Three brothers who get along, and make fantastic music in a band together? That is what you get with Charlottesville, VA based band, Sons of Bill. The band, voted best band in Charlottesville 4 years in a row, is comprised of siblings Sam Wilson, James Wilson, and Abe Wilson, with Seth Green and Todd Wellons rounding out the talented lineup. The band is currently touring in support of their "Sirens" CD, as well as their soon to be released EP, coming out in early 2014.
Sam and James Wilson talked to us about what it is like performing with family, where their inspiration comes from, and where the band is headed in this interview. We also shot video of the band performing a few songs, including "Bad Dancer" from the upcoming release.
Scroll below the interview text to see the interview video, photos, and live performance videos
CM: What led to forming a band with your brothers?
Sam: You know, it was totally random. You know, a lot of brothers, they start in family bands when they’re kids, but we all sort of spread our wings and went separate ways, all over the country and musically speaking. James is really into Bluegrass, I was into Jazz and rock and a bunch of other stuff, And Abe was in Architecture school. I was living in New York at the time, doing a lot of session work. James and Abe both visited me randomly, and we played all these old songs that we’d grown up with and hadn’t played in years. We just totally connected with that kind of music. Just at that time, for both of us, it was really important. James had written all these really cool songs – they were country songs, and I was just really excited to play country music again. So we just booked some shows, with our friends Todd on Drums and Seth on Bass, and it just felt right. It felt good, and it felt natural, and we kept it going. And here we are it’s our full time thing now…”
CM: What is the dynamic like with 3 brothers playing together in a band?
Sam: You know, we all know each other really well. When you grow up together, we end up hashing things out, getting things out in the open instead of keeping it under the surface, so…
James: No passive-aggressiveness
Sam: Yeah, no passive-aggressiveness at all. We just fist fight whenever we have problems with each other (With smile on face)
CM: Like the Davies Brothers (The Kinks) or the Gallagher Brothers (Oasis)?
Sam: (Still smiling) Yeah, we’re just like them…
CM: So does your family have a musical background?
James: Yeah, our dad is a musician. He is also a teacher, but he’s a musician, and a songwriter, and a singer. We grew up hearing him play, and started piano lessons, and then we all picked up the guitar and different instruments. Sam plays the pedal steel. Kind of my, being a lover of songs, and singing to us when we were little kids is a big part of it, I think.
CM: How does the songwriting process work within the band?
James: With this record, especially, it’s been all over the place. Me and my two brothers have done most of the writing, but we’ve written a lot of songs together. We’re becoming one of those bands that I’ve always wanted to be, where all five guys come together to make something cool and unique instead of it being one person’s or a couple of peoples vision. I fell like that’s really happening, on this new record we’re working on especially.
Sam: We sort of put it all on the chopping block and just figured out what was good and what needed more work, which was really cool. Because before, you brought in a song, and everybody wrote parts over it, rearranged it, whereas this one we just really kind of played the songs in a lot of different ways until we found something that was really interesting and unique.
James: Everybody used to be really precious about their song, their vision. It’s just not that way anymore, and we’re a better band for it.
CM: It seems like a lot of the lyrics are personal. Are you writing from personal experiences, or are you writing from what you see in your fans lives? Where are these stories coming from?
James: It’s a little bit of both
James: You’re always just trying to..
Sam: Probably all of the above..
James: Yeah.. Just trying to make it move. Make it speak. Make it feel alive. And if it’s not literally personal, it’s…
Sam: Being out on the road, and being in your own head, the struggles of that and the joys of that. Ultimately it’s an optimistic album, which is pretty cool for us. It really sort of comes out triumphant in the end. We’re really excited about this one, and I can’t wait to start playing the songs live. We’re all switching around on different instruments. We wrote on different instruments, and singing a lot of three-part harmonies with the brothers, which is something we've always done on living roof concerts and smaller acoustic shows, but it was a little less of a live show. Whereas the new record, there’s a lot of harmonies, which is one of my favorite things to do – to sing with my brothers.
CM: Where did you record the new album?
James: We recorded in Nashville with Ken Coomer. He’s a producer now, but he used to be the drummer for WILCO and Uncle Tupelo. He’s got a studio now. So we've been recording with him. And for mixing, we've been working with a gentleman named Tchad Blake, who was Peter Gabriel’s Engineer, but he’s also done Black Keys and a bunch of cool stuff. And also Jim Scott, who worked on “Sirens”, who’s done WILCO records, and even Tom Petty records. We've got some great guys working on this album so I can’t speak for us, but it’s going to be sonically pretty incredible.
CM: SO would you say it rocks a little harder than “Sirens”?
James: You know, it doesn't. I’d say if anything it’s a little more introspective than “sirens”. A lot more acoustic instruments on it – acoustic piano, acoustic guitar, creative percussion. It’s more traditional in certain ways but a lot more experimental in other ways. Ken really pushed us to do that. Focus on what matters, and don’t just do the typical Rules Of Rock moves on it.
CM: Sirens seems to have an 80’s/90’s vibe to it…
Sam: We just love that music. I mean just love that 90’s and 90’s rock, and “Sirens” was sort of very consciously that. We wanted it to be pretty simple – 2 electric guitars. Obviously it deviates from that some, but you know the core of Sirens is that, whereas this record we weren’t really scared about breaking it down, or worried about “Do we have enough rock songs?”. We just all sort of threw out all of the songs we were writing and picked the ones we sort of felt all related together, and that sort of spoke to us. And sort of told a story… not that it’s a concept album. It’s not "Operation Mindcrime" by Queensrÿche. But all the songs definitely.. it’s programmatic – they all flow together.
James: And how to take all those influences like you said – REM, or The Replacements, you know, the 70’s and 80’s rock that we love, but also make it our own, and make it “2013”. That was kind of the goal. And make it sound like a record from now, as opposed to just paying homage to those old bands that we love, and definitely respect, and want to take up their torch. Too many bands are being influenced by “just of the moment”.
CM: What do you think about Albino Skunk Music Festival?
Sam: Pretty cool. We love playing these festivals that have been around for 20 years. You know, they start in somebody’s backyard, and they sort of keep building each year. Everybody has been really nice to us, and we’re having a great time.
James: Yeah, it feels like a real community here. It’s nice. Everybody has been really friendly.
CM: You guys played in Europe. What was the response there like? They seem to love American Bands (in Europe).
James: It was great. I love touring in Europe. It was our first time in Norway. First time in Holland, and it was really wonderful. Wonderful people. Really hospitable. They really love music. They listen, which is always great your first time in any town – that’s tough to have happen. It’s nothing but wonderful, and we’re going to be playing a lot in Europe in 2014.
Sons Of Bill Interview Video
Courtesy of Mother Shutter