Interview: Nigel A. Wilson on juggling musical projects, the Nashville scene, and teaching Bowie to Christian kids
Three years ago I walked into a party. The long, narrow room reverberated with, what I like to remember as Cream, playing through a set of speakers. The inside of this first floor apartment wrapped itself in a sort of dreamy haze of humidity and smoke — making it nearly impossible to see a few feet, or even inches, in front of myself. Maybe it was the symptoms of listening to “Strange Brew,” or the beginnings of a warm, red wine buzz, but as I all but began to grope the walls, in search of something familiar to cling to, in this sort of bizarre playground, a boy’s voice pierced the party’s rumbling noises. I looked up, to find the fog parting, the people almost dissolving, only to be on the receiving end of a long, pointed index finger.
“Hey, aren’t you from Orange County?” the voice behind the finer said. Taken aback, I looked over to see if possibly this tall, statuesque kid was trying to grab the attention of someone else. He wasn’t, though, and I yelled out, from across the same room “YEAH, I AM”.
As I made my way towards him, I knew there was something undeniably different about this person. Something magical –besides growing up in the town next to my own. I walked into my first introduction with Nigel A. Wilson: devout glam rock enthusiast, multi-faceted instrumentalist (seriously, the guy plays everything, down to the accordion), and a charismatic performer. He paints his nails, and puts on lipstick in the spirit of Bowie and Byrne, and now he’s down in Nashville, Tennessee, changing the whole way we define music.
His new band Milk People is quickly grabbing the spotlight down south, while other projects from the California-native also hold promise. Fresh from a European Tour with the rock and roll group Blacklist Royals, and in the spirit of Halloween — we met up on the big October 31 — Wilson decided to sit down with Vanyaland and revisit his Berklee College of Music days here in Boston. The singer, keyboardist, guitarist.. the list goes on and on… behind the thick, black frames of his glasses gives us the details of his latest music projects, stealing Jack White’s phone number, what a big European tour is like, his jacket collection, and the story behind the name “Milk People”.
Madison Silvers: Tell me what’s new, what’s going on in your life?
Nigel A. Wilson: I’m playing in five groups. I’m in Blacklist Royals. We just finished this European tour. I’m playing in Milk People. We Just released this EP Invisible Ink, and we’re going in to the studio with Mitch Dane. He works with Vance Powell.
Who is Vance Powell?
He’s Jack White’s engineer/producer guy.
You only named two bands?
Oh yeah, so then there is just this cover band to make money.
What kind of a cover band?
Like a lot of what would be on a classic rock radio station. It’s really fun, and I play just accordion in it. We’re doing some Sabbath, Van Morrison and a lot of Dwight Yoakam. I’ve learned a lot of Dwight Yoakam for this gig.
What are your feelings on that?
It’s weird. It’s cool. Dwight Yoakam fucking rips. I’m kind of embarrassed to like it.
Why are you embarrassed?
Because it’s Dwight Yoakam. It’s what like dead relatives listen to. So, I think that’s four. Oh, and then there is Key Party.
And what about Nigel A. Wilson, your solo project?
Nigel A. Wilson is dead.
It is? He Is?
No, I’m kidding. I just released an album today. It’s on iTunes and Spotify and stuff. It’s called The Wellspring. It’s the one that was out that nobody saw, so I’m going to put it out there for real. I like it a lot.
Besides putting it out on Spotify, how do you plan to market it?
Just internet shit, dumb shit. But, mostly I am trying to move to Key Party instead of Nigel. You know? Because I want to under my name only have concept albums. Like albums that work as a whole story arc. Like Diamond Dogs. So, I want to do those as Nigel Wilson. A lot of what I did was beautiful, but I kind of want to shed the skin of what is a lot of sadder music. I want to party more and Key Party is rocking and partying. So, I’m releasing an album with that, I don’t know when, but it should be December, I believe.
Do you have the single yet?
Yeah, it’s just being finished up and mastered. I’ll send you the music video.
Key Party shot a music video?
Yeah, but Key Party is just me, basically.
Whenever I think of Key Party I see the other two members that used to be in it from your Berklee days, as well.[Laughs] Interwoven like a fucking scarf…or a sweater.
