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Interview: J. Wilms

The Fighter Showcases His Songwriting Chops



Musicians must be tough. People don’t talk about that too much, but it’s true. Musicians need a thick skin, confidence galore, and discipline. Plenty of discipline comes with the program. This is especially true if you’re hoping to have a career as a professional sideman; musicians who inhabit this rarefied air are true chameleons of the craft. They’ve got to be strong enough to go with the flow; to know when to hold them and when to fold them. To know when to walk away...ah, well you know the rest. In the ring of the music industry, musicians must be skilled fighters.


J. Wilms explores his own mettle on his latest release, The Fighter. Wilms is a long-time musician with an impressive resume. He’s worked with Beyonce, Chico Hamilton, Patti LaBelle, and Bebel Gilberto. Though he is primarily a guitarist, he’s also a multi-instrumentalist who is prepared to be a utility man in the studio for his esteemed colleagues, but on this album, he explores his own voice and playing from the view of a singer-songwriter.


Wilms and I explore the themes present on his new album and a few of his favorite albums. We also learn that we have a few friends in common. Wilms candidly details his experiences inhabiting many different corners of the music industry and he demonstrates knowing how to fully use his strengths as a performer.


Evan Toth:

So Jeremy, thanks so much for joining me today. I really appreciate your time and really enjoyed the new album. The newest album is called The Fighter and it features nine new songs, and they're all written by yourself. Is that correct?


J. Wilms:

That is true, yes, this is correct.


J. Wilms Album Cover to the Fighter

Evan Toth:

Obviously, we want to talk a little bit about your background. We'll get there and talk about all of the different musical projects that you've been involved in. But tell them if they're just joining you for this album and they don't know anything about your illustrious musical background, tell them what they can expect, what you hope people to know about this record.


J. Wilms:

All right. Great. Yeah, well, if you search me around the internet, you might find anything from crazy free jazz stuff to classical compositions to some more straight-ahead jazz stuff or whatever. Also, if you dig far enough, you'll find a couple of songwriter records that I've made over the years, and this is a departure from all of it. It's closer in the lineage of the songwriter stuff, but this record's a little bit different because it's the first one that I haven't made basically in my bedroom or my own studio. It's certainly a product of the pandemic, and it's in line with what happened to a lot of people. Basically, things shut down, and my wife and I just decided to up and leave the city. I lived in New York for 25 years. She's been there throughout her whole life, off and on.


So we packed up and moved outside of - a little bit north of - Atlanta. A lot of these songs were just a factor of that and me taking long walks and meditative walks and thinking about what I had done and where I had been. I'd done so much sideman stuff as a musician, have a master's degree in composition, all this heady stuff. I just was really thinking about the things that got me into music in the first place. These really stripped down simple and honest, as much as I can be, these honest songs came out. I was just trying to make a really straightforward record that could hopefully speak to some people that were going through some stuff.


Evan Toth:

Right. I remember those long pandemic walks.


J. Wilms:

Yeah, sometimes two, three hours in a day.


Evan Toth:

Sure, you’ve got to do something and I happen to be a musician myself, and I remember on those walks thinking about, "Oh, this would be a cool song about..." and you'd be singing little things on your walk. It's funny how that pandemic was so crazy and disruptive, but yet, we all went into our shells. Especially for creative types, I think there was an opportunity for everybody to do something, make something a little bit if you were lucky.


J. Wilms:

Oh, yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. A lot of germinating, a lot of getting the chance to explore things that I had put aside for many, many, many years. That kind of thing happened.


Evan Toth:

One of the reasons I was so attracted to your story and to this record is that you're a real musician's musician. You've professionally played in many different genres over the course of your career. I'll just name a few things to our audience, and you can fill in any of the blanks or anything I'm leaving out. Chico Hamilton - I have a bunch of Chico Hamilton records over there I meant to hold up for you, but I left them on the other side - Bebel Gilberto, Beyonce, Patti LaBelle, so can you maybe just talk a little bit about...Again, back to explaining to our audience a little bit more about your album, it's a very straight-ahead roots here songwriters thing, but you've been involved in so many different genres. Maybe you could just talk about inhabiting all those different worlds as a man for hire.


