“We’ve been shocked at the reception to the CD [through Internet sales]. People are into it,” Stepanian notes. “All of us are putting our heads together. … How in the hell are we going to make this work?”
If the Wrinkle Neck Mule project does work in the long term, it will be due to no shortage of twists and turns. Founded in 1999 when four high school and college pals banded together, the group was already split between Richmond and Charlottesville. It gigged around the University of Virginia and played private parties, but guitarist Mason Brent moved to Wyoming in 2002 while drummer Blake Gayle split to travel. Banjo player Chase Heard would eventually depart for Austin, Texas.
“We thought Wrinkle Neck Mules had probably run their course due to huge geography problems,” Stepanian recalls.
But determined to keep some project afloat before Heard left for Texas, he and Stepanian wrote a catalog of songs and recorded them on a home recorder. Brent traveled from Wyoming to help and Gayle returned to town to add drums. With the help of producer Chris Kress, “Minor Enough” eventually emerged by the end of 2002 and the band played a couple of shows. Despite itself, the Wrinkle Neck Mules were still a band.
“The band reinvented itself around the CD,” Stepanian says with a smile.
But with band members scattered hither and yon, it was impossible to establish momentum through live shows. Stepanian, however, had a box of 500 CDs to move, so he contacted the Internet sales machine Miles of Music. The result was a pleasant surprise. The twangy, mixed-bag package of country-flavored songs worked itself into Miles’ top 10. Favorable reviews from British and Dutch critics earned the band distribution through a Swedish company. Songs from “Enough” found radio play on Northern European stations unfettered by the restrictions that strangle many programmers in the United States. Consequently, the band has plans to tour Europe next summer after recording a new CD in March. Eventually, the guys know they will have to live in the same area code if they want Wrinkle Neck to work. For now, they’re content to take what comes their way and count their blessings.
“The band is an oddity,” Stepanian concludes. “We’re just trying to figure it out. …Each day something small happens. We all want this thing to work. We’re getting a lot of good feedback. We believe the music is there.” S
Wrinkle Neck Mules play the main stage of the Virginia Homegrown Music Festival Saturday, Sept. 27, at 12:15 p.m. The main stage lineup also includes Cracker, Keller Williams, Fighting Gravity, Hackensaw Boys and Corey Harris. Tickets are $10 in advance at Plan 9 or $15 at the gate. For more information go to www.browncoffee.com.,/i>