Sons of Bill‘s forthcoming album Oh God Ma’am finds the five-piece outfit coming into full bloom. Over the course of their four previous efforts—A Far Cry From Freedom, One Town Away, Sirens and Love and Logic—the band has slowly progressed into a rangy and imaginative sonic palette we now hear on Oh God Ma’am.
On what’s their most dynamic and ambitious artistic statement, the Nashville by way of Central Virginia band of brothers dives deep into their most inner thoughts to create dreamy and contemplative reflections. Most of the time, these deep thought states are distinctly shaped by the anxiety and concern brought on by contemporary problems and an “over-stimulated age.”
Spiritual Pulse of The Times
“I think we have written in a strangely isolated and lonely time,” James Wilson tells Wide Open Country. “There’s a lot of reasons for that—political, cultural, technological. You try to write something that speaks to your moment in time.”
It’s a strange paradox and contradiction. In a time in which most of the world is connected via social media, the Internet, and feasible transportation, there’s still a growing feeling of isolation and detachment.
Sons of Bill’s Oh God Ma’am largely lives inside its own head. Ideas and thoughts bounce around, often unanswered. There’s a lonesome worriedness, fear and restlessness captured by the Wilson brothers. There’s an “in your own head” quality that they value throughout while simultaneously exploring the “spiritual pulse of the times.”
More so, Oh God Ma’am finds Sons of Bill—James, Abe and Sam Wilson along with Joe Dickey and Todd Wellons—coming to terms with adulthood and real-world struggles. Much like indie-rock bands The National’s Boxer and The War on Drugs’ Lost In The Dream, Oh God Ma’am is a coming of age album that finds the band on a journey into trying to figure out just exactly who they are.
Specifically for James, he suffered an accident that severed five tendons and the median nerve in his right hand. It was in part a huge setback to the creative and recording processes.
“I feel like this whole process of making the record was a real loss of innocence,” says James. “Crossing over into your 30s, my injury, alcoholism—reality rears its ugly head sometimes. I don’t think you make it through life without that happening.”
There was real concern that James wouldn’t be able to play guitar again, let alone use his hand again in any meaningful way. Since his injury, he’s learned to play again but admits he can’t feel his fingers while doing so.
“I think in some ways, it gave us a newfound humility. Reality just happens. You either face it or spend your life running from it,” says James. He adds that he now really sounds like a Springsteen song with the statement.
Banner songs such as “Believer / Pretender,” “Easier” and “Firebird ’85” carry a lot of emotional weight that slowly unravel and unwind with each additional listen. On “Believer / Pretender,” there’s an anthemic charge that floods the system with a dark dancey rhythm and layered melodic chorus lines. Their reverby drenched harmonies add a baroque quality that shines brightly. Still, it feels deeply reserved and withdrawn.
“Truth is such a lonely place when you’re still there waiting. Still, you’re going under your sleeve with all the lies you keep; tell yourself that you’re free,” sings James, who wrote the ’80s-tinged “Believer / Pretender” after his accident.
On “Easier,” the band is joined by Nashville songwriter Molly Parden for a gorgeous duet that slows things down with a lush and gentle ease. It relies heavily on timely progressions and dynamic peaks that build a soft soundscape for the pair to slow dance on. Parden’s vocals give an even more haunting depth to the fragile ballad.
Songs such as “Old and Gray,” “Where We Stand” and “Signal Fade” find the band channeling old ’80s college rock champions like R.E.M. and the hollowed angst of The Replacements. Still, they remain tied to a cold steel chill and late night drives that help create Oh God Ma’am‘s unique mood and tone.
Molding A Sonic World
Sons of Bill recorded the new album in both Seattle and Nashville working with esteemed engineers Phil Ek (The Shins, Fleet Foxes) and Sean Sullivan (Sturgill Simpson). The self-produced project benefited by an extended recording process. Instead of being rushed by time and process, the quintet took their time finely-tuning the album to perfection. Furthermore, it gave them the advantage to explore and develop the sonically expansive landscape.
“We had a lot of time to focus on this album,” says James. “On previous albums, we always were limited by time constraints and had to bang them out quickly. We always had a producer telling us what to do. We didn’t have any of that this time around.”
The time needed to hone in on a specific sound and feel, Sons of Bill were able to explore what exactly fit within the sonic world of Oh God Ma’am.
“You don’t necessarily sit down and conceptualize before you start making it,” adds James. “You just start making something you love and it’s only when you look back that you see it. These songs felt like they fit together as a piece.”
Another added benefit was Abe Wilson’s continued experimentation with old analog synthesizers. They create another dark texture and level of depth to Oh God Ma’am‘s rich, spacey and luminous sprawling sound.
“It was a way to bring in a sound that you didn’t expect,” says James. “Sometimes you get bored with the sounds you bleed to death. Sometimes the same guitar riffs and tones can feel like hitting on the same nail.”
They push themselves into darker territory throughout the album as they advance even further into their own anxieties, doubts and fears. Yet, for as lonesome and despondent as Sons of Bill find themselves at times, Oh God Ma’am doesn’t feel like a gloomy or pessimistic collection. Rather, it’s an adventurous journey that finds the band embracing one another through struggles and pitfalls.
Oh God Ma’am is a cinematic daydream and anthemic glow all the while maintaining an unrivaled intimacy. It may be built on our deepest fears and worries, but it’s a composed and seamless stretch of songs that find the band coming into their own.
“Whenever you’re making a record, you’re really just chasing your goosebumps,” says James “You’re trying to find what feels like magic. That’s really your only guideline—to never distrust your goosebumps.”
Oh God Ma’am is officially out June 29 via Loose Music.