J. Wilms:

Okay, yeah. Well, I'll start with Beyonce and Patti because those were really specific situations, and they both came out of a huge thing in my life, which was the only Broadway show that I had ever done 'cause I wasn't really in New York to be a Broadway musician, I fell into it.


Evan Toth:

Yeah, that's its own world, even in New York City.


J. Wilms:

Yeah, it's like a whole thing. If you want to do that, you're basically at every one, on top of it and at everyone's gig and trying to learn everyone's book. That wasn't really my vibe, but I happened to be in a band that, or I was a sub in a band that was specialized in a certain type of music that these producers were making a play about this artist, the Nigerian musician named Fela Kuti. I'm sure you know who he is.


Evan Toth:

Sure.


J. Wilms:

So I was subbing in a band called Antibalas, and at a certain point, that band got hired to help create the music for this play because we specialized in Afrobeat and specifically, Fela's music, and so-


The band Antibalas


Evan Toth:

I didn't realize that they (Antibalas) were so integral to the show. I didn't know that, because I'm familiar with the band, and I remember when the show was out, but I didn't realize that they had that connection with that show.


J. Wilms:

Yeah. So it started, they got basically the producers called Rikki Stein, who's Fela's old manager and said, "We're making this show in New York, who should we call about this music?" He said, call Antibalas. The first version of it, it was an earlier incarnation of the band. Like I said, I was a sub. I did some stuff on bass and sometimes guitar and early on, a little bit of percussion, and so I was an auxiliary member. Then what happened was a bunch of people were like, "This isn't for me." So they split the band into people that wanted to be on Broadway and people that wanted to keep touring. So then they called in all the auxiliary people and basically, once the band decided who wanted to do what, they filled in the slots. So I wound up filling in the slots and at first playing guitar and keyboards in the development. Then when it went to Broadway, I switched to bass. This whole thing was probably seven years of my life.


Evan Toth:

Wow.


J. Wilms:

It was amazing, super rewarding. I got a lot of the amazing people I got to play with through this. I'll start with Patti. She wound up being in the show, and so I was on stage with her every night for, I think she did it for maybe a year, maybe less, maybe six months or so. So every night, I got to play for her. She also fed us all a couple of times, which was amazing.


Evan Toth:

Nice. 


J. Wilms:

She was just the consummate, she was just amazing and just such a great pleasure and so warm and welcoming and supportive and just killing it every night. Then the Beyonce thing happened because at that time, and I know this is a travesty, but I don't really know all of her records in order that well, I would say-


Evan Toth:

Me neither.


J. Wilms:

... this was probably 2011, maybe 2012. She was making a record and she was super intrigued by Fela's music and Jay-Z and she were, I believe, producers on the show, actually. So she was hiring different bands that played Afrobeat around New York to come in and record/teach her about Afrobeat. So we did a session and it was really strange. She was amazing, and it was super cool. The band that did the Broadway show, nothing that we recorded made it on to the record because there was all this contractual-


Evan Toth:

Stuff.


J. Wilms:

... issues.


Evan Toth:

Stuff.


J. Wilms:

Yeah, stuff. She did get another band and some of those people made it on the record and then dealt with the legal stuff after the fact, but it was a great experience. It was an interesting experience to me because, up to that point, I'd definitely performed with some name people, but I've never been in a studio in that kind of situation. So it was a different experience where they were trying to write stuff and record it and have us play it. It was multiple producers with varying levels of traditional music skills, so it was strange. It was very interesting and strange, but she was great as well, and again, another huge learning situation for me, definitely really interesting and really cool. I felt, again, she was super welcoming and super cool to everybody and it was a really nice vibe. I wish I had made it on that record, but that's the way the cards fall.


