Robert Wilson: Brave new soul
The seeds for his new album were planted 20 years ago on a trip to Asia
Robert Wilson is no ordinary soul man.
The veteran singer-songwriter has always had a profound love for the sweet, gauzy sound and feel of
Stax and Motown, but only recently did it finally all gel the way he'd always dreamed of. His latest effort, Lovers One -- Haters Zero, stems from Wilson's travels 20 years ago.
"It was really cemented when I was 18," Wilson, now 37, says. "I took a trip to Southeast Asia by myself and chanced upon this sort of bootleg cassette tape market in Bangkok. I think I carried 20 pounds of soul music cassettes in my backpack for about six months and just ingested that stuff: Al Green, Aretha Franklin, Sam & Dave, Otis Redding."Maybe the seeds were planted there and are now finally coming to fruition.
"Wilson says if you listen closely to his last solo outing, 2004's Be My Habit, you can easily see why the velvet-voiced songsmith now finds himself augmented by an impressive nine-piece band for the release of Lovers One - Haters Zero.
"In fact, a number of the songs that ended up on Lovers One were written in that time but didn't fit into
the acoustic format of the last record," Wilson says. "It's been a long time coming.
"Wilson's band, The Blackbird P.A., features a host of seasoned collaborators including drummer John Raham (Be Good Tanyas), bassist Brian Minato (Sarah McLachlan), keyboardist Jacob Aginsky (PJ Harvey, Spearhead), guitarist Jon Roper (Spacious Couch, Spygirl), percussionist Eduardo Ottoni and vocalist Alita Duprey, as well as a full horn section.
Wilson and Co. recorded most of the tracks live in the studio on analog tape in order to stay true to the
spirit of old school soul, feeding off each other's chemistry and making Lovers One a delightfully smooth moodsetter. But while, on the surface, Wilson may make it all sound easy-breezy, he does admit the album was born from relationship failure and self-doubt, from moving from his late twenties into his early thirties and eventually learning to take it all in stride.
"I don't care any more," he declares right from the start on the album's title track, as if giving up and giving in all at once.
"I feel like there's a lot of sadness in the record, but that's not the important aspect for me. The important aspect is about hope and acceptance. It's embodied in the title of the album: We're all going to love and hate, and let's hope that we all come out on the right side of that scoreboard."
"Soul music is sad stories told in a celebratory way," he adds. "That's what I hope people walk away with."
On the flip side, Wilson does provide a few jubilant moments like the groovy single Gonna Make It, which has already found its way onto the radio airwaves in and around Vancouver.
And if you find yourself south of the border ordering a frappucino at a Starbucks wondering who that soulful guy gliding out of the speakers is, chances are it's Wilson: Lovers One -- Haters Zero was recently picked up by the mega coffee chain's in-store music service in the U.S., which could hint at some interesting future ventures.
In the meantime, Wilson is looking forward to assembling the P.A. as often as he possibly can, hoping to hit the festival circuit over the summer. "Saturday definitely won't be a one-off," Wilson says. "We'll definitely be doing this again."
© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun
THE VANCOUVER PROVINCE
Bandleader set to bare his soul for all the lovers out there
Great soul music takes equal parts blood, sweat and tears. For his latest CD, Lovers One Haters Zero,Vancouver singer-songwriter Robert Wilson finally realized a dream. He made a live, off-the-floor, big-band-bigger-sound album referencing greats such as Marvin Gaye, Al Green and Donny Hathaway.
With "Gonna Make It" regularly spinning on Shore 104 FM and CBC, he's taking the new songs to the
stage this weekend.
While the 13-piece group that backs him won't all be in the house, the sextet he's dubbed the Blackbird P.A. boasts ace credentials. Drummer John Raham (Be Good Tanyas), bassist Brian Minato (Sarah
McLachlan), keyboardist Jacob Aginsky (PJ Harvey, Spearhead), guitarist John Roper (Spygirl),percussionist Eduardo Ottoni (Spygirl) and background singer Alita Duprey can lock into a groove as soft and sexy as a silk stocking. A few horns might turn up to blow, too.
"I've been wanting to make this record since I was 18 in music school and took a trip to Bangkok," says Wilson. "I ran into the bootleg CD booth there and purchased an entire library of old-soul classics, like Al Green and Aretha Franklin and so on, and just listened non-stop.
"Along the way, as I've written songs, there were always some I'd set aside for 'the soul album.' Now it's here."
A confessional tune such as "Big Sore Heart" didn't come without some heartbreak. Admitting that his work has always been about where his life was at the moment, there were some tough times on the ol' relationship front while writing this album. But his happy new marriage is also reflected in such upbeat testimonials as the title track.
