Nate Wilson Group- Hear The Echoes

On the Myspace page for The Nate Wilson Group, there is a tagline in quotes that reads – “total moustache rock.”  For those  familiar with Nate Wilson’s former band Percy Hill, 70’s rock in the vain of ELO or BTO doesn’t come to mind when describing the keyboard virtuoso’s best known work.

As band leader for Percy Hill over the course of ten + years, Wilson helped mold the ever-evolving New Hampshire band into one of the east coast’s most polished rock sounds. From their 1998 release Color in Bloom, which would have made Donald Fagen and Walter Becker blush with envy, to their expanded orchestra gigs in late 2002 and later released as Percy Hill Live, Wilson let his more shiny instincts prevail – as elevating anthems “Sun Machine and“313” along with songs penned by band-mate Aaron Katz (“Chrissy Reid,” Ammonium Maze)” helped Percy Hill land an enduring legion of fans.

Since 2001, Wilson has spent a large amount of time on the road with Assembly of Dust, a band forged by former Strangefolk songwriter and front-man Reid Genauer.  Wilson had gone from writing songs with 70’s soul and funk surroundings with Percy Hill to a more roots rock sound reminiscent of The Band during his time with the Assembly of Dust. It was here where Wilson shared song-writing duties with Genauer and furthered his musical partnership with AOD guitarist Adam Terrell.  Together with Terrell, along with former Uncle Sammy drummer Tom Arey  and bassist Nate Edgar .Wilson has developed a band and vision to call his own, while for the first time calling himself…."lead singer."

With The Nate Wilson Group’s debut release Unbound, Wilson has woven his musical influences into something original yet cohesively familiar. Fom the opening raunchy guitar chords on “Hear The Echoes,” the band appears to have more in kinship to The White Stripes and James Gang, where the swirling mellotron flourishes echo Pink Floyd and Wilson’s soft vocals reflect an edgier Paul Simon. 

The nucleus of the band’s sound is built more around Terrell’s crunchy guitar leads on the arena rocker – “Scatterbrain” and growling guitars on the psychedelic twister – “The Long Ships.” There is a daring Hendrix riff that circles and creeps bitingly on the title track while “See It Through” is pure Black Crowes bad ass.  The nine tracks on Unbound circle around the classic rock era’s braver moments – hints of Traffic, Hendrix, Zeppelin and Santana peak throughout mixing moments both hot rod and unadulterated.  Glide recently caught up with Wilson to find out about his the self-named outfit.

The Nate Wilson Group is said to draw their inspiration from the riff-heavy psychedelic hard-rock of the 60’s and 70’s, (Cream, Santana, Traffic).  Having been renowned for your polished keyboard sound that had more in common with the smooth sounds of Steely Dan, how did you cross over into this more psychedelic realm?

I think a major shift for me happened just recently when I started attempting to teach myself how to play the guitar. I did it originally as an exercise in making myself write some things that were outside of my usual box- I found myself in a place where I would sit down at the piano and try to write the same song over and over, so I wanted to try something that was totally limiting. Most of the songs on this new record are a result of what I came up with through this experiment. This also coincided with a re-discovery of a lot of the stuff I was listening to as a teenager. I grew up in rural New Hampshire, and we didn’t have much other than a few classic rock radio stations to listen to.  I don’t know if there’s something about the impressions music makes on you at that age, or if its just that the music from that era is so great and timeless, but for better or worse, I’m finding now more than ever- that stuff is really at the core of everything I do.

Are there any particular albums from this time period that served as an inspiration for Unbound?

I wouldn’t say any one in particular; There are a lot of albums that I find myself going back to- Blind Faith may be my favorite of all time and I’ve definitely worn a hole in that one, but I’ve also been checking out the first two Black Sabbath albums a lot, anything by Hendrix or Cream, Led Zeppelin, Yes and Jethro Tull- I’ll even take some guilty pleasure in some stuff that’s a little more “mustached out” – you know- BTO, Foghat, ELO, James Gang. None of this stuff was a conscious inspiration for the album- but I guess its all part of the genetics.

What have people’s reactions been to The Nate Wilson Group, after having been used to you playing such a studio concentrated sound with Percy Hill?

People’s reactions have been surprisingly positive- although I have to say that I don’t think Percy Hill fans make up a large part of who’s coming out to see the band. I think with any new project, you have to get out there and find new people who are going to dig it for what it is- rather than rely on fans who are always going to be weighing it against something they already thought was great. I’ve made a conscious effort to really stay away from some of my older songs when we play live, not only because a lot of it just isn’t relevant to where I’m at or where the band is at, but also because I hate the idea of being some sort of nostalgia act for people who want to come out and relive some experiences they were a part of eight years ago. I find it a lot more interesting and urgent to try to rope brand new people in with something they haven’t already heard.

