Jon Tyler Wiley proudly blurs the lines between genres, creating a southern sound caught halfway between anthemic rock ’n’ roll and atmospheric Americana.
Influenced by acts like Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Jon Tyler Wiley & His Virginia Choir (his live lineup) is a collaborative band of players and personalities, led by a frontman who pulls triple-duty as the group’s singer-songwriter, lead guitarist, and producer.
Before forming the band in 2019, Wiley spent the better part of a decade as a hotshot guitarist for other acts, playing with Melodime, touring with Stephen Kellogg, and occasionally performing with Sister Hazel. It was busy work, and whenever he would head back home between tours, he’d often wind up playing songs with a group of longtime friends — including keyboardist Thomas Johnson, fiddle player Eddie Dickerson, bassist Joanna Smith, and drummer Brian “Piper” Barbre — at various local bars in northern Virginia. These were low-pressure gigs, focused on good times and even better people.
When Melodime began to dissolve, Jon found himself at home once again, whittling a batch of original songs into sharp shape. Some were character-driven love songs, like the waltzing country-rocker, “Laredo Texas Oil Well Blues,” and the funk-soul standout, “Cake.” Others made room for stomping, bluesy rock ’n’ roll (“Wolves”), introspective folk (“Whiskey”), and bombastic guitar work (“Just Another Heartbreak Song”). Free to follow his muse wherever it led him, Jon began crafting homemade demos, playing every instrument himself. Gradually, his first full-length solo record — The Longing (due out February 25th) — took shape. When it came time to play those new songs in a live setting, he reached out to the same friends who’d joined him for those low-pressure gigs in the past. Thomas, Eddie, Joanna, and Piper all joined the Virginia Choir, turning what began as a one-man project into an official band.
During the year preceding The Longing’s 2022 release, Jon Tyler Wiley & His Virginia Choir made their official debut with a string of collaborative singles. Songs like “Laura Lee” and “I Won’t Miss You” showcased the full range of the band’s abilities, mixing entwined riffs from Jon’s electric guitar and Eddie’s fiddle with plenty of percussive stomp, rootsy rhythms, and swirling organ. The Longing follows on the heels of those singles, offering its own mix of groove, guitars, and roots-rock grit. The Virginia Choir will round-out Wiley’s solo songs in a live setting, giving them the depth and breadth live that they have on the record.
Jon Tyler Wiley & His Virginia Choir describe themselves as a country band that doesn’t play country music. They exist in the grey area between genres, playing melody-driven songs that are hard to categorize… but easy to love.
Today Glide is excited to offer an early listen of Wiley’s new tune “WannaBe” ahead of its January 28th release date (pre-order). Distinct imagery of Texas makes this a true journey of the Lone Star State and the world that balances fun, globe-trotting lyrics with big blasts of soaring rock and roll. What makes this song especially fun is the way Wiley contrasts alt-country and Americana with explosions of anthemic rock to make for a sound that is truly one of a kind. The song also incorporates plenty of instrumental weirdness that brings to mind Jeff Tweedy and Wilco circa Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.
Give a listen to the song and read our chat with Wiley below…
What inspired you to write this song? What is the story behind it? What is it about?
“WannaBe” was written at the beginning of the 2020 COVID pandemic. Like musicians everywhere, I had just had about three months of gigs canceled, I wasn’t sure how I was going to make a living, and I was in a weird headspace. For the first several days, I didn’t leave our apartment at all; I just binge-watched cheesy ’80s action movies and episodes of “Austin City Limits.” I had recently turned in the record for mixing, so I was trying to take a break from writing. After a few days, I started to pick up my guitar out of boredom, and one day while the opening credits to ACL were playing, the first verse of “WannaBe” came to me out of nowhere.
Typically when I write, I don’t leave much up for interpretation. There is a clear arc in the story of the song. However, I tried not to think about “WannaBe” as I wrote it, and the lyrics came to me very organically. I wasn’t sure what I was writing about at the time, but now I see a wanting to BE something, wanting to be anywhere but where I was: trapped at home. That’s how it ended up on the upcoming record, “The Longing.” It fit the theme perfectly. When the mixing process got delayed during the pandemic, I was able to call up the mixer and add one more song.
What was the recording session like for this song? Any stories in particular about recording this song?
At that time, whenever I’d record, I’d do all the instruments at home, including a fake drum track of “keyboard drums.” Then if I liked the song enough, I’d go to a friend’s studio and play his drum kit to record the actual drums. Since “WannaBe” was written during the pandemic, and we were trying not to go anywhere, I ended up borrowing a few drums and cymbals and setting them up at home. I didn’t have the means or space to record a full drum kit at home, so I’d set up each drum or cymbal one at a time, mic it, and play one at a time. We lived in a small downtown apartment, so our neighbors were confused, hearing one lone snare drum being hit by itself.
What do you hope listeners hear in its music and lyrics?
The upcoming record is called “The Longing,” and it’s about just that: there’s a theme of wanting throughout the whole thing. So even though “WannaBe” is pretty abstract, I think the theme of that song is just that — wanting to be, wanting to live and thrive without settling for an ordinary existence.
This song is an interesting mash-up of styles. What made you want to mix Americana and experimental music together? Was the result what you hoped it would be?
Before recording this record, I had come from making a record with another band that was very conventional, “verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus,” earthy, pop-Americana music. It was a fun record to make, but when I started doing this on my own, I purposely wanted to get away from that “don’t bore us, get to the chorus” mentality, while still making something as appealing and hopefully as accessible as possible. I wanted to challenge myself musically; I wanted to use unconventional song forms, unconventional chord progressions, and strange sounds.
One of my rules for myself was that I wanted each song to have a synthesizer on it. As soon as I set that rule, my Americana singer-songwriter style became entwined with experimental music, ’cause how often do you hear synths and arpeggiators on country songs? I’ve always loved alternative music like Wilco and Radiohead just as much as Petty and Springsteen and Merle Haggard, so this seemed like the natural direction to head toward, trying to fuse the two worlds.
This song is from your forthcoming album. What made you want to release this song into the world as the first single before the album comes out?
I’ve always loved this song because its genesis was so unexpected. Having thought I finished the record, only to write this three months later and have it coincidentally still fit the theme of the record, made it a special one to me. There was something about this song: it couldn’t be denied, and I certainly didn’t want to wait another year and a half for the next album cycle to release it. I wanted this to be heard as quickly as possible.
Photo credit: Erin Wiley