Thursday, June 20, 2024

‘The World Is Full of Beauty’: WYO’s Mission to Connect Listeners to Nature Through Music


Indie band WYO takes much of its musical inspiration from nature. And it’s paying it forward intending to connect its listeners to the natural world.

In the video for the new song “Ignore the Map” by the indie band WYO, a series of images tell the story of activism as seen through the eyes of Captain Planet Foundation’s youth group of Planeteers. It was an Earth Month collaboration, dubbed “Heartivism.” The first image depicts a woman connected to both land and water with arms folded across her chest under a banner that reads, “WYO.” There’s a rabbit in front of a mountainscape and an image of a cracked earth filled with plastic waste, among others.

“It was amazing to see all the creative, thoughtful, and meaningful submissions that came from it,” WYO frontman Andy Sorge told Ethos via email. The cover art for the single was created by a Planeteer named Stefy, who said the drawing was “born from the intention to defy trends and rediscover the essence of our life’s purpose on Earth.”

“We chose ‘Ignore The Map’ for the partnership because it invites listeners to chart their own course, and us collectively to take small steps to create a better world, together,” Sorge says. The band also made the selected art into limited merchandise, with all proceeds going to support the Captain Planet Foundation. The organization helps empower young people to tackle environmental and social issues.

These days, it’s common to see musicians lend their work to various campaigns or to leverage deeper conversations about social justice or environmental issues. Take Yo-Yo Ma’s recent National Parks project that explored the great outdoors or AY Young’s album that ties into all 17 of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. Billie Eilish and Coldplay have taken steps to green their productions and touring footprint; Eilish even hosted a climate-themed conference, Overheated. For Sorge and WYO co-founder guitarist Scott McKay Gibson, the natural world is as much an inspiration and influence as it is the end goal — to get people to be more present with the planet we all share.

WYO, which takes its name from the state of Wyoming known for vast landscapes and America’s favorite National Park, Yellowstone. For Sorge, though, it’s Jackson Hole — located about an hour south of Yellowstone — that’s a constant source of inspiration, influencing the band’s cinematic and evocative music style. “WYO embodies the search for a place that’s alive and wild,” reads the band’s YouTube page. WYO describes itself as a “sonic companion” along the journey of self-discovery, “even when the path forward is unclear.”

We caught up with Sorge to learn more about WYO, his inspiration, and using music as a force for global change.

*This interview is edited for length and clarity

Ethos: What experiences in nature have most profoundly influenced the sound and themes of your new album, Gemini?

AS: Whenever I write a new song I like to picture being somewhere panoramic, whether it’s a desert plain, a stormy night on the open ocean, or at the top of a mountain. Last year, my uncle was selling his camper trailer and I decided to buy it from him. I hit the road and got to venture into new areas I had never seen before, including the deserts of Moab, which inspired the song “Fire and Ice,” and the mountains of Washington which inspired “Earth to You.” The road trip offered me some new perspectives while writing the album.

Ethos: You grew up in Wyoming — how has that shaped your sound? And where is home now?

AS: When I was a kid, I would sit at the piano in Wyoming and look out to the mountains, wildlife, and landscape for inspiration. As I was piecing together WYO’s first album, Untamed, I wanted to keep the music as natural sounding as I could by recording acoustic instruments like piano, guitars, and live drums at home there. I wanted the music to reflect the beauty that surrounded us, and carry this organic feeling throughout. After the first album, I lived in Los Angeles and then San Diego, but I always find myself returning to Wyoming for periods of time to create. That said, our second and third albums definitely now include Southern California influence as well. 

Ethos: Could you share the story behind one of the tracks on Gemini that deeply reflects your connection to the natural world?

AS: Every song on Gemini shows similarities between nature and emotion, but the one song that sticks out the most is “Earth to You.” The stormy song talks about hearing voices in the thunder, crying when it rains, and feeling that a change is on the horizon as soon as the storm passes. There is a mountain pass in Washington where I hear this song coming from. Storms often roll over this pass, and when I wrote the lyrics my mind was up there on that stormy peak. 

