The Wrens are an American indie rock band from New Jersey. The group consists of Charles Bissell (guitar/vocals), brothers Greg Whelan (guitar) and Kevin Whelan (bass/vocals), and Jerry MacDonald (drums). They have released three albums so far, although a combination of problems with their former record label and having to fit in writing and recording with the daily pressures of home life and full-time jobs means that only one album has been released since 1996. The band have gained a reputation for their intense live shows - following a gig at the University of London Union in London in March 2006, The Guardian declared that "on this form the Wrens are surely one of the best live bands in the world".
Brothers Greg and Kevin Whelan formed their band in the late '80s, recruiting former high school colleague Charles Bissell in 1989 as a guitarist for a proposed gig supporting The Fixx, which in the end was cancelled. Jerry MacDonald replaced the band's original drummer in 1990 and the quartet moved into a house together in the town of Secaucus, New Jersey to concentrate on their music career. After a number of name changes the group settled on the name Low, and in 1993 they recorded a 7" single with the same name which they sent out to various record companies - one of them, Grass Records, signed the band almost immediately on hearing the record. However, on learning that there was already a slowcore group named Low, the band changed their name to the Wrens.
By 1996, The Wrens had released two full-length albums, Silver (1994) and Secaucus (1996). Both arrived to critical acclaim and gained a following of fans. In the summer of 1995 Grass Records was bought out by businessman Alan Meltzer, who wanted to refocus the label on scoring more mainstream popularity and hit songs. During their 1996 tour for Secaucus the band was offered a new long-term contract for over a million dollars, on condition that in the future they tailor their songs to a more radio-friendly sound. Fearing loss of independence and a watering down of their music, the band refused to sign the contract. As a result, they were not offered another record deal and all production and promotion of their previous two albums was stopped. Meltzer changed Grass Records' name to Wind-Up Records, eventually scoring the mainstream success he sought with groups such as Creed and Evanescence. The Wrens battled for years afterwards to try and regain the rights to the albums in order to make them available again - in 2006 Wind-Up finally relented and re-released Silver and Secaucus on November 14 of that year, although the label retained the rights to the records.
Following the termination of their contract with Grass Records, a six-track EP, "Abbott 1135", was released in 1997 on Ten23 Records (the label run by the people who had originally signed The Wrens to Grass Records). The same year a cassette titled Overnight Success was circulated, featuring early demo versions of songs that would appear on their third album, although to date this cassette has never been officially released. Despite spending more than a year in discussions with various major labels, notably Interscope Records, in order to secure a record contract, none of the talks resulted in a deal. With no contract and their financial lifeline cut off, the members of the Wrens were forced to take full-time jobs while they began work on their third album in 1999. By this point drummer MacDonald was married with a young family and had moved out, but the other three members were still living together in the same house in Fort Lee, New Jersey, where MacDonald would join them to record new material when he was able to. The problems with the record labels are usually cited as the reason for the slow progress on the album, although in a 2004 interview Charles Bissell conceded that a far bigger problem had been the combination of exhaustion, writer's block and lack of confidence in the new material which caused them to extensively re-write or scrap many songs.
It took four years before the record, titled The Meadowlands, was finally completed in early 2003. The Wrens had received an offer a few years previously to release the album on Drive-Thru Records, but decided instead to sign to Absolutely Kosher Records, run by their friend Cory Brown. The album was more varied than their first two records, containing longer and more downbeat songs than their previous records (a fact noted by several critics), dealing with the problems they had experienced with record labels and the concerns of a more grown-up band, such as family life and jobs. The album received overwhelmingly positive reviews from the music press, in publications such as AllMusic, Pitchfork and praise from critic Robert Christgau. The album was described by The New York Times as a "nearly universally acclaimed disc of bright literate pop". It took a further two years before the album was released in Europe on the LO-MAX Records label, to similarly rave reviews.
Despite the critical success of The Meadowlands, the band were unable to start work quickly on a follow-up album due to financial and personal constraints: Bissell had left his job in advertising to earn his living as a guitar teacher but the other three members remain in full-time employment (the Whelan brothers work for a multinational pharmaceutical company in New York City and MacDonald works in the sales division of a financial services company in Philadelphia), and the band no longer had a single house where the members could demo ideas and record songs, as both Bissell and Greg Whelan had got married and moved out. In 2006, The Wrens recorded a cover of the song "They'll Need A Crane" for the tribute album Hello Radio: The Songs of They Might Be Giants. The band also contributed a new song, "Crescent", to Dear New Orleans, a 2010 benefit album released to raise funds and mark the fifth anniversary of the Hurricane Katrina disaster.
The Wrens are in the process of recording their fourth album.
- Silver (1994)
- Secaucus (1996)
- The Meadowlands (2003)
- untitled (2014 - tbc)
- "Low" (self-released, 1993)
- "Napiers" (Grass Records, 1994)
- "Life Stories from the Union" (Grass Records, 1995)
- "Rest Your Head" (Grass Records, 1996)
- Split single with Park Ave. – The Wrens track: "Fireworks"/"James, I Wanna" (Saddle Creek Records, 1997)
- "Hopeless" (digital download only, LO-MAX Records, 2006)
- "Pulled Fences" (Absolutely Kosher Records, 2009)
- "Abbott 1135" (Ten23 Records, 1997 – reissued on Absolutely Kosher Records, 2005)
- Split EP with the Five Mod Four – The Wrens tracks: "Was There Ever", "Bus Dance", "45'er" (No Karma, 2002 – reissued on Contraphonic, 2005)
- Hann, Michael, The Wrens ULU, London, March 9, 2006. URL accessed on 2009-01-05.
- Lippy, Tod, Home Made: An Interview with the Wrens, Fall 2004, pp. 4355. URL accessed on December 12, 2011.
- 3.0 3.1 Wrens' First Two Albums To Be Reissued. Paste Magazine (October 10, 2006). Retrieved on 2009-01-05.
- 4.0 4.1 4.2 Schreiber, Ryan (September 30, 2003). The Meadowlands. Retrieved on December 12, 2011.
- The Year in News 2006: Part 2. Pitchfork Media (December 12, 2006). Retrieved on November 6, 2011.
- McMahan, Tim, Songs from the Meadowlands, March 10, 2004. URL accessed on December 11, 2011. Reproduced on Lazy-i website.
- Garrett, Jon (September 19, 2003). Review: The Meadowlands. PopMatters. Retrieved on November 6, 2011.
- Phares, Heather. [The Wrens at All Music Guide The Wrens: The Meadowlands > Review]. Allmusic. Retrieved on 2009-01-05.
- Christgau, Robert. Robert Christgau: CG: The Wrens. Robertchristgau.com. Retrieved on 2009-01-05.
- La Gorce, Tammy, MUSIC; Once More to the Abyss For the Wrens, May 7, 2006. URL accessed on 2009-01-05.
- Quit Your Day Job: The Wrens. Stereogum (February 21, 2007). Retrieved on December 12, 2011.
- Review of Hello Radio: The Songs of They Might Be Giants at Allmusic
- "Dear New Orleans" website
- Review of The Wrens/Park Ave. split single at Allmusic
- Review of The Wrens/Five Mod Four split EP at Allmusic
- The Wrens official website
- The Wrens Myspace site
- LO-MAX Records website
- Personal account of The Wrens live, with pictures