To Nashville and back again

Published 5:00 pm Saturday, July 23, 2011

Adam Wayne Wollenburg poses behind the Hollandale Three-In-One before his set Saturday, July 16. - Jason Schoonover/

Adam Wayne Wollenburg spent a few years studying in country music’s capitol. Now he’s back, and looking to hone his style for another run.

Bassist Jay Kisner

The Austin High School graduate recently moved back to Austin after living in Nashville. He and his band have high hopes, as they’ve compiled a list of songs that has all five members excited.

“It’s like a crescendo. You know how a song is: It tells a story, but it’s also like a roller coaster,” Wollenburg said, describing what goes into a good song while outside the Hollandale Three-In-One before a concert July 16.

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“Did that hurt?” bassist Jay Kisner joked. “Big word. That’s one of them there big words.”

It’s not just the songs that has Wollenburg and his band excited, it’s also the band’s chemistry.

Though Wollenburg’s name highlights the band, the other members play a key role and make relevant contributions to the sound.

Though the full band has only been together about five months, bassist Jay Kisner likes the progress.

“This band has gotten farther in five months than a lot of bands do in a year,” Kisner said.

Much of that time was spent preparing the sound and rehearsing, according to Wollenburg.

Guitarist Randy Barnette

“We don’t want to be like anyone else,” he said. “We want to put on a show.”

Harmonica and keyboard player Steven Schmidt is one of the newest members, and he likes the sound.

“It’s just really professional and well put together,” he said.

New beginnings

In a way, the project is a fresh start for each member. Wollenburg returned to Minnesota after living in Nashville for a few years to learn about the industry and develop his sound.

“I played basically every honky tonk you could really think of,” Wollenburg said.

Wollenburg started playing music at 16 with the bass guitar. He soon switched to guitar, started writing music around 17 and was playing local bars by the time he turned 21.

Radio disc jockey Scott Sodeberg suggested Wollenburg move to Nashville to hone his style in the country music capitol. He moved there in 2008 and was around the cream of the crop.

“It polished it (the music) up,” he said. “It really polished the craft of songwriting.”

Wollenburg met his producer Eric Zanetis, and the two frequently talked about the music industry, how it works, about how publishing rights work, and other aspects of the industry. He also spent his time down south going to writer’s nights and crossing paths with established song writers.

Drummer Bruce Paine

“I played with many, many hit song writers,” he said. “I just kind of learned the craft better.”

Zanetis helped Wollenburg’s on his first album on independent label Origins Music Nashville: “Good Pennies Keep Coming Back,” which was released in January and has played on more than 100 radio stations, according to Wollenburg.

Wollenburg decided to move back to Minnesota, and he’s been working to get his name back out there. He’s been back about two years, and he said it’s taken time to hone his sound.

“I want to open up to the right group,” he said. “I don’t want to put all my energy into it … and have it fall apart.”

It appears he’s found that group.

Harmonica and keyboardist Steven Schmidt

After years of playing in metal bands, Kisner was nearly done with his musical career when he tried out for Wollenburg’s band.

“I was really happy that these guys actually contacted me,” Kisner said. “I was at a point in my career where I almost decided that it wasn’t going to happen for me.”

Kisner said he’d grown tired of putting energy into bands to watch them fall through.

Blending styles

Joining a country act wasn’t an instant decision for Kisner after playing and listening to mostly metal.

“I’m a metal guy right to core, but like I said: I love Adam’s material that he plays. I love the sound that we get as a group,” he said.

Since joining, he’s started listening to country to get the feel, while blending in playing from his roots. Kisner’s bass style will range from contemporary country to “thundering right along” with more aggressive, punchy styles, Kisner said.

Kisner’s not the only one to bring his own style. Drummer Bruce Paine played for more than 30 years in classic rock acts, which he’s brought to Wollenburg’s band.

“We’ve kind of turned this into more of a country, southern rock kind of thing,” he said. “Really like it.”

Gutarist Randy Barnette graduated from the Musicians Institute in 1991, worked as a studio musician, and later played on various national tours. He worked for the same publisher out of Nashville as Wollenburg.

Schmidt said he rarely listened to country before joining the band, and now he’s grown to like it.

“Every person has different inspirations from different genres and they all come together in a hybrid,” Schmidt said.

Since everyone makes contributions, all members are comfortable with the material, according to Kisner. To him, it makes for a unique sound.

“It’s nothing like any other country I ever heard,” Kisner said.

“Most country music don’t have slap funk bass in it,” he added.

Wollenburg describes the sound as AmeriCountry: It’s roots are in country, but it pulls from multiple genres.

Baby steps

Though Wollenburg already released an album on Origins Music, the band is planning to go to Nashville for about a week to showcase to major labels sometime in the fall.

All the band members have connections in the industry, and Wollenburg said the band is focusing on performing.

“It’s just really kind of getting the name out right now and showing people what we’re doing,” Wollenburg said.

After much prep, Wollenburg and his band are eager to see where the music takes them.

“Now we all need to do is play out,” he said.

That, according to Kisner, is another reason he likes the band: They’re grounded, despite lofty goals. That wasn’t always the case in the metal bands Kisner played. They often focused on getting to the top — aspirations he still struggles to contain.

Wollenburg and Barnette have helped Kisner take baby steps rather than just eyeing the gold.

It can be tough not to aim too high, especially when a trip to Nashville is in the works.

“You’re always thinking: What if? What if?” Kisner said.

Wollenburg’s band, Kisner said, has a level of professionalism and polished sound unlike anyone he’s played with.

“It’s been working with some of the most professional minded musicians I’ve worked with in my entire career,” Kisner said.

Straight to the top?

Wollenburg said the entire band is still available to play the music and see where it takes them.

The only obstacle is paying the everyday bills.

“If it’s going to go, we’re going to go,” Wollenburg said.

“Show me the money,” Kisner joked. “This dude would like to quit his nine to five job.”

He motioned to Schmidt.

“I’d like to do it full time — the music,” Schmidt agreed.