Taylor DeBoer Interviews Sean Wilson after the release of his new album, Butterscotch
Sean Wilson is a Bel Air native who has just recently started playing shows in Baltimore’s Station North neighborhood. The Towson University Jazz major graduated in May, but has been making music for a over a decade. Jeff Koplovitz, the bassist of local band, Surf Harp called Wilson a “guitar genius.” I’d take a step further and call him a virtuoso–his ability to manipulate jazz stylings effortlessly into a modern pop music context makes him stand out amongst Baltimore’s best guitar players, even if most of the scene still doesn’t know his name.
After releasing Butterscotch last week, his third album in four years, Wilson’s name will soon get stacked alongside other local favorites like Wing Dam, Goblin Mold, Raindeer and others. There’s something different and refreshing about Wilson’s music, though. Unlike many other Baltimore pop bands, Wilson’s songs are more likened to the catchy indie pop-rock of the mid-2000’s. His lyrics, which range from playful and child-like to gut-wrenching and dark, are as impressive as his guitar chops. At points on Butterscotch, like “Birthday Line” you can’t help but hear snippets of Kurt Vile or War on Drugs while “Mouse Trap Summer” could fit on The Shins’ Shoots Too Narrow.
I sat down with Wilson a few weeks ago to discuss his influences, which include John Coltrane, The Cohen Brothers, Randy Newman and Target.
Taylor DeBoer: I hear a lot of varied influences in your music, especially on this new album. Everything from Kurt Vile and Bruce Springsteen to The Shins or even Pavement.
Sean Wilson: Of course Bruce. I’ve seen him like 16 times. Also, certainly Pavement. I love Pavement. The first time I heard “Frontwards” it was, you know, that song.
One of my earlier albums, Suburban Riddles, is really ambient. So the War on Drugs moments of ambiance, I’m really influenced by. When I first heard War on Drugs, it kinda sounded like the sound I had in my head, if that makes sense. But as you know this record doesn’t have as much of that ambient sound.
TD: Do you ever find yourself defending Bruce Springsteen?
SW: Sometimes but it’s gotten a lot better as I’ve gotten older. Nebraska? So fantastic. The way I recorded Butterscotch is influenced by Nebraska.
TD: One of my favorite songs on the new album is “Cherry Kissed Ice Cream.” Especially the opening line, “You bought all your band T-shirts from Target.”
SW: Yeah that’s just three chords. The entire album is multi-tracked except that song. I actually recorded it on my iPhone. I liked the way it sounded, I EQed it a bit, added reverb.
TD: Besides the musicians we mentioned before, where do you get your inspiration for these songs?
SW: A lot of movies.
TD: What films?
SW: I love the Cohen Brothers. Inside Llewyn Davis was amazing.
TD: What else inspired these songs?
SW: I like references that don’t always deal with the topic at hand, something more conversational.
TD: What’s an example?
SW: Well, like in “Cherry Kissed Ice Cream,” the line about Target. I guess you don’t need it in the song, but I really like it when it’s there.
TD: There’s a certain comfort to Target’s band T-shirts.
SW: Yeah and it’s a tragic song. After a while you remember all the things you hate. I guess that’s “Cherry Kissed Ice Cream.”
TD: It’s easier to channel negative emotions, right?
SW: It’s hard to inject positivity without it sounding cliche. The new Conor Oberst album, Upside Down Mountain accomplishes this perfectly. The song, “You Are Your Mother’s Child” has that balance.
I also love humor in songs, though.
TD: Like what?
SW: Ween, Ben Folds. I feel like Ben Folds is becoming the next Randy Newman. Now that’s someone I constantly am defending, Randy Newman.
TD: Why do you think that is?
SW: I don’t know, but he also wrote some really sad tunes.
TD: Your were a jazz major at Towson. Who are your favorites?
SW: Well, Coltrane of course. A Love Supreme is my desert island album. Also, Miles Davis. I remember in middle school I was at BJ’s, that wholesale store, with my mom and she told me I could buy a CD and I got Kind of Blue.
You can buy Butterscotch on Wilson’s Bandcamp page or get a physical CD at one of his shows. If you don’t go see Sean Wilson you are doing yourself a disservice. There are a slew of awesome bands in Baltimore, but few guitar players with chops like Wilson. The dude can write a goddamn good pop song as well, which as we all know nowadays is a small miracle.
*Author Taylor DeBoer grew up in the Baltimore area and studied Writing and Sociology at Loyola University Maryland. He is a local writer, music lover, and edits a website that he co-founded, Manikmusic.net. Follow him on Twitter at TayDeBoer23