Wanda – Huntsville’s Accessible Yet Unattainable Frontwoman
Wanda Wesolowski, frontwoman of eponymously named Wanda band, is the queer girl-next-door you wish you had and the latest musical artist to have Huntsville’s ears perking up.
At just 25 years old, the 256 native has recently dominated the Huntsville music scene with the release of her debut album, One-Hit Wanda, a self-explanatory double entendre. She and her band – comprised of guitarist Jasen Tehan, keyboardist Bransen Edwards, drummer Nick Recio, and bassist Andrew Sharpe – got together in 2019, though Wanda has been gigging around Huntsville solo for the last ten years.
She got her start playing wherever she could – Bridgetreet, Diaper Drives, Panoply – and was well-received by her hometown.
So what made her form the Wanda band instead of just continuing on as Wanda?
“Story goes, Jasen comes to me after one of my concerts in the park and says, ‘your music’s really good, I can hear a bigger sound. You should really have a full-time band.’ I said whatever, but he came in to see me regularly after that. He’d show me a new guitar, he’d ask me to come play. He told me about Nick and Bransen. When I finally went, we had such a blast and we played so well together. And here we are.”
This persistent appreciation and admiration her bandmates have for Wanda is evident the moment I step into their rehearsal space. It’s Jasen’s place and you can tell – the walls are covered with guitars of every different make and color.
“He has over fifty,” Andrew tells me with clear pride and affection, a hallmark of the genuine friendship between the bandmates.
The atmosphere is loose and perfumed with sweet-smelling smoke. Everyone mills about, talking and laughing with each other. But they all speak to Wanda with a particular affection and deference, making it clear she’s the leader of the pack. And it’s easy to see why.
There is something undeniably accessible about Wanda – she carries herself with a humble confidence and smiles easily, greeting me as if I’m a longtime friend instead of a stranger she’s meeting for the first time. Complementing this warmth is a dreamy quality about her that feels just out of reach, as if she moves through a self-created space that’s by invitation only. It’s the entire combination that makes you want that invitation so badly.
She tunes her guitar, glancing up at me occasionally, always smiling, and explains her new album.
“It’s abstract and weird. It goes from genre to genre. There’s a song for everyone. If you don’t like one, you’ll probably like another one.”
Her favorite song on the album is Virginia is for Lovers, a sweet, earnest song about romance, but she recognizes that most people are really digging Lazy Susan. I tell her my favorite is The Slaughter and she indulges me with the story behind it.
WANDA REHEARSES THE SONG SIMULATION OFF THEIR NEW ALBULM.
WANDA PLAYS THE CURE’S JUST LIKE HEAVEN.
“The Slaughter was actually written – it’s a little bit of a story [about heartbreak] where I turned on my voice memos, started strumming out that A minor chord, and went on a tangent of lyrics. I listened to it, took the best verses, and turned it into a song.”
This depth of feeling and honesty in her music is something she’s always valued, though it has taken her until recently to go about finding it the right way.
“When I was doing the brooding singer-songwriter thing, the solo artist, I was definitely feeding into a stereotype. You know, you’re young and naïve and you just do what you see your heroes do and you listen to songs like When I Drink by the Avett Brothers at 17 and you’re like, ‘yeah, that’s gonna be me.’”
In what sense?
“I was definitely a raging alcoholic. A lot of the places downtown give you free beer when you play, and I’d take advantage of that. In a very big way, I did that on purpose. I purposefully chose to go too deep in. And then I realized it’s not going to help me in the long run; I have to get sober. I kind of screwed up an American Idol audition. I actually talked about that [in a different interview] but they didn’t include that I got sober, so make sure to include that.”
I ask if her sobriety is a point of pride for her.
“I’m cool with talking about it because I think a lot of people think alcoholics look a certain way. And they can be anyone. I also want to feel… I want more people to realize that getting sober is a really great decision. If you think you have a problem, just give it up. For like, 30 days. Just to see how much better you feel. My reflexes got better; I was playing more, even my bass player told me I played better. And then I started the band and it was, in a way, the new addiction. Like, okay, time to hustle because if you work hard you will achieve your dreams. And I was doing that crazy thing that entrepreneurs do where it’s like, ‘if you set yourself up for success, you will find it.’”
Wanda is a subscriber to the ideology that if you manifest it, it will come – but with a healthy dose of hard work on the side.
“Manifesting things is something I really believe in. I was listening to Sound and Color by Alabama Shakes – I was driving to Green Hill [to record our debut album] and I was thinking, ‘I love these vibes, I wish we could have these vibes on our album.’ And then we’re like… four hours into this session and we’re playing Talking to Yourself and Jay, our producer, is like ‘hang on, I hear something.’ And he pulls out this big Nord piano and he says, ‘this is the same sample they used on Sound and Color.’ And I was like, ‘let’s make it happen.’”
I make note of her rainbow guitar strap, tripping over my own words in my nerves as I confess that I’m a queer woman, too, but not out. Wanda’s response is instant:
“I suggest anyone be out in Huntsville.”
