Part One

Part Two


BB: Tell me about your guitar.
David: At home I have my Olsen guitar that I write on; when I travel, I have an indestructible guitar, the RainSong guitar. They have the same pickups in them, so from the audience's perspective it sounds pretty much the same. The travel guitar gives me so much more energy, the energy that I would otherwise spend worrying about getting my guitar to where I'm going, when you have to check it on an airplane. The travel guitar is unbreakable. Every musician spends so much energy worrying about their guitar as if it were their own heart. It is an interesting thing to have a heart that is now really strong, and really unafraid of the hard knocks that it might require getting to where you're going. So, I like the parallel of this travel guitar being a real road warrior.

BB: Tell me about your audience.
David: My favorite people to sing for are people who are asking a lot out of music. They're asking a lot because their lives are at a turning point, and they're looking for what can they trust, in terms of how to make their decisions. So they come to music with bigger questions, and they want songs that don't waste their time with niceties that aren't true, they want songs that have been to the darkest places they've been to, and somehow shine a light through.




BB: Tell me about playing in Boston.
David: I have a lot of memories of playing in Boston. I really misjudged the personality of the town when I first starting playing there. It has this wonderful kind of self-conscious, really smart... it's very suspicious of sentimentality, and that's really fun. There are songs that go over great in Boston that don't work anywhere else, and vice versa.

BB: You say you misjudged. What were you misjudging?
David: Well, when I came from playing in Asheville, North Carolina for the first time and played in Boston, I played songs that were kind of too sweet, too sort of simply naďve, innocent kind of songs. It's what I was feeling, and I didn't translate for the audience so they could hear what I meant. Because my perspective on my music is, you know, I had been through such hopeless depression, and gradually assembled things that could keep me buoyant in that ragwater and blue ruin, as Tom Waits calls it, so I lashed these buoyant things together, these songs, these ideas, these things that I could create a kind of raft out of. And I did a good enough job of it that I started to sound like I had been out of that water long enough to dry off, and to not remember what it was like to be scared, to have my legs dangling in that dark deep. I didn't include where I was coming from when I first played in Boston. But it was fun to get to know the mood of that town as it showed up for me, and learn how to speak in a way that they could get it. Boston was my first city, you know...

BB: In what way?
David: I grew up around Cleveland, and just always felt like I needed to get away, and I didn't know where. And so when I came to Boston the first time, it was 1978, springtime. I was working at the Children's Museum when it was in Jamaica Plain. I would go to hear music every night, every single night. And it was great. I was living in Allston and I would walk up over the pedestrian bridge over the tracks into Cambridge, and I'd go to the Blue Muse and Passim and the Nameless Coffeehouse, and I would just go to music every night. It was like pistachios, only more so, the work that it took to get to a good song.

BB: Tell me about that.
David: I would sit through endless boring people doing their approximations of what they wanted to impersonate, and I would finally hear somebody who was speaking or singing in a way that I suddenly knew so much about how it felt to be them. That's what I went for. I went for music that was suddenly real and powerful, and gave me a window into the way they saw the world. So, that's why I would go every night, because every once in a while, there would be this opening, and it would be worth it, just to get that glimpse. You know, so often people would translate into songs just the frustration of where they were. So all their singing is, “This is wrong” and “that's wrong,” and “this is wrong and that's wrong.” What I wanted was people who were willing to do something with it, to do some emotional alchemy, to actually take the heat, to be the crucible that would refine that, and get to the gold, get to how to make this life shine. There were people who did that back then, and a lot of them were street musicians. So I would just keep showing up, keep asking, can you give me a glimpse of the way you see the world? Can you play a song that communicates where you find your hope? How you get up in the morning, how you believe that this is worth living. That was the kind of stuff I really needed to hear.

BB: You played Club Passim recently. Tell me about your experiences at Club Passim.
David: It was always frustrating way back, playing Club Passim, because the sets were so short... an hour, maybe less than an hour, I can't remember. Fifty minutes maybe, sort of rings in my ear, I dunno. But it was like NOTHING. You just barely get started. And I love the time-lapse thing that happens while music works on us at a subtle level. And so for me, an hour-and-a-half, you can sort of bask in the healing waters of music for an hour-and-a-half and really start to feel it in your bones. And it's not just the cool-off dip, it's what the water does. So the short sets were frustrating, but the place had a majesty, a wonderful mystique from just going to hear music there.


BB: What artists would you consider to be your musical influences over the years? Artists that influence the kind of music that you've done?
David: I’d say the most important ones are the ones on the street, the people who showed me that music is in our hands, and it's a language that anyone can take. They are the ones that made it possible for me to imagine that music is not a creation of the fashion industry, but that it is a language that stirs from our hearts.

BB: If you could go back in time and tell a sixteen year old version of yourself of a person you met in your adult life that you probably didn't expect to, what are some of the names of people that that sixteen year old version of you would be impressed that you got to meet?
David: The sixteen year old version of me would've been impressed that I was talking with James Taylor and Jackson Browne and people like that, that their music that stirred me. But, it doesn't serve James or Jackson or me, to think that what I felt came from them. What I would like to say to the sixteen year old version of myself is, trust your own heart.

BB: If you could play on stage with anyone alive, who would it be?
David: When Sarah McLachlan came out with the Surfacing tour, and sang “Arms of the Angel”… She's singing with such compassion, she sings it like the angel. The mercy in that song is so beautiful, and when that song was new, and it came over us, I would have loved to sing the harmony that I sing so well when I'm in my car, and I'm singing along. I would put my whole heart right there.


BB: If you had to be in another profession other than your own, what would it be?
David: I love leading adventure trips, and I'm actually getting more gigs now where they say you don't have to bring the guitar if you don't want to. I could easily do conflict resolution, I'd love that. It'd be satisfying to dream up simple technical, mechanical solutions to stuff. I'd love to be on a team with a couple fix-it guys, in settings where you need to improvise. I love fixing things. That would be very satisfying.

BB: What advice would you have for aspiring Boston musicians that might be reading this interview?
David: Look beyond, look not just at the song but what it stirs and what that stirring is pointing towards. By that I mean, don't go chasing more songs. What I would ask them to do is to listen for their own heart's guidance, as it shows up in these simple outside things like a song. If you're the kind of person who is moved by music in subtle and strange and beautiful ways, trust that you have been given a language, and trust that language to lead you home.

BB: Thanks for talking with Boston Beats.
David: Thanks.




To learn more about David Wilcox, visit his website at

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