by Ryan Meehan
Anyone who’s paid attention to his recent output knows that Willie Nile is currently in the midst of a creative renaissance that’s produced some of the most compelling music of his 35-year career. The tradition continues with his forthcoming American Ride, out now on Loud & Proud Records, where Nile becomes the first artist released under the label’s new deal with RED Distribution.
American Ride offers a bracing set of 11 original compositions, and one well-chosen cover,
that rank with the catchiest and most vivid music that Nile’s ever delivered. From the everyday wisdom of “Life on Bleecker Street” and “Sunrise in New York City” to the broader observations of “This Is Our Time” and “Holy War” to the rock ’n’ roll abandon of “Say Hey” and the road-tripping title track, the album consistently lives up to the artist’s reputation for writing songs that are as impassioned as they are infectious, and performing them with the fervor of a
true believer. Several of American Ride’s recurring themes come into focus on the last two songs, “The Crossing” and “There’s No Place Like Home,” which end the album on a note of
humanistic uplift. Another highlight is a fiery reading of Jim Carroll’s “People Who Died,” recorded as a tribute to both Carroll, who passed away in 2009, and to Nile’s late brother John.
The record features backup from Nile’s live band — guitarist Matt Hogan, bassist Johnny
Pisano, drummer Alex Alexander, and Nile on guitar and piano — along with guest appearances by Eagles’ guitarist Steuart and New York singer-songwriters James Maddock and Leslie Mendelson. Nile also worked with some notable songwriting collaborators, including Eric Bazilian of The Hooters, who co-wrote “God Laughs”; The Alarm’s Mike Peters, who contributed to the title number; and Nile’s frequent writing partner Frankie Lee, who co-wrote four tracks. The producers were team of Grammy-winner Stewart Lerman and Nile himself, with additional production by Pisano and Alexander.
Having launched his recording career at the height of the major-label era, and never comfortable with the baggage that comes along with being a major-label commodity, Nile has in recent years embraced the autonomy and freedom of his current indie status. To bring American Ride to fruition, he decided to take his case directly to the fans, financing the album’s recording, manufacturing and promotion via the Pledgemusic.com. Fans enthusiastically rallied to the cause, and Willie far exceeded his financial goal. In the midst of these fan supported efforts, a few labels took note of Willie’s success and expressed interest in American Ride. The decision was made to partner with Loud & Proud, thereby combining strengths
both sides could bring to marketing the release. With American Ride now a reality thanks to his — and his fans’ — efforts, Willie Nile is moving with the unmistakable momentum of a deeply accomplished artist who’s just hitting his stride and he’s our guest today in 7 questions.
RM: If you had to describe your music to somebody who had never heard it before, what words would you use to classify what you do?
WN: A Marx Brothers movie you can dance to.
RM: You took to PledgeMusic.com online to raise funds for the new album: Do you see this as being a trend that’s hot at the moment, or is this the future of how independent artists and labels raise money for music projects?
WN: I’m not sure how it will be down the road but at the moment it’s a great way for independent artists to raise money to get their work out there. The fans and friends came out in droves for our Pledge campaign and were a huge help to us. We reached our goal in only 4 days and ended up with more than 300% of what we reached for. It’s very heartening to me to get that kind of support and I’m deeply grateful for it. Bless those rock n roll hearts for their
generosity and their compassion.
RM: Do you think that an album can define a particular artist’s career or that it’s more of just a larger snapshot of what they’ve always hoped to accomplish? How do you feel “American Ride” fits into either of those categories?
WN: I suppose a particular album can define an artist’s career but I don’t think it’s an absolute. There are so many artists with different kinds of careers it’s hard to generalize. “American Ride” is one of my favorites. I had a great time making it and am very happy with the collection
of songs on it. It sounds really good to me and has a live human feel to it. I can’t ask for more than that.
RM: What made you decide to do a reading of Jim Carroll’s “People Who Died,” as a tribute to your late brother John? Were you able to alleviate some of the stress that happened as a result of his passing by doing this?