When I sheepishly explain that I’m bisexual and unsure if it counts, Wanda, in keeping with her ‘accept everyone’ ethos, scoffs and empathizes: “People wanna invalidate that shit. I don’t. I hate that.”
Wanda is open about her own sexuality, candid as she strums the opening notes for Lazy Susan on her guitar.
“This [entire album] is gay heartache in a nutshell. The longing, the yearning, the struggle with self-acceptance and self-love. People being fickle because they can’t accept themselves; their grief and joys. It’s the coming out process. The whole album is my coming out process, in a way. Every song on the album is about some woman I’ve loved in the past five years.”
I ask her how, exactly, she writes her songs, since she wrote all the music on One-Hit.
“You just play what you know. I’ve been songwriting since I was 16. Hopefully for our next album we’ll write all our songs together.”
Will they stay in Huntsville to do it?
“Huntsville is a great place for artists to live because there’s a pretty high quality of life for a pretty decent price. And I see it growing. I’ve seen slow growth – a lot of sideways and a little pivot, but moving forward. I think that Huntsville’s a place where a lot of people have invested in me and I owe it to Huntsville to stay here. I will make my home base here. I’ll stay as ‘from Huntsville.’”
Her influences become clear as the band begins to rehearse: the Alabama Shakes, Gregg Alexander of the New Radicals, the Beatles. They’re rehearsing specifically for their album release show at Gold Sprint Coffee, one of Wanda’s favorite places in Huntsville.
It’s a high energy rehearsal and I watch the way her bandmates all move as she moves, responding to her cues and watching her for instruction. They pause intermittently to tune a guitar, to laugh, to tease one another. All the while Wanda encapsulates that same air of easy, unaffected charisma, a comfortability in her own skin that makes you both want her and want to be her.
During a break, I ask Jasen if they’re all best friends.
“Yeah,” he says, grinning. “I guess so.”
“We go to brunch every Sunday,” Wanda says and Bransen nods as he walks by. “As a band, we’ve sampled every single brunch in Huntsville. We think the best one is Shagnasty’s. Make sure that gets in [to the article].”
When I suggest band friendship bracelets, Wanda laughs and enthusiastically agrees. It’s how the Wanda band seems to do everything – with laughter and enthusiasm. After all, as their van promises, ‘it’s a whole lot of fun.’
At their album release show at Gold Sprint later that week, this laughter and enthusiasm is infectious. It’s a socially distant, masked, inside-outside show with mandatory temperature checks at the door. Even despite these regulations, the show goers are in high spirits.
Them Damn Dogs, another local band, is the opening act, and Wanda is masked at the front of the audience, dancing harder and singing louder than anyone else. The musical community loves her hard and she loves it hard right back, as evidenced when she finally takes the stage and thanks everyone profusely not only for coming but for coming and being safe.
The show is a hazy, technicolor daydream complete with fog machine and most of the crowd singing along, having already memorized the lyrics after just one day of the album being released. Wanda is in a white jumpsuit and her bandmates are in matching navy jumpsuits – “We love Dickies!” she exclaims to cheers from the crowd, playing the opening notes for The Cure’s Just Like Heaven.
When I ask her afterward how the show went, she can’t temper her smile.
“I was really pleased with the turnout. I wasn’t too overwhelmed, and it seemed to be a really respectful crowd. Everyone got temperature checked at the door which I think mentally puts you in a different place.”
Wanda Live from Gold Sprint Coffee Playing Lazy Susan.
And the reception to the album?
“Oh, gosh. I’m overwhelmed with the amount of positive feedback that I’ve gotten. A lot of people told me they’ve been listening to it nonstop. I don’t know if they’re being hyperbolic but either way it’s a super great compliment.”
I reassure her it isn’t hyperbole – I’ve fallen victim to the Wanda bug, unable to stop listening to One-Hit on repeat. She laughs, audibly embarrassed by the compliment but still pleased.
“I’m hoping that it can stick. I’m hoping that it can be in someone’s regular rotation. I’m already thrilled – to me, I’ve already accomplished what I set out to do.”
And what she set out to do was make an album.
“That was the point. Because without it, I’m just a musician in Huntsville and you can only hear my music by catching my shows. Now, I actually have a real album, a real product. I can show people my band and what we sound like – and that was the goal. Just to have the product in hand and be able to share it with everybody.”
Her songs are all about real, relatable topics, mostly matters of the heart, and in listening to her album, it’s easy to apply her artfully crafted lyrics to your own personal experiences.
“That is honestly the greatest compliment you could ever give a writer. It’s one thing to be a songwriter that wants to tell everybody how they wrote the song, why they wrote the song, when they wrote the song, but to just release the song and just let everyone else tell you what it means… it’s just so much more special.”
And at HuntsvilleMusic.com, we think ‘special’ is the perfect way to describe Wanda and her Wanda band.