Published on August 28th, 2013 | by Ballard Lesemann0
James Wilson on the Musical Brotherhood of Sons of Bill
Over the last five or six years, the members of Charlottesville, Virginia-based, Americana-rock band Sons of Bill have put the Charleston area on top of their “go to” list, booking shows at local festivals and clubs and earning Lowcountry fans a few dozen at a time.
Sons of Bill will bring their twangy, melodic, guitar-driven rock back to the Windjammer on the Isle of Palms this week for a Labor Day gig in support of their recent album Sirens (produced by Cracker frontman David Lowery) and a limited edition 7″ single titled “Bad Dancer” backed with “Higher Than Mine,” released on Charlottesville’s Warhen Records.
Fronted by tall-standing singer/guitarist James Wilson — one of three Wilson brothers in the lineup — the super-tight quintet has designated the Windjammer as their favorite Lowcountry haunt in recent years. Wilson and his bandmates — guitarist/singer Sam Wilson, keyboardist/banjo player Abe Wilson, bassist Seth Green, and drummer Todd Wellons — packed the club back in May, just as “Bad Dancer” hit the web (the tune was offered as a free download to all in attendance that evening). They’ll return with more new material on hand this time around.
James Wilson spoke with Metronome Charleston about the band’s busy year promoting Sirens, their approach to their forthcoming studio album, and their healthy sense of brotherhood.
Metronome Charleston: It seems like you and the band have been touring almost nonstop since the release of Sirens in the spring of 2012. Was all of the effort part of a larger game plan?
James Wilson: It just keeps going. In a changing music industry, it’s hard to know what to do sometimes, so we just go and do what we do well, try to turn people on to the music we make, and stay as positive as possible. We’e just going to keep at it that way.
Metronome Charleston: You all have been performing for long enough to be considered “seasoned veterans.” Considering all of that experience, how would you describe the sibling and bandmate chemistry on and off stage at this point?
James Wilson: There are a couple of thing things that are so great about being in a band your brothers. On one hand, you have a solid foundation and chemistry from growing up together and getting into the same type of music together. But also, my brothers are two of the musicians and songwriters that I respect the most. With them, we’ve really pushed ourselves to grow, change, and get better. I think that’s been the best thing for the band, musically and personally. Oftentimes, bands look toward one individual to be the leader, the inspiration, and the foundation. Things can get really stagnate that way.
Metronome Charleston: With all of the recording and songwriting on top of the road work, the ever-evolving chemistry within the band is probably quite different now than during the band’s early years, right?
James Wilson: It’s certainly more collaborative. It’s really been a huge thing for me to see my brothers step it up with writing and pushing me and working together. That’s the kind of band we’ve always wanted to be — one that pushes ahead and grows. We’ve always wanted to have a collaborative, full-band sound instead of a single-vision thing.
I love my brothers, and I love every member of the band. There’s so much trust involved, musically and otherwise. There’s nobody I’d rather be in a band with.
Metronome Charleston: Compared to your earlier material, like 2009’s One Town Away and 2006’s A Far Cry from Freedom, the guitar tones, the texture of the harmonies, and the dense style of the rhythm section seem more focused and intense. In what musical direction might you head toward the next year or so?
James Wilson: We are working on a new record right now. It hasn’t full taken form yet. We’re kind of feeling our way into this one rather than having a specific concept or vision. We want to take a little more time with this one. We want to take ourselves out of our comfort zone and the kind of classic rock approach we had with Sirens. We’re trying to be more creative, sonically and as far as who’s playing what. We’re focusing on vocals, harmonies, and buried vocals and instruments. It’ll be a different kind of album. It’s always an involved process, so we’ll see how it comes out.
Metronome Charleston: For many roots-rock and Americana-leaning guitar-rock bands, it’s often tempting to stick with a familiar formula instead of pressing ahead with a new sound. Is that a frightening challenge for you and the band this year?
James Wilson: I think there are usually two paths bands can take, as I see it: you can either develop a sound that’s sort of part of a scene and try to develop a fan base within that scene, or if you keep working, you can develop a sense of trust that people might follow, even if you lose a few fans along the way. It depends on what you want. I think a lot of our fans trust us, and they’re excited to see and hear how we evolve and change.
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