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Newly formed Wild Phlox hopes original song will bring a complex melodic experience

(Andrea Grigsby/Illustrations director)

By Emily Sweet

May 28, 2020 12:38 am

Wild Phlox is melding funk, rock, psychedelic, jazz and folk music into its original song at this year’s Spring Sing.

The five-person group is a synthesis of different musical backgrounds and levels of experience, with various members having roots in jazz fusion, funk rock and nearly everything between. The blend of styles will be on display with the group’s single, “If Only,” written by third-year theater student Tieren Salstrand. As Wild Phlox’s singer and rhythm guitarist, Salstrand said the continually building instrumental and vocal elements of the song have evolved to reflect the song’s message of dealing with mental health and addiction to end in triumph.

“’If Only’ started as a dialogue between someone who’s struggling with something they can’t stop and someone that they love very much,” Salstrand said. “It kind of evolved into a dialogue between someone and a personification of their depression kind of falling away or losing grasp of reality.”

Wild Phlox officially formed in mid-January, leaving the band only a few weeks to prepare for its Spring Sing audition, said Dylan Coe, a fourth-year geography and environmental studies student. Initially, Coe was part of an instrumental band with first-year physics student and drummer Rishi Acharya along with mechanical engineering graduate student and lead guitarist Diederik Beckers. As the trio considered the possibility of performing in Spring Sing, Coe said they began to look for a vocalist to add to the band.

That’s when Salstrand and Kiarah Davis – a third-year musical theater student, pianist and singer – came into the picture. At the time, Salstrand and Davis had already been working on “If Only” as a duet. But as the two groups merged into one, they expanded upon Salstrand’s initial version of “If Only” by adding variation in chord progressions and solos as well as a more definite structure to accommodate more instruments, Coe said. Throughout the process, Salstrand said the band helped him not only refine and develop the song, but his own guitar skills as well.

“(Coe and Acharya) were amazing at being understanding of my frustration at my lack of musical knowledge and were able to lend hand,” Salstrand said.

For Coe, one of the song’s strongest aspects is that it includes a solo from each member, allowing for a culmination of the entire group’s effort. With guitar, bass and drum solos, the piece gives each instrument and member a shining moment.

And beyond the solos, Salstrand said the band also collaborated heavily to achieve a buildup of sounds and rhythms in the single. “If Only” begins with a single guitar strum, but as vocals and other instruments come into focus, he said the song shifts from an initially dreamy feeling into a faster and more complex melodic experience. Additionally, dispersing the key sonic elements of each solo throughout the entire song’s entirety created a stronger musical delivery, allowing for more of a jam with the drum and bass solo toward the end, Salstrand said.

Since the song has numerous moving pieces, Salstrand said the rehearsal process has been increasingly difficult as members have had limited access to their instruments. Acharya specifically has not been able to practice with his drum kit, he said. Moreover, the group has not done any rehearsals all together since shelter-in-place orders went into effect, and Acharya said they have had to keep up with their work individually.

However, Acharya said it will not be to difficult for Wild Phlox to reestablish its sound, considering the amount of time its members devoted to rehearsing before the pandemic. While Spring Sing is taking on a virtual format, Coe is still optimistic about the opportunity, as he came to UCLA with specific hopes of performing in the event.

“(Spring Sing) was my dream,” Coe said. “Even before I set foot on campus, I told myself that if I don’t do anything else except play in Spring Sing, I will be happy with my UCLA experience.”


And this year, Coe said he is honored to be able to perform in Spring Sing with Wild Phlox’s fusion of musical styles. Although the band said its sound crosses many genres, for Acharya, it’s clear its music is purple – a color that results from a blend of others which is what he said led them to name the band Wild Phlox, a flower of the same color.

“We decided that our music is really purple, not just ‘If Only,’ but all of our songs are somehow purple,” Acharya said. “We found that Wild Phlox was a kind of purple flower and that’s how we settled on our name.”

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Emily Sweet
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