Sons of Bill
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Sons of Bill

Band Americana Rock


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A Far Cry From Freedom (April 2006)
One Town Away (release date set for June 23, 2009)
- both full length albums of original compositions



It is possible, simply by listening to the songs his three sons play together, to divine certain things about Bill Wilson: Principally that the man must love music, for his boys clearly do, and all kinds of music at that. But within the songs on One Town Away, their newest long-player, is a clear, careful intelligence, presented with the easy confidence parents can only hope to pass on to their children. They have character, and just enough swagger.
It is also necessary, given the prevailing thirst the Sons Of Bill inspire in fans up and down the East Coast, to note that this Bill Wilson is a beloved associate professor of philosophical theology (and an expert on the Southern Agrarian movement) at the University of Virginia. Not the late founder of Alcoholics Anonymous.
“Hank Williams might’ve been a love-sick drinker,” James sings, “but being a love-sick drunk don’t make you Hank.” (There’s also a nice bit about Townes a few songs after, with a fair number of broken hearts – and other broken things – tossed in.)
In any event, the Sons of Bill have been satisfying thirsts up and down the East Coast for three years. They put their opening songs out in the spring of 2006 on an album called A Far Cry From Freedom, and sold 8,000 copies of it off the stage.
Along the way, they signed with Red Light Management, the Charlottesville, Virginia firm which handles the Dave Matthews Band, the Decemberists, Cheap Trick, and several dozen other artists. That may have something to do with storied producer Jim Scott (Rick Rubin’s long-time engineer, producer for Wilco, Whiskeytown, and Tom Petty, among others) signing on for One Town Away, but Jim Scott doesn’t have to do anything he doesn’t want to do.
“We just kind of took a wild shot,“ James says on a borrowed cell phone, driving around Charlottesville trying to get ready for a show. “We’re committed to staying away from the big labels, and so we saved our pennies from playing frat parties and stuff, and we just sent him our demos. He called us up, and said, ‘I’m going to produce the new Wilco album, but I got three weeks. Can you get out to California?’ And so we got on a plane. It was really pretty simple.”
And it is a pretty straight-forward album, at that. “We’re a five-piece band,” James says. “We told him we wanted to sound like a band in a room. We didn’t want to sound like we were getting shot out of a digital projector. Everything’s hard panned. My guitar’s on one side, Sam’s guitar is on the other side. It sounds like a band. Almost no compression, no auto tune on the whole record.”
Scott did bring in the famed guitarist Greg Leisz to add some steel guitar lines to four tracks. “He’s was a real searcher, and really searched for the right parts,” James says. “That’s him and Sam doing dueling guitars on ‘Rock And Roll.’” (Yes, it rocks; and, yes, James took pictures of the occasion.)
At 25 James is the youngest Wilson. He writes and sings most of the words, and flails at a guitar, though he was once a bass player in bluegrass bands. Brother Abe, 26, plays an array of keyboards mastered during his rock phase, while Sam, 28, takes what he learned playing heavy metal and jazz guitar and turns it loose in a setting one might call country rock. Or rock. Or just something worth singing along with. Bass player Seth Green went to high school with James, and drummer Brian Caputo used to play jazz with Sam.
Nobody planned this thing. James had found time during his two years at Deep Springs College (total student population: 26) in the high desert of California to write songs. He went to New York to visit Sam, and played his big brother some of that new work. “He kind of fell in love with the songs. It just kind of happened,” James says. “It was weird. We were all living back home, and a friend’s band offered us an opening set. We did just one show, and had a really big turnout. We got an amazing response.”
Their name appeared somewhat later. “When the band first started out, Abe and I would do some open mike nights around town, him on banjo, me on guitar,” James says. “We didn’t really have a band name and one of our friends shouted it out one night. It just seemed to work. This whole band is kind of getting back to our roots: as brothers, as family, musically. My dad’s the guy who started all that for us. He made us appreciate the value of a good song.”
One more thing about Mr. Wilson. Evidently he’s a pretty fair teacher.