David Wilcox was inspired to play guitar after hearing a fellow college student playing in a stairwell. His lyrical insight is matched by a smooth baritone voice, virtuosic guitar chops, and creative open tunings, giving him a range and tenderness rare in folk music. He released an independent album in 1987, was a winner of the prestigious Kerrville Folk Festival New Folk award in 1988, and by 1989 he had signed with A&M Records. His first release on the label, ‘How Did You Find Me Here’, sold over 100,000 copies the first year largely by word of mouth. Now, 17 albums into a career marked by personal revelation and wildly loyal fans, David continues to find and deliver joy, inspiration, and invention.
Your musical career began in college. Tell us about your beginnings. Did you have any musical impulses before college? When was the defining moment when you knew music was your calling?
I started listening to the guitar. That’s how I thought of it. Not playing just listening. Well, yes I was strumming and making chords but I didn’t think of myself as a guitar player. I just love the sound of that instrument and I couldn’t get anybody to play continuously so, I had to do some of the work too. I accidentally got better at it just because I did it so much, and before long people thought of me as a guitar player.
The moment I knew music would not hurt me was when I was playing music on the street, years ago in Philadelphia. Busking during lunch hour at City Hall and then again down on South Street in the evenings. One evening I counted up my change and dollar bills from inside the guitar case, and I figured had made a much better wage than I would if I had had a 40 hour normal job.
In what way were you afraid that music would hurt you?
Well, when I was first starting music, I didn’t imagine I would get so lucky as to make a great living from it and be able to have a house and a family and all that, so I just assumed that it would be a life of giving up many many things to follow one joyful obsession.
When you look back over the evolution of your 16 albums, what are you most pleased with? Anything done differently?
There’s been so many musical projects. Starting with LP vinyl records and cassettes and then CDs and direct downloads there’s 20 or more different projects now over the years. I see that my reasons for doing music have changed and my motivation has gotten more pure I think.
I like those old records but some of them are not me anymore. That’s to be expected. Just like there are great photographs of me that are not me anymore either. They’re just that young guy I used to be. So, no regrets. But I’m glad I get to be the current version of me now.
I still play the first song I ever wrote. “Common as the rain” still rings true and I play it every once in a while. And since even the middle of my career is now a dozen years ago, I consider all those songs old too, and I play a whole lot of them. There are old pictures that don’t look like me anymore because I have changed, but they sure do look like who I was, and for that they’re great pictures. It’s the same with old songs.
Music still stretches out before me like the head-lights of a car into the night. It’s way beyond where I am, but it shows where I’m going. I used to think that my goal was to catch up, but now I’m grateful that the music is always going to be way out in front to inspire me.
What direction are you going in now? Are you working on an album to follow your 2010 release “Reverie”?
I have finished two projects that will come out this year. One of them is a studio album recorded in an old church in Cincinnati with my friend Rich. It has a tight little combo sound: electric guitar, drums, bass, some background vocals. It’s more rockin and I love feeling the music take my lyrics into different territories emotionally.
What emotional territories are you exploring? Do you have a name for the new studio album? When can we expect it to be released?
There are some new emotional territories on this new CD because half the songs I wrote to much more energetic arrangements then my usual way of writing which is acoustic guitar. The band sound on these sessions was inspiring and drew me to more intense emotions that turned into songs about, for example, facing the consequences of political and environmental short-sightedness, or getting inside the mind of a cop who has seen too many kids shot dead on the sidewalk and he tries to put it in a big perspective. The working title for the new CD is David Wilcox and the Fiery Muse, but I don’t know if that will stick. I fully expected it to be released by now, but there are many variables which I didn’t account for. So, all I know is, hopefully soon.
The other project I just finished will be a seasonal musical magazine download from my website. Each season subscribers will receive four songs, some video, a story of where the songs came from, photographs and other stuff. The songs on this subscription are different than the ones on the band CD it’s a whole other project.
I like being in touch with friends and hearing what they are going through and I like to hear them reflect on the events that we both have recently lived through, and I think music can do that too, not just personal letters.
Besides constant touring, you have recently involved yourself in a instructional video service called JamPlay, where you give lessons on tuning, technique, along with different songwriting strategies. How did you get involved with JamPlay? What benefit do these lessons have for you as a Singer/Songwriter?
I thought it was fun to get that message out there about my particular philosophy and technique of song writing as a spiritual practice and as a way of doing my therapy. There are some musicians who make great money from offering lessons through Jam Play. I thought it would be fun to give it a try.
Social Media in music is something that has entered the scene since you have been a touring musician. What advantages do you see in social media & how does it benefit you?
I love the immediacy that social media provides. It used to be there was a huge lag time between when you’d finish the creative process and when you get any response from your audience. A regular LP required a lead time of sometimes six months or more between the time when you’re done making it sound good and the time it finally came out in stores. Now when a song is finished and uploaded, you send out e-mail, and get responses within 10 minutes.
What advice do you have for fellow singer/songwriters on maintaining & caring for their voice?
The only real way to get that answer is to take those lessons. I took them regularly from Danny Ellis for a few years. He’s in Asheville [NC]. And Danny is the one I would recommend getting those lessons from. Danny is currently writing a book about the technique he teaches, and the book will probably be many hundreds of pages long, and I think in the course of a book he may be able to get that answer across.
You have been referred to as a “songwriter’s songwriter,” what does that mean to you?
I write songs in an intricate way. I put a lot into them. So, if you expect a lot from the lyric, and expect it to hold up under many many listenings, you might appreciate the way I write. It’s not for everybody. These songs require a little more attention but they pay back in layers of meaning.
What approach do you take to your songwriting, where does the inspiration come from?
I approach songwriting stealthily because I think it’s like wildlife photography: you have to be quiet and let the songs come to you. And yet I think output equals input, so my job is to stay inspired and have interesting conversations. But, there’s also the discipline of showing up every morning and playing guitar and keeping track of the lyrical ideas that I have while traveling, and combining those musical and lyrical ideas once I get home to see if I can surprise myself with a song that stretches my imagination and tells the truth but tells it in an interesting and fresh way. And as for where my ideas come from, I think they come from a playful mysterious heartfelt guidance that weaves all these seemingly random events of life into a beautiful pattern of meaning and creates a fascinating adventure out of what would otherwise just be a stressful battle for survival.
Oh, and music. I love listening to lots of new music. That’s probably where most good song ideas come from.
Over the course of your career, what were some of the more monumental obstacles that you had to overcome?
Well, I don’t really have much of a hard luck story. I decided to live cheap in order to be able to work at what I love. That makes everything else much easier.
When you have someone like KD Lang cover a song of yours, how does that make you feel?
It is interesting to hear someone else’s interpretation of the song and there are still some thrills of getting your music out in a bigger sphere. It’s kind of like the people who climb out on the railroad bridge to put up graffiti. You just have to wonder how did they get that up there.
Your career has spanned decades, you’ve seen many changes in music and how the business works. What advice do you have for up & coming singer/songwriters?
The rules of the game are so different now, that I’m probably not the right person to ask. But, it seems to me that there is always room for people who want to play their music and be heard. There are great opportunities to get your sound out there. But, the songwriter is up against a tougher road these days. If you’re a singer-songwriter, you’re better off because the income from music is now mostly live. The old model of people being able to make a living from the songs they wrote without having to go out and play them is over.
David Wilcox ‘Reverie’
Purchase on Amazon
Copyright © 2013 SongwritersMarketplace.com All rights reserved