A genuine album in a singles era, Wisely asks James Blunt and Jenny Lewis to close their eyes and touch noses with twelve songs for change, California, and Billy Preston that signal the graduation of a cult hero into rich, real life. Looking back: once there was a kid named Willie who couldn’t decide if he wanted to be John Lennon, Paul Westerberg, or Sammy Davis Jr. Luckily, it was the late 80’s in Minneapolis. You could be all three at once. He enjoyed some success at this. Of course the kid was ahead of his time and, of course, Willie Wisely had to leave home to shake off that youthful genius and just be genius.
Living in a teetering Victorian dive in Dinkytown, the university crossroads where a Zimmerman once became a Dylan, Wisely made music by day and worked in the famous First Avenue nightclub promotions office downtown at night. He saw every band that mattered twice and perfected his own approach with a scrappy pop-punk-jazz quartet he called his trio. They toured like madmen, crisscrossing the American highways, playing college commons, dives, and rec rooms. After two, fine W.W. Trio albums, Wisely went solo. The year was 1996: Endtroducing…, If You’re Feeling Sinister, Pinkerton, She.
“It easily heads up the short list of the area’s finest pop record of the year.” – St. Paul Pioneer Press
Released on a label owned by the guy who wrote “Funkytown,” She was the record in Wisely’s head when he first picked up a guitar. Together with future Switchfoot, Mandy Moore, and Jimmy Eat World producer John Fields, Wisely dug fast and deep into the crates blurting out a collection of strangely related singles sick with luscious hooks, ringing guitars, and clever choruses cut with wild runs at soul, jazz, and glam rock: Wisely’s masterpiece.
“The most righteous blend of ’60s pop and ’70s rock.” – Los Angeles Weekly
Clearly it was time to leave home.
With a foot in Silverlake and a hand in Hollywood Wisely played Twister under the palm fronds. He chatted up Beck at parties, enthused about Eleni Mandell, and got cast in the first episode Six Feet Under. He released another album with now fellow Midwest expat Fields, composed a few indie soundtracks, and produced a wide range of artists. Time flew. The opportunity came to work with producer Linus of Hollywood and the resulting Parador revealed another leap forward. The LA Times quickly declared it his “most accomplished album.” Jenna Fischer of The Office enthused on her blog and—wait, that’s her in the video for “Through Any Window.”
In the meantime Wisely became Mr. Wisely with a Mrs. and, some time later, Daddy Wisely, soon to be double deluxe gate-fold. He wrote, recorded, erased, recorded, and wrote. With 76 acoustic demos in-hand Wisely called his friend Petur Smith and they went down into the basement.
“I was painfully aware that spending six months working on an album, earning little or no money, was gonna be a huge burden on my family, while Kay sat listening to drum takes through the floor, gestating our 2nd kid. There could be no artifice. Just beauty. All architecture. No… musicals.”
Wisely had never been so plain spoken. Songs like “On My Way” and “Vanilla” moved naturally on well-lit paths to chorus. Some tracks remained little changed from the original demos. Others took root a world away from She; spare, deep, and sweetly nostalgic.
“As far as production touchstones, we listened to Graham Coxon’s Happiness In Magazines, and Aha Shake Heartbreak by Kings of Leon. Boss of Sweden, Phoenix. We wanted directness. We didn’t think much about my past work.”
Songs fell away and songs grew larger. Those that stuck were personal, full frontal. “It’s Gonna Be Beautiful” daring to say “make love” and mean it, the concrete poetry of “Unfamiliar,” and one song for Ella Wisely, age 1.
As the project developed, the sessions were joined and inspired by many like-minded LA musicians including members of Paul McCartney’s band, Ray Wonder, and The Soundtrack Of Our Lives.
“Petur and I kept screaming at each other about how roofy or unroofy it was. The mantra for the production session was, ‘could the Beatles have played this with Billy Preston on the rooftop?’”
Finally. The record that was in his head when he first crossed the California state border. Genius. Wisely.
Wisely & Willie Wisely Trio Discography
- Raincan – Wooden 1992
- Parlez-Vous Francais? – Pravda 1994
- She – October 1996
- Turbosherbet – October 1997
- Go! (best of) – Franklin Castle 2003
- Parador – Ella/Not Lame 2006
- Wisely – Ella/Oglio 2008