Leading up to LEAF festival, Xpress is talking to a number of artists from across the country and across musical genres. David Wilcox is a singer-songwriter who released his first album in 1987. A Warren Wilson graduate, he was an important part of the folk music scene in Black Mountain and Asheville in the late ’80s and early ’90s. His most recent album is Blaze.
Mountain Xpress: Having lived in WNC for so long, I bet you’ve been to LEAF a number of times. Do you a favorite memory of the festival that you can share?
David Wilcox: It’s wild to have so many memories grounded in one place. I’ve been going to LEAF since before it was even called that. When it was the Black Mountain Festival.
Your current tour takes you all over the country. How has touring changed for you, over the course of your career? What are some of the places that have become favorites to return to?
I love to travel. There are parts of the country that I always see at a certain time of the year. I go further south when it’s cold and then travel up north in summer. It’s part of my yearly changing of seasons to appreciate different parts of the country at the time of year when they are blooming like flowers in a garden. I see old friends and appreciate the different landscapes, but it’s always great to see the view of the mountains at LEAF once or twice a year to bring my heart back home.
“Oil Talking To Ya,” the first single from your new album, Blaze, deals with environmental destruction — but with a kind of positive twist. Do you feel like addressing such issues through art and music can make a difference?
I sing the stuff that I need to hear. I write the songs that explain questions that trouble me. My writing discipline is like this: I show up to the empty page and the quiet room expecting that working on a new song will give me inspiration and guidance. It’s my Merlin.
On the other hand, “Ocean Soul” is a really sweet love song. You illustrated it was a great video by Asheville-based artist Lynne Harty. Before the video, did you imagine the song was talking about all forms of love (not just romantic)?
The song “Ocean Soul” is a complex love song about how our friends can see our good points much easier than we can. And we can see the strength and beauty in our friends better than they can.
The record was made with a full band, but you often perform solo. Is there ever a challenge in translating the lushness of an album to a singer-songwriter performance? What are the benefits of being a solo act verses a bandleader?
A live concert has a spiritual dimension that we don’t even have language for. But a studio recording can sound much more interesting with the complex textures of the musicians collaborating. I can’t match the complexity of a studio recording when I play live, but the studio can’t match the spiritual presence that happens at a live concert, either. It’s a nice balance.
What can we expect from your performance at LEAF?
I always expect miracles from live music. Why not? When I go to hear music, I expect exhilaration, bliss and laughter. Tears of joy. But I also expect that the lyrics will leave me with ideas that turn in my mind for days afterwords. I love how a song can transmit a vision that helps me see the world differently. I weave my songs into a larger story each night, and that story changes.