is one of the most ambitious, introspective, and complex artists of our time.
While speaking to him recently, he expressed how and why he tapped into a more
‘emo’ side of himself by creating a song, a story, and a theme that touches on
his roots. His history with music goes as far back as pre-school, having
written his first song at the age of three.
Now a stellar
multi-instrumentalist, lyricist, producer, musical director, and studio
musician, it is clear that Wilson knew his path in life from the start. We
couldn’t be happier that he chose to stick with his passion, even throughout
the ups and downs of the industry, because if he didn’t, we wouldn’t have been
graced by the Americana-style indie rock beauty that is his latest release, Dixie
I spent a lot of the day
listening to your first album Frankie Ray and I think it’s really
interesting sonically, but you’re not the same artist now as you were back
All kinds of stuff
happened. That was a long time ago. I went down in this basement in SoHo
and made like an album just for myself. That’s such a funny album, because I
had sort of fallen in love at first sight with someone—at least, I thought I
did. And I was like, ‘I’m just gonna write a whole thing about that,’ and that
was what that was. Then I sort of got signed to put it out with some people,
but like several years later, and I didn’t have a good feeling about it, so I
sort of backed out and it just kind of sat around. I pressed up like a thousand
copies of that record, you know, just by myself. Then people started sending me
eBay links with some of those thousand records selling for fucking 200 bucks
and stuff! Just for the compact disc! So I was like, ‘Oh shit!’ Somewhere out
there that album has some fans, even today, but really so much has changed
since then. Even just getting into the business for real and growing a fanbase
and stuff like that.
For sure, and what was that
process like of really finding your footing in the music industry? Your sound
is very much your own and I can see you really wanting creative and artistic
control of your work.
process of dealing with that is very grueling. It’s a lot of ups and downs and
a lot of emotional swings where you get built up and you think that something
really great is going to happen. Then you talk to some people and you meet some
people that promise you that maybe something cool is going to happen and then
it just fizzles. It’s a culmination of that process… of you getting built up
and excited about something but then it just doesn’t happen. That is what it is
like, though, so you begin to somehow figure out how to work through that
process when it’s tough, and times are fucked up still, but you still manage to
produce hopefully some quality stuff.
Absolutely, and you could even
use that time and those battles with the industry to even influence your sound
and where you want to go.
Yes! You can use
it and can combat that with your work. You can make something that’s so fucking
good that nobody can say it’s not.
You’ve definitely done that
with a Dixie Blur, I have to say. I think it’s absolutely phenomenal.
What about Dixie Blur is maybe different from your earlier albums?
Well this one is
very different, and the biggest difference is that this was all done with a
band at the same time playing live. We went down to Nashville and I used a
crazy, amazing session band–very Nashville style. That’s very, very different,
because most of my stuff in the past, I did it just totally on my own, for the
most part. That would definitely be the biggest difference. This one has had
all of the group interaction.
Did you go into the album
knowing you wanted to have that setup and that live feeling?
Oh, yeah. That
was what we had previously figured out. I had kicked around a couple of
different concepts, but this was the concept that I settled on. I called my
good buddy Patrick Sansone from the band Wilco—who are good friends of mine and
I have worked with for a super-long time—and he lives there, so he was my
spirit guide about what to do once we got to Nashville—where to cut, what
studio, who to hire for drums, who to hire for pedal steel, and his curation
I know that you’ve done fantastic
production work for the likes of Father John Misty and Dawes. What is it like
to create and produce music for yourself rather than other artists?
To be honest,
it’s really not that much different—other than the fact that I’m the singer.
You know, I’m trying to get to that same goal even if it’s with someone else.
I’m just trying to have this complete picture that is as pleasing sonically as
it can be. I’m sort of fucking hyper-focused on the whole thing, you know? I
find that I’m trying to achieve the same sort of goal regardless.
Going back to Dixie Blur,
what was your thought process going into this new record of yours and how did
you write the story arc that I find encapsulates it?
Well, I began to
sit at my house in Topanga Canyon with the guitar just thinking about what this
band was going to be like, because the time was booked. I was just sort of
imagining what it would be. I had some songs that were finished and some that
weren’t, so I sort of went through everything that I had half-done and half-finished;
this concept is here, and that concept is there. I went through all my fucking
archives of songs and stuff that I’ve made to make it sort of spin into this
album…. I started to work with what I had, and that’s the reason that it’s
really the way it is. Even the title, you know, I’m from the South and I’m from
that spot and that vibe, so writing about that, sort of like the blur of where
I’m from, and the blur of my fucking childhood down there. I think it’s
definitely my most emo release.
