It wasn’t too long ago that Wilson Harwood was reaching high as a kid. From there he joined a band, but come last year that dissolved and today he finds himself riding the solo trail with his debut EP, Roll Away The Day. Starting May 11 he’ll be heading from San Diego to Seattle on a west coast tour, after that he’ll go back and forth between the coasts throughout the summer. Before he heads out though, get to know a lot more about this man who’s folking around in the good way.
Kendra: Violin at five, guitar at 10 and a ska band at 13. Were you a bit of an overachiever growing up?
Wilson Harwood: That is definitely a way of looking at it and is pretty funny. No, I think I was very fortunate to have two parents who really valued music. My dad bought us a PA and by 13 my brother was on drums, I was on electric guitar and my dad would play bass. We started out just jamming a lot and getting used to singing in microphones, but pretty soon all our friends were over jamming and starting a band. Maybe it seems pretty atypical, but it was so natural and fun that I didn’t think of it as overachieving at the time.
Kendra: With that, which of those three experiences helped shape your current career most?
Wilson: I would say playing in a ska band for part of middle school and all of high school was very influential. I came into college knowing music was a big part of who I was and I knew I loved playing in a band. Although, I didn’t have any serious project throughout my undergraduate as soon as I graduated a few friends got together and formed Rocktin Grove which lasted for five years and felt just like those great days jamming in my parents basement back in high school. It was refreshing and felt right. To this day, I think playing in a band will always feel more comfortable than playing solo.
Kendra: You also went on to study Afro-Pop in college. What drew you to that?
Wilson: I always loved world music growing up. My dad listened to a lot of Latin music. I especially liked the rhythms in latin music. When I saw that the University of Colorado offered an African Highlife Ensemble I was sold and joined immediately. The ensemble was an incredible experience and taught me a lot about West African dance and music. I learned many different styles of electric guitar playing that continue to influence my songwriting today.
Kendra: Back in 2010 you were a part of a band, but last year you embarked on a solo journey. Why the switch?
Wilson: Yes, I was in a great band called Rocktin Grove from 2010 to the summer of 2015. Unfortunately, the band broke up because two members quit and we all had a general change of heart with the immense amount of work it was to continue down the road we were on. That said, I know music is something I will do the rest of my life and I wanted to continue forward. In a sense the solo project was a way to refocus, and continue where the band left off. In early 2015 I played solo shows on the side while touring with the band and working hard to release our LP. When we officially broke it off, then the solo project became my main focus and I dove in head first: booking, promoting, and writing.
Kendra: Do you miss having a band around all the time though to bounce ideas off of or are you cool for right now doing your thing?
Wilson: Yes, there are many aspects I miss about the band. The camaraderie and collaboration is a huge part of what I miss. I am a true believer that people working together creates something so much greater than the sum of its parts. Although, you can still create great collaborations as a solo artist. On my debut EP I worked with many great musicians who added so much to the sound and the development of the songs. In some ways the solo project is a breath of fresh air. After having played in bands for around 11 years, it has been nice to call the shots and manage the project on my terms. It seems that most bands fall short on the management side more so than the artistic side when there are too many people involved. Overall, I am cool with doing my own thing, but moving into 2017 expect to see new collaborations with some great artists from all over the world.
Kendra: What’s been the biggest change you’ve noticed in your musical manner since going solo?
Wilson: That is a very interesting question. I am much more focused now and able to move and develop more quickly. I am not sure if that is because I am solo or just because I have a lot more experience now influencing my decisions. Overall, I think as a solo artist I can evolve and change directions musically with great ease. Just in this past year I have been experimenting with live looping, playing as a duo, a trio, and might even incorporate Ableton Live on stage in the near future. When I played in bands it was a lot more work to create a new sound or even change up our live performance.
Kendra: Let’s talk about your single, “Lines of Chance.” Where were you in life mentally when you penned that?
Wilson: I was certainly struggling to see where my path was. I felt like so much was going well, but with Rocktin Grove’s break up looming in the distance things seemed uncertain. I remember the day perfectly when I wrote Lines Of Chances. I was home over christmas celebrating the holidays with family. It was unseasonably warm and a heavy fog had rolled in for days with all the moisture in the air. My parents house looks out over a forest of trees and actually feels kinda like you are in a tree house. The mist was circling and engulfing the tree branches. It was mystical and a bit magical and it was a perfect metaphor for the lines of reaching chances lyric. The trees made me realize that all life can reach through the unknown for sustenance and nutrients. Sometimes even when we don’t know where to go next, having a focus and a direction you are heading in will eventually get you through the fog and on to where you need to be.
Kendra: What about the rest of your EP, Roll Away The Day? Was it freeing to write as a solo artist at that point?
Wilson: It was freeing and gratifying. It gave me an outlet to continue my art in the turmoil of the band falling apart. It was also a challenge since I had never produced musicians on my own work. It was really great to sit in the studio and help describe what I wanted to hear musically. It really made me value the incredible talent of all the musicians I worked with and I loved the creative input and energy they instilled in the project. I also got to explore my own writing more. I feel like moving into more of a songwriters world rather than a band world helped improve my songwriting tremendously. I now practice my songwriting like an instrument and value all the facets of a song so much more.
Kendra: Going back to when you were five, if you had to make a mixtape for yourself then of songs you’d want to master on the violin, what five would have to be on it?
Wilson: Wow, I am not sure what I was listening to when I was five. I would probably have to have the Sesame Street’s Theme Song, “Apples and Bananas” by Raffi, “No Mood To Boogie” by my dad Lew Harwood, “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star,” (and for the overachiever in me) Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons.”