Brewpub release party is Nov. 16
Editor’s note: Taken from press release and interview with Wilson by Marshall Smith, Staff Reporter
Singer/songwriter Johnny Wilson has deep Idyllwild roots and many local connections and friends. What started out as a solo album of six or seven original songs evolved into an album called “Johnny & The Competition,” featuring 22 other musicians and 15 additional instruments. As it turns out, even in recording, it does take a village of friends to come together, collaborate and grow an initial concept into something altogether different.
“It was going to be just me, one guitar and one mic,” Wilson recalled. “But in discussing it with Brian [Parnell, album producer], he began suggesting additional instruments that would be good for particular songs — like this song might be great with a cello, this one with a violin or this one with a trombone. I had actually envisioned a horn section for that particular song.”
And with each suggestion, Wilson said he knew someone who played that instrument and might be interested in joining the sessions. “That’s kind of how it developed,” said Wilson who, by nature, is upbeat and positive.
Eventually, full-session instrumentation included acoustic guitar, electric guitar, bass guitar, U (ukulele) bass, drums, percussion, piano, keyboard, cello, violin, fiddle, banjo, accordion, trumpet and trombone played by Wilson and 22 friends and musical colleagues.
Wilson laughed when he explained how a homemade kazoo proved critical in the sessions and the eventual musical arrangements. “I created one on the spot to show horn players the lines I wanted them to play,” he said. “Each musician wrote their own parts for the recording.” It was, he noted, a true collaboration in which 22 additional musical colleagues lent their talents to create a diverse, vibrant and multi-genre compilation.
Wilson’s songwriting inspiration comes from artists who include Johnny Cash, Jimmy Cliff, Gerry Rafferty, The Descendents, Jurassic 5, The Bronx, Stone Temple Pilots, Jimi Hendrix, G. Love and Special Sauce, FYI, Toots & The Maytals, Led Zeppelin, Queens of the Stone Age, Bob Dylan and Alice in Chains.
He said his motive for writing the album came from his love of the wonderful world of music in all its different forms and genres. “One of my mentors, Bob Benjamin back in Costa Rica, told me to ‘never stop writing,’ so I’m just following his advice. Bob is in his 60s and still coming out with new albums,” he recalled.
Wilson had been writing songs since he was a teenager, but he cut his teeth professionally on the streets of Tamarindo, Costa Rica, after college, where he learned — first by busking, then by being asked to play in local clubs — how to get paid to play. He spent two years there polishing his professional chops.
He also was an original member of the local band Throw the Goat.
Wilson said the biggest surprise that came out of the album’s collaborative process was the development of a hip-hop track, “Here We Go.”
“Originally, we were going to have just one MC [in rap, the rapper or mic controller],” he noted. “Then we decided to have seven MCs write their own verse but with rules. Their first line had to be ‘I’m living my life, not trying to think twice,’ and the verse had to contain at least one food item. The result was a catchy beat-driven hip-hop track with seven totally unique verses.”
The album features members from several popular Idyllwild bands: Throw the Goat, Pentagrams & Daisies and Change Required. All but two of the musicians on the recording are from Idyllwild. The album was recorded in Idyllwild at Sonic Spew Studios and Goat House Studios.
When asked about the name “Johnny & The Competition,” Wilson explained, “This was a little tricky since each track has a different cast of musicians. Then a Huey Lewis and The News song popped into my head [I’ve always loved that band name] and I wanted to do something similar but different. I’ve always been a competitive guy. I thought maybe we should name the artists on the album The Competition.”
From a solo vocal and guitar album concept to “Johnny & the Competition,” the creative process was emblematic of the kind of cooperation and collaboration found in Idyllwild if one is open to going with the flow, as Wilson is.