‘We get stick in the country scene when they discover we're not American'

Wandering Hearts singer AJ Dean tells Dan Carrier about playing Americana with a British twist – and looks ahead to being on the same bill as rock legends

Thursday, 23rd June — By Dan Carrier

DC The Wandering Hearts

The Wandering Hearts: AJ Dean, Tara Wilcox and Chess Whiffin

ON Sunday evening, as the summer heat rises from central London’s baked streets and the dusk air carries a cooling breeze, AJ Dean will take a deep breath and stride out onto the stage in Hyde Park, ready to perform for thousands of people.

AJ is the singer and guitarist of alt-Americana group The Wandering Hearts, one of the acts joining west coast rock legends The Eagles and the artist whose vocals epitomised the British blues explosion, Robert Plant, at this year’s British Summer Time concert series in the Westminster park.

Other acts include Elton John, The Rolling Stones, Pearl Jam, Adele and The Stereophonics.

“It is quite hard to believe,” AJ says. “I grew up listening to Led Zep and The Eagles and it is pretty wild to think I’m on the same bill.”

The Wandering Hearts are a country-and-folk-influenced trio who have been winning critical acclaim since they formed seven years ago.

AJ is joined by vocalist Tara Wilcox and mandolin-playing singer Chess Whiffin.

AJ, like his co-members, has a background in musical theatre, and it was from performing in rock and roll shows that he went on to be a part of the revival band The Bluejays.

The Hearts met while performing as soloists at a music festival and were curious how their talents would combine.

“We have similar musical backgrounds with what we were listening to,” says AJ.

“Our parents were into the same things – the Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel. When we were growing up we were all surrounded by bands with close-harmony singing and experimentation. We were drawn to that and after sitting down together and having our first jam, we knew our voices complemented each other and we were interested in the same styles.”

But as well as being on the same page with what they all wanted to achieve musically, AJ believes one of the Hearts’ greatest strengths comes from each member’s own particular style.

“We also brought our individuality too,” he adds. “There are things we have in common and then things we bring along that are distinct. That works really well when you are writing new music. You have a shared understanding of what sounds good. Then one of us will throw something unique into the mix and offer a different approach. That is the beauty of having a mix of influences and personalities. It means we can rely on each other to bring something fresh to each session.”

The band play Americana but try not to mimic the greats that inspire them, and instead seek to give their music their own British twist.

“It is always a learning experience,” adds AJ. “I first came cross this style of music as a teenager, the music of the likes of Elvis. From a young age, I did a lot of impersonations of American singers – it’s a way of learning. Writing our own material has led to us finding our own voices.”

As their reputation grows, established country artists and fans have taken note.

“We occasionally get stick in the country scene when they discover we are not American, as if only Americans should perform country,” jokes AJ.

“I think the fact that country can be played by anyone and is full of differences and nuance. It only makes it more unique and have more personality.”

His thoughts turn once again to performing on the same stage as bonafide rock and roll legends.

“We have limited time so we will make the most of it,” he says. “With intimate shows, you know people who come are there for you alone and you can get away with slower numbers, for example. For a gig like this, everything we play will be uptempo – we’re going to make Hyde Park rock.”


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