Truth in Art in an Open-ended Manner

Right around the same time that singer-songwriter David Wilcox lost his major record deal is when he started making albums that were even more upbeat and full of life-affirming stories. Possessed with a gentle yet nimble touch on his full-bodied acoustic guitar and blessed with a voice often compared to James Taylor, Wilcox has songs that always seem to be a welcoming haven no matter where your head is.

Just back in Ashville, North Carolina after a two-year-long tour of the country in an Airstream with his wife and 12-year-old son, Wilcox is putting the finishing touches on his twelfth album before returning to SOhO next week.

He discussed over the phone recently how he makes the music that is “the soundtrack of my life.”

Q. What did you learn from the Airstream tour?

A. The simple answer is what we’re thinking of putting on a bumper sticker: “Smaller House – Bigger Life.” Reduce the amount of stuff and be open to what happens next. We didn’t have a travel plan, and being open like that made it easy to have things happen that seemed so divinely orchestrated.

Speaking of divinely, I read somewhere people were calling your last two albums Christian records. Does faith play a big role in your music?

“Out Beyond Ideas” as Christian album makes me laugh (chuckles loudly) considering that some of the lyrics were written by Muslims. I think of it more as spirituality. Music isn’t about logic or efficiency, but rather our hearts and what gives our stories meaning. So if you think about anything other than what makes you angry, you’ll be singing about more subtle subjects, like what our time here means beyond acquiring things.

Singer-songwriters with that sort of optimism run the risk of platitudes. How have you surmounted that issue?

I think what artists need to do most is tell their truth. So if the best someone can come up with is how angry they are, I’d much prefer to hear that than have them try to imitate happy-happy, joy-joy. But if you can still find some shred of hope, that’s even better. Music has always been what convinces my heart to stay on the planet. So I think it’s natural to start with an oasis of hope and try to irrigate the rest of the desert.

But you can see why people wonder how you stay so positive in today’s world, especially if you don’t actually live in lovely Santa Barbara?

(Laughs) The whole reason I played music in the first place was to find reasons not to kill myself. The beauty of what we get to do in this life is choosing between love and fear. These are dark, tough issues, but I keep digging until I find something to build on. It’s just ranting if you ask someone to listen to your problems without offering any solutions. It might be cathartic to write those songs, but why would anybody else want to hear them?

You seem to get lost in the music when you’re performing on stage, almost like you are going through a cathartic experience, albeit a kinder, gentler one.

That’s because I don’t ever use a set list. Instead I ask, Where are people’s hearts? Where do we need to go from here? So the song I play next comes from those answers. The urgency and presence I get is from listening to the prevailing emotions in the room. I don’t know how I feel it, but I do know that’s how it happens. And what it means is that I’m not just singing songs from the past, but reacting to what’s going on in the present moment. And that always moves me.

(David Wilcox performs at 8 pm Tuesday (May 1) at SOhO, 1221 State Street, upstairs in Victoria Court. Admission is $23, or $18 with dinner reservations. Call 962-7776.)