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Interview: Gary Wilson

When Gary Wilson returned to his solo career after almost three decades in obscurity, he picked up exactly where he left off–obsessing about the same ex-girlfriends and building upon the same bizarre musical style he introduced to the world with his 1977 cult classic You Think You Really Know Me. His comeback in 2002 was thanks to Motel Records, whose exhaustive but successful efforts to track him down for a reissue sparked a renewed interest in the eclectic multi-instrumentalist and student of John Cage.

This led to a record deal with the primarily hip-hop slanted Stones Throw Records. They have since released three new Gary Wilson LP’s sporting his mixture of prog rock, funk, jazz and avant garde noise experimentation. The Onion/A.V. Club said of 2010’s Electric Endicott,”he’s bringing that new confidence to the sounds and girls of his nervous, self-torturing fantasies.” To this day, he also continues his long-standing to commitment to a lounge-jazz ensemble apart from his own music.  On July 29th, he will be bringing one of his characteristically deranged performance to Glasslands.

When I listen to your instrumental and improvisational music, it feels like early jazz fusion with some electric experimentation, lots of chromaticism and “playing out.” That aesthetic is pretty far from my estimation of lounge or strip club music. How much, if at all, do you have to tone down your playing when you’re on the circuits?

I have been playing keyboards with singer Donnie Finnell for the last 25 years. I play piano (Kurzweil keyboard) and left hand bass (Yamaha keyboard). Donnie does the great American song book, everything from Nat King Cole, Gershwin, Lou Rawls, Sinatra, Mel Torme, Johnny Mathis, Sammy Davis, Duke Elington, Bobby Short, Tony Bennett, etc.

I have to stay within the context of where we are playing. We play for an older, conservative crowd that knows nothing about the other side of Gary Wilson. I can stretch out (solo) on a Wayne Newton tune but still have to stay within the context of where I am playing. If I pulled out “6.4=Makeout” at a nice restaurant, I think the audience would not understand that. It would be the wrong context to play my original music.  I like to keep the two musical sides separate. It keeps me balanced.

As the title of your latest record suggests, you’ve been quite loyal to West Endicott and it is a prominent feature in your art. What is most unique about the town? Have you ever considered moving to a more urban environment, or a notorious arts scene like Williamsburg?

Endicott, NY is the town I was born and raised in. Not sure if it’s any more unique then any other small town but it is my home town. Rod Serling was born and raised a few miles from Endicott (Binghamton). Endicott is about 180 miles from NYC. When I graduated from high school (I was 17) I tried to move to New York City. I ended up sleeping in Washington Square with no money but the violin I took with me.

I was so glad to get back to Endicott. I recently acquired the house in Endicott that I was born and raised in.  The house that I recorded You Think You Really Know Me in. I still might move to NYC in the future. I divide my time between San Diego, CA and Endicott, NY.

“In The Night” is my new obsession. On the one hand, the sections  are very catchy and sincere, very nicely arranged. On the other, there’s  the unusual structure, with lots of repetition, false endings, there’s something very devious and I see a lot of humor in it. What’s it like to take something so catchy and turn it into something avant garde? Is there ever a temptation to “go pop” with your tunes?

Sometimes when I listen and watch the video “In The Night” it makes me both sad and happy. Almost like saying goodbye to the things I loved in the past. We filmed the video in Brooklyn shortly after I appeared on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.

I watched a BBC documentary about people who’ve formed deep relationships with their human replicas (“Real Dolls”) and was profoundly depressed to see their acute loneliness. Then I got out and dated more, and realized there might be something to this. You’re different because your blow-ups and mannequins are based on real people in your life, but one can’t help but wonder if you’ve formed a connection with the mannequins.

All my ‘girls’ are special to me. Each blow up doll, mannequin reflecting a different girl, a different time in my life. Sometimes when I am on stage under a bed sheet or in a cardboard box with one of my mannequins, I can almost transport back to that magic time in my life. Sometimes sad, sometimes happy. One time I was doing a show, and all I could do was sit in my cardboard box with a sheet over my head, a mannequin in my arms and tears rolling down my face. I cried for Linda into the microphone for 45 minutes while my back up band (The Blind Dates) smashed all their instruments.

How do the women that you’ve dated since You Think You Really Know Me handle the idea that they may soon be characters in your stories? Do they  mind, or is it something they expect at this point?

I think at this point they probably expect that from me. Perhaps they won’t hear a song about themselves till after our relationship is over. You never know. I once had a girlfriend who was always asking me when I was going to write a song about her. I surprised her. She came to one of my shows and I followed her into the girls room with my microphone and sang a new love song to her. She never asked me again.

Romance is a primary focus of your subject matter. Does that come naturally or is it pre-determined?

I think a lot had to do with the music I was listening to when I was very young. My idols were Dion, Bobby Rydell, Fabian, Troy Donahue, Frankie Avalon, Joey Dee, etc. These teen idols were always singing about their girlfriends. I still watch Sandra Dee in “A Summer Place” at least once a week. I really like Sandra Dee.

Thanks Gary!

Come check out Gary Wilson at Glasslands Friday, July 29th

Get yr tickets HERE

For all general enquiries and hate mail, please reach us at info@popgunpresents.com or tweet us @popgunpresents

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