Entertainment :: Music

Introducing Ian Wilson

by Joseph Erbentraut
Contributor
Monday Sep 22, 2008
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Singer-songwriter Ian Wilson is not quite your typical queer male musician. A Chicago transplant by way of New Hampshire, Wilson grew up as a self-described over-achieving nerd with a penchant for SAT-prep courses, after-school clubs and the piano. After spending a year attending music school, his interests quickly shifted from Brahms and Tchaikovsky to Ben Folds and Tori Amos.

"I started to figure out that classical music wasn’t what I was doing it for, and I started to write music on my own," said Wilson. "I think a lot of classical players take a long time to get into that mode where they’re able to write their own music; not just reading sheet music and learning pieces because that’s all that we’re trained to do since you’re seven or eight years old. It takes a long time to switch gears and say -- OK, I have my own thing to say; my own music to write."

Before long, the cover ballads and love songs intended to woo handsome suitors gave way to sophisticated and nuanced medleys like those most recently showcased in Wilson’s official debut released earlier this year - The Crater EP. The five-song, thirty-minute independent release derives influences from everything from jazz standards and riot songs to Desperate Housewives and McCarthyism. Wilson’s clear mastery of piano composition and sharp songwriting is reminiscent of his early classically-deviant influences, particularly Amos.

"[She] was a big change in how I thought about music, because she dropped out of music school, having gone to the Peabody [Conservatory] and being a child prodigy there," said Wilson of Amos, who has grown to become a queer icon of sorts. "I saw her in concert my freshman year of college, when I was heavily studying classical, practicing three or four hours a day and immersing myself in classical music. She has such a stage presence - so much of her own personality that comes through in her performance - that it really blew me away. I said, that’s what I would like to do with my instrument."

Following the short-lived stint at music school, Wilson moved to Chicago for a year before leaving again when then-boyfriend, now-husband Adam was accepted to law school in Boston. During his three years back on the East Coast, Wilson began recording demos and playing small shows for friends. Before long, he began to miss the city where so much had began and returned to the Windy City, recording his solo work and playing shows.

“I have a lot of songs that I wrote when I first started where I’d say, huh, no one has written a song about what happens when frat boys fool around with gay boys, are actually straight and get freaked out about it.”

Earlier this year, he joined forces with the orchestral pop band Canasta, bringing a new perspective to his sound. The up-coming sextet, reviewed in the Chicago Reader as "one of Chicago’s best pop bands," are currently writing material for their sophomore full-length album, to be released sometime next year.

"I found them on Craigslist - one of those rare Craigslist success stories, I suppose," revealed Wilson. "Working with five other musicians who are fantastic in their own right is great - if I write a riff or a lack for them, there’s commentary and opinions. To have that kind of feedback is great, and I definitely get inspired by them."

In addition to his work performing with Canasta and writing material for a forthcoming full-length debut, Wilson continues to perform his solo work regularly in the city, including a performance this Friday, September 26 at the Red Line Tap as part of the Cake Chicago monthly showcase of queer musicians. The show is a natural fit for Wilson, whose lyrical content does not shy away from the writer’s gay identity.

"I have a lot of songs that I wrote when I first started where I’d say, huh, no one has written a song about what happens when frat boys fool around with gay boys, are actually straight and get freaked out about it," revealed Wilson, who swears that his songwriting is mostly non-autobiographic. "Or, let me write a song about when you have your first crush and you’re eight years old. But your crush is a boy, and your parents say, ’Oh, my God, we’re raising a gay son here!’ It’s nice to be able to play the songs knowing that the audience will be able to relate to them."

"I’m definitely not closeted about [my sexuality] in the same way some artists are - especially those that are on a more mainstream, major label path who don’t mention their personal lives a lot, but at the same time I don’t ever want to think of myself as someone who only appeals to a queer audience," Wilson said.

Cake Chicago begins at 9 P.M. and costs $5. The Red Line Tap is located at 7006 N. Glenwood in the Rogers Park neighborhood. For more information, go to http://www.myspace.com/cakechicago. To hear Ian Wilson’s music: http://www.myspace.com/ianwilsonmusic

Joseph covers news, arts and entertainment and lives in Chicago. He is the assistant Chicago editor for The Huffington Post. Log on to www.joe-erbentraut.com to read more of his work.

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