Previous Next
June 2018 Relix Magazine Sampler: Slim Wednesday "No (So) Good"
00:00 02:30
Volume Control Open/Close

Jonathan Wilson: That Space-Age Feeling

Mike Greenhaus | June 14, 2018
Andrea Nakhla

Jonathan Wilson was partway through explaining how he scored the nickname “resident hippie” when he casually dropped some pretty serious street cred: Roger Waters had recently spent time hanging out in his kitchen. “We did about 60 percent of his album at my studio, so that was a trip having Roger here,” Wilson says with a grin as he describes the genesis of his current post in Waters’ solo band. “He was trying to figure me out, like, ‘What’s this guy’s deal?’and came up with this affectionate term: ‘resident hippie.’ He calls my place the ‘hippie palace.’”

It’s a sunny winter day and Wilson is sitting in a gazebo on the multi-building California compound that currently houses his home studio, Fivestar. The compact, largely vertical, lot of land, which Wilson rents from his old friend Conor Oberst, is located near the top of a steep hill overlooking Echo Park, secluded from the nearby suburban hiss by a lush wall of trees and plants. Wilson—a tall, long-haired 43-year-old singer, guitarist and producer, who is looking very LA in a regal purple shirt, necklace and dark sunglasses—is as busy as ever. Though he’s technically in the middle of a promo cycle for his first studio album in five years, Rare Birds, he’s spent much of the week recording with longtime associates Dawes and is now getting ready to leave for Australia on the next leg of Waters’ world tour. Currently, another pal, film director Grant James, is taping a Rare Birds EPK; Wilson can’t help but make a few tweaks before the recording commences.

“I’ve just been gathering up the songs, and different bits and bobs, since 2013 during the Fanfare touring cycle, but I didn’t start on Rare Birds until the summer of 2016,” Wilson says of the five- year gap since his last proper solo release, a touch of his Southern drawl still audible. “I’m still in the studio daily. It’s great to be able to stay hands-on the whole time between albums and just to stay in the game by working on somebody else’s thing. All these projects coexist; I’ll learn from other albums I’m working on and try those ideas out on my own thing. The albums and artists I produce are guinea pigs for of my own shit.”

During the past few years, those guinea pigs have included Waters, Oberst, Lana Del Rey, Erykah Badu, Farmer Dave Scher, Roy Harper and perhaps his closest collaborator, Josh Tillman, whose Father John Misty sound Wilson has honed from the beginning.

At the same time, he’s come to personify the axis connecting three strands of Southern California music—rootsy but spacey Americana, post-jam guitar-rock and the last vestige of classic-rockers touring well beyond what many assumed was their last encore.