October 2020

Kyle Wareham: Happy days, Magical sounds

Author: Tim Wood | Photographer: M.KAT Photography

In just a short time as part of the Lowcountry music scene, Kyle Wareham has become an icon among diehard fans and fellow musicians. He melts crowds with his piercing crooner vocals and lyrics as part of bands like Pretty Darn and Soundboy and has elevated the sounds of some of the island’s best singers as an increasingly trusted album producer—all in about six years on Hilton Head Island.

“The guy, he is The Fonz of Hilton Head Island,” said fan and frequent collaborator Jevon Daly. “He knows how to write songs, build a deck, work a computer, hardwire, fix his roof, build his studio at his house. Not too tall, not too short, looks good with a guitar. And on the stage, forget it. He owns you the minute you hear the voice. He’s a romantic singer, just penetrates the crowd, makes you want to know all his lyrics.”

Oddly enough, the Lowcountry chapter of the 35-year-old’s musical journey was almost never written. Wareham and his then-girlfriend Nikki were one dinner away from punching a return ticket to Philadelphia.

“My band was starting to come to an end; my parents had moved here, and our lease was up in Philly, so we decided to follow them,” Wareham said. “I helped my dad, did some computer stuff for his biz and was kind of struggling to find my place here. Nikki and I had decided to head back North, but we went out for one last dinner and ended up at Aunt Chiladas.”

There, Wareham struck up a conversation with bartender Alan Dellers. Soon, Groove Town Assault front man Derrick Ludaway joined the chat, heard Wareham’s story and invited him to sit in on a gig at the Tiki Hut.
“That night with Alan and Derrick, it just changed our whole outlook,” Wareham said. “I was having a hard time with the social aspect of finding the scene, and that ended that night.”

Soon, he was scoring regular solo acoustic gigs all across the island, including at Aunt Chiladas, where he first met his Pretty Darn partner, Nick Poulin.

“I was playing a random Christian song at one of my first gigs, and I hear a guy in the audience perfectly harmonizing this song no one knew. And I was like, ‘Whoever this is, I got to meet him’,” Wareham said. “Come to find out, this had been his gig before he decided to head to Nashville. But he never left, came out to see me play, and it began an incredible kinship.”

Inspired timing with tenacious chance-taking is a recurring theme with Wareham, who “can’t remember life before being interested in music.” His dad played guitar and drums, and his uncle had a measure of commercial musical success in the ’80s and ’90s, all musical seeds planted that blossomed into a career for Wareham after a failed college attempt.

“I flunked out of the University of Delaware after the first semester. My dad bought me an eight-track record and said, ‘Take this, go back to your apartment for the rest of the school year and learn how to use this.’ And I loved it—loved production from the minute I started learning.”

Wareham had his first paid gig at age 21, began touring nationwide with his Philly-based band, Three Legged Fox, and quickly positioned the band to take advantage of the beginnings of the streaming era.

“We had the Myspace page at first, and we were getting streams and plays, and when Pandora and Spotify started, we were right there to take advantage of the opportunity,” he said. “I recorded the music myself, made five studio albums; we toured every corner of the country, opened for slightly bigger bands. And all the while, the streams were building.”

TLF songs have millions of streams, including “City of the Queen,” a song about his lovestruck first-time meeting Nikki, whom he married in October 2016 at a gig in Charlotte.

All the while, Wareham gained a reputation for knowing that the sound of his music is more important than the music itself.
“That sound, it’s your calling card, so I just really owned that part of the process and prioritized it right along with learning to be a confident songwriter and a showman,” he said.

Veteran frontman Jos Vicars said Wareham’s energy was intoxicating from the first time they met.

“He put a Facebook post out there saying, ‘Who wants to start a reggae band?’ And it’s something I was dying to do. It was bread and butter from the get-go, just an immediate click,” said Vicars, who went on to start the band Soundboy with Wareham and another island star, drummer Greg Critchley.

“Kyle has the best bubbling energy, and it just motivates you, makes you want to work harder. That’s easy to lose; playing all the gigs can become a job, and you forget to enjoy it as it’s happening. That has never been an issue with Kyle, and that vibe—you just want to be around it.”

Both Vicars and Daly said that vibe and his attention to detail and ability to elevate the sound of their music make him a must-work-with producer.

“Every musician should do one song with Kyle. You’ll learn something—you’ll be a better musician,” Daly said. “I gave myself over to him at the studio door. He makes songs prettier, more appealing to women, men, everyone. He has the chill vibe, but inside, I know that brain is always yelling, always working. That’s a magic combination to be around.”

Vicars said Wareham’s ability to connect feelings to lyrics is second to none. “Some musicians, like me, we have to conjure emotion. It’s right there oozing with Kyle, and he marries the emotion with the creativity to take songs to another level. I planned on making one album but just being around him inspired a whole new group of songs and a whole other album.”

This full package of skills led Critchley, a master in musical engineering himself, to recommend Wareham for licensing work with Universal.

“I didn’t know I’d enjoy that work as much as I have. They want a sound like a Taylor Swift but want something they can own and sell, so I deconstruct what makes the song so memorable and create a whole new sound,” Wareham said.

His first soon-to-be-released effort for Universal, “Here for It,” is inspired by Swift’s “Trouble.” He said he loves the licensing work and hopes to grow that end of the business along with his producing.

“But at the core, it’s the stage, the crowd, the energy. I love the island energy, I could never find this in Philly, it’s a magic all its own,” Wareham said. “Making that connection, that challenge to make that moment the best part of someone’s vacation, and for them to take that music back to all parts of the world, that’s special.”

“He’s becoming a better island musician every day,” Vicars said. “He’s taught me so much, and I’d like to think I’ve helped him lighten up, have fun with the crowd, take your time and make that connection. I see him getting better with that with every set. He’s always striving to improve and inspire.”

Wareham said he’s always open to the next moment to inspire new music and excited to embrace fatherhood with his three-month-old son, River. “There will be a lot of songs for him and about him. He’s got me looking at my own life in a different way, and that change is a great catalyst for creativity,” Wareham said. “He and I are going to be making music together for a long time, that much I know.”

Catch Kyle Wareham Mondays at The Sandbar, Wednesdays at Black Marlin and the Old Oyster Factory, Thursdays at Dunes House, Fridays at Fishcamp, Saturdays at Char Bar and every other Sunday with Soundboy at the Tiki Hut.

  1. Look who made the cover of CH2!!

    — Denise Smith    Oct 14, 07:28 am   

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