Heart of Steel: Interviews

20 Ft. Wide - Making Noise In The Big City

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 about.


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 "magic."


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 end user.


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

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