Evan Toth:

Interesting. Well, I'd like to hear it with that accompaniment too. I can't recall any other songs or tracks that I've heard that... obviously, there's always a lot of rhythmic intensity in a lot of those tracks, but certainly with some kind of an Afrobeat thing, it would've been interesting to hear. I don't know, again, I'm not completely familiar with all of her records, so there may be something there that exists, but nothing comes to mind, I think it would be an interesting fusion.


J. Wilms:

Yeah, I think what wound up on the record was maybe some horns, but basically, it didn't wind up sounding very Afrobeat-ish.


Evan Toth:

So as a musician who inhabits a lot of these different worlds, what are some of the... I think sometimes it's tough for an audience to wrap their head around that someone who can... maybe isn't in just one band and doing one thing, you have to be a jack-of-all-trades. How could you explain what some of the similarities and differences are in the many different projects that you work on? What's the same about you when you show up even if it's something that's totally different than what you might've done the night before?


J. Wilms:

Being able to learn stuff fast, being able to learn stuff by ear, being able to read, but also read beyond what's on the paper. Also, not being stuck in what your idea is, but also being able to contribute when that is called for, but not feeling like you have to enforce your brilliant idea on everything. When I moved to New York, I was pretty much a... I've always written songs, to tie into the record that's coming out, I've always written songs like that, but I always thought it's going to be easier for me to work as an instrumentalist because I'm not a singer. I'm a songwriter, and I like to sing my songs. So I went up there with this jazz mentality, and I was doing a lot of free, avant-garde and straight-ahead jazz and also starting to do some rock gigs and funk gigs. Somehow, those scenes where I live intersected an open-mindedness in the rock scene and in some of the jazz scene as well.


So I was able to, I don't know, just have a lot of ability to do that. I learned music in a weird way. I learned initially by being in rock and punk bands when I was a teenager and playing electric bass and rhythm guitar and stuff like that and then teaching myself to read after I'd already been playing for a couple of years. So I feel like what I would always bring to it is the ability to hear what the person wants or what they're doing without trying to force my thing on it and also without trying to come in with, "Oh, I'm educated, this person doesn't understand orchestration," or whatever.


So I'll tell them I feel like a lot of times it's easy to fall into that trap with someone that doesn't have a formal music education, like a singer or a songwriter that you feel like you can learn.


Evan Toth:

Right, which are a lot of songwriters certainly who are self-taught. They maybe didn't go through some program and they just, "Hey, I got this..." I always love seeing Paul McCartney direct an orchestra. He's like, "You guys over there just do a little bit of this."


J. Wilms:

Yeah, exactly. Yeah.


Evan Toth:

But it works, right? It works. He knows how to communicate to them.


J. Wilms:

Yeah, totally. Totally.


Evan Toth:

He's figured it out in his own way.


J. Wilms:

Yeah. No, that's great. I think if you can do that and be like, "Hey, this is my knowledge and this is how it is," and then if you're on the other side of it, if you can be like, "Oh, that's how this person..." If you can hear them communicating instead of having to have it come through your lens or nitpicking like, "Oh, they called it a G7, but it's really a Gmin9," or whatever which people get into that head a little bit, and it just makes you not so fun to work with, I guess is the thing. 


Really quick, 'cause you mentioned Chico and I went into, I wanted to get-


Evan Toth:

The others, yeah.


J. Wilms:

... the others out of the way. But for me, more important and more formative is right before the Fela thing happened, I was playing some music with a guy named... another Jeremy, named Jeremy Carlstedt who's a great, great jazz drummer. I think he teaches up at SUNY somewhere in New York now, but he was Chico Hamilton's protégé. So Chico was getting old at that point. He was in his late 70s, but still playing his butt off. I made a recording with Jeremy. Chico heard it, he needed to replace his guitarist 'cause his guitarist left New York. He said, "Oh, have that guy come over. He sounds like Gábor." He thought I sounded like Gábor Szabó, which is, if you know who he is, is like-


Gabor Szabo plays guitar

Evan Toth:

Sure, he's one of my favorites.


