Sons of Bill have released four solid studio albums in the U.S. over their 10 year career. Their most recent offering, 2014’s Love & Logic, received high critical acclaim. And in just a few weeks the band will embark on their third European tour this year alone.
But one thing the five-piece, Virginia-based band has never done is play a concert in Utah.
The drought comes to an end this Sunday when Sons of Bill performs at Snowbasin Ski Resort’s summer Blues, Brews and BBQ concert series.
For those not familiar, Sons of Bill fall somewhere in the rock, country, alt-country, indie-folk, Americana, blues, roots rock category depending on what song they’re playing. The band was formed by brothers Sam, James and Abe Wilson whose father is William Wilson, making them literally sons of Bill. Childhood friends Seth Green and Todd Wellons round out the lineup.
William Wilson, a professor emeritus of theology and literature at the University of Virginia, was also a songwriter. Speaking to the Deseret News on the phone during a recent tour stop in Las Vegas, lead singer and rhythm guitarist James Wilson said his father had a huge influence on all the Wilson siblings when they were taking piano lessons and learning how to play guitar.
“So when we learned guitar, there was always from the vantage point of singing songs and really just learning what makes a song great and worth singing. That was really on the forefront of our minds at a really young age. And I think that stuck with all of us, even to now,” he said.
The Wilsons also learned lessons in harmonizing by singing with each other in the church choir.
“Music was just really important in my family growing up. It was something we were just all expected to do and take seriously,” Wilson said.
In addition to the three Wilson brothers in Sons of Bill, James said he has a younger brother currently in a bluegrass band and a sister who sings.
Like all siblings, the three Wilson brothers who would form Sons of Bill developed their own personalities and musical tastes growing up, ranging from punk rock to metal to British rock and jazz, on top of being influenced in their Charlottesville, Virginia home by country and bluegrass.
“We’re fans. We love all kinds of music and just live for it,” James Wilson said.
In 2005, when James, Abe and Sam formed the band, that wide range of musical tastes would ultimately influence their own sound.
Their debut, 2006’s A Far Cry From Freedom was a country-laced album that laid the groundwork for 2009’s One Town Away, a more roots-rock, bluesy album that showed a great maturity in songwriting in just a short time. Key tracks such as “Joey’s Arm,” “The Rain,” “Broken Bottles,” “So Much for the Blues” and “Charleston” authenticated that this was a band with staying power.
In 2012, Sons of Bill released the outstanding Sirens album which included several upbeat, guitar driven rock songs in “Santa Ana Winds,” “This Losing Fight” and “Siren Song,” that remain among their most popular today.
Their latest album, Love & Logic found the band stripping down their sound and slowing the tempo for a more folksy effort, lead by songs like, “Bad Dancer” and “Brand New Paradigm.”
The change in sound from Sirens to Love & Logic again reflects the band’s wide-range of musical tastes, Wilson said. And while the band strives to grow musically with each album, he said there really isn’t an established game plan of how Sons of Bill are progressing or want to evolve musically. Just as long as the music remains honest.
“We always want to try and make different records. It would have been really boring to try and make Sirens 2. It was really just kind of focusing in and try to make something cool and unique,” Wilson said of Love & Logic. “It’s not like we’re necessarily marking where we’re going or some sort of arrival point. It’s just the record we wanted to make.
“Maybe to a fault, certainly to a commercial fault, we’ve resisted having what we do turn into a marketable commodity because we always want to be making records honest to the moment we’re in. The records that I love and the bands that I love are (the ones) always willing to change and make something new,” Wilson continued. “That’s just something we want to do, follow the music, follow our hearts, follow our musical instincts and just make the best music we can. And (we know) certain fans stick with you from record to record and certain fans like other records better. That’s always OK. People can always trust, though, that the records we’re making are honest.”
Wilson conceded that having a wide range of musical tastes and equal say in the band can also cause problems sometimes, such as when the Wilson brothers thought they’d self-produce their last album.
“We tried to self produce this record. We really thought we could just go in and do this one ourselves. The band is a democracy and we’re all trying to make these decisions and it was just a disaster. We were really just at each others throats from day two,” he said with a laugh.
To solve the problem, the band placed a call to producer Ken Coomer who ended up having Sons of Bill record Love & Logic in his Nashville studio. With Coomer’s help, Wilson said the band was able to stay focused on the common goal of making an honest album while still allowing for individual styles. Despite having three songwriters and singers on the album, “When I hear it, it hangs together as one record for me,” Wilson said.
“I love being in a band with (my brothers) because we’re all so different. And we write differently and we play differently. And I feel that’s the strength (of the band) and why I love being in this band,” he said,
Sons of Bill are scheduled to go on about 2 p.m. Sunday, after Tim Daniels Music and before Blitzen Trapper. While it’s nice to have the band finally make their debut in Utah, I’m also looking forward to when Sons of Bill headline their first downtown Salt Lake City show and get to spend a full evening playing their material.
We can only hope that will happen sooner than later.
*photos by Kristie Gripp