If you see Jack Wilson in person, his appearance will have you fooled. The Austin native's jaw-length locks and happy-go-lucky smile give no indication of the struggles he's overcome in his musical career. In conversation, the folk singer/guitarist speaks of the hardships of homelessness and jump-starting a sustainable career as self-induced challenges more than a series of unfortunate events.
Wilson moved to Seattle in 2006, where he began performing solo at weekly open mic nights. He was eventually intoxicated by the rock & roll culture of the Northwest, which inspired him to enlist a full band for shows and recording. Wilson was craving a more fleshed-out sound, plus he wanted to wow the crowd as much as the bands he was opening for.
"My musical experience in Seattle was always great," Wilson says. "But my personal experience in Seattle was more along the lines of struggle."
He stuck to his guns for six years before his self-titled debut was picked up by Portland's Fluff & Gravy Records, which will release it in March. We got a chance to sit down with Wilson after an acoustic show at Club Dada to find out what he's been jamming lately.
Currently jamming: Wilco's Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, A Ghost Is Born and Sky Blue Sky.
"We're playing as a six-piece band in Austin now and trying to find our dynamic - a way that everyone can be heard and we can be quiet and loud, and fast and slow together, and do it creatively and tastefully. I've been looking for cues from other bands and those three records are really good at that. They have a lot of space and this bell curve of energy."
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Inspired by: The time he spent in Seattle living in his 1977 Volkswagen Westfalia.
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"I moved to Seattle for the first time in 2006, and I lived in this basement with all this stuff from high school and college. While I was living there, there was a huge storm and a drainage problem on the street. The water just pooled in the street and then just started pouring in the basement and destroyed everything me and my roommates owned. It started about a six-month stretch of homelessness for me during which I moved back to Austin for four months and then went back to Seattle. I was couch-surfing; I had a little money and I bought a '77 Volkswagen Westfalia. It was avocado green with plaid green interior and a racing stripe on the outside. It was pretty sweet, but it didn't run. We had it towed to the place where I was going to live and I worked on it and lived in it for two or three months until the end of the spring. It was at that point when I really got serious about playing and decided I was going to start a full band. That's where it all started really, when I was living in that bus losing my mind."
Where the two roads meet: A new record deal with Fluff & Gravy Records and new faith in the music industry.
"I thought getting the call to get signed would maybe be like the coolest day of my life and really it ended up being one of the scariest days of my life. My initial reaction was, 'This isn't real. Someone's trying to screw me out of some money.' And it took me several weeks and a lot of negotiating with everybody for me to actually sign. It's just interesting we set these goals for ourselves and whenever they do come we're skeptical ... The way I see it is I can't have less money right now. It can't be much harder to make it in this business than it is right now. If someone wants to get on board and help I don't think they're going to do any harm."