Sounds like a sock.
Yeah basically our sound is like a sock. So yeah, that record is coming out, and it’s called, I Really Thought Things Would of Worked Out Better. It is kind of a concept album, like every song is about somebody who had really good intentions or aspirations, but just really fell on their face.
Tell me more about that.
Okay, my personal favorite, which doesn’t really work as the single — so I’m not putting it out there as that, because it’s a little slower, is called “What I Think I’m Waiting For,” and it’s about this girl and her dad and they’ve become estranged over time, so they haven’t spoken in like seventeen years. They’re literally going about their lives living in the same city, like really working hard to not see each other. The dad is really old and it’s kind of at that point where kind of everything can kill you. So, the daughter is just backing out of a drive-thru and hit’s him with her car one day, on accident. He get’s taken to the ER, and he’s fucked. He’s so old, that like anything would just break you. So he’s in these kind of like final moments, and she comes in and she’s so sad, and she’s so sorry, and there is nothing she can do. This is like the last moment she gets with her dad, and [the dad is] like “Yeah, but this is the last moment that I get with you. This is good, at least, I mean, you killed me, but at least it brought us together. At least it got us to be cool again, and talk.” But, uh, and then they just kind of accept death, as an inevitability, together.
How did you come up with the premise for this song?
I think about dying a lot. I mean, I’ve talked to my dad about it.
I think it’s our age, the whole “point of life” pondering.
I think so to. I believe what I believe, but I can’t believe that there is really any point in it.
Really? But aren’t your parents pretty religious?
Well, yeah… my mom is. But, I don’t think she knows what the whole point is. I guess to be a good person, and serve the lord? Do you remember that one song on Anybody Else, called “The Way You Look This Evening”? It was kind of shitty, but we re-recorded it with this guy MB Gordy. He does the percussion for Battlestar Galactica.
So, you re-recorded a song off of the record Anybody Else under Nigel. A Wilson, for the new Key Party?
Is your dad doing the recording?
It’s already been recorded by my dad.
What is his label called?
Carousel Music Group. He worked with a lot of really weird, weird, weird groups. Like a lot of gospel groups. He owned and operated at one point a studio in Burbank, and these were the clients. My dad is from Rolling Hills. Like near L.A., he’s just worked with a lot of crazy, strange people.
So we’ve been talking about your emphasis on Key Party, and moving away from Nigel A. Wilson.
Yeah, because you’re not going to remember that name. You’re not going to remember some asshole. You’re going to remember Key Party.
But we remember Steve Miller Band…
I don’t know, who you’re talking about.
Van Morisson…[Jokingly] I have no idea who you’re still talking about. It’s more of a brand, it’s a little bit more, not faceless, but it’s a mask. You know? It’s nice to have that.
There is a level of anonymity to it?
Yeah, and there is a level to it of being something other than one person. It’s like a concept. I like that a lot more. The songs are definitely written by me and have parts of me in them, but they aren’t “me”. They’re Key Party and that’s its own entity.
What would you say you’re biggest influences are, in terms of the concepts behind Key Party?
Probably, musically T. Rex and St. Vincent. I love St. Vincent. I saw her in Nashville, she killed it. T. Rex is as glam as it gets, and Annie Clark is weird at least. Lyrically, The Mountain Goats.
Why The Mountain Goats?
I seriously love that guy. Because he always sings about people just at their absolute lowest point. It’s like you can see this character’s timeline and there is the biggest, deepest valley — and this is where he starts from. It’s great, and it only gets better.
So then, would you say you’re interested in singing more about man’s ascension, rather than descension?
Uh, I would say it’s pretty equal parts. It’s a lot of, well I really like that he often has the unearthing of that, and how you got there, and kind of your struggle to get out of it. Because you can’t really escape all of the fuck ups you’ve made. You know?
So have you made a lot of fuck ups, is that what you’re trying to get at?
What are some of them?
This one. This interview, I’m just kidding. But hum, I don’t know… the shit everyone does. Like doing too many drugs. Sleeping with people you shouldn’t. Lying to my parents. Getting tattoos.
You don’t have any tattoos.
I have a little pteranodon skeleton.