J. Wilms:

Yeah. It gives me chills to think about. He played about once a month, but he had weekly rehearsals. So for about a year-and-a-half I was going to his apartment and just more learning than anything, but learning a bunch of his music, playing monthly gigs around New York and the area, and it was amazing. Then I had to step out 'cause of the Fela thing 'cause I couldn't do them both at the same time. It was a tough decision to make, but at that time, I felt like I needed to get... it was my first opportunity at a real steady gig so I went for it. But Chico was amazing and taught me so much. Again, it's easy to go in humble with a guy like that, and it was just, you go in as a novice, basically. No matter where you are, you're a novice compared to that kind of experience. He was just amazing. He was one of the best situations I have had.


Evan Toth:

I love him. I love those records. I have plenty of his albums, and there is always a certain electricity to him that's a lot of fun that I always enjoy.


J. Wilms:

Absolutely.


Evan Toth:

As you mentioned a little earlier, you are originally from Atlanta, and you were in New York City for an extended period. I guess as we said, since the pandemic, you moved back. So where are you now? Where are you joining me today?


J. Wilms:

I'm in Atlanta. We're about 20 miles, not quite 20, maybe 15 miles north of the city. We were making all kinds of choices. We wanted to move in the neighborhood that I lived in back in the day or close to it, which is on the southeast side in the city limits. But because of school situations for our kid, we wound up in the suburbs, which is very interesting being in the suburbs after 25 years of New York City.


Evan Toth:

Right. Welcome to the ‘burbs.


J. Wilms:

Yeah.


Evan Toth:

I felt like the song “Hey My” played a little bit into that, which is a great song, by the way.


J. Wilms:

Thank you. Yeah, totally. Again, that was written during the pandemic and it was like, "Hey, I hope everybody's doing okay through this." In the bigger sense, it's about leaving things behind, but also reconnecting with things that you've left behind, and that's a theme that runs through everything. That might've been the last song I wrote for the record. It was maybe at this point that would just probably been about a year ago. It was probably when the last song was written for that record.


Evan Toth:

Another one of my favorites is, "I'll Start Tomorrow". It's an ode to procrastination that is especially inherent in the creative process. Can you tell us a little bit about that one too?


J. Wilms:

Yeah, a lot of this, it all ties in, this record is something that I have wanted to do even before I left New York for at least five or six years. It's always like, "Oh, man, I got all these other gigs. I got to learn all this other music. I have to do this copyist work. I have to do this, I have to do that." It's like, "I'll just get to that tomorrow. I'll do that tomorrow." I started compiling a list of things that I've procrastinated on basically very easily, and I wanted to make something that was pretty direct and pretty classic too. I was listening to a lot of Steve Earle, and even though it doesn't really sound like him so much, just lyrics that are direct and that speaks to people. I actually was listening to a lot of his music and I heard an NPR interview with him and he said he met Johnny Cash at some point, and Johnny Cash was like, "Man, you write great stuff, but people have to relate. People have to be able to relate. How do you write it? You need to start writing stuff that people can relate to." I feel like for better or for worse, a lot of people can relate to procrastination.


Evan Toth:

Yes, absolutely.


J. Wilms:

I try to put a little bit of redemption at the end of it, prioritizing as well. You can put off writing your masterpiece novel and you can put off a lot of things, but if you have some bad blood or some bad vibes out there, it's best to try to not procrastinate on fixing that as painful as it might be.


Evan Toth:

Take care of that part today. We won't tell everybody how it (the song) goes; we won't spoil the movie.


J. Wilms:

Exactly. Right.


Evan Toth:

But take care of that first. Right?


J. Wilms:

Yep.


Evan Toth:

Talk about influences, when I listen to the album, I hear Paul Simon. I hear McCartney. I hear Tom Petty maybe a little bit, maybe some of the Band and a Laurel Canyon vibe or something like that. Of course, you have the ability to play so many different genres. I'm just curious about some of your favorite performers and records that you really enjoyed growing up or just things that you enjoy right now.