"And it all came together live off the floor, mostly. I just called in all the best musicians I knew to come into the studio and threw the charts at them, said, 'Figure out what you want to do,' and pushed play. It just happened so fast. Then again, it took me three years to make this record, which is a really long time. But getting schedules to jell was pretty hard."
He gives major shouts out to coproducer and Ogre Studios head Raham, who has worked with him on previous albums as well. There have been a number of showcases of the new album with the rhythm section of Raham and Minato. However, the full Blackbird P.A. has only gigged once to date, a limited attendance show at the Arts Club Backstage Lounge that went "really well."
"Honestly, you can't imagine how fantastic, how fun, it is to be backed by the whole horn section and lean on the band and call something if it feels right. I'm having a great time and really honoured to have such heavy players enjoying my songs." Highlights so far from the new set include the tribute to reggae legend "Jimmy Cliff" and the story of "Taxi Cab."
"That was this classic trip home I had leaving work late one night at the Commodore and getting into this really deep and meandering discussion with this cab driver at, like, three in the morning. Honestly, I'm almost quoting him verbatim in the lyrics."
Robert Wilson and the Blackbird P.A. Where: Biltmore Cabaret, 395 Kingsway St. When: Saturday night at 8 Tickets: $12 at Ticketweb.ca
© Copyright (c) The Province
Vancouver Discover Magazine 2009
Robert Wilson: Lovers One-Haters Zero
by: Shon T. (Review/Photos)
Robert Wilson has outdone himself.
In a classy little ballroom suite at the P.A.L. Theater in downtown Vancouver, the local veteran singer/songwriter/audio guru has arranged a very intimate and interactive preview of his latest album "Lovers One-Haters Zero".
Backed by an all-star cast: John Raham (Be Good Tanyas) on drums, Brian Minato (Sara McLachlan) on bass, Jacob Aginsky (PJ Harvey, Spearhead) on keyboard, guitarist Jon Roper (Spacious Couch, Spygirl), and Eduardo Ottoni on percussion and background vocals, this room is more like an industry conference than a concert. Considering Wilson's history as a musician, sound engineer and technical director for several venues and festivals in the city, it's no surprise that he's surrounded himself with some of the best that Vancouver has to offer. It also doesn't hurt when you're a genuinely nice, down to earth dude. Who also happens to know how to throw a damn good party.
As Wilson and his band (collectively known as The Blackbird P.A.) perform a few tracks from the album to a candle-lit room, the sum of the parts become greater than the whole. Each bandmember's instrument sings its own signature sound: distinctive, soulful, precise, clean. Guitarist Jon Roper coaxes lush, shimmering textures and swank, crisp staccato chords over Minato and Raham's deep-in-the-pocket grooves. Jacob Aginsky effortlessly shifts from providing ambient background keyboards to brilliant, funky melodies, weaving their own tapestry throughout every song. Eduardo's backup vocals and crisp percussion round out the sonic backdrop.
As an instrumental quintet, the Blackbird P.A. could keep a room enchanted for hours. With Wilson at the helm, they could quite possibly revolutionize the marital therapy industry. Put these guys in a room with a thousand disgruntled couples, and I'll guarantee you, at least 900 of them are gonna get laid that night. With a voice reminiscent of the masters of soul (Al Green, Marvin Gaye, even Sade(!!) Wilson tells his personal tales of love, loss, reflection, acceptance, and growth, with clever lyrics, a truly impressive range and a sharp sense of humor.
I have seen him perform as a solo artist, and can honestly say he is a one-man wonderwall of sound, but as a bandleader, he really shines. With the benefit of a fantastic backup band, Wilson can relax a little, grab a tamborine, snap his fingers, or just grin from ear to ear and listen to his music come to life around him. Or he can just kick it all up a notch and play a few songs on the acoustic guitar.
Most of the live band perform on the album, which was written by Wilson and recorded at John's Ogre studios in Vancouver over the course of five days. Amazingly enough, all the drums, bass,
keyboards, and electric guitar were cut in a single take. Judging by the performances on the album, Wilson got his money's worth, and then some.
Not only has Wilson gathered some world-class musicians tonight, (and provided some awesome hors d'oeuvres!!) he has arranged for a post-performance "Anatomy of a Song" session, in which he and co-producer/drummer John Raham, explain the recording process of the CDs fourth track: "Big Sore Heart". And if that isn't cool enough, they are being interviewed by none other than the legendary Red Robinson.