I actually felt that nostalgia
and personal undertone from start to finish, especially with the song “69
Corvette.” That one feels specifically like it is quite autobiographical. What
is the story behind that song in particular?
Yeah, I just did
a really, really long tour where I was basically on tour for two years with a
few breaks…. It was incredibly intense.
I was on tour so much that I just kept finding myself somewhere so far
from home and that one time I was in some fucking hotel room in like, Poland or
something, and that song just started to happen. It was like ‘I’m in some other
fucking hotel room. It’s nowhere near my family or where I’m from. Not even
close to my home or my house. I don’t even know where I’m at.’ You know what I
mean? So that sort of began to inform my process. I began to look back and it
just paints a story of this ‘69 Corvette that my dad had that was orange. He
used to drive it often, but he was a bit of a drinker, so he would drive around
maybe sometimes with a six pack of beer in between his legs and just kind of
cruise around in this fucking Corvette [laughs]. And so one day he sort
of spun it off the road, because he was driving it in the snow. He totaled it
off the road and that was the last time I saw it. I just sort of began to think
about that and sort of chronicle some of that stuff and those feelings.
Do you think you’ve ever
written a song like that close to the heart before? Or is this just truly a
product of being far away and feeling these feelings and designed to put it to
paper and part a song?
interesting. I mean, I know that I’ve approached a song similarly, but I don’t
know if I’ve ever done one as much of a straight line as this one.
With Dixie Blur, how
excited are you about its release and do have any feelings or assumptions about
what fans of yours are going to think about it?
Yeah, I’m really
excited for this thing to come out. I’m really excited to perform some of these
songs with the band. That is going to be fun! We have a Nashville band, so that’s
going to be great. I just did a week of press, actually, and I was in Paris and
I was kind of starting to catch a vibe from even the journalists and stuff, but
some of them were fans, and I could tell that—this is not a big stretch—that
the record takes folk back to more of the sound I was doing back in 2011 on an
album called Gentle Spirit. And that’s more of like an acoustic piece…
not the whole thing, but sections of it are more sort like this type of vibe,
more finger-picking and softer and personal. I think that this one is like
that. As far as the copious amounts of like pedal steel and fiddle and stuff….
That I am very curious to see what folks think about the healthy dose of what
will be looked at as a more [of a] country vibe.
It for sure has a classic
roots sound to it, but I think it’s not overdone, and I think you did it well
with very beautiful strings rather than anything heavy or in-your-face.
Oh cool. Yes,
that was the idea. It’s not to be too over the top. It sounds like me and what
I’ve always done, but with just more pedal steel stuff.
So I have to admit that I, as
well as my editor Dan Alleva, are dying to know how you linked up with Roger
Waters. We are just so stoked for you. How did that come about?
It started with
a good friend of mine by the name of Nigel Godrich. He’s a wonderful producer.
He’s notably produced for years a band called Radiohead. He’s a good friend of mine
and he got the call to let him go into the studio with Roger. They had gone in
and needed someone on the guitar. He thought of me! So he called me to come
down as soon as possible and I went down on the second day. They didn’t know
what they were going to do, if it was going to be good, and what it was going
to be at that point. [But] things went well, though, and I played some solos on
the guitar that first day and things were good. I got to kind of shred that
first day and so that was cool. And then I got called back… and called back….
again, again, again. We eventually moved the whole project to my studio! So now
he’s there at my house. I’m enraptured. Then we started to use all my stuff,
all my gadgets, on the album: my piano, my drums, my cymbals, all kinds of
stuff. Over time it just shaped into this thing, you know? So I had talked to
the managers and all, but the business part of it sort of turned into more of a
friendship. The next time his managers and staff showed up, and they started to
say, ‘What if you were in the band?’ And I had honestly never even thought
about that, because I thought it was just a session! I thought I was just going
to be the guitar player and then I was going to go on to something else, some
other project, but they’re like, ‘No, no, no, we think that maybe you guys
should be in the band. That way we can take [to the stage] all these brand new
songs that you guys have been doing.’ Then before you know it, I’m on the stage
and that was it. And so when it came to me singing and doing all the David
Gilmore parts and stuff, I had to actually sing for him and show him what I
could do besides playing guitar. Prove my worth. Then suddenly we did like 156
shows and it’s just been fantastic.