WN: I sang “People Who Died” at a St. Patrick’s Day tribute to artists and writers of Irish descent who passed away that year and Jim was one of them. I always loved that song and thought it one of the buried treasures of Rock n Roll. I knew Jim to say hello and would go to see him read in NYC. He wrote a masterpiece of a song and it’s great fun to play live so I started
doing it at my shows and the audiences loved it. I wanted to record it as a tribute to Jim and to my brother John, who also loved the song. It was a way to pay homage to Jim and I thought John would dig it. Life is full of loss and it’s something we have to deal with on this planet and it’s fun to sing and remember our loved ones so it does bring some comfort to play it and keep it
RM: Of all of the performers that you have shared the stage with, which was the most memorable and why? What was it about that experience that made it so special to you?
WN: I’ve been very fortunate to have shared the stage with some very special people. I think Bruce Springsteen inviting me to come on stage with him to sing a few songs at Giants Stadium in New Jersey in 2009 in front of 70,000 raving Bruce fans was surely one of those. He’d invited me up a number of times before, including two shows at Shea Stadium in NYC in 2003. Bruce is a really great guy and loves to rock. He’s very generous to his fellow artists and his
support to many is legendary. it was a total riot. The place was going nuts and the band was on fire. The camaraderie up on that stage is magic and singing and playing next to Bruce is like standing next to an exploding volcano. Bless his big rockin’ heart.
I also got to open a tour for Ringo Starr and his All Starr Band in the 90’s. As a kid who grew up loving their music it was very deep to be a part of that tour. On the last night we were on the tour, in Saratoga, NY at the performing arts center there, Ringo came off the stage after his set and before the encores and saw me about 20 yards away. He came walking over and gave me a big hug and thanked me for opening the shows and was very complimentary. It was old
school and very classy of him to do that. He asked if I wanted to come on stage and join him for “I Get By With A Little Help From My Friends”. I told him I’d love to and out I went. What a thrill it was.
Both experiences are telling in that it was about real music and real friendship and love for the art and sharing that together. I will always be grateful to Bruce and Ringo for that.
RM: How does the response to your music in Europe differ from that of the way it is received here? Which is your favorite country to perform on that continent?
WN: I’ve been very lucky in that the people who know my music and come out to the shows know that I give everything I’ve got every single night I go out there on stage. They know this and they give it right back to me and the band. It doesn’t matter what country we’re in. They know I want to have a good time and want them to have a good time as well so they dig right in and are part of the show right from the start. The audiences in Europe are amazing as they are in the States. There’s no way I could pick one country over another. They’re all great. At this point it feels like a big family everywhere we go and we all love to get together to raise the roof and that’s what we do, from a castle in Italy, to a pub in Brighton, to a mountaintop in Spain, to the streets of New York and beyond.
RM: Out of all of the things that you haven’t gotten the chance to experiment with when it comes to music, which is the one that you’d like to get to do the most and why? Do you think that ten years from now you’ll be able to say that you’ve done it?
WN: I’ve got two more albums of new material written and can’t wait to get in to make them. Right now that’s what I’m excited about and looking forward to doing. I’d like to score some films. I like all kinds of music and have a number of ideas in mind and with a little luck in ten years will be able to say I’ve done it.
RM: What’s up next for Willie Nile in the remainder of 2013 and into 2014? Anything big in the works that we should know about?
WN: I leave in a couple of days for the European leg of the American Ride Tour. We’ll be in Ireland, England, Germany and Italy. The details are at the website and at facebook. And we have a big show planned for Dec 26th in NYC at the Highline Ballroom. It’s going to be special. These days are all special now it seems. It’s taken me a long time but I feel I’ve gotten to a place I’ve always wanted to get to musically and personally and it feels really good. Here’s to more magic and music on the road ahead.
Official Website: http://www.willienile.com
Willie on Facebook: www.facebook.com/willienilemusic
Willie on Twitter: twitter.com/willienile
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