Jonathan Wilson

Jonathan Wilson

interview by Guia Cortassa
As a way to present yourself, can you speak a little about Muscadine, your first band, and of your unreleased debut, "Frankie Ray"?
Muscadine was a special time to me, it was a groovy band and such an informative time. From the first records we made being my first productions in proper professional studios, to the major label hubbub, expense accounts, pricey dinners, rock and roll stories, it was the beginning... The songs were good too...

Both your solo records have come out a few years after their recording, even. Just coincidence, or is there a specific reason for that? Are you selective with signing for labels?
I am very, very selective about signing to labels. It's a dark proposition if not landed properly. In fact I turned down 4-5 label deals with "Gentle Spirit", some of which were major label deals that I knew would be disastrous for the record. Finding Bella Union was a blessing, Bella Union is the finest label on the planet...

jonathanwilson_vYou also said, about the last track on the record, "Valley Of The Silver Moon": "It's a tune about the modern music world not understanding what I have to offer as an artist and the struggle this created". What do you mean with that?
Well, I have always had records and many songs recorded, things I knew would find an orbit in the universe someday, at some time, I did not know precisely when, there were many lean times, many moons darker than this one currently shining.

I think, anyway, that "Gentle Spirit" could have come out in 2011, 1998 or 1976 and still make an impact on the music scene. Simply because it's one of those records that fit into the overused expression "instant classic", in my opinion. Is this your purpose when you look back at your music, at what you are doing?
I am certainly going for classic lines, classic colors, I try to make decisions that will push the music forward while retaining traditions that I hold with high esteem.

Who are, in your opinion, the young artists that can be considered "classic" in the current scene? Bonnie Prince Billy, Vetiver, Fleet Foxes, Benji Hughes, Dawes.

Is "Gentle Spirit" your definitive step towards a solo career, or will you still go on with the production of other artists' material and in general with your collaborations?
It is certainly the real effort and launch into my solo career, my production work will be taking a backseat to this era of performing, travelling for me, I made many records back to back in the studio, I'm taking a breather from that experience for a minute...

A lot of musicians and friends have collaborated in the making of "Gentle Spirit", even if you usually write all instrumental parts. Did they just come and play what you had in mind or did they help you shape the songs?

Different tunes brought different expressions, everyone contributed individual wonderful parts and personality abounds all over the record. The rest I slaved over in silence for a few years.

Do you find this broad musical and instrumental knowledge of yours more of an enhancement or a limitation to your music, to its composition?
It could never feel like a limitation at all, I have so many ideas I'm waiting to work on, enough to last my lifetime for sure... my playing different instruments shapes and defines my sound and my records.

You have been referring, as a specific aim in the making of "Gentle Spirit", to "the sound of the canyon", as you were recording the album in the mythical Laurel Canyon. Can you explain a bit your expression to an Italian, or European listener in general?
The canyon is a certain feeling. Even though you are a mile or less from LA proper and The Sunset Strip, you are in a natural cocoon of freedom and creative energy is very active. It is a unique and fragrant neighborhood, although it's very developed and very expensive now. There is a new breed of wealthy homeowner touting and raising property values because of the canyon's rock and roll past. It is very difficult for an artist to live there, period, the rent is unrealistic, but if you are crafty you may find the perfect little Eucalyptus-shaded bungalow.

jonathanwilson_viYou speak of the concept of "Gentle Spirit" with the following words: "The album talks about taking some time to, you know, give humanity some kind of reverence-laden soundtrack". That is pretty rare in the current songwriting environment, with almost everyone exploiting the most inward of feelings, trying to compress the world in a room. Your record has, instead, a kind of Lennon-esque, panic spiritual attitude, especially in the initial title track. Would you make this a "trademark" of your music?
That's a great observation and an amazing question, you get "Q of the year" with that one for me, I would love for a Lennon-esque Panic Spirituality to be a trademark of my music, I do know that there is power in patience and breath. Great poets, musicians, painters taught me that.

You have referred to "Gentle Spirit" as a record specifically meant for vinyl, a format you explicitly support. Speaking to the producer in you, can you explain to us how "a record meant for vinyl" is made in studio? What kind of equipment have you used and did you make composition, instrumental and sound choices that would complement with the vinyl format?
We use analog signal chains with an eye on the prize at the end of the journey, which will be a piece of 180 gram vinyl-Recording to 2" tape, mixing to ¼" analog. On Studer and Ampex machines, mastering the record twice, once soley for vinyl and next for digital, that's how we did it. The master tapes straight to the Neumann Lathe, that is what gives an extra depth, perhaps a more tactile experience of being there during the session, etc. The bets the record ever sounds to me is on the turntable with a proper system, it cones alive.

We thank you for the interview and hope we will snatch a promise for a show in Italy!
Thanks you very, very much. I will certainly be in Italy in 2012!
Frankie Ray (Pretty And Black, 2007)


Gentle Spirit (Bella Union, 2011)
Fanfare (Bella Union, 2013)


Rare Birds (Bella Union, 2018) 
Dixie Blur (Bella Union, 2020) 
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