The Nate Wilson Group marks your debut as a band-leader.  What has the transition been like and did you learn anything from Reid Geneaur in terms of leadership and songwriting? If so, what lessons?

I would say that the biggest change with the new group has been thinking of myself as a singer-which is a completely new experience for me. It’s taken a lot of work to get to the point where I feel like I can really deliver the songs confidently- I’ve only recently started to feel like I’ve got an “instrument” to work with – in the same way that a good singer like Reid possess an “instrument.”

Other than that, I find the biggest challenge in being a “band-leader” is having to supply so much of the energy and initiative behind all of the non-musical elements. Particularly in the music scene today which is so completely unscripted. Despite all of the various successful projects that everyone in this band has been involved with, its an ongoing challenge to get people to take notice- partially because the band is so new, and also because people are so flooded with music and media coming at them in all directions.  The reality of being a musician today is that you really have to devote a huge portion of your time to promoting yourself and networking, which is a tough pill for some of us to swallow considering most musicians try like hell to avoid having a “desk job.”

How did you come up with the straightforward name Nate Wilson Group rather than a clever unusual band name?

The name just kind of grew out of what we were doing at the time. It originally started as a band I threw together to do a residency at the Stone Church with- it was more of a jam session, and there was a revolving cast of players- and so it sort of made sense to do it that way.  I’m not opposed to a name for the band in the future- when you hear the music it definitely reinforces the notion that this is really a “band” you’re hearing and not some sort of solo artist with hired guns.  But I’ve been a little gun shy so far about coming up with a name. I think in general there are a lot of lousy band names out there, and I’d hate to come up with something that’s going to make me cringe in five years.

The Nate Wilson Group also has you singing lead vocals, something you strayed away from in Percy Hill. Is this because Joe Farrell and Aaron Katz were already solid vocalists or did you always want to add singing to your repertoire?  What has been the most difficult adjustment for you in terms of singing lead?   Are you satisfied with the results?

I always sang in the past, but as a part of the overall “team” effort in bands I was in, I usually had people who I felt were stronger vocalists than I was sing my songs. Sort of “putting your best foot forward” I suppose. I regret this to some extent- partially because I always sacrificed a part of how I wanted the song to be expressed, and also because of the fact that I’d be a much stronger singer now if I’d been singing my songs all this time.  The most difficult part of singing consistently, I’m finding, are all of the physical factors that you have to be aware of. I find if I don’t get enough rest, if I eat or drink the wrong things, if I’m battling a cold etc; these things have an effect on my singing.

Overall, I’d say though, that I’m fairly pleased with the results so far, although its definitely a work in progress.  I’m finally at a point where I’m able to deliver the material confidently, and I’m not over-thinking it at every step.  And its been really rewarding having the ability to express the intent of the song; as well as the validation- most people just don’t know or care who writes the songs, so they just assume the person singing it is the writer. I have to admit I’ve been frustrated in the past to see other people getting the credit for my work- even if it’s just in the minds of the casual fans.

Can you talk about the band line-up and how and why you choose these musicians. Some of us know Adam from him being a band-mate in Assembly of Dust and Tom Arey was in Uncle Sammy. Nate Edgar we don’t know a lot about?   Do you hope to expand up on the lineup?

I’ve been working with Adam in various settings for well over ten years now- and we’ve spent countless hours talking about music and listening to stuff together. He’s really been a huge catalyst for the sound of this new band and his reverence for the rock guitar “tradition”, and all the homework he’s done really shines through.  It’s a real luxury as a songwriter to work with someone like Adam, because he’s so versatile and intuitive- I don’t have to spend a lot of time explaining to him what I’m hearing- he’s usually right there a step ahead of me.  I met Tom when we were randomly thrown together on a Sam Kinninger Gig. I was aware of Uncle Sammy, and I knew some of the guys in the band, but I really wasn’t familiar with Tom in that setting (which totally pisses him off I’ve been told.) But he’s simply one of the finest musicians I’ve ever worked with, and he’s an enormous foundation for what we’re doing. I knew he “got it” when he showed up to the first recording session with a 28 inch kick drum and a thirty pack of Budweiser.  I’ve known Nate, actually, since high school- and we went to the same music school together, but we never really got a chance to work together extensively until just recently.  He’s really developed into one of the best electric bassists in the Boston area. He’s played with a lot of bands- Moon Boot Lover, and John Brown’s Body to name a few- but he’s also a first call session guy around town and chances are if you haven’t heard him play live, you’ve probably listened to a half dozen albums he’s played on. I’ve actually heard that he does so many gigs that instead of carrying a bass around with him all the time, he just buries one behind every club he plays at. When he gets to the gig, he just digs it up and he’s ready to go!

