Nathan Wilkins, Audrey Scott and Jess Ledbetter share a workspace and a passion for music. They work at a local bakery called Quack’s 43rd Street Bakery in the heart of Hyde Park. They juggle working as baristas for the local business, while also making progress in their music careers.
Story by Gabby Sanchez
Photos by Humza Ahmed
While Austin is a booming music town filled with aspiring musicians, having three established musicians working under one roof can seem unusual. Wilkins, Scott, and Ledbetter all described how Quack’s is different than most coffee shops and mentioned general manager Heather O’Connor.
Each musician discussed O’Connor’s support through their musical journey, from allowing them to easily go on tour to providing a support system that allows them to chase their aspirations. For O’Connor, this is just another responsibility that she takes on in order to do the best for every employee. “That’s my job,” O’Connor says. “To make it easier for people to make music and art, while being able to eat.
Nathan Wilkins of Hikes, barista
Nathan Wilkins of Hikes can be described as reserved, focused and sincere. He does not consider himself a typical frontman character. He has been the singer and guitarist for local band, Hikes for the last 5 years. They have three recorded albums and just finished up a tour in Japan.
Wilkins grew up in many places in the United States and around the world. His father worked in the Air Force so Wilkins spent his childhood in places like Georgia, Arkansas and Puerto Rico. This frequent traveling has influenced his adulthood and he says he holds traveling around the world in high importance.
The name Hikes roots itself in Wilkins’ time spent in Arkansas when he and his mom would go hiking through the mountains and national parks. “When I was in high school, my mom and I hiked all over Arkansas,” Wilkins says. “She really taught me a lot about that. She took me out to the woods and it’s just so beautiful there.”
Caring for the environment matters a lot to Wilkins as he considered studying environmental science before going into music. In an effort to combine his two passions, he started “Hikes with Hikes,” a cleanup project that works with the Austin Parks Foundation and Green Belt Guardians to clean up local trails.
His energy currently goes into his solo work, which he is hoping to move in a folk direction, drawing from inspirations such as Sufjan Stevens and Tallest Man on Earth. Spending time in solitude pushes Wilkins toward this goal, as he dreams of traveling the world alone with nothing but an acoustic guitar. “When you show up in a band, it’s such a strong force and there’s all of these other personalities. A lot of the lifestyle doesn’t line up with me,” Wilkins says. “I want to put myself in more intimate spaces, smaller crowds, quiet living rooms and be able to travel the whole world by myself.”
In his upcoming tours, Wilkins says he hopes to get in touch with the true experience of a struggling musician. In order to do that, he wants to remove the safety nets that surround him. “I haven't really struggled and there's something in our age group that romanticizes the struggle of it all, but it’s not cool,” Wilkins says. “However, I do think that it gets shit done.”
For SXSW, Wilkins will perform both as a solo artist and with Hikes. One of the shows is on Monday, Mar. 13 in All the Friends Ball at Spiderhouse Cafe. Wilkins holds the 10:30 p.m. spot for his solo works and the midnight spot with Hikes. He will also be hosting a two-day festival called South By Hikes which features about 30 bands. Hikes plans on continuing tours through Europe, Australia, and Japan in the next year, and they will release a video production in the near future.
Audrey and Cameron Scott of Sick/Sea, barista and former pastry packer
Audrey Scott started recording her own songs during her sophomore year of college and posted them onto a secret Myspace page. She never intended to make anything of it, but one day, she was offered a show in her hometown of McAllen, Texas. She asked her brother Cameron, who had recently been playing in metal bands, to join her on the drums.
That was 9 years ago. Since then, they’ve changed names, bassists and homes. Sick/Sea has two albums out, “Oh Ship” and “Moral Compass,” with Audrey on vocals and guitar, Cameron on drums and Miguel Morales on bass.
As children, the Scotts were only allowed to listen to Christian or country bands and did not listen to bands like The Beatles until high school. They say this did not hinder their ability to write good music but actually taught them how to write in the first place. “We grew up going to church so we knew all these hymns and Christmas songs. Those are amazing melodies and they teach you how to write music if you listen carefully,” Audrey says.“You don’t need to listen to The Beatles growing up to write good music.”
As they got older, finding new music brought them closer together as siblings. “We started showing each other music and getting closer based on our love of music,” Cameron says. “We have two other siblings who are older, but they don't really listen to the same type of music as us.”
