By his own admission, Luke Wade was bullheaded in his youth and “kind of a late bloomer” when it came to music. Maybe so, but there’s little doubt that Wade blossomed three years ago in his blind audition on The Voice during the NBC show’s seventh season.
As Wade belted out the Otis Redding-popularized “That’s How Strong My Love Is,” Blake Shelton was the first to hit his red button in order to see who the singer was, then fellow coaches Adam Levine, Pharrell Williams and Gwen Stefani did the same. That meant Wade could pick the coach he wanted to work with, and after all four lobbied for the opportunity and showered him with praise, Wade selected Williams.
While he didn’t win, Wade had a good run on The Voice, and since then he’s continued to build on that exposure and experience. The Texas-raised singer, who turns 34 on April 14, released his latest album, Only Ghosts, in January. While making the rounds last month during the South by Southwest music conference-festival in Austin, Texas, Wade spoke about his time on The Voice, his pre-music influences and more.
Medleyville.us: Your parents are both visual artists. How did their work influence the way you approach song lyrics?
Luke Wade: “It was really cool to get guidance from something that wasn’t concrete in what I do. My dad would say, ‘The only thing you can do better than everyone else is be yourself.’ And he would also say, ‘Don’t make art that’s based on art; make art that’s based on life’ — because people get caught up in making something that sounds like something else or looks like something else or is a reaction to something that’s artistic as opposed to living your life and reacting to it. And I think that it allowed me to grow and cultivate something unique where I wasn’t overly guided in a music-specific way. So lyrically, I would say it was those comments [to] write things that reflect real life and connect with people.”
How has your preteen dancing experience influenced your approach to rhythm?
Wade: “You know, I’ve always been fascinated by rhythm, and it took a long time before I turned it to music. I wanted to be a point guard in basketball, so it was dribbling a basketball. Then my dad had a [boxing] speed bag in the backyard, and I loved how much of a game it was to get different combinations and rhythms on the speed bag. I got into pogo sticking and these other things that have to do with rhythm, and then I did dance and eventually [got to] music.
“I’m sure [all of] that accelerated my progress because I went from not playing any guitar to playing out in a couple of years. And I think if it wasn’t for my dance background and my fascination with rhythmic games, it would have taken me a lot longer.”
You were a big part of Season 7 of The Voice. Tell me a few music-related things about the show that happened between episodes that you weren’t really expecting from a TV competition series.
Wade: “The whole experience was unexpected because I didn’t know how the production aspect would work. The amount of effort, energy and work that goes into every little shot … the detail that goes into every little bit of it is just insanity. For the opportunity to sing for 90 seconds, they had me there for a month. We had already gone through a couple of weeks of vetting before you come for the month to prepare for [that time on the air].
“That aspect is really wild and isolating. You think you’re going to get in front of 60 million people and feel that immediately, but you don’t. You’re staying in your hotel, and you’re working every day on the show — you don’t know what’s happening in the real world. You can’t see the people you’re connecting with; you can’t feel it. Weird stuff will happen: You will trend as a search or a topic on Facebook, Twitter, Google or iTunes, but you don’t feel it.”
With two albums under your belt, what was your goal with Only Ghosts?
Wade: “This is the most material that I’ve had together for an album. I think I wrote 50 songs [and then] cut it down to 10. And so I had an opportunity to really curate and have connective tissue between the songs. My goal was to be modern and timeless at the same time. … I wanted to do something transparent, where the instrumental performances and the production didn’t draw attention to themselves.”
— Introduction and interview by Chris M. Junior
Luke Wade on tour (schedule subject to change):
• April 12: Hotel Café — Los Angeles
• April 20: Anthology — Rochester, New York (#)
• April 22: Upstate Concert Hall — Albany, New York (#)
• April 23: The Haunt — Ithaca, New York (#)
• April 27: Beacon Theatre — Hopewell, Virginia (#)
• April 28: Lubbock Uncorked — Lubbock, Texas
• April 29: The Liberty — Roswell, New Mexico
• May 13: Blind Tiger — Greensboro, North Carolina (#)
• May 14: The Concourse — Knoxville, Tennessee (#)
• May 16: Carolina Theater — Durham, North Carolina (#)
• May 17: Shakas — Virginia Beach, Virginia (#)
• May 18: Grey Eagle — Asheville, North Carolina (#)
• May 19: Music Farm — Columbia, South Carolina (#)
(#): With Robert Randolph and the Family Band
Luke Wade at the San Jac Saloon in Austin, Texas. Photographed March 16, 2017, by Chris M. Junior