J. Wilms:

I will say that the last big concert and the first big concert I've gone to in a long time is I went to see Willie Nelson play about a month ago at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. Man, he's 90, and it's hard to even talk about this without getting emotional 'cause I've seen him four times.


Evan Toth:

I've never seen him.


J. Wilms:

The last time I saw him before, this was at the end of a pretty brutal breakup. It was over a decade ago, and a friend of mine was like, "We're going to go see Willie Nelson and Bob Dylan." I was like, "Great," thinking it's going to be at Madison Square Garden, or at least The Beacon or something.


Evan Toth:

Right.


J. Wilms:

We went and saw them both in a Minor League Baseball field in Beacon, New York, and-


Evan Toth:

That's right, they did that tour, it was a whole tour of Minor League Baseball stadiums.


J. Wilms:

Yep, and we went and saw that and it was life altering. It changed everything, both of them. I don't want to get too crazy about it. I could talk about records for - and obviously you can by looking behind you - I could talk about records for days, but Willie, Teatro was kind of weird. The Daniel Lanois movie record from sometime in the '90s, I think, that record was huge for me. It's weird because I was aware of Willie. I had Red Headed Stranger, saw the movie, all that stuff when I was a kid, but I wasn't like I was growing up listening to Merle and Willie and all that stuff. My dad was like a Beatles and Stones guy more. But when that record came out, I was old enough to have it on my radar, and it just changed everything for me.



Evan Toth:

That's a cool pick. I know of that record. I don't know it really well, though.


J. Wilms:

It's one of those records and I have some records like this where now when I listen back, it's like the first four or five songs are just back-to-back mind-blowing. Maybe it peters out a little bit and comes back, but it's still, the record is everything just because of that part. That's a huge one for me. 


J.J. Cale's Naturally is a really, really... I've listened to that record my entire life, and I still listen to it and I still... I'm actually making an at-home companion record to The Fighter that is based on Naturally. So I'm taking each song and getting the vibe of it and writing something similar to it because I can't shake it. It's again, just like the simplicity, the directness, it's just all right there. There's no big reverb. Nothing's in a big hall. The electric guitar sounds like it's plugged into a cassette 4-track with a wah-wah pedal or something. It's all just right there. That's a really huge one. 




After The Gold Rush by Neil Young is a big one, just like it had a huge emotional impact. But again, it's like I knew the songs when I was a kid, and then when I was maybe in my 20s and fully immersed in really heady jazz stuff and studying how to read tone rows that were inverted in retrograde and all that stuff. Then I listened to that record and I was crying through it. Those are three really big ones, and the list goes on and on and on. I can just talk about it forever.




Evan Toth:

That’s Jeremy's top three. I like that. That's an eclectic, interesting top three. It's a good beginning there.


J. Wilms:

Yeah. Yeah. There's all this stuff in the more rock and punk side of it like Hüsker Dü, Flip Your Wig. I loved Meat Puppets too is germongous for me. I was lucky to be in that era and be a late teen when that was popping off or early teen, really. Yeah, again, I could just pick a genre and list 20-30 records easy.


Evan Toth:

Well, we could and we should one of these days. One of these days we'll get together and just go down a list of albums or start pulling things off the shelves and talking about them.


J. Wilms:

Yeah.


Evan Toth:

This album was recorded, mixed and mastered the summer of '23, just this past summer, so it's brand new. And the fellow that worked on you with this, his name is Kyle Spence at RJS in Athens, Georgia.


J. Wilms:

That's correct.


Evan Toth:

It was produced by you and he, is that right?


J. Wilms:

That is all correct, yes.


Evan Toth:

Tell us a little bit about the recording process. How did you guys approach it and maybe talk about who's playing a little bit on the album. Interestingly, I interviewed Julia Haltigan about 15 years ago. She and I shared a bass player many, many moons ago.


J. Wilms:

Nice.


Evan Toth:

I know that she's on your record there too.


J. Wilms:

Julia is one of my top friends in the world, really. We worked together for many years at this place called The McKittrick Hotel in Manhattan that's now closing, which is not a hotel, it's like a theater. But yeah, she's awesome. 



