HOTSEAT- Better late than...Willner's the king of taking your time


From the "It's never too late" department, we bring you the story of Matthew Willner, who has recently become one of the most active guitarists in town. Right now, he heads up at least five different bands of varying flavors, including a new group called "Shinola," featuring the members of potty-mouthed local favorites B.C. 

All this action is surprising given that he ignored the instrument for his entire childhood: he resolved to learn how to play just after his 18th birthday; now, pushing 36, he's finally developing the perspective of a lifelong musician.

"The nice thing about starting late is that I didn't play a bunch of teenage nonsense in high school," says Willner. "I had a more mature musical taste than I would have if I had started when I was 12."

Never one to be left behind, Willner jump-started his musical training by obsessively attending Tim Reynolds' now-legendary Tuesday night gigs at Miller's. "I still don't think I'm ever going to be that good," he says, "but hearing him make all this incredible music was a huge influence."

Now, Willner plays occasionally with Reynolds' old rhythm section, and also has a weekly slot at Miller's in which he invites local musicians to come jam. 

"When the music is really working, it's kind of like the music is playing you," he says. "It doesn't happen every night, but it happens more nights than it doesn't. It took a while to get there."

It also took a while to get to his most recent landmark: his 10-track debut album. ("I wouldn't call it a jazz record, but everybody else will," he says with a laugh.) That averages out to one year, nine months, and six days of practice per song.

"You shouldn't just do it to have a product," he explains. "I said for years, 'Yeah, I don't have a CD out, but I also don't have a CD that I'm disappointed in.' In 10 years, in 20 years, I'm still going to love the album I just made."

One would hope; after all, 18 years should be plenty of time to double-check the crossing of "t"s and dotting of "i"s. But Willner says he's already nearly done with the next album, and is glad to finally be done writing songs that never get released.

"It's frustrating," he says, "but I think the ball is rolling. I've been trying to have bands play this kind of music for at least 10 years."

Nevertheless, Willner says he expects to end up playing bass on his own compositions for any tour dates despite his patience. "I like playing guitar when my rhythm section is really tight and the bass player really knows the material," he says, "but I want it to be strong. So if I figure I can be the stronger bass player, I'm going to do it. It's not just about me getting off and playing some solos."

Eighteen years hence, maybe he'll be known primarily as a bass player; after all, it's never too late....

Age: 35

Why here? I'm a true Charlottesville native.

What's worst about living here? The smug, spoiled, and arrogant members of the upper class

Favorite hangout? Brown's Mountain, Miller's

Most overrated virtue? Abstinence  

People would be surprised to know: I'm an 8th Cherokee

What would you change about yourself? I would not suffer from clinical depression.

Proudest accomplishment? Deciding to become a musician at 18 and following through

People find most annoying about you: I interrupt a lot.

Whom do you admire? Robert Anton Wilson

Favorite book? I can't pick just one: Crime and Punishment by Dostoevsky, Middle Passage by Charles Johnson, and Quantum Psychology by Robert Anton Wilson come to mind.

Subject that causes you to rant? Society's obsession with celebrity culture, as opposed to true artistic culture. And our economic and educational caste system

Biggest 21st-century thrill? My Blackberry, considering I remember rotary dial phones

Biggest 21st-century creep out? The marketing of fear to justify the destruction of individual rights and privacy. And the news media's complicity in selling this fear.

What do you drive? 1996 Audi A6

In your car CD player right now: Amadou and Mariam - Dimanche a Bamako. Amy Winehouse - Back to Black. Johnny Guitar Watson - best of. Frank Zappa - Overnite Sensation. Abdulla Ibrahim - South Africa. Oscar Brown Jr. - Sin and Soul

Next journey? The mountains

Most trouble you've ever gotten in? Getting kicked out of Tandem in 11th grade for having a mohawk. Seriously, just ask Mike Rosensky.

Regret: That I didn't start to learn how to read music years ago

Favorite comfort food: Anything Thai. Mmmmm!

Always in your refrigerator: XXX Chile Habanero hot sauce

Must-see TV: Lost

Favorite cartoon: Whack Your Porcupine by B. Kliban

Describe a perfect day. Roll out of bed at 11, have big ole cup of coffee with lots of cream and Hershey's syrup, play my steel string guitar for a couple of hours outside on a sunny 68 degree day, have lunch at Thai 99 on Fontaine, drive to the mountains and hike for hours, watch the sun set, play a great gig and sleep to dream.

Walter Mitty fantasy: I'd be Matt Helm, Dean Martin's 1960's movie spy character

Who'd play you in the movie?  The reanimated corpse of John Belushi

Most embarrassing moment? When I was at a Country Gentlemen show at the Spotswood Lounge, I yelled out a request for the song "Rebel Soldier," only to realize that they had already played it, and the whole room was looking at me like I was a fool.

Best advice you ever got? Do you have a roof over your head? Clothes on your back? Food in your belly? Do you know that you will have these things a month from now? If your answer is yes, then shut up, stop complaining, and create your destiny. Happiness is a choice!

Favorite bumper sticker? W the d*ck