I did an interview with Gary Wilson for the Free Music Archive. Check it out here or below.
In 1977, Gary Wilson released his second album, “You Think You Really Know Me.” It was a bizarre yet affecting collection of songs that ranged from lite lounge-funk (that could almost recall a young Prince Nelson Rogers at times) all the way to creepy atmospheric tunes that wouldn’t be out of place on a Dario Argento soundtrack. Despite receiving some radio airplay and even some fanmail from costumed avant-garde rockers The Residents, Gary Wilson soon found himself in the pitfalls of obscurity.
While working at an adult entertainment shop on the West Coast, his name had slowly built up a following over the next two decades, with an infamous shout-out from Beck on the album “Odelay” and a full length documentary on his life and music, named after his most famous record.
Since his reemergence, Gary has finally been able to experience success as an artist, releasing records on labels like Stones Throw and enjoying his time as a performing artist. He appeared live at WFMU on Scott Williams’ show in 2002, around the time where he played his first shows in New York City since the 1970s. Gary Wilson is releasing an album called Electric Endicott later this year on Western Vinyl. I interviewed Gary via email.
Between your 2002, when you reemerged with a live performance on Scott Williams’ show on WFMU, and now, your career seems to have gone through some tremendous changes. Do you view this as a rebirth of what you were doing in the late 70s or a new era of Gary Wilson?
I would say a continuation of what I was doing in the 60s and 70s. One is always “growing” and adapting to the dynamics of life. We all go through it. This will reflect in your art. I do a lot of self editing. If a song of mine does not reflect the Gary Wilson personality, or what I think Gary Wilson represents, then it is tossed out. It has always been that way (since I was 12 years old). I try to stay true to what I think Gary Wilson should sound like. What is important to me is for a listener to put my music on and know that what they hear is Gary Wilson. Since 2002 a lot of different things have happened to me. Good things. Life can be interesting sometimes.
What inspired you to incorporate tape, mannequins, wigs, flour and trashbags into your live performances?
When I was 12 years old I started playing organ (Farfisa) with a rock band called Lord Fuzz. I also played cello and string bass in the local school and youth orchestras (and chamber groups). I started listening to John Cage when I was 12 years old. I always mention that the first time I heard a piece by John Cage called “Concert For Piano and Orchestra” with David Tudor on piano that this record changed my life. I had been listening to composers like Edgar Varese, Schoenberg and other 12 tone modern composers.
After hearing that John Cage piece I became interested in avant garde painting. I turned the basement where I recorded You Think You Really Know Me into my painting studio. I would by large squares of wood (6 feet by 6 feet), paint them white and nail chairs, tires, interesting objects onto the wood. Then I would throw hay, paint, and other objects onto the wood panels. My paintings were included in many art shows.
As a teenager, I became interested in the most extreme avant garde art, be it music, painting, theater, etc. I started doing shows where we would go garbage picking the night before and drag all the garbage (chairs, tires, mattress, etc) onto the stage along with our equipment. Then we would buy paint, flour, hay,etc. and throw it on all of the equipment on stage. Then the band and I would dive onto the stage, roll around in the paint, garbage and flour. Then smash everything (including our equipment) on stage. We were doing these sort of performances since I was 13 years old. I then began to feel that the performances needed a “teen idol” (Dion, Bobby Rydell, Frankie Avalon, Fabian) to front the smashed up chaos. That is what I try to do. Wouldn’t we all like to see Tony Bennett come out with a sack of flour poured over his head? Thus, all this is incorporated into my performances. The Bottom Of The Hill (in San Fransisco) docked me some cash because the stage was so covered with flour. Peanut Butter Wolf was inviting the audience to throw flour on me. It was like a blizzard in Endicott.
I know you are a big fan of the film “Carnival of Souls.” Has the music from that film had any impact on the more atmospheric tunes in your discography?
Always enjoy the church organ soundtrack from that movie. I think perhaps the atmosphere of the movie reflects a little in my music. I remember working the graveyard shift at the bookstore and when no one was around (which was a lot of the time), I would play that movie over and over again. Kind of spooky to be all alone in a store at 3 AM and having “Carnival Of Souls” play throughout the night. I wish someone would do a music video for me with the “atmosphere” of “Carnival Of Souls”.
While “You Think You Really Know Me” has gone on to become a cult classic, some of the work you did in the years following its release has become rather hard to find. Do you have any plans to reissue EPs like “Invasion of Privacy”?
Some of my early vinyl records were included in the CD titled “Forgotten Lovers”. The double single “Invasion Of Privacy” has not been reissued. Perhaps sometime in the future. Some people want me to re release my first album “Another Galaxy”…
How do you feel about younger artists like Ariel Pink, Gary War, and Dam-Funk who strongly show the influence of your music?
I enjoy Ariel and Dam-Funk. I’ve done a number of shows with Ariel and Dam-Funk. If people are influenced by me then I am happy they like my music. Ariel Pink played bass for me at a recent Los Angeles show.
What’s it like being a non-hip hop act on a predominately hip hop label like Stones Throw? Do you feel that you have made a contribution to rap music in any way?
I sometimes feel like I am the outcast on Stones Throw. That’s alright. Peanut Butter Wolf is a good friend of mine and i appreciate what he has done for me. We have done numerous shows together. Everyone is cool at Stones Throw.