AS LEAD SINGER, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist for Houston indie-rock band The Wheel Workers (actually, “indie-rock” doesn’t really describe the scope of the band’s ambitions, but we’ll get to that), Steven Higginbotham has been the band’s keeper-of-the-flame for over two decades, most recently shepherding the group through the perils of the pandemic to record what may be their finest album in an already deep catalog.
That album, titled Harbor, a word meant to evoke the comfort and affirmation friends and family provide, is due to drop via Sinkhole Texas Records later this summer. In the meantime, fans of the band and anyone hungry for tuneful, whisper-to-a-scream outer limits rock and roll can check out the band’s brand new single, “Day After Day,” available Friday, July 22 on all streaming platforms.
Sonically “Day After Day” is shape shifting beauty, like something Porcupine Tree might have cooked up after sharing one to many beers with Frank Black and the Pixies. Much like those prog-punk compadres, Higginbotham — with the help of his fellow Wheel Workers, guitarist Craig Wilkins, keyboardist and singer Erin Rodgers, bassist Zeek Garcia, and drummer Kevin Radomski — will more often than not pull the proverbial rug out from under the listener, though always at the service of the song. Toward the final climax of “Day After Day,” you can feel Higginbotham’s anger at his own sense of resignation rise as he howls, “I’ve trained my heart to let go / day after day . . .” over pounding caveman-like groove that finally hits a wall of squelching synths.
Day After Daywww.youtube.com
“The new album is all about overcoming difficulties,” says Higginbotham. “Facing down nightmares, rebuilding your life, and figuring out who and what matters after everything you took for granted burns down.” With all of that in mind, Higginbotham asked Houston artist T. Lavois Thiebaud, a friend and collaborator of Rodgers, to create the artwork and a stop-animation video for the album’s first single, “S.O.S.”, as well as art for the singles “Suck It Up, and now “Day After Day.” “T has such a unique and compelling vision,” says Higginbotham.
To visually complement the apocalyptic mood of “Day After Day,” Thiebaud has created an unsettling, surreal landscape, reminiscent of Salvador Dali’s nightmarish terrains or the Max Ernst at his most bizarre. At the other end of the spectrum, Theibaud’s bright and beautiful artwork for the cover of Harbor, where two young women framed by a yellow sun sit face to face in a collaged landscape of sand and ocean waves, their legs interlocked, right arms raised and foreheads touching, is an image of intimacy and resilience.
Higginbotham, who holds down a day job as an attorney, is now fully recovered from a fractured larynx, and injury that threatened to end his career as a singer. “We’ve all been through hard times lately,” says Higginbotham. “I have become much closer to my family and friends as a sort of ‘harbor’ during all of life’s turbulence. I think the album cover really captures a feeling of finding solace in one another. It’s just a wonderful piece of art.”