Pat Wictor is an extraordinarily gifted musician. He is an absolute master on the acoustic lap slide guitar. His songwriting is thought provoking and unique. (“Heaven is So High…and I’m So Far Down” is a perfect example of his songwriting as far as I’m concerned.) His graceful and gentlemanly presence on stage completes the package.
Pat writes a dynamite blog on his website and you can also check out information about his solo recordings and his work with Brother Sun.
How has Brother Sun changed your life?
Brother Sun has changed my life quite radically. The group has expanded my sense of musical possibility, and given me creative outlets that I didn’t have as a solo artist. I get to be surprised all the time by the musical ideas we’re working with, which is pure joy for me. There are certain musical skills – harmonizing, accompanying others, arranging – that you can only develop by working with other musicians. We’ve all learned from each other’s musical strengths, and it’s made us all better musicians.
In late 2009 and early 2010, when the three of us began exploring how to work together, I was actually taking steps to return to a day job, because I wasn’t able to pay my bills as a solo artist. That’s all changed, and for now I’m back to making a living making music, all because of the amazing audience response to Brother Sun.
What was the genesis of this group? Who had the brainstorm of combining forces and did it feel right from the very start?
Yes, it felt right from the first note. We are all part of a summer institute in Virginia in 2009, and I invited Joe and Greg to join me onstage in a concert I was doing there. We rehearsed for an hour, got onstage, and the sound of our voices together was one of the most powerful musical experiences of my life. (It still is, each and every time we sing together.) Lots of audience members and musicians in attendance all said we should form a group. I probably did the most prodding and instigating early on, but it didn’t require any persuasion, and the momentum of the group soon carried all of us. We all knew there was something special in how our voices blended, and we wanted to see if there was more where that came from.
How would you compare the debut Brother Sun album with the new recording?
To my mind, the first Brother Sun album made the statement that we are great harmony singers. At the time, that was new information for many folks who knew all of us as solo artists. The first album also said, “We can do this live” – it included no extra instruments or voices, just what we would do in a live show. This new CD, Some Part of the Truth, shows us as complete musicians. I see this new album as more atmospheric, textural, colorful, moody, evocative, and emotionally rich. Thanks to our producer, Ben Wisch, we added a wider range of instruments, and they fit together in a beautiful ebb and flow that lets the listener get transported, lost in the music.
Way back you were involved with music outside the acoustic realm, including rock, heavy metal and jazz. Do you ever meet up with friends and fellow musicians from those days? Can they identify with how your musical world has turned to this rather under the radar kind of music?
I don’t stay much in touch with musicians from my earlier phases of musical development, with only a couple exceptions. To the extent that I have, people have been generous in acknowledging the musicality of my current work. I think for good musicians, there are only two kinds of music – the good stuff, and everything else, regardless of genre. I’ve always associated with musicians with omnivorous tastes, Greg and Joe included. Most of the musicians I knew from those earlier worlds were themselves obscure and under the radar, so moving into acoustic music didn’t feel like much of a shift for me, except that it’s a friendlier neighborhood in which to make music.
You’ve played at venues all over the place. Do any performances, however big or small, stand out in your mind as favorites?
I don’t want to cop out completely, but I actually love them all. Each show has its own character, energy, and distinctiveness, and they’re all fun. We did a show in New Haven where the acoustics were perfect, and the harmonies were spine-chilling that night. The big shows can definitely be exciting. Singing at the Sanders Theatre in only our 6th show together was a big thrill, and doing a show with Red Molly at the Troy Savings Bank Hall last year was a real joy. It’s special playing at Falcon Ridge, Kerrville, and Philadelphia Folk Festivals because I sat in the audience of those festivals for years before ever getting onstage there.
Do you have any musical aspirations that you still hope to achieve?
Tons of them, more than one could hope to fulfill in one lifetime. With Brother Sun, we’ve got tremendous possibilities, driven by the sum of our musical interests. Maybe we’ll dive into old-style gospel music, drawing on both black and white church traditions? Maybe classically-influenced art songs? Modern Jazz? Gregorian chant? Old-school Funk? Most likely, we’ll come up with surprising and genre-defying blends of all (or none!) of the above, and many other elements. Though I’m putting less energy into solo work for now, sometime soon (over the next few years) I’d like to release a CD with several Phil Ochs songs, and a bare-bones blues album (just me and my guitar). There are tons of musicians I’d love to work with, both with Brother Sun and solo. It’s a lifelong calling to have new adventures and move past my limitations, to become a better instrumentalist, singer, songwriter, improviser, and entertainer.
Check out Brother Sun too!
Brother Sun will be playing at the me&thee in Marblehead, MA on Friday, March 22.
Photo by John Mazlish.