Interviews

Wilkes Oswald Redefines Modern Rock With New Album, Wilxtape

Wilxtape was made while the members of Wilkes Oswald were at home during the shutdown.
Wilxtape was made while the members of Wilkes Oswald were at home during the shutdown. Photo by Katie Lynn Acosta/Shaun Michael Rodriguez
click to enlarge Wilxtape was made while the members of Wilkes Oswald were at home during the shutdown. - PHOTO BY KATIE LYNN ACOSTA/SHAUN MICHAEL RODRIGUEZ
Wilxtape was made while the members of Wilkes Oswald were at home during the shutdown.
Photo by Katie Lynn Acosta/Shaun Michael Rodriguez
Wilkes Oswald says its latest album, Wilxtape, might be "the greatest modern rock album ever."

It sounds bombastic, but the quartet may have a point.

"Before we ever started a band, it seemed impossible our influences would ever combine into anything," vocalist and keyboardist Shaun Rodriguez says.

When Rodriguez met his bandmates Leo Bernardi (vocals/guitar), Enrique Hidalgo (drums), and Freddy Flores (bass), the four quickly butted heads over their respective music tastes. Flores was into metal, Rodriguez listened to pop-punk, Bernardi liked '80s rock, and Hidalgo jammed to pop and hard rock.

"I remember clearly Leo saying to me, 'I'll never be in a band with you,'" Rodriguez says.

Still, when it came to the classic-rock genre, the four musicians' varied tastes overlapped with influences like the Beatles and Led Zeppelin, so they stuck with the rock 'n' roll sound and made it work.

Three albums later and 11 years since the band formed, Wilkes Oswald finally and organically embraced its diverse music preferences in Wilxtape, which beautifully blends a wild mix of genres, redefining what modern rock can sound like.

"The genres of the album are all over the place for good reason — I felt like it was freeing to do whatever we wanted without worrying is this alternative rock or garage rock," Rodriguez explains. "Who cares? It's just something we made."

Wilxtape also embraces a genre the four hadn't realized had also shaped them over time.

"Anyone in our generation would be lying if they said hip-hop and pop music didn't influence them in some way," Rodriguez notes.

Stepping back from usual garage-rock sound riddled with psychedelic jams, the band drew from influences such as Kanye West, Travis Scott, Migos, and Kid Cudi to blend trap and hip-hop beats with layered, R&B-influenced vocals, the most notable example being the track "It Is What It Is."
Wilkes Oswald took its genre-bending even further by infusing surf, reggae, and even Latin jazz into Wilxtape. "Magnolia? (Angel's Song)" includes Rodriguez's grandpa on bongos, and "Painted Houses" is an instrumental doom/surf track co-written with local musician Nick Montoto.

Adding to the unsigned band's DIY approach, Wilxtape was mixed/produced entirely by Rodriguez from his home. Released in December, the ten-tack album features songs that were written as long ago as 2013. Embracing the call to stay at home throughout most of 2020 — Hidalgo has lived in Oregon since 2018 — the band took to recording and mixing the songs, often emailing samples and demos to one another or meeting through Zoom.

Now that Wilxtape is out, the band wants to play live shows but has no intention of jumping the gun, preferring to wait for the drive-in and socially distanced gig era to end.

"When we do go back to shows, it's going to be different — it'll be a nicer feeling," Bernardi says.

Meantime, they plan to release merch, music videos, and more.

"We still have music up our sleeves," Rodriguez assures.
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Catherine Toruño is a music and arts writer from West Kendall. She enjoys sustainable fashion, attending local music shows, and exploring Miami on her bike.