is your go-to bottle?
Doug- (Laughs) I’m interested to hear what you say.
Telisha- Well, I’m gonna get real specific because my go-to bourbon is different from my go-to rye. And just whiskey in general, that’s hard for me to pinpoint, but my go-to bourbon is Blanton’s. Big fan of the Blanton’s bourbon and Dad’s Hat Pennsylvania Rye Whiskey, who’s also our Whiskey Wednesday sponsor. I love their rye! They are a small company out of Bristol, Pennsylvania using that old Pennsylvania rye recipe, using all local grains, and really digging in to create that whiskey the same way that we dig in to create our music. I love that. And I think it comes through in the bottle.
Doug, what about you? What is your go-to bottle?
Doug- I can’t really disagree. I would have said the exact same thing.
Doug- Yeah! We’ve always loved Blanton’s. We started drinkin’ a lot more Maker’s [Mark] lately. We’d kind of forgotten how good it is, a little sweeter than the rest of them, which is not normally my thing, but it’s really good. And of course Dad’s Hat is way up there for our rye. There’s a whole lot of other good ones as well, but those are our favorites.
Telisha- How bout you?
Well, actually right now, for about the past a few months, my go-to has been the Old Forester Straight Rye. That’s been my thing. And if I have to pick a bourbon that has been my go-to, I’d have to say just the regular Bowman’s Small Batch. Now let me ask you this– what is your Holy Grail? What is it that when you’re traveling or going and you’re lookin’, what are you always on the hunt to try?
Doug– Pappy [Van Winkle], of course.
Telisha- Well yeah! I also have to give a shout out for a sort of unusual rye, and it’s hard to find. It’s Angel’s Envy Rye and it’s finished in a Jamaican rum barrel. And so it takes that spiciness of the rye that comes from the grain and then finished in the Jamaican rum barrel smooths that out and gives these vanilla tones to it. It’s like biting into a spice cake. It’s just so good!
I’ve not even seen that!
Doug- It’s so good! You gotta try it!
Telisha- It’s stunning! And every time I say that, I’m like, “Am I overselling this?” And then I have it and I’m like, “No, not at all!”
Have ya’ll been to Macon before? Have you had that opportunity?
I feel like we have been, but it’s been a while.
When you get here, if you have the time, you need to go to the Downtown Grill. It’s right behind the stage that you’re going to be on. Without a doubt, they have the best bourbon and rye and whiskey selection in Central Georgia, if not one of the best in the state.
Doug- All right, we’ll be there! We should meet up for a drink!
I want to talk about music ’cause it’s been a minute since Galax was released. You’ve referred to that as the album that you’ve been making all your lives. So I can understand you would want to marinate on that one for a while, but tell me what’s next in regards to the studio or perhaps another trip to the farm.
Doug- We’re pretty excited. We’re in the process right now of going through and seeing how everything fits together with the new songs we’ve written, and we’re pretty excited about how it’s clickin’. We, just a couple of days ago, closed on a new house in Nashville. We were over there and played some music to see how it sounded in there, and we love the way that house sounds. So I think what we’re going to do is make a record at the house, and we’re gonna do the same thing. We’re going to get probably Nielsen [Hubbard] or get somebody– a great engineer and a great producer– to come over and hang out with us the whole time and get everything wired. Maybe a little more isolation than we had on Galax. But I don’t know? Me and Telisha both like recording in spaces, and spaces lend themselves to what you’re doing. You look around and they have a certain feel and a vibration of the things that have been there before, and the space where you make things can make a big difference. That the house is something real special to us. Being an independent artist and owning things… The world is not built for us. So coming out of our artist’s bubble and having to deal with the real world and figuring out how to make it work for us to own our little part of Nashville has been a real interesting thing. There’s a lot tied up into that, and I think layering that into this record is going to be pretty interesting. It might have a little more of a rock n’ roll sound than Galax, obviously, ’cause we’re not going to be just doing the acoustic instruments.
Telisha- After making Galax, it was hard to imagine making a studio record. Some of the songs that will be on this new record, we are currently playin’ out and doin’ some road testing and then when we got to this house, it just sort of felt like it all came together. Like, “Oh! This is where we make the record!”
Doug- It all made sense.
Telisha- And that feels really special, especially to follow up Galax. It’s a past and present coming together. So I’m excited and emotional!