Q&A: How Wilmah went from writing music in a spare bedroom to headlining NYC shows

WSN spoke with Wilmah about the band’s backstory, writing techniques, and upcoming show at Baby’s All Right on May 4.


Jason Alpert-Wisnia

(Jason Alpert-Wisnia for WSN)

Katherine Manatos, Contributing Writer

From the band’s beginning, Wilmah members Matt Connolly and Will O’Connor have maintained a signature sound by staying true to their personalities. Originally from Buffalo, New York, Connolly and O’Connor attended the same middle school two grades apart, officially meeting during Rock Lunch, a band class at their school. The name Wilmah  — a clever mash-up of Will and Matt — was coined by Connolly’s mother during the band’s early stages.

Having known each other for such a long time, Connolly and O’Connor had a natural rapport when they sat down with WSN to discuss the behind-the-scenes of their band.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

WSN: What brought Wilmah to New York City? 

O’Connor: We knew that we had to be in New York City to make it happen. I was in Baltimore for college, and the scene in Baltimore was atrocious, so I was like, “It’s not gonna happen if I’m still here.”

Connolly: I went to college in Westchester. I don’t really remember why I came to New York. I took the SAT once, and I kind of fucked up my college application, so I was just like, “Oh, I guess I’ll go here.”

WSN: Do you guys have a favorite place to write in New York City, or a favorite place you used to like to write in Buffalo? 

O’Connor: Our bedrooms.

Connolly: Yeah, we actually used to make all of our songs in my parents’ spare bedroom. We made a lot of music in that room. 

O’Connor: We called it the music room, and we turned it into a music studio. Once we decided that we wanted to do it and we were Wilmah, we just kept accumulating more and more gear and put it in the music room. We had a really nice setup there. Then we moved here full time, and I remember packing it up it was really sad. The new one — “Dead to Me,” that we just released — we wrote that in the music room. 

WSN: Where do you find inspiration for your work? 

Connolly: I know all songwriters do this, but I have notes of just tons and tons of phrases or one-liners, and I feel like our process a lot of the time is just combining those one-liners. Making a song is kind of like a puzzle. Sonically, too, we take inspiration from, or rip off, a lot of songs. We take a chord change or a little production thing, and if you can take a bunch of those and put them together, then it becomes your own thing. Lyrically and sonically, that’s what we do. 

WSN: Are there any bands that you find inspiration from?

O’Connor: I would say The 1975 and Father John Misty.

Connolly: Father John Misty, lyrically, I really look up to. And The 1975 — the way that they don’t really follow any rules or don’t really care what they sound like.

O’Connor: It’s not necessarily direct inspiration from the actual songs that they have, it’s more of who they are. 

WSN: On Spotify, the description of your music’s genre is “vulnerable existentialism.” What does that mean? 

Connolly: Good fucking question. I don’t know. I don’t remember writing that people bring that up to me, and I’m like, “What does that mean?” We do want to be vulnerable, because if you’re not a little bit afraid to put out that music, I think there’s an issue. You should be putting your deepest, darkest thoughts into your music, or else it’s kind of pointless. There’s that vulnerability. 

We always talked about how we were trying to connect ourselves to the world around us and what our role is in the world, whether it be from a relationship standpoint with someone or a grander scheme. Our song “Welcome to America” is looking at bigger issues in the world. Honestly, I don’t like to do that in my songwriting that much. I’m not really driven by that. Usually it’s more like, “Listen to me,” or, “Listen to me whine; feel bad for me.” But I think even if you’re talking about that, it’s trying to make sense of who we are and what we’re supposed to be doing.

WSN: What are some of your major goals as a band? 

O’Connor: Sell out Madison Square Garden. 

Connolly: Yeah, that’s down the line. We want to go on tour and put out as much music as possible because we feel like we have a lot of songs that we want to share with people. 

O’Connor: We really focus on the live aspect because Matt and I grew up just playing in bars to old people jamming out. We used to play three-hour sets in Buffalo in random bars and just go off. We really got in the groove of how to play live, and that’s definitely helped us being here because we see a lot of acts and artists that don’t really have that experience, and it shows. We know that we can really give fans something special if they come live. 

Connolly: That’s what makes me happy — playing live. 

O’Connor: There’s nothing better.

WSN: Can fans expect an upcoming album? 

Connolly: The singles that we have been releasing are going into a seven-song EP, and there is one single left on that. 

O’Connor: Our debut album probably won’t come for a while.

Connolly: We want to do more EPs after this one. 

O’Connor:  I just don’t think we are ready for the album yet.

WSN: How long has “Dead to Me” been in production, and how did time change it? 

O’Connor: We wrote this song in 2020, we produced it ourselves, and we thought it was pretty much perfect. We kept it like that for years and then our label said we needed to “de-countrify” it. It went through all of this change and three different producers, and we were like, “How do we get this to a place where they like how this sounds?” and it pretty much sounds exactly how we did it the first time. 

Connolly: It went through all these different iterations, and it ended up sounding very, very similar to the original version. 

WSN: What can people expect from the show at Baby’s All Right? 

O’Connor: Their whole lives changed.

Connolly: Your life will literally be different after that show. We’re going to play some new music at that show. 

O’Connor: We have a good variety of songs that we play. You’ll feel every emotion possible at that show. You’ll get to mosh, you’ll get to cry — you’ll get to love. 

Contact Katherine Manatos at [email protected].