The tight-knit, beach town of Santa Cruz is known for its eccentric, creative and laid-back surf culture – an ideal setting for a diverse folk duo who are seeking to inspire the mind-sets of their audience.
Wild Iris is the culmination of efforts from Bryan Shelton and Kate Mullikin who formed the band in the fall of 2013 after meeting at a beachside convenience store. Bryan was playing a big, black guitar and Kate started improvising a melody to compliment it. They hadn’t shared more than a few words before they were writing their next song. For Kate though, the decision to commit to being in a band was more difficult than Bryan’s. She was still getting over the grief of helping her father and mother pass away a few years since. After telling Bryan she would sleep on the idea, she dreamed that her father, a star of the Broadway stage, sat on the edge of her bed, wiggled her big toe and announced, “It’s your turn.”
Bryan already had the name ‘Wild Iris’ in mind and Kate dug the double meaning, evoking the image of a flower and an eyeball. They adopted the moniker, released their home recorded debut EP in 2014 and began gigging with a back-up band. Kate’s poetic instincts provided the melodic structure for Bryan to build his flat picking under – a style gleamed from years of practice and time well spent listening to Mississippi John Hurt, Woody Guthrie and Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, the latter with whom Wild Iris has shared the stage.
Onstage, the band exuded a kind of therapeutic honesty, which when mixed with their elegant musicality went a long way with the locals and they were encouraged to pursue a professionally recorded debut full length. Their self-titled LP was produced by Andy Zenczak at Gadgetbox Recording Studio where Wild Iris’s rustic arrangements were imbued with the rich sound of analogue gear, often accompanied by upright bass, banjo, fiddle and percussion.
Regarding the reception of their debut, both of its creators have a particularly Zen outlook on the matter. Bryan asserts that “What really motivates me is the idea that someday my great-great-grandson may come across our CD and, in an abstract sense, get to interact with me". As for Kate, she mirrors his humbling sentiments as she pauses a moment to take in the view over the Monterey Bay. “Bryan and I hope that our music will simply make some one, somewhere stop what they are doing to stomp their feet and to hum along for a little while. We are putting our gifts out there and hope there are those who will receive them happily.”
Photo by Effie Benjamin Potter