I met Kyle through the drummer on the record named Bo Bedingfield, who's also an amazing songwriter and guitar player and just literally a giant guy. He's like 6'7" or something like that-


Evan Toth:

Wow.


J. Wilms:

... but also just a musical giant. I met him randomly through a teacher that we both shared for another subject. I called him and we talked about songwriting. He's in Athens, so I'm about two hours from there, so we'd send songs back and forth on the internet and listen to stuff. I really just dug his last record, which has been out for years. I asked him about, it was like, all of the sounds, but specifically I was like, "Hey, I'm going to make a record, and I at least want to do drums wherever you did these drums." He's like, "Well, the reason the drums sound so good is it's a drummer studio."


Evan Toth:

They do. The drums sound great. That's one of the things that I really enjoy on the recording is the drums are really, you got a great sound there.


J. Wilms:

Yeah. So not only is Kyle an amazing engineer, he's a great drummer. Kurt Vile is his gig.


Evan Toth:

Okay.


J. Wilms:

He's the drummer in that band. He was in the band Harvey Milk when I was a kid, or not a kid, but in my early 20s. They were a big Atlanta band. He's got a nice place up there in Athens. I called him and I was like, "Hey, I want my drums to sound like that." He was like, "Okay." Then as we talked a little bit as I was still writing the songs, and then the way it went down was Bo also recommended Nick Robbins, who's an Athens guy, bass player, and three of us got together. I did scratch vocals, and I did guitar scratch vocals, we did bass and drums, and we played everything that has... rhythm section, we just played it live. We just maybe did three takes at max, picked a take. Then my idea was to keep the original guitar and just maybe layer a couple of things, just keep it really stripped down. But I ultimately replaced all the guitars just for sound quality because we were recording in one room and I wanted some isolation.


But I tried to play as close to what I would play live, just clean it up a little bit. The idea, I went in telling him, I was like, "I want everything up front. I want it very honest. I am not..." I don't know, pick your singer, Harry Styles or something like, "I don't want it anything to sound glossy. I just want it to be my voice upfront. I don't want to hide beyond anything. I don't really want to multi-track," although I did on a couple of choruses on the thing, but it was just about being very direct and very clean. Same thing with the guitar sounds. I wanted really good acoustic guitar sounds that were just dry. I didn't want it to sound like a big cavernous hall. I just wanted it to sound good, and he knew exactly what to do. Every step of the way, anything that I said, he knew how to get it. It was just like an absolute pleasure, and it was extremely efficient. There was no dead time. We made choices really quick. Yeah, I can't... super-


Evan Toth:

No long Chinese food lunches.


J. Wilms:

No! No. Basically, no lunches.


Evan Toth:

Come on.


J. Wilms:

We would order, what's the place called? Taco Stand. We would go pick up Taco Stand and eat a burrito if we were hungry and that's it.


Evan Toth:

That was it. Keep moving, boys!


J. Wilms:

But basically, yeah, we just kept it going and didn't do super long days either. I think the basic tracking we did all in one maybe six-hour day or something. Not even that, I don't think. Maybe it was five, four or five hours. Then the overdubs, I did a few, I did maybe two days of instrument stuff because I did one day of a bunch of stuff, listened to it, changed some ideas and went back, fixed those and then a couple of days on vocals. It was just super quick. The songs that Julia sings on, I just sent her the files and I told her what I wanted, sent her the lyrics. She did it, I think, in her place, or maybe she did it at our mutual friend's studio in Brooklyn. I can't remember. Then the only other thing that was not there was my friend, Dave “Smoota” Smith did a trombone corral on one of the songs, and he did that in Brooklyn as well. So that was the process, man. It was just really easy. Then Kyle ran mixes while I was here, and he sent me the roughs, and I either approved or said, "Change this." I think on one song I had him turn the electric guitar down a little bit. So I basically tweaked maybe one or two mixes, and maybe there's one song where I was like, "Oh, this song should have some rub on the vocals very slightly." But the mixing situation went really quickly, and he mastered it as well.


