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Jonathan Wilson: The Gentle Spirit Returns

by Richard Gehr on February 14, 2014

The following year, Wilson moved into the studio he calls home today and it’s been “gangbusters” ever since. “This house has turned out to be a perfect musical wonderland,” he says while giving me the grand tour. Hundreds of dead bees half-fill a lighting fixture on his front porch, not unlike an “art installation,” Wilson muses. With a control room upstairs from the main tracking area, Wilson has characterized his domain as “a tiny version of Abbey Road’s Studio Two.” The basement (“This is where we rave, man”) serves as the rehearsal and jam space, his bedroom (“my den of iniquity”) is lined with vintage guitars and a hot tub (“probably the most important part of the studio”) gurgles outside.

At Fivestar, which boasts Leon Russell’s longtime analog recording console, Wilson produced Dawes’ Nothing Is Wrong, Josh Tillman’s Father John Misty debut, Fear Fun, and countless tracks by Will Oldham, Roy Harper, Glen Campbell, Chris Robinson and many others. As a producer, he often finds himself shocked by his clients’ timidity. “They get the most conservative they’ve ever been in their life when they come into the studio,” he complains. “You play a rambunctious solo that’s 10 percent of George’s guitar tone in ‘Taxman,’ a tiny little bold guitar sound, and people go, ‘Oh, God, no!’“

Will Oldham introduced Wilson to Tillman, and the two became besties even before tracking what the producer considers to have been a perfect session, and Fear Fun is Wilson’s favorite non-Wilson production to date. “Josh is zany and fucking hysterical,” he says. “He was so hungry for the Hollywood experience, the whole fuckin’ kit and caboodle, and I became his tour guide. I was like, ‘This is how we do this: We go to the Chateau [Marmont], we go to the [Hollywood Forever] Cemetery and then we take chicks to the Beverly Hills Hotel.’ We were definitely partners in crime.”

Lana Del Rey has recently been recording at Fivestar. And while she likely won’t be added to Wilson’s lengthening list of muso besties, you can’t help but hope they cobble together a hit or two, if only to keep the hive alive.

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