Rock band

Local alternative rock band wins global music competition and records time

Jiana Smith, Contributing author

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

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

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

Fender Musical Instruments Corp. manufactures guitars, guitar accessories and recording equipment. The purpose of the competition was to get musicians back into the studio during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Fender’s website.

When O’Neill found out that Wine & Warpaint had won the competition during a band rehearsal on November 8, he said it was “euphoric”.

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

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

O’Neill said he submitted the two songs because they both reflected what he called the band’s signature sound.

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

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

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

“Daniel and Bailey made us feel like we paid for the time,” O’Neill said. “We spent the day with two people who were thrilled to be able to make music.”

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

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

O’Neill said he chose the group’s name due to alliteration and imagery. The contrast between the two words epitomizes the band, whose music often contrasts quiet and loud sounds, he said.

“Together these two elements represent what I want the band to achieve musically and artistically,” O’Neill said. “How can you take things that are juxtaposed and put them together?

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

Christman, a VCUarts music alumnus, said she first met O’Neill at a concert in Point Harbor 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 moving on to a Bachelor of Arts in Music. Christman said his classical music-focused VCUarts background helped and contrasted his background in the rock genre.

“This [VCUarts] helped me tremendously to be in multiple bands, to play and to have the stamina and strength to do that,” Christman said. “In another way, it encouraged me and made me see what I wanted to do and the creative path I wanted to take with bands and my own project and my own writing.”

Christman first told O’Neill about the Player Plus Sessions competition. She discovered the competition through her father, who is also a guitarist.

Bess, Glotz and Haupt were unaware of the contest until the announcement, but winning the contest was “reassuring,” according to Bess.

“As time goes by, it’s less and less about what people think about what I do and I kind of do the best job I can,” Bess said. “But it’s good to have it as a marker of recognition. Like, ‘Oh, we’re doing something good. Maybe we should continue.

O’Neill said Wine & Warpaint hopes to build on the win to expand its audience and contribute to Richmond’s thriving rock scene.

“It gives people a hook to say, ‘maybe I’ll check it out; maybe that’s a message I connect with,” O’Neill said. “Things that make us unique, I would like to position ourselves in such a dynamic space to offer something that people can really connect with.”