20 Ft. Wide - Making Noise In The Big
Interviewed by Keith McDonald
No matter how many times you hear about a band's success story it's
always going to start with the 'buzz' they were able to create and how
everything started there. There's a new band hailing from New York that
is creating quite a buzz in the industry called 20 Ft. Wide. Odd name;
yet these guys have been in the business for some time. The band, Richie
O. on vocals, Rob Engel, Dave Whittaker and Donny Waller on guitar and
bass and Tim Hart on drums have teamed up with former Twisted Sister
founder and guitarist J.J. French. This has the music industry taking
notice as the band is in the process of showcasing to major labels as we
speak. I had the opportunity to speak with their lead singer Richie who
filled me in on what's been going on
How did the band start out?
Dave and Donny have known each other their whole lives basically. I
met the two of them back in the late 80's when I brought my old act into
Dave's studio to record. He and Donny did our demo, became friends and
kept in touch. I then started a band with Rob and Timmy...and again
recorded at Dave's studio. After my new band had called it quits.....I
began working solely with Dave on a new project called "Little
Jimmy." Then began another project we called "Big Sky."
During the recording of the Big Sky material, we felt that it could
really use some new sounds.....new instruments...a new angle. So in came
Donny armed with a pedal steel, a keyboard, and a harmonica. We decided
to ask Rob and Tim to join in, along with a bass player and a percussion
player to complete the band and start playing this new material out. The
material had a country flavor with some rock overtones. 7 guys on small
stages with tons of equipment was starting to get a bit tough to manage.
So we downsized the band to 5 guys, started writing heavier material and
it all started to gel and 20FTWIDE was born.
I see you're working with JJ French from Twisted Sister? How
did that come about? How has it been going? Is he your producer like he
was with Sevendust?
We started creating a "buzz" in New York City by playing
rooms like "The Bitter End" and "The Elbow
Room"....Soon after, we were contacted by one of the club owners
saying he would like to ask some people to come down to one of our shows
to see us. Ultimately, the person he had sent was JJ French. He had come
to a show at The Elbow Room and liked what he saw. He liked it enough to
start working with us on a more "hands on" basis. As a
producer, I can't really predict the future, but that has been talked
Has the band been playing out? If so, where?
We play mostly in New York City, and occasionally on Long Island
where we live. We like to get out there to keep fresh on stage......to
feel that passion that can so easily get lost. But recently, we have
been concentrating on recording in the studio, so we only get to play
out about twice a month or so these days.
Who handles the songwriting? Where does it come from?
Dave comes up with material and presents it at rehearsals. Because of
his studio background, he always presents them sounding pretty hot. He
will record everything himself ...and lay a vocal over it to get a feel
of the melodies and so forth. Sometimes its actually hard to match the
feel he gets out of his recordings, but it works great because it gives
us a goal to reach for. As for where he gets this material and lyrics
from..........you have to ask him. But I think he has really found that
"thing" that we were all looking for in the material......that
I see you incorporate the 80's melodic sound with a little of
today's harder edge. How did you capture that and was that the idea or
did it just happen naturally?
I think it just happened really. There really was no plan for it. I
think the melodies are what's making the material sound so fresh...and
if having hooks and cool melodies are going to classify us as sounding
that way....then so be it. As you can tell......there are no "band
wagons" to jump on here. That would actually be the easy way out
wouldn't it? We are writing material that we like. We ask ourselves,
"What would WE like to hear in a new band?" We are trusting
our instincts....our ears....and our performance to convey this to the
I see you have a nice team backing you (lawyer, manger, etc.)
Who are they and how did you hook up with them?
Same way really.......through the "buzz." People tend to
gravitate towards what's "hot". We happen to be
"hot".....and people noticed. People say, "Hey, there's
something going on here" when they see a passionate band fill a
room with record execs and A&R guys.....that's what they say!
Getting them to the show just kinda happens......getting the
"buzz" is the hard part.
The material is very radio friendly. Was that the idea? Have
you received any radio play?
Just on local radio shows. But we haven't pushed it for radio either.
We didn't intentionally make it sound "radio
friendly".....that's just our hooks coming across the way they are
meant to come across. See, to me that's the goal here......isn't it.
Getting on the radio is important........right?
Who are your influences?
Geez.....where do I start. We all listen to everything actually. I
happen to be a big fan of the old "visual" type of bands such
as old Van Halen....to me that was great music and also something visual
to look at live. There was "fire" there.....tons of energy. It
was electric and emotional all rolled into one package. A package that
has stayed with me till this very day. Giving the people something to
see is really important if you want them to really remember you.
Does the band have a website? What about any MP3s?
We have it all ! Not only is Donny a whiz at any instrument you put
in front of him, but he is also know for putting together some of the
coolest websites you ever saw.......including ours of course. We have
everything from live
shots....schedules......reviews.......MP3s.......even a big budget video
to view. Actually, we all sat around in a circle one night with acoustic
guitars and a bongo ...and did "Mean To Me" with a video
camera on an old turntable spinning around in a circle........classic!
What's the future for the band?
To write....and to "make things happen." Long-term plans
are too out of focus right now to predict. But we are going to be
proactive and go out and get it......take it.......or steal
it...whatever it takes. There are 3 kinds of people in the world....one
kind makes things happen......another watches them happen......and then
there's the third kind that says, "Shit, what happened?"
Official website: www.20ftwide.com