Photo by Zoran Orlic
[dropcap]A[/dropcap]s a longtime producer, engineer, session musician, and member of indie-rock stalwarts Wilco, Patrick Sansone has had his hands in nearly every facet of the music business. For the last 14 years, he and founding Wilco bassist John Stirratt have put out records in between the main gig’s touring spells under the name the Autumn Defense. Toning it down from Wilco’s hard-rocking attitude, the Autumn Defense channels the softer sounds of mid-’60s, early-’70s era rock and pop.
Their latest release, Fifth (stream it via NPR), is another exercise in reproducing the lost sounds of early rock and roll, with subtle guitars, horn and string arrangements, and delicate harmonies playing off each other. It’s a release that wouldn’t look out-of-place next to Fleetwood Mac and Byrds albums in local record stores back when the Beatles still ruled the airwaves. Ahead of the Autumn Defense’s show this Wednesday, February 12 at Great Scott, we sat down with Sansone for a little #617 action, talking about everything from the Zombies, to harmonies, to his early days in the recording studio.
:: SIX QUESTIONS
Adam Parshall: How’d you get connected with John and start the Autumn Defense? I know you had a few other projects before that, and you were producing, and then joined Wilco after starting the Autumn Defense with John.
Patrick Sansone: Well, the project started when we were both living in New Orleans in the late-’90s. John is from New Orleans and had moved back there from Oxford, where he had been living for a few years, which is where I first met him, and I’m from Mississippi, so we knew each other from the Mississippi music scene of the early-’90s.
But he moved to New Orleans, so we were both living there and that’s kind of where we really got to know each other and started hanging out and listening to records and talking about records and running into each other at shows and stuff. And he had just joined Wilco, that was kind of the early years of Wilco and he had a batch of songs that he had written and wasn’t really sure what to do with them, and at the time I was working at a recording studio in New Orleans. So it just kind of fell together. I had a place to record and he was looking for someone to help him get the songs together and help with arrangements and that’s how the first album came about.
Were any of those early songs influenced by that Mississippi/New Orleans-southern scene?
Hah, not at all. The thing was, and what kind of really brought us together to work together was that, at that time, in the late-’90s, especially in a place like New Orleans, there just weren’t a whole lot of people listening to or talking about the kind of records that we were into at that moment. I mean now they’re very much a part of every music lover’s collection, things like Love’s Forever Changes, and the Zombies’ Odyssey & Oracle, you know, we were really into the Kinks and just kind of like both mid-’60s English baroque pop, as well as some of the early-’70s California sound, we just love that stuff, like the Byrds.
So at that time in New Orleans, there wasn’t really much of an audience for that stuff. So we kind of felt like we wanted to create a project where we could sort of indulge those tastes. So that’s really what the first album was about; we wanted to do something that was part of the sound-world of all this music that we really liked.
Kind of that “Laurel Canyon” sort of feel?
Yeah, that gets talked about a lot with our music. I think that came into play more with our second album, Circles, I think that’s where that sound kind of is. You know, I listened back to our first album, maybe sometime last year, and I was really kind of struck by how sunny a lot of it sounds. I think the Laurel Canyon thing really came more into play with our second and third albums. That first album is very pop.
I know you mentioned you were working in a recording studio as a producer and engineer, but you’re also really well-known for being this wide-ranging multi-instrumentalist. What do you enjoy about working on the technical side of record production and arranging, being behind the console, making sure everything’s working and everyone’s on point, versus picking up different instruments, playing with people, and making music that way?
Well I like both. Both experiences are different animals and have their own set of challenges and problem-solving and I like both things. I sort of started working in that mode pretty early. When I was in my teens in my hometown of Meridian, Mississippi, I got a job working at the one recording studio that was in the town, so really any kind of recording that was done, it was done there, so we did a lot of different things. In my high school years I earned some extra money by working with the guy who owned the studio and we would do some local commercial jingles, and local songwriters would come in and would want to demo their songs, we did a few album projects for local people, and we did some gospel stuff and some country stuff, and I was able to bring some of my rock band friends in to record. And a lot of that work, especially on the jingles and stuff was really just me and the studio owner who played drums, and a lot of times I would end up playing everything else, and it was a real education into figuring out all the different elements of arrangements, ‘cause sometimes we’d be copying arrangements of other songs. It definitely informed the way that I continue to work now, so I think of all those things as just a part of the same big picture, whether it’s playing bass or singing background vocals or working out an arrangement for song structure, it’s really kind of pieces of one puzzle that I really enjoy.