Unbound seems to let your keyboard work play a bit of a backseat to other instruments like percussion and guitar that in the past weren’t featured up front in your music ( I saw the band live once and there was a percussionist as well as a drummer) – was this a conscious decision?

Yeah- well there are definitely a ton of keyboards on the album- but I think the difference is that the heavy guitar riffs are really the central part of most of these songs.  It wasn’t a conscious effort, but we always try to do what’s best for the song even if that means less keyboards, or even no keyboards! Ultimately you have to do what is natural for the song and the style of the band rather than force something in there just for the sake of it. It has been a conscious effort on my part to keep this focus- I’d much rather have people going away talking about how much they loved the songs and the overall sound of the band. To me that’s more satisfying than having my keyboard playing be the focus.

The logo for the band is quite unusual and “classic.”  It appears to have a statue of a eyes closed queen sitting on a thrown with a keyboard beneath. Who designed this and is there a significant meaning or message in it?

It was designed by a really great artist from the west coast named Tim Clark. I contacted him because I had seen some tour posters he had done for a few different bands that I dig, and I thought that his style really fit the Group.  There’s no real significance behind it that I know of- I just sent him a bunch of our music and that’s sort of what jumped into his head I guess.

What keyboard (clavinet, hammond, Rhodes, moog) most intrigues you today while playing live?  Are there any new “toys” that you’ve been experimenting with?

No, nothing in particular- just a little of everything I guess. I wound up using some really cool mellotron sounds on the record- if you listen closely you’ll hear lots of unusual flute and strings sounds. I’m trying to figure out a way to get this stuff happening live more so that we can really capture what we were doing in the studio.

What songs on Unbound are you most excited about and why and which ones best represent your position as a lead singer/band leader?

A few of the songs were actually written while the project was underway. "Scatterbrain" is one- also "Hear The Echoes." These are some of my favorites, mostly because they’re the newest ones to me and I’m not already sick of them! But also, there’s something really great about the energy in the studio when the songs are brand new- the guys in the band hadn’t heard these songs before we recorded them, and I think that really helped give them some urgency and excitement.

It seems interest in indie rock has blossomed over the past five years that its cast the jam scene in a bit of a shadow.  Are there any particular bands in this genre that you feel are worthy of praise?

I really like a lot of the bands that are part of this sort of “garage rock” revival- for lack of a better term. It probably falls under the category of “Indie Rock” but I’m having a hard time knowing what that even means anymore.  But one of my favorite new bands is the Buffalo Killers from Cincinnati- I’ve had their new album in my CD player for weeks and I can’t say enough great things about it.  I also really dig the Black Keys, and anything Jack White is a part of- especially the Raconteurs’ first album.  Another band that’s been a big inspiration to me is Dead Meadow- I’m always surprised at how few people I talk to have heard of them, but I highly recommend going to see them live and checking out their records.   

What are your long-term goals for The Nate Wilson Group. Is this just an Assembly of Dust side thing or do you hope to tour nationally and keep this as a your main long-term gig?

I just recently made the decision to stop touring with AOD to allow the Nate Wilson Group to become my main focus.  I know this is a cliché, but there are truly no hard feelings between myself and the rest of the AOD crew. I even plan to stay somewhat involved with AOD on a creative level for some time- I’m actually producing the next album for Reid- which is something we’ve been working on over the last few weeks now.  But it really just came down to a question of time and creative energy. I tried doing both for a while, but I found that I couldn’t do either very effectively.  Not to mention that fighting the perception that my band was a “side-project” was a loosing battle- not just amongst fans, but also amongst industry people and even club owners.  In the end, life’s too short to skimp on the things you’re truly passionate about, especially as a musician at this level where the financial rewards just aren’t enough to merit huge compromises.

Are there any Percy Hill songs that you miss playing live and which ones do you incorporate into your live shows?

No- I’ve never been one for sentimentality in terms of the songs I write. We’ve adapted a few old ones that seem to fit the vibe of the band, but we definitely haven’t tried to force it. Some of those songs would sound like a completely different band- and they should- because it is! We do a few- "Beneath the Cover," "St. Lucelia," "Shining on Creation." Some of them would be just a little too “disco” for us anyway.

For all the Percy Hill fans out there, whatever really did happen to the demise of the group?  Can we ever expect a reunion of sorts?

The long and short of it is that Percy Hill just eroded on a musical and personal level to the point where it wasn’t fun or interesting anymore. The fact that we “could” go out there and play wasn’t enough of a reason for me- again, at this level it takes more than a little money, or the adoration of a few fans- you truly have to be passionate about what you’re doing or it just won’t work. For a number of reasons- I just wasn’t passionate about it enough I guess.  As far as a reunion goes- you never say never, but I would definitely go to never and maybe just back it off by one.

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