WYO bandmates Scott McKay Gibson and Andy Sorge.
(left to right) Scott McKay Gibson and Andy Sorge of WYO | Courtesy

Ethos: As someone who composes music heavily inspired by nature, how do you translate the visual and emotional elements of nature into melodies and lyrics?

AS: A lot of the songs use references from nature to show similarities of how we view life. “Fire and Ice” is about a relationship that is hot and cold. “Red” is about painting memories a new shade so you view them differently moving forward. “Earth to You” is about feeling a change on the horizon when you are caught in a tough place. “The Wheel at Play” is about feeling stuck and trying to find a way out. Physical elements of nature play a big part in what is written about lyrically. 

Ethos: Can you speak to some of your musical influences and how they helped shape your music?

AS: My Dad would play classic rock while driving me to school in the morning. The Doors always stuck with me, and so did The Who, The Police, Michael Jackson, and The Rolling Stones. Eventually, Arcade Fire, M83, and Ryan Bingham also had an impact on my sound. I like to listen to a pretty diverse group of music, and I feel that has helped me create WYO. 

Ethos: Throughout your career, you’ve had the opportunity to compose music for films and brands that align with outdoor and adventurous themes. How do these projects influence your personal music creations?

AS: I’ve always imagined scenes when writing my music, so writing music for film came pretty easily to me. Oftentimes, I will imagine a story happening, or an emotion playing out somewhere, and writing for films is not very different from this, except that the emotion and storyline is already written. I feel fortunate that my writing style naturally complemented scoring scenes before I even started doing so. I’ve also been fortunate to work on projects with brands or filmmakers who share similar values and passions for the human spirit and a respect and reverence for our earth. This includes Teton Gravity Research films, HBO’s Lindsey Vonn: The Final Season, and projects with The North Face, as well as Quicksilver, among others.

Ethos: You’ve described your music as cinematic. How do you envision your audience experiencing your music? Are there specific settings or contexts where you feel your music is best appreciated?

AS: I imagine people listening to my music while out on the open road, on a camping trip, or in a park. I find that my mind eases when I’m driving, and I can listen to music in a different way than in other settings. That is where I envision people listening to WYO’s albums, out in nature and enjoying the surroundings. 

Andy Sorge of WYO.
WYO founder Andy Sorge | Courtesy

Ethos: How do you hope your work influences or changes your listeners’ perceptions or behaviors toward nature?

AS: I hope people will be more aware of their surroundings when they listen to and hear the references to nature in our music. The world is filled with beauty — and sometimes we take it for granted or stop noticing. During challenging times, it’s vital to the human spirit to keep appreciating what’s all around us. All we have to do is look up. I hope WYO’s music offers people little reminders to be present and notice the beauty around them in that moment. Whether it’s the sun shining, a bird chirping, a tree-lined street, or a colorful sunset.

Ethos: How do you see your music evolving? Do you plan to explore new themes or collaborations that further highlight your passion for the natural world?

AS: Writing music is a constant exploration. You never know if you’ll be able to pull something compelling off again, there are no guarantees. I hope that I can dive deeper into being imaginative in the future, and I look forward to incorporating soundscapes to create visual worlds that I haven’t explored yet. I’d love to continue collaborating on projects and causes that I find inspiring and make a positive impact in the world, for humanity and our planet, and I look forward to seeing where that leads me next.

WYO’s third record Gemini will be released on June 21.

Related on Ethos:

A correction was made to this article on May 30, 2024: An earlier version of this article misspelled the banner in the image drawn by artist Stefy. It reads “WYO”, not “Wyoming.”

When our content includes a mistake, we acknowledge it with a correction. If you spot an error in our content, please let us know by emailing [email protected].


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