Evan Toth:

He mastered it. It's a really good mix and master. I was turning it up. It's really crankable...


J. Wilms:

Yeah, he did it. Man, I'm telling you, he knocked it out of the park, and I know that that partially it's he knows what I wanted, but I think it's also just he's just got it dialed in, especially if it's something where it's in his comfort zone. I'm not asking him to auto-tune anything. It is a digital studio, a lot of analog front end, he treats it very analog, it's as if you're going to tape. It's just that it's a hard drive instead of a tape machine. So there's not a ton of digital magic going on or anything like that. That's what I wanted, and I think that's why it was so fast.


Evan Toth:

I think you achieve that feeling. Of course, The Fighter is really the central piece on the album, I think, at least, not to mention, it's also the title track. What a fabulous song you've written there, a lot of unexpected changes and composition, and I love the song very much. Please tell our audience just a little bit about the song. The way you approached it, if I had to just explain it some way, it's a song that's both familiar and also throws you those curveballs as you go through, which I think, is really nice. You take a structure that maybe you're going, "Oh, it's like one of these things," and then you, "Whoa, I'm somewhere else." So it's a really surprising, I think a really well-composed song.


J. Wilms:

Thank you very much. Yeah, that song, that subject matter is basically about being always just feeling like you're up against something and that things aren't really happening for you. Then if you fall into the right situation, you can realize, "Oh, why am I struggling? I have what I need and I'm good. I can do better without banging my head against the wall." You can extrapolate that either as far or as narrow as you want. You could be talking about in a relationship, you can be talking about in your entire life, however you want to do it. But a lot of the things on this record, the original song was like I had a way different production idea. I thought it was going to be just guitar and drone-y and just, I don't know, just more a jangly, drone-y guitar thing.


Then when we got into it, when we got into playing it, I was like, "Oh, maybe if it had that Highway Man feel, maybe that would be cool. It's so different for me." It's like I've never done anything like that, maybe if I did something like that, that would be awesome." So we tried it and I just loved it. At first I was not going to do the whole Morricone electric guitar thing, but Kyle was like, "Yeah, that's what it's calling for. You can do that and you should do that. It's okay to do that," and so that's what happened. That was one of the few songs where we spent some time on the guitar. Also, I knew I didn't want any ripping guitar solos on the record or anything like that, but I wanted a guitar solo on this. I was like, "Well, what if I just play the melody?" We went through different guitars and settled on this really nice... he has a very nice Les Paul with the tone dialed down, a little crunchy, but you don't notice it 'cause it comes out more as sustained, like super sustained. It was just a lot of fun to come up with this different way of approaching this song that I had always envisioned it.


Evan Toth:

Yeah, and I do love your guitar playing very much. You've got a really sturdy hand. You're a pro. That's what you bring to the table, but I think it's interesting how it's balanced with your vocals and your songwriting. I guess you're a guitarist, that's usually your identity. But here on this album, it's like the singer-songwriter first, but you've got this secret weapon as a guitarist also.


J. Wilms:

Yeah, that's how I feel when I'm doing these gigs. I feel like people are like, "Oh, these are cool songs. He's not a great singer, but these are cool songs. Oh, and he can play guitar."


Evan Toth:

Right. Right.


J. Wilms:

When I play live, I cut loose a little bit more, but that's how I've been approaching it.


Evan Toth:

This is your third solo album. Well, actually, we talked about that. You said this was a little bit more of a straightforward songwriter thing, but do you see any other big comparisons or differences between your other work or maybe how this might inform your next thing, which probably as a creative person, you're probably already thinking about?


J. Wilms:

Yeah, so like I said, really, I have about six things out in the world, six or seven things out in the world under my name. But some of them are instrumental records and some more heady stuff, and then this is the third songwriter record. I actually just went back and listened to a lot of the first two, just 'cause I'm going to be doing some longer performances and I need to relearn my songs.


