Jonathan Wilson: Moving Ever Brightly
Shifting from some of your collaborations to some of your own work, I know that it’s been over a year since you’ve released your first full-length album. Have you started to work on your next album and, if so, do you think you will adopt a similar recording approach? Your songs have definitely developed into these spiraling live jams.
I’m in the process of my second album and I’m almost done. On the first of February, I will start mixing it at Jackson Browne’s place and there will be some guests on it, but the difference between this album [and the last] is that the productions will be bigger because there are strings and horns. It’s probably closer to what the [live] band is like. There are some songs that have some jams that the earlier albums didn’t have. Then there are some pretty complex tunes with a bunch of strings and horns, and I’m trying to figure out how those are going to [be performed] live, but that’s ok. My first album came out July of 2011, so this one will probably be around that time in 2013. That’s the goal.
Gentle Spirit definitely looked past everyone’s expectations, which was a blessing. I was so happy with the way it was received. That was a gift. It’s so easy for albums to waltz in the shuffle, so that was great and it’s sort of driving the ship.
Are you working on the album yourself or is your live band part of the recordings?
Yeah, there are some songs that are with the band and some with other people.
You’ve spent the past decade working in all areas of the music industry: you’ve been a sideman, a producer, an engineer and the host of all-night jams. Was the idea always to eventually return to your own music?
Yeah man, that was always the goal and I was kind of working towards that with different approaches.
One collaboration that’s very close to the heart of our readership is your recent work with Bob Weir and The Dead. I know that you guys first hooked up at the TRI Jerry Garcia Tribute in August but since then it seems to have really blossomed into a friendship and a collaboration that’s expanded past the two of you guys sitting in with each other. I was wondering one, if you could talk about how you and Bob first connected and how familiar you were with the Grateful Dead songbook at that point and two, a little about some of the highlights of playing with him and Phil [Lesh] since then?
I guess it all kind of started with Bob at the Jerry [Garcia] birthday and the way that that had kind of gone down was Justin Kreutzmann, some guys from TRI had come out to the Dublin show to see what I was doing and they asked if I would be part of the birthday and I said ‘of course!’ Being a fan and just being able to collaborate was amazing, so I guess from that that was the beginning. I guess since then we just stayed in touch, then we started to write some compositions. That’s what I was excited about.
Bob and I are going to do some touring also. One of the things that I want to do is do some gigs with my band, but with Bob at the helm. That’s what we did at the benefit show. It would be so exciting to take that to some other towns [in the USA] and countries. Bob is the best, man. It’s tough to describe the guy, but [he’s] the most built-in, the most evolved guy that I know. He’s just a great guy, a tremendous singer and great guitar player. Just to get in there and collaborate with his groove is an honor, just a tremendous experience. Definitely to share a stage [with him] is a dream come true. Those guys are the best, the whole band. They’re so fucking awesome. Just the sensation of collaborating with them is so great because it’s a family and the crowd is so amazing. When I get off stage—getting hugs from everybody—that doesn’t happen in any other sort of situations, so that’s awesome. Being a fan of them in the past, what’s so amazing is that you get to dig into those songs. Like at this point I’m rapidly ingesting Dead songs that I didn’t even know, so that’s been a good experience.
You have played with both Bob Weir and Phil Lesh in recent months, but you are not necessarily an old school Deadhead. How have you studied their music?
Definitely, I knew their music but not well. I definitely [got] lots of stuff from Rhino records. That’s the great thing about Bob—he’s just so completely open, like if I want to pick a tune that I dig the day of the gig, Bob is totally down. To me that’s such an amazing thing, so if you call “Friend of the Devil,” you’d think he’s tired of the song, but he’s not.
One thing I will say about Bob and Phil is that they’re a bit intimidating not as guys but just that the canon is so fucking huge, so they’ll know some of the songs that you’ve never heard of in a heartbeat. I was talking about it with Jeff Chimenti [and] he said that at this point he knows working song lists that are a few hundred songs, so that’s a bit daunting because Bob might call anything. There’s a lot of stuff to learn.
A little known fact is that you actually recorded an unreleased album with Phil Lesh, Chris Robinson and David Gilmour’s drummer Steve DiStanislao before you met Bob, right?
Yeah, that’s exactly right. What ends up happening a lot when you collaborate with somebody or meet them that’s when you’ve got a connection with them that you didn’t have. That actually was an amazing experience, [it was] completely mind-boggling. He’s just so fucking good it’s completely insane. To be able to hear him on albums or on stage, like at Terrapin [Crossroads], it’s an extremely special thing.
And I guess my last question kind of goes back to that, when you did record with Chris and Phil, were those Grateful Dead songs that you recorded or Chris’s songs?
Some of them were Phil’s and some of them were Chris’s songs. That was all done for a show, like a pilot or something and it didn’t get off the ground. Somebody has those tracks. Maybe they’ll come out.