Thankfully Cameron and Audrey maintained a close relationship, and continued improving their communication skills along the way. They say they have truly seen every side of one another, including when Cameron didn’t shower for 7 days or when Audrey ate strictly ramen and Clif Bars on tour.
Their hometown of McAllen carries great importance for the siblings. Friends and fans in McAllen have offered support in many forms, including donating money for gas and providing first aid kits. They were the first people to know all of their songs, and when they played a farewell show, the audience presented them with a giant card that featured signatures from every individual. “We’re very proud to be from there,” Audrey says. “That’s where our roots are and we will always return to them.”
The Scotts moved to Austin in June, taking a break from music while getting settled into their new home. June is also the same time that both of them started working at Quacks, Sick/Sea and Hikes toured together, and Wilkins offered them connections to jobs when they moved to town. With Audrey’s work in the coffee industry for the last ten years, coffee is just as much of a passion for her as music.
Audrey explains that they want whatever happens to be organic, remembering not to rush back into the process. “We’re going with the flow and letting everything happen organically and naturally. So far everything’s been lining up in a really good way,” Audrey says. “I’m excited.”
Jess Ledbetter of Honeyrude, barista
Jess Ledbetter of Honeyrude prefers to do things the long way, taking in the full experience of everything she does. From listening to music to writing and creating her own music, everything needs to be genuine. She’s laid back, but passionate. Her passion prevents her from taking the easy way when it comes to music and life.
Ledbetter started playing music at a young age, practicing in her bedroom closet as a child due to her nervousness about playing in front of others. She eventually began to share music with her friends as a teenager, but it wasn’t until her twenties that she took her talents out into the world and joined her first band.
Surrounding herself with older musicians in her first band pushed Ledbetter to improve in ways that she hadn't before. “It was uncomfortable at first but it got me into shape real quick,” Ledbetter says. “It set a standard of striving to play perfectly and to never be nervous.”
Being around experienced musicians with large goals in music also made an impression on Ledbetter. She began to see how music could become her career and livelihood. “They all had these big dreams of being in successful bands and having this rock star life,” Ledbetter says. “They made me feel like that was possible for me too.”
She joined Honeyrude about a year and half ago when she still lived in New York City. After connecting with the other band members, she fell in love and was at band rehearsals the day after moving back to Austin.
It was about the same time that she started working at Quack’s as a barista. “Initially I was like ‘Oh god, another coffee shop here we go,’ but this place is different than anywhere else I’ve worked,” Ledbetter says. “The customers are nicer and people are slower, more genuine and polite. It feels like community service.”
Another reason Ledbetter made the move to Austin was to focus more on solo work. Her most recent release is a track coupled with a video called “Sentimental”. She hopes to continue this style of release, as she says she enjoys the feel of music as an art project. Her current inspirations in her solo work included Weyes Blood, The Cure and PJ Harvey. Much like other aspects in her life, Ledbetter is taking the process slow, wanting things to come naturally. She has the goal of releasing a solo album sometime next year.
When it comes to listening to music, Ledbetter has begun to move away from playlists on Spotify and more toward listening to a record intentionally, even when it is not the most comfortable. She jokes that Spotify made her lazy and she hopes to serve as a beacon for how music used to be enjoyed. “I really love the sentiment of listening to music like that,” Ledbetter says. “You know, if you were going out for the day and you needed some music to listen to, you would take your walkman and your 10 favorite CDs.”
Ledbetter laments for music’s past, especially when it comes to the writing process. The movement to streaming websites leaves less money for the artist, which means less money can go into the writing process and studio time. She hopes to break out of these limitations placed on artists with the knowledge that good music takes time. She also pities artists who rely on singles and focus on getting likeable music out at a rapid rate. “I’m not interested in that, because those people do not go down in history,” she says. “It’s like why are people still talking about Fleetwood Mac? Because their band, their record, their relationships and their writing all spanned years of time. Everything was recorded conventionally, they got the full experience.”
Her plans for Honeyrude this year include the release of a new album in May, and in April they will be going on a tour with a band called Magnet School. They have two shows coming up for SXSW. The first is on Mar. 17 at Hard Luck and the other is on Mar. 18 at Hole in the Wall.