This record ties into the first one in a lot of ways. There's a lot of fingerstyle guitar stuff, a little more than I thought, but it's mixed up. It's a little weirder. There's some ambient things happening and stuff like that. But it was interesting to me to hear this record that I made a decade ago, and I was like, "Oh, I see that. That's still in the same thread."


I feel like lyrically I've gotten way more direct and straightforward. I was writing very obtuse, obscure... I liked writing things that could mean a lot of different things at once. That was my M.O. back then in the first two ones. The first two ones were semi-close together, a few years apart. Then this one's taken 10 years 'cause I've been doing other stuff. But I see that thread through them and I've lost, or I won't say lost, but put aside a little more of the weirdness that was in those. Then going forward, next year, I have a bunch of stuff that I'm going to do. It's also 10 years since I put out my first jazz record, so I'm remixing and remastering that and re-releasing it. Then I'm going to be doing a record to be the companion of that. Then I also have, like I said, this record that I'm working on that's influenced by J.J. Cale's Naturally.


It's like a companion to The Fighter, but it's a little more bluesy and swampy, and I'll be playing everything on it. I'm playing drums and keyboards and bass and stuff like that as well as guitar. So that's in the process., I'm hoping that that can keep happening, one leading into the other, but it's going to be different, but in the same batch of songwriting,  but things that didn't fit. Some of them are a little more rocked out, and some of them are a little more groovy and weird.


Evan Toth:

Well, I'd love to hear those jazz records.


J. Wilms:

Yeah, I did a really stupid thing. So, if you look under Jeremy Wilms, my first name's spelled out and my last name on Spotify or Apple iTunes or whatever you'll get that stuff. If you look on J. Wilms, you'll get the songwriter stuff.


Evan Toth:

Oh, okay.


J. Wilms:

I should have put it all in one place, but once you do it, it's like it's done. So that's just how it is.


Evan Toth:

Oh, you'll have to hire a firm to undo that somehow, a tech firm.


J. Wilms:

Or just let it be.


Evan Toth:

Or leave it be.


J. Wilms:

Yeah. Let it be, and the universe can figure it out.


Evan Toth:

So people should search both of those names on their favorite streaming apps and things like that. But where else should people go to find out more about what you're doing and keep up with all of your different musical projects?


J. Wilms:

I have a website and my website I've made it purposefully so that you can navigate between those two things very easily. So it's just jeremywilms.com. It's got links to all the stuff that I've made myself both on Bandcamp and on Spotify and all that stuff, but also some links to things I've done in my career like arranging for certain groups and sideman work that I'm proud of and stuff like that. So all that's there, that's the best place. It's like a one-stop shop. There will also be pre-order for the vinyl, because I'm doing the vinyl in a strange way. I am going to take pre-orders and just release it on my own. So it's going to come out maybe a couple of months after the stuff is available for streaming and download.


Evan Toth:

Okay, cool. Do you know where you're having that pressed and stuff?


J. Wilms:

Do you know Kendra Morris? Have you-


Evan Toth:

Yes. Yeah, she was on one of my shows. Yeah.


J. Wilms:

Yeah. So Kendra, I'm on her last record.


Evan Toth:

Oh, that's right on the new one. On the brand-new record, right? (I Am What I'm Waiting For)




J. Wilms:

Yeah, the brand-new record. The producer of that record is one of my old... he's my brother, basically. I've known him forever, and we've worked forever. So he recommended whatever the company was that they used because you can get small runs and they send test pressings. A lot of the small run places won't send you a test pressing, which is basically, then it's worthless, so I won't do it.


Evan Toth:

Yeah. Then you're taking a real chance on what you're getting.


J. Wilms:

A real gamble. So whatever Kendra used, I'm using!


Evan Toth:

Well, Jeremy, you're having a great year, keep having a big year and have a bigger year in 2024. Again, thanks so much for your time, I really appreciate it. I wish you luck with the new album and can't wait to hear what else you got cooking.


J. Wilms:

Thanks so much, man. I'll hopefully talk to you again soon.

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