Jonathan Wilson
Jonathan Wilson

Jonathan Wilson

About Jonathan Wilson

Jonathan Wilson is a musical polymath. In addition to being a highly regarded songwriter and guitarist, he is a noted producer and guitarist. Deeply influenced by late-'60s West Coast psychedelia and the Laurel Canyon singer/songwriter scene of the '70s, he could easily be mistaken for a SoCal native (he's from North Carolina). 2013's Gentle Spirit, put Wilson on the map as a recording artist. Its spacy, trippy, production -- that some critics called "baked" -- combined with loosely constructed, languid songs, put him on the map. As a songwriter and sideman he's worked with Erykah Badu, Elvis Costello, Roger Waters (he directs the artist's touring band), and Jenny Lewis, to name a few. His 2013 offering Fanfare was steeped in psychedelia from both sides of the Atlantic. Among the album's studio participants were David Crosby, Graham Nash, Jackson Browne, Benmont Tench, and Mike Campbell. Wilson is also a notable producer: He helmed Roy Harper's lauded 2013 comeback Man & Myth, and appeared with the songwriter at his 70th birthday concert at London's Royal Albert Hall. In addition, Wilson has produced indie artists ranging from Dawes, Mia Doi Todd, and Conor Oberst to Father John Misty and the Manchester Orchestra. 2018's Rare Birds offered a dazzling array of sounds and production techniques in an entire album about heartbreak. Wilson used his record collection as inspiration in producing the album. The set took home Album of the Year awards in Rolling Stone, France and Blitz in Portugal, and brought him his first national television appearances in the U.S., on Conan and CBS Saturday Morning.
Wilson was born in North Carolina in 1974, but his music most clearly recalls an era whose heyday arrived a few years before he came into the world; the deep but gentle vibe of his songs is an echo of the Laurel Canyon mellow rock scene of the late '60s and early '70s, and it's no surprise that he found a home in the very same section of California years after the fact. Wilson was born in Forest City, North Carolina on December 30, 1974. He grew up surrounded by music: his grandfather was a preacher at a Baptist church, and his father was a musician and bandleader. In 1995, Wilson, who had become an accomplished guitarist and keyboardist, formed the band Muscadine with his friend Benji Hughes; the group caught the attention of Sire Records, which signed Muscadine and released their debut album, The Ballad of Hope Nicholls, in 1998.
The group broke up in 1999, and Wilson spent the next several years in transit, living for a while in a hippie community in California, then in Alpharetta, Georgia, and in New York City for a spell before settling in Laurel Canyon. Along the way, he learned the rudiments of audio engineering and assembled an impressive collection of analog recording gear; he opened a recording studio and began working as a producer and sideman with a wide variety of artists including Dawes, Erykah Badu, Phil Lesh, Elvis Costello, Jackson Browne, Chris Robinson, Will Oldham, and Shooter Jennings, and also joined several of those acts on the road. During his downtime from studio sessions and road work, Wilson worked on a solo album in which he handled all the instrumental chores himself; the project, titled Frankie Ray, was initially distributed on CD-R by Wilson himself before finally finding a home at Koch Records, who released it in 2007.
Wilson also began hosting regular jam sessions at his home, which became a nexus for the revitalized Laurel Canyon musical community; Harvey Kubernik, who has been writing about the Los Angeles music scene for decades, told Los Angeles Times Magazine in 2009, "Jonathan's at the epicenter of what's happening in today's LC." For his second solo album, Wilson opted to use a full band, recording at his own Five Star Studio, which had been relocated to a larger space in L.A.'s Echo Park community; featuring appearances by Gary Louris, Chris Robinson, Barry Goldberg, Gary Mallaber, and Andy Cabic and Otto Hauser of Vetiver, Gentle Spirit was released by Bella Union Records in the fall of 2011. It was followed by the Pity Trials & Tomorrow's Child EP in 2012. Wilson issued Fanfare for Downtown Records in October of 2013, then followed it with the Slide By EP in 2014.
All along he had stayed busy producing other artists, including Roy Harper, Conor Oberst, and Father John Misty, and working as a session musician for artists as diverse as Meshell Ndegeocello and Roger Waters. He produced five albums in 2017 alone, including Father John Misty's Pure Comedy. After that burst of activity, he was ready to return to his own musical career, releasing his fourth album, Rare Birds, in early 2018 on Bella Union. Recorded during the same time he was working on Waters' Is This the Life We Really Want? album, it was produced by Wilson at Five Star Studio and featured guest appearances by Lana Del Rey, Father John Misty, Lucius, and Laraaji. Noted for its "maximalist" production, the album netted him sold out touring appearances on both sides of the Atlantic.
Wilson chose to record at Cowboy Jack Clement's legendary Sound Emporium Studio in Nashville with co-producer Pat Sansone (Wilco) for his next studio date. He recorded live in the studio with a personal wish list of players who included violinist Mark O’Connor, guitarist Kenny Vaughan, bassist Dennis Crouch, pedal steel master Russ Pahl, Jim Hoke on woodwinds and harmonica, keyboardist Drew Erickson, and drummer Jon Radford. Dixie Blur — so named because of the quick, live recording -- was preceded by three advance tracks in "In Heaven Making Love,” "Girl," and "Korean Tea."

The set was released just as Wilson embarked on a U.S. tour. ~ Mark Deming

  • HOMETOWN
    Forest City, NC
  • BORN
    30 December 1974
  • GENRE