With the help of a laptop, digital audio workstation/mixing board and a projector, Wilson and Raham walk us through the song, track by track, starting with the solo acoustic guitar part that is the foundation of the song. Guided by questions from Red Robinson, Wilson breaks down the song to its atomic level, revealing subtle layers of delayed guitars here, backup vocals (provided by Katherine McCandless of Young Galaxy), rolling bass lines, isolated hi-hat tracks, etc. Robinson, who is a self-described musicologist, has seen a lot of bands and trends come and go in his time, but appears fascinated by the process and technology. We all are. Every aspect, every little detail of the song sounds great on its own. Once again, the sum of the parts becoming greater than the whole.
While listening to the album later that night on my computer's media player, I am again reminded of just how many artists Wilson can draw from. A little James Taylor, Sade, Otis Redding, Fine Young Cannibals, David Bowie. It isn't until I'm about three songs into Sade's "Lovers Rock", which alphabetically follows "Lovers One-Haters Zero", that I realize the album is over.
I will play it again. And again. Then I will add it to my "Sexytime" playlist. A wise decision.
If you're having any troubles in the bedroom, or just want to check out some of Vancouver's finest talent, be sure to check out Robert Wilson and the Blackbird P.A. at the Rowing Club in Vancouver,
© 2009 Discover Vancouver, Inc.
by: Shon T. (Review/Photos)
There are few artists who have the panache to pull off an evening of "the melancholy", yet leave the audience smiling and laughing along with her from start to finish. Then again, there are few artists like Aimee Mann.
Arriving at the Commodore to find the floor had been filled with rows of chairs, and the stage set up with a very minimalist theme, we also discovered that a local musician named Robert Wilson had been added to the bill at the last minute.
Since we had arrived a little early in order to get a table, we managed to catch all of Wilson's set, which caught the audience's ears from the moment he started. With a variety of delay/loop pedals, he put on a very interesting set that seemed to involve the listener in the very creative process of each song. Building "layers", so to speak, of looped parts, comprising some fingerpicked guitar work, some vocal harmonies for background, a touch of rhythm (achieved by 'drumming' on his acoustic), topped with a powerful voice made his set both intriguing and pleasing to the ears.
Taking the time to introduce a song is a risky venture, especially for a supporting act who has been added at the last minute, but Wilson (who humbly introduced himself as "not Aimee Mann") shared a few tales of life in Vancouver, including a story about a joint-smoking taxi-driver who picked him up one night after his shift as a soundman at the Commodore a few years ago. Wilson pulled off a "one-man-band" act very well, and, by the end of his short set, had made a whole new room full of friends.
“One of Vancouver’s most gifted songwriters.”
“One of the best albums I’ve ever heard.”
“Four stars… Be My Habit showcases Wilson’s sincere lyrics, catchy melodies, and soothing voice… every song is phenomenal.”
“A human could not get any more talented than this. Robert Wilson…”
Sometimes, I watch a performer, someone who is standing very close to me, and I think to myself, "A human could not get any more talented than this." Robert Wilson is one of these superhuman folks. I don't care how much you like or dislike his music - his dire talent is undeniable. He has completely perfected the technique of recording and looping back his own little snippets of music and giving himself a full band within a minute or two. How is someone this good at what he does not at the forefront of everyone's musical consciousness? It's really fascinating to watch him up there. I recall the first time I saw him. I remember it being at the Railway Club, but I don't remember exactly when it was. It took me a moment to figure out what was going on, and once I did, I couldn't believe the complex array of sounds he generated just from drumming his hands off the body of his guitar or clucking his tongue into a microphone.
He had one moment in this set while he was creating his layered musical backdrop, where he suddenly stopped what he was doing, proclaimed that he, "didn't like that," and started over again. Then he struck up creating sounds again and ended up with (to the best of my picking-through) two basic vocal tracks, one high-pitched 'hoo-hoo' vocal, one guitar strumming sequence, one guitar picking sequence, a cymbal sound he made with his mouth, a drumming noise on his guitar body, and a hand clap. And then he went in and harmonized with himself in the chorus. Off. The. Hook.
Stunning, relaxing, soothing. It's living room music. Inside the cozy Media Club, people perched on couches and watched with interest, a low murmur of socializing going on. Wilson spoke about his friend's baby being born, which made him realize what life was all about in the midst of so much trouble in this world, and the raging wars. Amongst everything else in the set, the most prevalent line I picked up on was, This heartbreak medicine tastes so good.
Robert Wilson is releasing a CD in May. He's going to have a CD release party for it. Vancouverites, be on the lookout.
“Wilson represents a breed of new, rising Vancouver writers who are going to be worth watching“.
The Georgia Straight
“The musicianship on Thin Man is first-rate.”
The Calgary Straight
“Robert Wilson certainly evokes the vibe of the West Coast.”
Prince Rupert Daily News
“Wilson specializes in sour-sweet love songs, with clever lyrics and irresistible melodies. His musicianship and singing ability are outstanding.”