By Matt Matasci
As with nearly everything else in this world, success in the music industry hinges on a quotient of talent and luck. Some artists have all the luck and none of the talent, but they tend to burn out and disappear just as fast as they lit up. Others have all the talent but none of the luck – and unfortunately for music fans, we may never know exactly who those folks are besides, say, your Buddy Hollys or Nick Drakes of the world. Indeed, most of the biggest names in music have had plenty of luck and plenty of talent: Imagine if Elvis had polio! Somewhere along this spectrum, on the side of plenty of talent but little luck, is where David Wingard’s musical history lies.
With several projects under his belt, as well as a few decades of songwriting and performing experience, several factors have collided to keep Wingard from reaching the larger audience his music truly deserves. Perhaps it is not obvious at first glance of the man, who from pictures and videos seems like a typical guy. But beginning as a teenager in 1984, his health has been a major hurdle to overcome:
“I made out with some girl, and I got mono, and that triggered the immune system to be weaker and that’s when diabetes snuck in when I was 13. And so from 13 to 30 – you know, I had kidney failure by the time I was 30. I got a double transplant because I had complete kidney failure. I’ve had three heart stints after two heart attacks… yeah. But if you saw me, you wouldn’t know. [But then] I lift up my shirt and show you all the scars, all the bruising from the insulin injections, [tell you that] I’m living off of one kidney – it’s a trip if I talk about it because you really wouldn’t know because I don’t look sick.”
“The day after high school ended, we formed a band [Dean], the first band I was ever in,” said Wingard in a telephone interview. “We kind of grew up together the next three years; we just played music around town, like the Whiskey in LA, and the Roxy in LA. We were underage, so the first three years was like, you’re ‘fakin’ it till you make it.’ You do the things bands do. The guitar player died, and the drummer Tom Gonzalez and I, wanted to keep going. When our guitarist passed away, we were in Preston’s Room starting in ‘92 until the current day.”
While few musicians make it big with their first band, having to reform under a brand new band name often is enough to destroy any momentum that was created. Preston’s Room just kept chugging along, making a name for themselves in Southern California, but never really breaking nationally. Then in the early 2000s, things turned around a bit, as his health and music career both saw some big changes – in other words, Wingard has had more luck as of late.
“In 2002 I was the first person at USC to do a kidney-pancreas transplant, the first in their history. So I was walking around with one kidney and a new pancreas, so no more shots, no more diabetes. I just formed something out of my bedroom because I have a laptop and some old software, and Tom hung in there and we formed the Wingard Manor in 2009. And we’d just use female singers that we’d find, if we need one we’d have guests come in. It was essentially a pianist and a laptop. And then My Father’s Records, which is the current-current-current thing – three songs, and that’s only me.”
The biggest difference between Preston’s Room (of which he still is a member) and his other projects is the total lack of guitar and bass. Wingard Manor and My Father’s Records instead rely on the aforementioned piano and laptop. The result is sort of a melodically-Californian take on the dark goth-y sounds of 80s new wave. The songs are memorably and intelligently structured, and hit their crescendo with inescapable hooks; on “New Speakers,” the lyrics and melodies feel overwhelmingly uplifting. Meanwhile, “I Would Date You So Hard” has a darker ambiance. But it too eventually evolves into an infectiously-memorable chorus: Wingard can’t help but write a catchy song, even when he seems like he is brooding.
While Wingard’s health struggles most likely have had a net negative effect on the commercial success of his music career, he does admit that at times he bought into the notion that misery was necessary for true artistic achievement. With a supportive family and successful transplants significantly improving his life, he began to have small doubts about what would become of his songwriting ability. “I asked myself if I would ever write a good song again,” he mentioned, laughing. My Father’s Records is proof positive those worries are unfounded.
Despite the fact that when asked about performing these songs live, Wingard responds with a simple “I just don’t do it,” the songs are strong enough to gain local traction anyway. “I just put out singles and promote them – KCRW has played us. I know now that you don’t have to do anything. You can just get your CD in someone’s hands, and they can change your life in one second. It used to be that the record labels were the promoters and the marketers. Now, you’re limited to the 5000 Facebook friends you have. You don’t put up a flyer anymore; you put up a fucking post! [laughs]”