A new feature here at TDC, The Essential 8 offers an artist a varied list of questions and asks them to choose 8 to answer, allowing readers and music lovers to gain insight into their process and get to know them on multiple levels.
First up is Jason Wilber, who as John Prine's guitarist and co-executive producer, helped the legendary singer/songwriter to a #2 debut on Billboard's Country Album Chart for Better or Worse, a Grammy win for Fair & Square, and Grammy nominations for Live On Tour and In Spite of Ourselves. Released earlier this year, Wilber's tenth studio album, Reaction Time, was produced by Paul Mahern and comes teeming with a diverse assemblage of stripped-down alt-country instrumentation and Wilber's signature vocals that toggle between Father John Misty, Jason Isbell, and Ryan Adams. Reaction Time's ten tracks feature catchy, noodling guitars and pedal steel that nod to the Bakersfield Sound, while ethereal textures pay homage to modern indie/folk and Americana, and sweeping string arrangements channel Bluegrass. Check out what Wilber had to say about the album and more in our first Essential 8.
What’s the story behind the album’s title, Reaction Time?
Reaction Time is kind of a hacker’s love song. A mysterious courtship shot through the lens of the information age. It’s about the way our emotions still rule our minds, even though we are surrounded by computers and mathematical systems. We live in a time in which our devices and software give us almost superhuman powers compared to even 20 years ago.
In some respects, we do more, know more, and connect more in a day than our recent ancestors did in a month or even a year. But physically and psychologically we are still pretty much the same as we’ve been for a very long time. We are healthier, for the most part, but our bodies, our emotions, and our psyches are still essentially the same as they were in ancient times. So I think this creates a disconnect that people experience in lots of different ways. It reminds me a bit of the way Ray Bradbury and other science fiction writers of his era portrayed the future. Everything around us is different, but inside we’re still the same.
Where do you draw inspiration from when writing?
All kinds of places. Certainly other works of art. Books, movies, music, paintings, sculpture, etc. It can be anything really. Any work where the creator's inspiration and intent shines through and connects with my aesthetic sense or my emotions. In my opinion, art is mainly about emotions. As opposed to logic. Even when artwork has overtly logical components, like geometric shapes, for instance, there still has to be an emotional “ah-ha” in order for me to be drawn in.
In terms of those works inspiring my own work, this happens in different ways. Sometimes, it’s very obvious. I will hear, see, or experience something that gives me a “creative buzz” for lack of a better term, and I’ll get sparks and flashes of ideas and inspirations that I do my best to immediately write down or record right there on the spot. Other times, it will be more cumulative. I will wake up in the morning or in the middle of the night with an idea. I’m sure these are stirred up by things I’ve recently done or seen, but there isn’t always an obvious link. And that’s OK too, I try not to question the “muse”. The origins don’t really concern me. I feel like my role is to capture the ideas and shape them into something that my instincts tell me is good and complete. It’s great feeling when that happens.
When/where do you do your best writing?
Typically it’s when I’m in my own house, right after I wake up, or sometime in the next few hours after waking. Occasionally, I will get an idea in the evening or afternoon, and it can be somewhere else, but mostly it’s mornings at home. I intentionally don’t focus too much on why and when inspiration strikes, but I do try to structure my schedule and priorities around be able to respond when it does.
What’s the best advice you have ever gotten from another musician?
Incorporate everything that excites you in other people’s art into your own art. To me, this doesn’t necessarily mean copying things. It’s more about extracting the underlying principles and then adding them to your own palette.
What’s your favorite food on the road?
Well, my favorite food is pizza and beer, good BBQ a close second. But the food I eat mostly is salad. Yes, this makes me sad.
Do you have any touring tips?
Sure, lots of them. Here are a few. All pretty common sense:
1. Pace yourself
2. Get plenty of sleep
3. Eat good food
4. Don’t overdo it with your vices (see #1)
5. Learn to recognize when you need space and when the other people around you need space, and act accordingly. Go for a walk, give yourself a timeout.
6. Find positive things to engage your mind and senses (museums are good!)
7. Get some exercise on a regular basis
8. Don’t bitch about stuff any more than you absolutely have to because you will encounter tons of stuff that could be better in some way, to put it mildly. This will probably happen every hour of every day you are on the road. Learn to choose your battles. Both for your own sanity and for the sake of your road family, who is also dealing with all the same annoying stuff and doesn’t want to also have to listen to you bitching about it. This should probably be #1 on the list! :)
What do you love most about being on the road?
Seeing cool places and things; connecting with old friends; meeting new and interesting people; having lots of time to daydream. And of course, that short period of time during the day when you actually get to play music is almost always a highlight.
Which song of yours gets the best crowd response?
I guess it’s my song “Heaven”, which is on my new record Reaction Time and features my friend Iris Dement on harmony vocals. It’s a song I wrote a long time ago and it seems to connect with all kinds of people. It’s kind of a pragmatic midwesterner’s vision of the afterlife.
Reaction Time is available now. For more information: