A Moment with Jack Wilson

Photo credit: Fluff and Gravy Records

Jack Wilson’s self titled debut album is set to release in March. Jack gave me a few minutes to find out a little more about this prolific song writer, how he has created a beautiful marriage of Seattle and Austin sounds, and how he managed to write an album on the handlebars of a bicycle.

DD: The songs on your self-titled album are presented like pages from a storybook. Would you say that you are telling your audience a story about your life or the influences in your life?

Jack Wilson: Absolutely. I think the writing process is different for everyone. Some people have no problem taking on the mantle of another human, or persona and speaking through their voice. For them writing a more personal narrative might be more difficult. For me, the writing process has always felt more like an exorcism, like something that had to come out. Maybe I should have gotten into metal at a young age, who knows, it didn’t go down like that.

I grew up a scrawny sci-fi nerd, and guitar and songwriting became my outlet for telling my own personal mythology, some codex for my trial and successes.

DD: You’ve taken an Austin sound and mixed it with your Seattle roots to create something completely original. Have you created a new Seattle music movement?

Jack Wilson: Oh god, that would be a bold claim. When I moved to Seattle in 2006 I started playing the same jazz and country based folk that Austin is known for. Guys like Walter Hyatt and Champ Hood, who are little known outside the 512 area code, were the kings of the old venues around Austin. Places like the Waterloo Ice House (the original, not the chain Fuddruckers wannabe), the Soap Creek Saloon, Threadgills, were where I received my education, one hand grasping my dad’s pant leg, while he drank Pearl beer.

When I got to Seattle people didn’t get that, it didn’t bring them the same nostalgia. I felt like a completely different species, so I stopped playing, and started listening. Bands like the Maldives and The Moondoggies got their influences not just from Neil Young, The Band, Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen (as I did), but from Lou Reed, Frank Black, Curt Cobain, and Tom Waits. There was [a] whole wealth of rock and roll that got injected into my daily listening from KEXP radio. I suppose, to answer your question the most simply, the movement in Seattle was there, and the movement in Austin was there; the music that I created was just the marriage or assimilation of both into one.

DD: The use of non-traditional instruments, such as a slide guitar, brings a new side to traditional folk music. Do you take into account genre when you add elements to your music?

Jack Wilson: No. Each song determines its instrumentation. At least on this record I allowed each song carte blanche. 

DD: When I listen to your album I am taken back to my youth, sharing time with my dad, while listening to Neil Young and Van Photo credit: Fluff and Gravy RecordsMorrison. Who are your musical influences?

Jack Wilson: Neil young and crazy horse, “everybody knows this is nowhere” is one of my favorite records. The short folk songs are so gorgeous; the jams are long and heady. What more could you want? I was listening to astral weeks in 9th grade when I found out my best friend was going to die of a rare chest cancer.

My dad has one of the best LP collections of anyone I know. Yes, I have my name on that shit in the will. He got me started on the classics, Dylan, Beatles, Joni Mitchell, The Band; also his New Orleans college heroes Professor Longhair, The meters, Dr John; and his hometown heroes from Lubbock: Buddy Holly, the Maines Brothers, and the Flatlanders.

The writers that really took hold of me in high school and college, when I started trying to make songs, were Elliott Smith and Townes Van Zandt; Elliott, for his chord structures and progressions that never fit the formula, and Townes’ lyrics, also a couple steps past the expected.

DD: You said “I was trying to be many different people before I made this record. This record is me being Jack Wilson. Hopefully the next record will also be Jack Wilson; we just have to give [the album] a different name.” Your second album is due out in the next year. Will we be looking at a similar sound to this one? Are you currently working on your next project or are you taking some time in between to regroup?

Jack Wilson: I decided a couple years ago that this (music) was going to be my job, and I’ve tried to stick to it. Rather than trying to just ‘be’ a musician, as an identity, I felt like I had start ‘doing’ music. Put another way, I wanted my actions to reflect my aspirations. So in that regard, we never stop. People in Denver that I just played with couldn’t believe that I play sometimes 3 or 4 times a week in Austin. “Why don’t you spread of your shows, so that you can draw better?” because this is my job; to get on stage and play songs. What’s your job?

The new record exists currently only in my head, but the songs are there. One of the benefits and drawbacks of Fluff and Gravy’s re-release of the self titled album, is that I have a year to compile songs that might make the cut. I think that it will draw from a lot of the same base of sound that the last record did. I imagine acoustic and electric, harmonies and the whatnot. If anything, I think the record might rock harder at times, a little darker edge. Hard to say, seems a long way out. Right now though, [I’m] just trying to put 10-14 amazing songs together. I really want the next record to be the one that is perfect in every way. However, I DO say that every time I go into the studio. Ha.

DD: Did you really write these songs riding a bicycle from Austin, Texas to Charleston, South Carolina? And what compelled you to make that journey?

Jack Wilson: I wrote about a quarter of the songs on the record actually from the handlebars. It took several weeks for me to get comfortable enough (with my panniers and tents and food and, oh yeah, my guitar strapped to the bike, whilst semis whizzed by every 5 or 10 seconds) to write in my head while riding. More songs like Black Hills Fiction were written in the tent at night- I think behind a Pentecostal church. But I can’t remember.

My girlfriend at the time, Emmylou, really pushed me to take the bike tour. I had done zero training. But her parents rode from Amherst, Mass to Seattle in the 70s, settled there, and raised their family. We took it back east. What compelled me? Love I suppose.

If you have yet to listen to Jack’s song Valhalla, pop on over to read the review, where you can grab your free download and watch his live performance of Fell Inside on KEXP. The album “Jack Wilson” is releasing on Fluff and Gravy Records and will be available soon.

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