Mercer-based modern rock group theKey recently won the Georgia Lottery All Access Music Search. I sat down with guitarist Jonathan Wisdom to discuss the contest, musical influences and a new record.
Eric Brown: So, tell me about how the band was founded. Who are your main influences?
Jonathan Wisdom: Okay. The band got started at Mercer, basically. It’s composed of five Mercer students and alumni — three graduates and two current students who will graduate in May. We all met at Mercer except for the drummer and lead singer, Clay and Josh, who had a band in high school down in Thomasville, Ga.
We came to college and Clay, Ryan Cunningham and I got to know each other through various outlets our freshman year. Clay had the desire to do music again and contacted Josh. About that time, Chris met his now-wife Rachel. He likes to claim that the band was just an elaborate scheme to get him and Rachel together, but they kind of developed simultaneously.
So they had formed the band and the four of them had been playing together for a few months when they decided they wanted another guitarist, and I was sharing an apartment with Clay at the time and he asked me to come play a show with them. My first show was actually a fair down in Thomasville. Our second show was with Augustana, and Quadworks put that on in ’08. So basically at that show we decided that this is something we wanted to do long term in the future, and we’ve been pursuing it ever since.
We like to describe our sound as “modern-day ’90s.” Some of our main influences are bands like Matchbox 20, Fastball and the New Radicals, while some of our more modern influences are bands like Coldplay and Keane. Switchfoot too.
EB: So how has it been being based around Mercer? How has your Mercer fanbase helped you?
JW: The Mercer community has really formed a staple in our fanbase. We’ve gotten a lot of support from Mercer and we’re very thankful for that. We’re glad to share our music with our classmates or students we play on intramural teams with or attend other events with. It’s been a real special experience getting to share that with them. We’ve done a lot of Mercer events. We’ve played Bearstock the past two years, and we released our first EP there in ’09. It was a great experience with an overwhelming response with people purchasing the EP and supporting us. It’s been great. We’ve also played around Macon at venues like the 567 and the Refuge and the Cherry Blossom Festival.
On May 3rd we’re playing at the State Fair. It’s been great. We’ve had a lot of Mercer support, but what’s been awesome recently is that we’ve had a lot more Macon support through the competition that we’ve been involved in. After winning the All Access Music search, we were able to do segments on three of Macon’s TV stations, and we’ve really been able to connect with some of the Macon community. We’ve had a really good response with them, and it’s been nice to try to help redevelop Macon as a music city.
EB: You mentioned the All Access Music Search, run by the Georgia Lottery. What was it like competing in it?
JW: Well, we found out about it when Clay was watching TV one day. There was a commercial calling all bands for the music search and basically they were seaching for the best artists in the four genres they had listed: rock, rap/hip-hop, pop and country. And they wanted to crown artists champion in each category. The first auditions they held all over the state and had over 2,000 acts.
They ultimately narrowed it down to 20 acts in each genre for the second round in Atlanta. The thirds round was composed of the top 12, and with the top 12 we traveled around the state and played at different cities and different venues.
With that round we got to play the halftime show on November 28th at a Falcons game in the Georgia Dome, and that was an unforgettable experience. To top it all off, we got to perform on television. It was broadcast all around the state of Georgia on Jan. 14th, and each act got to prove why they should be named winner of the Search. We were fortunate enough to be named the winner of the All Access Music Search’s rock genre on live TV.
EB: That sounds really exciting. What was it like playing on TV?
JW: It was incredible. It was our first experience getting to perform on a TV program. We had done some previous stuff on news broadcasts with interviews and things, but this was our first experience on a major broadcast, and it was just incredible. We got a lot of experience, and we really felt like it helped us develope our musicianship and professionalism in an industry we want to make a living in.
It was amazing to us how many people were involved in creating a live broadcast. There was a staff of over 100 people doing lights, video and pressing all kinds of different buttons. All those kinds of people. It was amazing to learn what all goes into it.
And for us, because it was live television, we had to rehearse a lot. Every second of the show was planned out, so that took a lot of effort in the two or three days beforehand. It was really a growing and learning experience for all of us.
EB: You mentioned that you released your first record back at Bearstock in 2009. Do you have any plans for a new record coming out?
JW: Yes we do. We hope to release that sometime in the next few months. It’s going a little slower than we expected because we want to make sure we do everything properly. This full length record will have 13 tracks, and we really think it’s going to be a launching pad for us and a telltale sign to see if this is something we can do for the rest of our lives.
We’re really putting a lot of thought into the writing of the songs and into the recording, but unfortunately because we’re students and full-time workers, we’re limited to mostly just weekends that we can work on it. We’ve been putting it together just about every weekend since October with at least one of us heading up to Atlanta to record something.
We’ve made some great progress, though, and we’re almost done with the instruments. That’ll probably be released sometime in the next six months.
However, we have released a single called “What I Want” that’s available on our website for free at www.thekeymusic.com. Anyone can download that single and a couple of other acoustic songs as well.
EB: So what’s the writing process been like for the new record? How is it different from the EP?
JW: Well, on the EP we had six songs and one remix, and pretty much all of them were previously written by Clay. Some of them were from his old band, and some were just things he had on the side, and we just developed them together. With this new album, though, we’ve all had a much bigger part in writing. We’re rerecording the six old tracks as well. As far as the writing process goes, Clay usually comes in with some ideas. Maybe he has a whole song or just parts, but as he puts it, he brings in a corpse of a song, and the whole band pumps the life into it to give it the flair that we’re going for. So this album has been much more of a band effort.
EB: That sounds exciting. I can’t wait to hear it. Well, I guess that about wraps it up. Do you have any final thoughts?
JW: Nothing too much. But everyone reading should download our free single. It’s available online for free, and it’s called “What I Want.”