Bandmates AJ Dean (guitar/vocals), Tara Wilcox (vocals/percussion/tambourine), and Francesca “Chess” Whiffin (mandolin/vocals) are the London-based three-piece Americana band, The Wandering Hearts. They have been quickly gaining ground in the US the last several years after making their big debut here with country music star Marty Stuart on his Late Night Jam at the Ryman in 2018. AJ said, “The show was 12 hours after we landed. We did a couple of songs, not knowing anything other than it was this prestigious venue that we looked forward to performing in our entire working lives. We got out there, and we got crazy standing ovations. From then on, it was just sheer wonder for us.” Chess added, “Marty introduced us and said, ‘I love these guys, and you’re gonna love them too.’ From that moment, we seemed to have the audience, which was so incredible. Marty is the most incredible, generous, wonderful man. We’re so lucky to have met him.” The band has been the first British band to debut at both the Ryman and the Grand Old Opry in the same week.
The band was quickly signed by Decca Records and released their debut album, Wild Silence in 2018. They have also recently released singles, “Jealous” and reimagined versions of Miley Cyrus and Mark Ronson’s “Nothing Breaks Like a Heart” and Billie Eilish’s “The Party’s Over.” Chess tells us that “it’s really freeing to reimagine someone else’s song.”
We met up with the trio at CMA Fest in between shows where they were heading off to perform at the Acoustic Stage and then off to the Grand Ole Opry. When asked about the band name, they originally went by another name, but when they went to sign their record deal, the name was taken. So AJ explained, “We all have our hearts in music, and we’re all kind of wandering wayward souls, so Wandering Hearts just made sense.”
When it comes to influences, they all have quite a diverse background, which lends to their unique sound. From Chris Stapleton, when he had just released Traveller back in 2015, to Motown, folk, blues, pop, R&B, and rock ‘n’ roll. Chess said, “It’s quite hard to pigeonhole us into any particular genre because we’re so diverse. But with the varying influences and the way that we write and the way that we sing, Americana seems to sum us up better. We have got a country influence, but we’re not out and out country. We’ve been really well accepted into the country scene here and at home and also the Americana scene, so we’re really kind of lucky to be straddling the two.”
They’ve received a lot of support from Gibson. AJ has been playing the Emmylou Harris custom model, which he says he loves. “I’m not usually a big fan of small body guitars, but there is something about that guitar that’s got an incredible tone, and it plays so nicely. And I love Emmylou as well, so that’s a bonus.” Chess plays an Epiphone mandolin and tells us, “I love her!”
Wandering Hearts will be releasing their second album soon, so stay tuned for details.