They met more than five years ago at a summer camp for young scholars in Louisiana at the ages of 14. They had an instant connection through shared musical tastes and talents. Their friendship grew, and they were smart enough to keep it going long after what Portier calls “nerd camp” ended.
Though they lived 144 miles apart (Portier in New Orleans, LeJeune in Lafayette, LA), they kept in touch through email and not long after decided to start making music together, making the long drive back and forth to each other’s towns.
Both girls sang and played acoustic guitar, and through their talents and collective influences formed a folk duo, heavy on harmonies that showcased their unique voices. Portier sang the melodies and played her acoustic guitar right handed. LeJeune played hers left-handed, and matched Portier note for note with intricate harmonies.
“The band name came naturally. It was the image that appeared if you watched Cherie and me on stage, because our guitars faced different directions and looked like wings,” says Portier.
So after a year building a strong foundation on friendship and music, The Wooden Wings officially formed. They wrote and released their first album together, and called it “144 Miles.”
Since they first came together, The Wooden Wings have filled out. Portier and LeJeune decided that they wanted to add to the sound and allow the band to create a range of music. But they couldn’t accomplish this as a duo, so they brought in a few friends. Newer members include Anthony Mikhael (drums), Harry Rosenberg (lead guitar) and Phillip Cork (bass).
“Bringing the boys into the band gave us an edge. They added grit to the sound that makes us more of a rock band. We can play anywhere now, and we’re better for it,” Portier says.
Even when they first added the new members, the girls continued to write most of the music. They established basic structures of new songs, and wrote all of the melodies, harmonies, and lyrics before bringing the songs to the rest of the band to develop. The full band’s first album, Fact Not Fiction, came together and was released in 2010.
“Fact Not Fiction was our first big album in terms of production and writing with new members. Then we were able to tour for the first time last year, and we knew we had something.”
The band has kept in motion since. In the past year, The Wooden Wings wrote and recorded its newest album Liminal and planned another ambitious summer tour, booking the entire thing themselves. Portier credits the band’s DIY ethic for the success.
“We each have our role in the band. Phil and I handle most of the booking. Cherie is in charge of PR and online promotion and Anthony is great at networking. Oh, and Harry, uh … plays guitar,” Portier says laughing.
DIY is not uncommon with young bands, but the extent of The Wooden Wing’s hard work and ambition is less common considering the band’s average age is 19 and a half. Liminal itself is quite ambitious. The album took a year and a half to write and record, which the band did at home with some engineering help from Portier’s father, an experienced musician.
“Liminal highlights how The Wooden Wings is growing. The writing process was more collaborative and showcases the creative energy from the whole band,” Portier says.
The fact that the band records at home allows them to record completely on their own terms, which explains the less-traditional, if not unheard of, approach to recording.
“Since the writing of the songs, and the heart of the songs, starts with Cherie and me and two acoustic guitars, that’s what we recorded first; our guitars, then vocals, and then we pieced the rest of it together. Sometimes,” she says coyly, “we do drums last.”
Though The Wooden Wings writes and performs mostly as the full five-piece, Portier and LeJeune still play stripped down sets as the acoustic duo that started it all.
“I feel like it was fate that Cherie and I met at that camp years ago. We have such a strong connection musically and otherwise. She has such a killer ear for harmonies and our voices work so well together. I can see us playing together forever,” Portier says.
Five years after they first met, and Portier and LeJeune are still smart. But now, instead of summer scholars camp, the two spend their summer touring the country with The Wooden Wings. This summer, the band has a 30-day tour booked, bringing their beautiful harmonies to 23 different cities and towns.
The Wooden Wings performs as a full band in at Ace Bar Chicago on August 1,2012.