Alumna’s local alt-rock band wins global music contest

By Jiana Smith, The Commonwealth Times

Green and white lights flashed to the rhythm of heavy drums and electric guitars as a crowd formed around the stage to watch Richmond-based alternative rock band Wine & Warpaint perform their live set on Feb. 6.

“I really believe in rock music,” band frontman Brandon O’Neill said between songs. “There’s certain things that you can only feel and say with really loud electric guitars and vocals that are borderline yelling at you.” 

Wine & Warpaint’s passion for rock music was recently recognized in a global music contest. The band was chosen as one of 26 global winners of Fender’s Player Plus Studio Sessions, according to Fender’s website.

Fender Musical Instruments Corp., which manufactures guitars, guitar accessories and recording equipment, created the contest to help get musicians back into the studio during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

When O’Neill found out Wine & Warpaint had won the contest during a band rehearsal on Nov. 8, he said he felt “euphoric.”

“It was one of the biggest accomplishments I’ve ever had in terms of getting that type of recognition,” O’Neill said. “That will never go away.”

The band submitted the single “Half to Life” to the contest, along with a live performance of the band’s first single “Spitefully Alive.” The performance took place at the Canal Club, a venue on East Cary Street in Richmond.

O’Neill said he chose these two songs because they both reflected the band’s signature sound.

“I think it [“Half to Life”] is just a really snappy representation of who we are,” O’Neill said. “The reason we put ‘Spitefully Alive’ in is that I like the musical diversity. It has a spoken word part in the middle; it has more electronic elements. It’s the loud-soft-loud.”    

As part of their win, Wine & Warpaint traveled to Flux Studios in New York City for 10 hours of free recording time, according to O’Neill. They worked with studio engineers Daniel Sanint and Bailey Kislak to record the band’s new single “Static,” which they performed live at The Camel, a venue on West Broad Street on Feb 6. 

O’Neill said recording at Flux Studios was exciting because the group worked with amazing equipment and engineers.

“Daniel and Bailey made us feel like we paid for the time,” O’Neill said. “We got to spend the day with two people who were pumped about getting to make music.”

According to O’Neill, Wine & Warpaint also received a bass guitar from the Player Plus line, a $500 credit for a mixing engineer as well as a consultation with How to Make it in the New Music Business author, Ari Herstand.

O’Neill, who does vocals, instrumental recordings and production for the group, started Wine & Warpaint in 2018.  

O’Neill said he chose the band’s name because of the alliteration and imagery. He described how the contrast between the two words epitomize the band’s sound, whose music often contrasts quiet and loud sounds.

“Together, both of those [sounds] represent what I want the band to accomplish musically and artistically,” O’Neill said. “How can we take things that are juxtaposed and put them together?”

Other Wine & Warpaint members include bassist and vocalist Taylor Bess, drummer Hunter Glotz, guitarist and keyboardist Hannah Haupt and guitarist and vocalist Colleen Christman.

Christman, a VCUarts music alumna, said she first met O’Neill at a Point Harbour live performance and started sharing ideas about music. Eventually, O’Neill asked Christman to join Wine & Warpaint.

Christman was in the Bachelor of Music in the performance and voice program before switching to a Bachelor of Arts in music. Christman said her VCUarts training, which focused on classical music, both helped and contrasted with her experience creating music within the rock genre.

“[VCUarts] has helped me immensely to be in multiple bands [as well as] perform and have the stamina and the strength to do so,” Christman said. “In other ways, [VCUarts] encouraged me and made me see what I wanted to do and the creative route I wanted to go with bands and my own project and my own writing.”

Christman first informed O’Neill about the Player Plus Sessions Contest after learning about the contest from her father, who is also a guitarist.

Bess, Glotz and Haupt did not know about the contest until the announcement, but winning the contest was “reassuring,” according to Bess.

Lead Image: Wine & Warpaint play at The Camel. Photo by Jay Stonefield.