Alt approach: Sons throw a change-up in Sirens
For a band rooted in tradition, Charlottesville-based alt-country act Sons of Bill have taken an unusual path to their new album and upcoming set of shows. Not only did they change their approach to writing and recording, they also found a new way to work outside the usual music label system.
The Charlottesville-based alt-country act— which features brothers James, Sam, and Abe Wilson— used the Kickstarter crowd-funding website to fund Sirens, due out March 27. It's an approach that avoids the typical business model, and band members say they were encouraged to see fans responding quickly and generously. The grassroots contributions allowed them to take their time recording the album, their first since 2009.
In a more surprising move, the group will play six free concerts in the commonwealth for its Virginia Calling tour. Seats for the Charlottesville show can be reserved with an advance purchase of the CD. The plan is somewhat reversed from the sort most acts would employ, given that ticket sales can frequently generate more revenue than album sales.
“We wanted to keep the tour free,” says vocalist/guitarist James Wilson, calling the shows “a genuine thank-you and a celebration for the home state.”
He says the band saw the arrangement less as a marketing tool and more as a way to make sure that fans could get tickets and make plans, especially with people coming from Russia and the United Kingdom to see the show. After this run of concerts, the band will head out on a “long overdue” headlining tour, using more traditional ticket methods.
If the album funding and concert giveaways mark a change in business approach, the band took a different artistic route to Sirens too. Wilson explains that the band felt a growing confidence that something special was developing.
“With that," he says, "went a letting go of what kind of band we were going to be.”
The result is a sound that continues to shift from the country leanings of their debut toward a more rock-focused aesthetic.
“It's not conscious," says Wilson. "It's just kind of where we're at.”
On Sirens, the band took its production cues from rock recorded in the late 1980s and early 1990s and brought in David Lowery— who they met at a Hold Steady in-studio show at Richmond's Sound of Music studios— to do the production work.
“He just brought a really similar mentality about how to make a rock 'n' roll record," says Wilson of the producer whose pedigree includes founding both Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven. "He knew instinctively what we were going for.”
Another new direction is the songwriting. Typically, James Wilson has been the primary author, but on this one all three brothers share equal songwriting credits. Although it sounds like a unified voice, Wilson reveals that the process is less about collaboration and more about individual creativity: "We all go back and work and write and bring them to the band.”
With the new direction and persistent energy, the band has created its strongest album. It contains hard rockers, a few countryish ballads, and travels as far as Santa Ana, but it circles back to its Southern roots. The closing number “Virginia Calling” suggests the pull its home base has for the group.
Aside from a special Christmas concert, the band hasn't performed in the area in over a year, so it seems appropriate that they're coming back to the usual place in an unusual way.
Sons of Bill play the Paramount Theater on Thursday, March 22 at 8pm with tickets available at Plan 9 Music and Sidetracks Music. ($10 pays for the album and includes a pass to enter the concert.)Read more on: sons of bill