Thy Neighbor’s Basement

The Wilverines hit local stages with blues-influenced electric folk.

By: Daniel Shearer

The Wilverines (left to right): David Voorhees, Dave Reynolds, Kevin Moon and Will Rhodin.

   Major labels aren’t the only entities producing CDs with high production values.
   In fact, the basement next door may harbor performers recording original material that sounds just as good as music made at some far-away, big-name studio.
   Look at it this way: Instead of doting over musicians too famous to care about individual listeners, you could start your own fan club, or at least enjoy the quiet pleasure of knowing you’re among a select few who’ve stumbled onto a good thing.
   It took a few years, but Newtown, Pa., resident Will Rhodin finally remembered why he loved making music. Like many people who get sidetracked by career and family responsibilities, Mr. Rhodin put down his guitar for a good 10 years between his late 20s and mid 30s. Then, his wife planned a surprise party for his 35th birthday and invited a few college friends.
   "We had a great time playing music," Mr. Rhodin says. "At that point, I realized this was something I had to bring back into my life.
   "It was really just the beginning of the digital-music revolution, where you could put studios in your house. So I got a $400 multi-track cassette recorder. It was state-of-the-art for home recording when I got it, and pretty quickly, people started getting digital stuff. I was very excited by it. I had heard some things that sounded amazing and found people to show me how to do it."
   That was eight years ago. Since then, Mr. Rhodin invested in a modest digital studio workstation and a few other tools for his basement studio, producing original music for two self-recorded, self-released solo CDs, as well as a more ambitious effort, Into the World Unknown, a CD released in February with his band, The Wilverines. The group cranks out blues-influenced electric folk, with nods to the pop and jazz realms.


Staff photo by Daniel Shearer
Will Rhodin in his studio.

   Mr. Rhodin handles guitar, mandolin, harmonica and lead vocals, with Newtown resident Kevin Moon on bass, Yardley, Pa., resident Dave Reynolds on drums and Hopewell resident David Voorhees on lead guitar. Vocally, Mr. Rhodin sounds similar to alternative-guitar wizard Matthew Sweet, with clean guitars and philosophically tinged poetic lyrics that would appeal to R.E.M. fans.
   Empowered by the recording process, the Wilverines emerged from basement hibernation last year for its first performance, Welcome Day in Newtown, followed that night by a show at Failte Coffeehouse in Hopewell. The group broadened its audience in subsequent months by playing two assembly programs at George School in Newtown, along with shows at John & Peter’s in New Hope, Pa., and gigs across the Delaware at Conduit and Joe’s Mill Hill Saloon in Trenton.
   The band will play its third show at Joe’s Mill Hill Saloon May 11. "We do our share of basic folk-rock tunes," Mr. Rhodin says, "although I will say Dave (Voorhees) and Dave (Reynolds) are both accomplished jazz musicians. When I’m writing a song, it usually starts as a folk-rock kind of tune, and these guys sometimes go off in wild directions."
   Behind the drums, Mr. Reynolds draws on decades of performing experience. He played backup for many jazz musicians at clubs in Washington, D.C., and the Midwest, among them, James Clay, David "Fathead" Newman, Zoot Sims, Benny Goodman and Teddy Wilson. Mr. Reynolds eventually eased out of the full-time performance circuit, earning a degree in music therapy, and is activities director for a retirement village.
   Mr. Voorhees, a physicist by trade, worked on fusion research for many years at Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory but fell victim to budget cuts in the mid ’90s. He currently works for a company that designs materials used in diode lasers and solar-cell applications, drawing on a formidable arsenal of guitar licks outside the corporate environment with his hollow-body Gibson. He gradually weaned himself from flatpicking and now plays with his thumbnail, plucking chords with his other fingers.
   "I love being able to pull a whole chord," Mr. Voorhees says. "There are certain limitations. You can’t pick quite as fast, but I like being able to grab a lot of notes at once. I derive an incredible amount of pleasure from playing. It’s the one thing that keeps me somewhat sane after all these years."

The Wilverines staged a scene at George School in Newtown for the booklet accompanying their CD, Into the World Unknown.

   The group’s youngest member, Mr. Moon, a classically trained bassist, teaches math and philosophy at George School. Mr. Rhodin earns a living as a financial analyst for a Manhattan parking-garage company.
   "I started parking cars in college and never really got out of it," Mr. Rhodin says. "My life has been half music, half cars for a long time.
   "These guys know," he says, motioning to his bandmates. "This is where I spend all my time. I go to work, come home. I’ve got my family stuff that I do, then I’m down in the basement.
   "If I’m not doing my own music, I’m recording other people. I work with a lot of students, kids from George School or Council Rock. I love doing that. There are some amazing ninth- and 10th-graders who just blow me away when I hear them. It makes it all worthwhile."


Staff photo by Daniel Shearer

   Surrounded by Beatles posters, an American flag and a large photograph of Richard Nixon shaking Elvis Presley’s hand at the White House, the band works up a groove with one of its latest tunes, "Ollie Ollie Austin’s Freezing," revealing influences from all over the map. Mr. Voorhees and Mr. Rhodin experiment with the tune’s opening Middle Eastern-flavored riffs in an electric guitar-mandolin duet, then the song takes shape as a sort of psychedelic folk-rap.
   Over the next hour, the band plays most of the tracks on Into the World Unknown, including "The Museum," a bluesy song with lyrics about art coming to life on the walls at night through the masters’ dreams. They swing into a charming portrait, "Fall River Nine," a classic ballad with lovers reunited, and do another song, "Man with the Plan," musings about our role on Earth, "this world without end/ on this grain of sand."
   "We’ve got this big world spinning around," Mr. Rhodin says. "Or is it just a little grain of sand blowing in the air amid others’ world?
   "I combined that thought with a song I had begun a couple of weeks earlier, ‘We’re always breaking away.’ With that line, I was thinking about my kids trying to become independent."
   Thirteen songs in hand, Mr. Rhodin and the band tried to come up with an album-cover concept. They settled on a photograph of a broad stage, with a juggler and other performers in the picture and the band waiting in the wings.
   "It’s like a show starting," Mr. Rhodin says, "and we’re here at the side, waiting to go ‘Into the World Unknown.’ We knew a lot of people who helped us bring it together. My sister-in-law, Cathie Cook, a graphic designer, took the front picture. My daughter, Sara, took the back picture. All our kids are in there."
   A friend from New York mastered the recording, and a company in Omaha, Neb., made the CDs. Following nearly a year of work, Will’s Basement Discs produced yet another recording.
   "You can do these things," Mr. Rhodin says. "You can make a CD that looks and sounds as good as anyone else’s. You just hear about people who do this stuff, and as long as you trust them to do what they do well, you can do something great without being on Capitol Records."
The Wilverines perform at Joe’s Mill Hill Saloon, 300 S. Broad St., Trenton, May 11, 8:30 p.m. Serena
Cosmo opens. Free admission. For information, call (609) 962-5981; and Welcome Day, Newtown, Pa.,
May 18, 2:15 p.m. Free admission. For information, call (215) 579-1750. The Wilverines’ CD, Into the World
Unknown, is available at Newtown Book and Record Exchange, Newtown, Pa.; George School Bookstore, Newtown,
Pa.; Princeton Record Exchange, Princeton; Failte Coffeehouse, Hopewell; and on the Web at
Wilverines on the Web: