A solo performance by instrumental guitarist William Tyler is an enticing proposition on its own. Surround him with a band, and the rarity alone pushes the event into must-see territory.
Starting with a Chicago gig, Tyler plays four consecutive nights — including a Friday, Sept. 16, stop at The Mothlight — with bassist Darin Gray (Tweedy), percussionist Joe Westerlund (formerly of Megafaun) and show opener Tom Wincek on keyboards and programming. Guitarist Chris Boerner, who was in Tyler’s band during a recent performance at the Eaux Claires Festival in Wisconsin, may provide a second guitar. Either way, the run will be the first time Tyler has put forth his show in this fashion, which he calls a “compelling recontextualization” of his music.
“More and more I’m trying to figure out a way to present what I do in as many different ways as possible,” Tyler says. “I think it’s accessible but not commercial, and I have to figure out different ways of drawing people in. … Having a band is certainly a great way to do it.”
Tyler works with a group of musicians in Nashville, his home base, but the only time they’ve all played together outside town was in 2014 at Harvest Records’ 10th anniversary celebration, Transfigurations II. He says the decision to tour solo is primarily a matter of economics, noting that unless one embarks on a “rock-band tour,” it’s impossible to gig at a certain level.
“To do what we want to do with this, we have to think a little bit outside of the box,” Tyler says. “That means playing places that aren’t traditionally considered rock venues. … I’m really trying to talk about it without making it sound precious, because it’s not, but I do want people to think about what I do and what we do as not rock music, because I don’t think it is. I’m not under any illusion that it’s classical music, either, but I think this just goes back to context and presenting stuff a certain way that’s different.”
In an ideal world, Tyler would do plenty more full-band shows, but finds significant value in performing on his own. He’s learned a lot from the isolation of traveling by himself as well as the act of playing solo but thinks he has far more to discover from reworking his songs with a group of musicians.
“This particular group I feel really good about because everybody in this band has a project — at least one project — where they’re the only musician on stage and the band that plays on the record is the same way,” Tyler says. “There’s a way of being a solo musician and then playing with other people that it’s just a different kind of vocabulary.”
The album in question is Tyler’s Modern Country, a phenomenal new collection of instrumental compositions. It was tracked at April Base Studios in Eau Claire, Wis., by former Asheville resident Jon Ashley. The dream team of musicians included a rhythm section of Gray and Wilco drummer Glenn Kotche — who play together in the experimental duo On Fillmore — and multi-instrumentalist Phil Cook, whom Tyler occasionally joins in Hiss Golden Messenger.
The quartet worked together as an ensemble (almost like a jazz session), in which they set up, played and listened to each other. Tyler had the songs charted out to certain extent, but arrangement-wise left a lot up to co-producer Brad Cook and the band to work out their parts — especially on drums, where Tyler says he felt presumptuous telling a world-class talent like Kotche what to do.
“Brad and I trusted these guys enough to know that if we just get in there and get everybody on tape, we can edit and do whatever we want to later,” Tyler says. “I’ve been in so many situations in a session where guys are trying to get you to do a certain thing, and you’re just kind of like, ‘Well, why don’t you just have that guy play on your record, because that’s not me.’ I’m much more of a supporter of getting people who you just like playing with and seeing what happens.”
WHO: William Tyler with Tom Wincek
WHERE: The Mothlight, 701 Haywood Road, themothlight.com
WHEN: Friday, Sept. 16, 9:30 p.m. $12 advance/$14 day of show