Originally from the suburbs of Chicago, Wilson found music at a young age and immediately looked at the guitar as more than just a hobby.
Today she is just months off of releasing her second album, and now on her way to recording a third album with her new project.
I met up with Wilson at Tip of the Tongue, Baked and Brewed, located at 43 Lincoln Rd., to discuss her road to the creation of The Bright Smoke.
What is like it to be Brooklyn-based artist?
The community of musicians is big. For whatever you’re playing, there are a million other people out there doing the same thing. So in terms of camaraderie, the response has been great. Every time we book a show people are always interested to see what everyone is doing and connect. This has been the case since our very first show at Greenpoint Gallery, I had never played there before; I didn’t even know it existed. It was nighttime and the weather was really crazy and there were all of these people there who are just there and a part of the space. And it was really great.
How did you first get involved?
I’ve been playing music since I was 13 years old. I was a dancer and was injured. So everyone in my family did something in the entertainment field – actors or musicians or whatever – and my dad was playing in the same band since he was in high school -- same dudes, same styles and a lot of the same haircuts.
I started teaching myself to play guitar after seeing Dave Matthews Band. And that was it. I thought that I could do that. I felt connected. I loved music, I loved listening to music, and obviously with ballet; it’s music too, but it’s classical, however there was always musicality around.
But this was the first time that I ever saw it as a live; living breathing career, and that it didn’t exist without people doing it. I just thought I was going to do that. But that was it, I locked myself in my room for the summer and I taught myself how to play guitar.
Where did you get the guitar?
We had them around. It was actually my older sister’s and she never took to it. I just jumped right in, and I was pretty bad for a long time. This was the late 90’s, so there was a lot of Jewel. I just had this weird connection to her as a female artist.
Do you feel like there is a hurdle you have to take as a female artist?
I never thought of it as a hurdle. I never noticed any weird pushback from the venues or the artists, but some of the comments after a show were just kind of weird. They would say something like, “Oh, I didn’t know that you would actually play guitar,” or, ”is that your guitar?” But, in high school, that was the kind of thing that kept me going. There were all these guys that played music, and I tried to play with them, but it was always like Calvin and Hobbes, it was like their “tree house.”
Did you feel like this was something you had to do on your own?
Everyone else did other stuff. When I was young, like back when I was a teenager, I used to try and play with all the guys in school. The nice part about that was being able to come back later and being able to collaborate with other people. You already have your own style.
How do you write your music?
I started writing the first time when I was alone in college. I was a sophomore and I found that it kind of meshed, and it was a point when I was able to write a song. From that point on, I noticed that I started hearing it, and that was sort of a frustrating thing – to hear the music and not have the capacity to play it. I would hear a song and that would be a motivator. Now I just hear it and I have to learn how to play it.
What does that sound like?
Well, the best way I’ve been able to describe it is; you know when you have food poisoning, and you know you’re going to throw up, but you just have to try and talk yourself down? Well, until I write it, it’s just hard to concentrate. It sounds like a radio, but it’s just sort of tuned down and then it won’t go away until I write it. If I’m out I will just wait to do something about it, because I try to keep some kind of human dignity.
How did you get involved in music here in NYC?
When I came here I got into a program at NYU, and a friend from college was here and I used to play with him back then. He was up here and playing with a ton of bands, so while I was still in South Africa, he was talking about how he wanted to start this band. So, I started writing and sending drafts out there, so when I got back we had a band called the French Exit. We hit the ground running with that. We had those songs that I wrote and we played with that for a while, but then that folded in the end of 2009. But we were doing some good stuff. We had some good songs and we were on the road.
And that was tough when that ended. I took a little less than two years off writing. I didn’t think I was going to do music again. It was a little rough.
How did you find your band?
Well it started with me and Quincy Ledbetter, and it was when I wanted to put out a solo album and he was the producer. I had it in my head that I would be writing it, and I wanted to do the independent thing – I didn’t want to depend on anybody else – so he started as a producer and it was just so easy to work with him. He knew what I wanted to do, and the sound was just there. So he just stuck around, we put out another live album and since then he has just become integral.
How does the recording process work with you and Quincy?
The newest record came out in December and we’re writing a new record now. That should be out in August, but I started writing for it about two months ago. I don’t like to do the backlog stuff too much, because generally if it doesn’t make it to an album, it just wasn’t on par.
But, I will start writing something when I start hearing new songs – so I don’t have a ton of stuff backlogged -- but if there’s nothing to hear then there is nothing to write. The lyrics and music are mine, and he just hears space and he knows how to add those accents to it.
What is the New York audience like versus playing other places?
Well it’s different. There’s a good and a bad from what I’ve experienced, and obviously it’s only anecdotal so it’s different for other people. There is a resonance to get really excited, and I think people go out and see things and want to give it a shot, but there wasn’t a very physical excitement, so they seem very restrained. There was just this energy that’s different here. They’re a little cold and they don’t want to give too much away.
You could go see different shows every single night so there’s a lot going on here. There is a good and a bad to that too. They’re not forgiving if your amp and your guitar are out of tune or your pedal breaking down.
Check out The Bright Smoke live at Tammany Hall, located at 152 Orchard St., on May 22 at 8 p.m.