Folktronica musician Ian Wilson belongs to a new class of singer-songwriters who have exchanged backup bands for loop pedals. Using a combination of keyboard instruments and synthesizers, Ian builds complex, atmospheric layers around deeply personal songwriting. And despite defecting from the classical genre years ago, Ian’s piano has never quite lost the accent—you can tell by the sound of it, it’s not from around here. His debut solo LP, This is Water, was released in May 2012.
This is Water isn’t really about water. Like the David Foster Wallace speech that the title alludes to, water is simply a medium for more elusive messages. The lyrics fixate more on migration, travel, and change—apt themes for an album in which Ian leaves behind the acoustic anchoring of 2008’s The Crater EP for full-on electronic integration. In The Crater’s deft piano and wordplay, the influences of queer music icons Tori Amos or the Magnetic Fields are easily heard. With This is Water, Ian reshapes his songwriting with backbeats and layering, inspired by other classically-trained loop artists like Owen Pallett and Zoe Keating. The new is grafted to the old in the “magnetic guts” of the album, a tall wooden ship with a self-destruct button.
Ian’s earlier work in The Crater EP introduced him to Chicago’s tight-knit community of queer musicians, keeping him busy with its numerous performance series, including the 2011 Alt-Q Festival at Old Town School of Folk Music and Gay Chicago TV’s Out Rock. Soon after The Crater’s release, Ian began a two year stint with orchestral-pop band Canasta—a baptism by fire into the city’s non-stop indie music scene via countless shows around the Midwest, a slot at the CMJ Music Marathon, and live performances on WBEZ’s Eight-Forty Eight and WTTW’s Chicago Tonight. Ian’s eclectic keyboard palette helped shape the burlier version of ork-pop heard on the band’s sophomore album, The Fakeout, the Tease and the Breather. The album was released in 2010 to a wave of critical superlatives including “one of the best Chicago albums of the year” (RedEye) and “so perfect…that you’ll swear you’ve heard it before” (Chicago Reader).
Ian won early recognition for This is Water with the Albert P. Weisman Award at Columbia College Chicago, where Ian is earning his Master’s in music and arts management. He keeps his wits sharp teaching songwriting, keyboards, and voice at School of Rock Chicago, the nation’s premiere educational institution for the corruption of well-mannered and quiet children.
some nice things people have said
There's a Peter Murphy/Bauhaus by way of cabaret feel to the work of Ian Wilson...a dark yet flowery insistence to his vamping that underpins a lot of the better tunes... -Richard Milne, WXRT's Local Anesthetic
By "Crate & Barrel" I was totally enwrapped...[and] it doesn't let up with "Resurrection Ship" and the rest of the songs...I knew I was not going to turn this off until I heard the entire CD. -Len Rogers, Rainbow World Radio
[Wilson] finds his strongest moments when his rich voice takes center stage with beautiful arrangements...seamlessly marry[ing] storytelling with folk and electronic music. -David Byrne, Windy City Times
I kind of consider the entire CD a work of art. -JD Doyle, OutRadio