Wing & Tusk
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Wing & Tusk

Columbus, Ohio, United States | SELF

Columbus, Ohio, United States | SELF
Band Folk New Age

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"Debut album centers on monks, the plague"

Wing & Tusk has been around only a little over a year, but the band has been promising an intriguingly titled debut, The Secret of Toadflax Tea, for months. If the purpose was to pique curiosity and build anticipation, it worked on me. And fortunately, it’s not a letdown.
Toadflax Tea tells a story from the beginning track, “St. James,” to the closer, “St. Sebastien.” The story goes like this:
An old monk and a young monk live in a monastery called St. James on a European island afflicted with the black plague. The monks of St. James possess a secret cure for any ailment—Toadflax Tea, a drink made from a wildflower. Meanwhile, a doctor on the island tries to bring relief to victims of the plague. There are heroes and villains, betrayal and murder.
Wing & Tusk went for broke, and it worked. Toadflax Tea is a gorgeous, pristinely recorded record that refuses to be bogged down by the intricate and seemingly arcane storyline. The overarching themes (oppression, righteousness, religious devotion, sacred versus profane) feel more universal than esoteric.
Most of these songs have a folk-rock base and could have been stripped down to acoustic guitar pretty easily, but I’m sure glad they weren’t. The chamber-pop accompaniments lend gravitas to the songs, as do Nat Hagey’s atmospheric electric guitar leads.
Singer/guitarist Josh Rea takes vocal cues from David Bazan, rarely staying on one note for long, sliding a word up and down until its full emotional content is wrung out. I remember hearing Wing & Tusk at Skully’s back in January and being a little disappointed by Rea’s prone-to-cracking vocals, but on record, he ably goes from quiet and moody to epic and soaring.
The most beautiful vocal moments come in “Let It Be So!” It’s a prayer of thanksgiving (“All good things come from Thee”) in which Rea’s voice is multi-tracked into a chorus and paired with a lilting violin or keyboardist Roseanne Claiborne’s lovely harmonies.
At last, Toadflax Tea is no longer a secret, and you’d be well advised to drink deeply.
- The Other Paper


"Epic stuff."

Another debut concept album, Wing & Tusk’s The Secret of Toadflax Tea tells a story from three different viewpoints: an old monk, a young monk and a doctor, all of whom are on a European island stricken with the black plague, for which the only cure is a drink called Toadflax Tea. But that cure is known only to the monks… Betrayal, murder and heroism ensue.

Along with Harnetty’s Silent City, this is one of my favorite Columbus releases of the year so far. Singer Josh Rea reminds me a lot of David Bazan, a good thing in my book. Wing & tusk takes its folk-rock foundation and builds on it till it reaches the ether, adding strings, horns, beautiful harmonies and such along with way. Epic stuff.

- donewaiting.com


"Locals Only: Wing & Tusk"

Setting: an island off the coast of Europe during the Black Plague. A doctor hopelessly seeks to save the infected. An optimistic young monk learns of a miracle cure protected by years of church tradition. His elder at the monastery tries his damnedest to keep that cure out of the public's hands.

Sounds like the makings of a killer novel or a critically acclaimed festival flick, but it's actually the basis of the debut album by upstart Columbus art-rock band Wing & Tusk, The Secret of Toadflax Tea, to be released Friday with a concert at Skully's.

The band began nearly three years ago as a partnership between singer Josh Rea and guitarist Nat Hagey. Rea presented Hagey with the Black Plague premise, and the pair fleshed it out into an 11-part story. Then they began writing songs to tell each chapter of the tale.

"We didn't have a band name or anything," Rea said. "The actual band has never to this point existed without The Secret of Toadflax Tea."

Last year the duo assembled a full backing band to play a benefit show, and the new unit generated such a positive response, they decided to stick with the full lineup full-time. Thus keyboardist Roseanne Claiborne, drummer Chris Manis, bassist Daniel Bennett and recently departed violinist Sally Polk joined the band.

Within a couple months Wing & Tusk headed to Cleveland to lay down live tracks for the album with producer Drew Bullock, dubbed "the ghost member of the band" for his integral role in the recording process.

From there it was back to Columbus for month after month of revisions, orchestral overdubs and carefully curbing each composition to fit the story. Rea called the self-imposed writing restrictions "a good kind of limit," creative challenges that forced the musicians to push past first reactions and obvious choices.

"This was completely new for all of us. It took longer than we expected," Hagey said. "It's going to change how I write forever."

That's not to say they'll never write in a more conventional fashion. Although Claiborne said she hopes future albums will also be storytelling vehicles, the band members have enough stray ideas kicking around to release an EP of unrelated tunes before tackling another mammoth project.

As for this one: "There's probably a certain flavor of me being discontent with the church," Rea said, before touching on the parallels between Toadflax Tea's miracle cure and today's stem cell research that "certain people are suppressing."

Before they can pick up the underlying themes, people have to follow the narrative, something Wing & Tusk took painstaking measures to facilitate. Lyrics double as dialogue, while the sounds around them invoke setting and mood. The band is in the process of developing a film to stream along with their songs, which will be played in sequence for the first time Friday. They hope it's easier to decipher than, say, the latest Decemberists record.

"If people can't follow it as a story," Manis said, "that's kind of our failure."

E-mail your local music news to Chris DeVille at cdeville@columbusalive.com

- Columbus Alive


"Concert Review: Jason Lytle - The Basement, Columbus, Ohio 7/8/09"

Opening the night were Columbus band Wing and Tusk. I discovered Grandaddy when they opened for Coldplay in Detroit, so since then I've always paid close attention to the openers when I go to a show. Wing and Tusk join the list of opening bands I became an instant fan of. Their beautifully melodic folk-rock went over well with the people in attendance and had me hoping for a CD to buy but alas, their first release, "The Secret Of Toadflax Tea", won't be out until August 14th. This is much more than a proper album though, it's a story that apparently will also have a silent animated film to match it, to be shown during future live performances. Lead singer/guitarist Joshua Rea's vocals somewhat reminded me of My Morning Jacket's Jim James, very intriguing voice and a very talented band. If I can get my hands on a copy of "Toadflax" (sounds like it will only be sold in Columbus for the time being), look for a review here. Hopefully some Michigan dates are in their future, a very exciting band to keep an eye on. You can sample a few of their tracks at their MySpace as well as find more information at their official website. - Now It's On


Discography

The Secret of Toadflax Tea
Available at wingandtusk.com, amazon, iTunes,

Photos

Bio

Wing and Tusk started as a story written by Josh Rea and Nat Hagey. In May of 2008 Roseanne Claiborne, Daniel Bennett, Sally Louise Polk and Chris Manis joined to play their first show. Their debut album, released summer 2009, is a linear story album with music written by Wing & Tusk and produced by Drew Bullock and Aaron Nierman. The live show is intended to be played to the visual story directed by Josh Rea and Wing & Tusk, to be released sometime in the future.

"Toadflax Tea is a gorgeous, pristinely recorded record"-The Other Paper

"Sounds like the makings of a killer novel or a critically acclaimed festival flick"-Columbus Alive!