Come to the mountain: Greensboro Southern-rock trio has a workmanlike attitude, solid riffs
Beau Wigington has led multiple lives as a musician. He’s played in biker bars. He’s done musical theater. He did a stretch of the Americana singer-songwriter thing. He’s written songs more or less for hire, along the lines of a jingle writer. He lived, worked and made the rounds of club stages in the music-centric cities of Los Angeles and Nashville. Wigington is the frontman of Greensboro-based Chuck Mountain, a riffy Southern-rock-tinged trio. For the last couple of years, the band has been steadily playing shows, writing and recording tunes, and making a video or two.
I spoke to Wigington by phone last year about his music, and about Chuck Mountain. The band plays Bull’s Tavern in Winston-Salem on Thursday, July 11.
Wigington went to college in Greensboro, where he studied to be an actor, before heading to Southern California, “and never acted again,” he said. He may have abandoned his plans of a career in T.V. and film, but his time as an acting student prepared him for the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle, in a way. He had voice lessons that helped him out as a singer, and his theater instructors taught him how to zero-in on the emotional core of what he’s doing, how to carry himself on stage, and how to get in the expressive zone without a lot of head games.
After returning to North Carolina a little over two years ago, Wigington has used the move as a way to recalibrate his focus.
“Since moving to Greensboro, a lot of my writing has been focused on cautionary tales. I found when I lived in bigger cities; I fell down the wrong path,” Wigington said. “That’s a big personal thing I’m working on, trying to be the responsible adult. It’s been a long road.”
Working as a bartender isn’t always the easiest way to affirm one’s commitment to the traditional values of adulthood, but Wigington said the bar culture in North Carolina is a little less excessive than Nashville. At previous stints behind the bar, Wigington said he was a little self-destructive, but these days, he focuses his energies on collecting ideas.
“Bartending has always been one of my biggest wells for inspiration for songs,” he said. “You’re a psychotherapist, and you can tell the story.”
Wigington has a knack for the key detail that can make a lyric stand out and play over again in a listener’s mind. On “Got Nobody,” the band’s most recent single, he sings about the ways that one’s habits and patterns of behavior can reinforce a life of sadness, frustration, and loneliness. It’s about “being trapped by your ways,” said Wigington about the idea behind the song. “It’s like waiting for the bus in the rain when it’s already been,” he sings. Anyone who’s ever relied on public transit knows the creeping self-pity and resentment that can be a part of the experience. “Everybody’s got a haunted heart,” he sings elsewhere on the same song.
Another single, “The Devil,” conjures a world where demonic forces are part of the mundane everyday atmosphere, where dark energy almost seems to emanate up from the Earth. After a rainfall, when the sun is out and making a mist on the ground, Wigington envisions something Satanic lurking. “The devil likes the steam around his hooves when he walks,” sings Wigington, capturing a cinematic image in one line. The devil in the song isn’t necessarily the devil of the Bible and popular religious imagination.
“It’s more about the idea of being trapped, being confined in your own will, feeling held back and controlled,” Wigington said.
That song was a part of what Wigington conceived of as being a series of songs, a sort of concept album, based on the cards of the Tarot deck.
“I’ve been a very big fan of Tarot cards and mysticism for quite some time,” Wigington said.
“I was working through the songs as they kind of talked to me. ‘The Devil’ was one of the first ones that I wrote.”
Chuck Mountain play bluesy riff-rock with a Southern-rock core. These are songs that would sound right at home in those biker bars that Wigington used to play at in California.
Wigington and his bandmates — Jeff Wysosky on bass and backing vocals, and Sammi Prints on drums — have been rehearsing and gigging quite a bit. They’ve got several hours of material for extended club sets. And Wigington said they’ll be releasing a single every month or so until they’ve assembled enough for a full-length record. There are also plans for mini-tours that will take Chuck Mountain to Nashville.
When he’s not working on Chuck Mountain material or bartending or performing, Wigington keeps busy writing songs for the personalized gift-song company Songfinch, which provides customers with one-of-a-kind, tailor-made songs to commemorate occasions or mark significant life events, or just for fun. It keeps his songwriting chops sharpened, and it means that melodies, hooks, chord changes, and ideas never stop percolating.
Wigington has a remarkably eager attitude about working on projects like that. For him, if it’s at all musical, it’s worth doing, and it’s what he’s committed to working on. He’s not turning his nose up at projects or rolling his eyes about the work. There might even be some choice life lessons to be learned by this kind of a slog.
“It took many years of being jaded and cynical to not be jaded and cynical,” he said.
John Adamian lives in Winston-Salem, and his writing has appeared in Wired, The Believer, Relix, Arthur, Modern Farmer, the Hartford Courant and numerous other publications.
See Chuck Mountain at Bull’s Tavern, 408 W. 4th St., Winston-Salem, on Thursday, July 11, at 8 p.m.