Friday, September 22, 2017

My Boston Globe interview with Jonathan Wilson

When 19-year-old Jonathan Wilson left North Carolina for Los Angeles, he discovered that the club across the street from his pad hosted musical improv sessions on Tuesday nights.

“It was a jam Harry Dean Stanton used to have,” Wilson told me. “It was basically his blues band that would jam over there. Joni [Mitchell] sit would in.” 

It was the beginning of a long love affair with the Golden State. He didn't settle there right away. Wilson drove a U-Haul across the USA several times over the next decade, trying to establish a music career. It took a while until he found a home both in California and in its music scene. (Fun fact: Shortly after the start of the millennium, Wilson even lived in a hippie commune consisting of 50 odd shacks and shanties that was bulldozed.)

I interviewed Wilson about his musical journey for tomorrow's edition of The Boston Globe. Read it here.

I first came across Jonathan when I heard his captivating 2013 album FanfareIts influenced by albums such as Dennis Wilson's Pacific Ocean Blue, Pink Floyd's Meddle and CSN and Y's Deja Vu but shot through with Wilson's personality. A new solo album is imminent.

In addition to co-producing Father John Misty's Pure Comedy this year, Jonathan Wilson also plays guitar on Roger Waters's Is This the Life We Really Want? and is now a member of Roger's touring band. He's produced albums for Conor Oberst, Dawes, Roy Harper and Bonnie 'Prince' Billy. He's also written a number of yet-to-be-released songs with Lana Del Rey. (In the liner notes of Lust for Life, Lana thanked Jonathan, whom she roped in to play drums on her music video for "Love," by writing, "You're kind of too famous for us now that ur touring with Pink Floyd, but for a while you were throwing some pretty good mixtapes my way, so thanks for that.")

The lanky musician is one talented dude. He plays guitar, drums, bass, piano and horn. He also makes his own guitars which, apparently, are what he plays on the Roger Waters tour. And his studio is crammed with vintage gear he’s been collecting ever since he acquired his first TASCAM tape recorder at 13—long before it became fashionable to collect vintage gear and instruments. He's able to take apart and troubleshoot anything in the studio, from amplifiers to microphones to the recording console. Well, almost. “Unfortunately the hot tub is broken. That’s the one thing that I cannot fix,” Wilson joked.

But its his musical know-how as a songwriter and producer that has garnered him the respect of the likes of Jackson Browne, David Crosby and Graham Nash (who kindly sent me a comment for my article). One story I wasn't able to include in my article is that Crosby once retuned Wilson's guitar in an unusual tuning and handed it back to him.

"He does that from time to time with folks—he goes into their house and he tunes their guitar in a special Crosby way and then he challenges you to write a song, or two. He tuned it in one of his tunings and I think he said he found maybe five songs in that tuning. Me? I found two songs. One of them is on Fanfare."

Jonathan Wilson may be heavily indebted to the music of 1960s and 1970s, but he told me that he also listens to Kendrick Lamar and the electronic producer Haxan Cloak. But he feels that the studio technique and attention to high-fidelity of those golden-era sounds has often been neglected in today's world. He wants to carry flag planted by the likes of Browne, Crosby and Nash proud.

"I don’t want those guys to think that they have left a legacy to younger guys who can’t find their away around a tape machine or a studio," Wilson told me. "I do have a bit of a goal to be able to continue certain traditions."

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