Wilsen is Listening to Hans Zimmer, “Monster Mash,” and A Lot of Nick Drake

Published January 14, 2020

Johnny Simon, Tamsin Wilson, and Drew Arndt by CF Watkins.

This is “Add to Queue,” our attempt to sort through the cacophony of music floating in the algorithmic atmosphere by consulting the experts themselves. Our favorite musicians tell us about their favorite music—the sad, the happy, the dinner party-y, the songs they want played at their funeral. In this edition, we build the world’s best road-trip playlist with the first band to come into this interview already prepped with one: Brooklyn-based indie-rock band Wilsen. The trio—made up of guitarist and vocalist Tamsin Wilson, bass player Drew Arndt, and guitarist Johnny Simon Jr.—are set to unleash their latest album, Ruiner, at the end of February. If the two dreamy, driven singles (the title track and the new “Feeling Fancy“) are any indication, it promises to tear up everything we thought we knew about them. Before that happens, though, the band sat down with us over cold brews at Brooklyn’s Threes Brewing Cafe to bare their “lazy souls” and share some setlists for every occasion, from the studio to the shower.

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JADIE STILLWELL: Why did you pick this space for the interview?

TAMSIN WILSON: We recorded the record directly across the street. This was the nearest establishment for our lazy souls and we’d come here to grab what we needed. We thought it might be nice to get a sense of what our mindset was. 

STILLWELL: Do you think the space you’re in influences your music? 

WILSON: Definitely, yeah. Vibe-wise, it can either help or hinder creativity. This studio in Brooklyn was fantastic, but we did spend a few hours moving lamps around, making sure everyone had their own little corner. I think we are all, unfortunately, very influenced by physical surroundings. 

JOHNNY SIMON: We’re used to going away and being in a cabin somewhere or something. So, I think having the vibe of Brooklyn, in the hustle-bustle of New York, was important for us to figure out.

STILLWELL: The video for “Ruiner,” the single, is a great visual example of struggling against natural instincts or dual selves. Can you talk about the inspiration for it? I feel like it has a horror movie energy, almost. 

SIMON: We were in the middle of the mixing process, and I was listening to the mixes while just laying down in my spare room. It’s a different vibe in there. It’s very bare. I started seeing this whole thing play out, with Tamsin fighting herself. I wasn’t intentionally trying to think of a music video, it was just what I saw when I was listening to the record. Originally, I thought Tamsin should kill her other self in the end in a big huge battle. It was probably way too dramatic, but they were able to reel me in a bit, which is good. That’s what they’re good at.

WILSON: That idea with the song was to embrace the other side of yourself. So a murder might not have illustrated that. 

SIMON: But we still got enough horror in there.

STILLWELL: How do you feel like this record is different from all of your other records? 

WILSON: For me, it feels less precious. It feels a little more stream of consciousness than the last record. For my contribution last time, I was really too boxed in. I’m really pleased this one is a little more open. Or at least, I can be more confident in the songs because I trust that they were from a moment and a time I’ve been very happy with. I put a lot of pressure on the last record. And there was an understanding in my mind, or a mantra, doing this one, that it won’t be the last. So I wanted to just really dive into the moment and try to extrapolate as much from that. That was it for me.

STILLWELL: What was the last song you listened to?

DREW ARNDT: “The Luminous Plane” by Lightning Bug.

SIMON: Mine was “Get in Line” by Hannah Cohen. 

WILSON: “Wounded Brightness” by Luke Temple.

STILLWELL: How about a song that always puts you in a good mood?

WILSON: Currently? “Wild Girl,” by Empress Of featuring Kito. [Singing] “I’m a wild girl.” It’s such a badass song. Also, Paul McCartney’s “Every Night.”

ARNDT:Locket” by Crumb. It always puts a pep in my step.

SIMON: Puts me in a good mood…hmm. 

ARNDT: He’s like, “What’s a good mood?” 

STILLWELL: Maybe he’s just always happy. 

SIMON: I think it’s “Dirty Jim” by Richard Swift. Let me make sure. [Simon plays the song on his phone.] Yes, this song is my feel-good song.

STILLWELL: Are you in a good mood now, from those three seconds?

SIMON: [Laughs] Definitely. 

STILLWELL: What about your favorite movie soundtrack? 

ARNDT: The Fountain by Clint Mansel. Incredible score.

WILSON: This is hard. 

ARNDT: Oh, man, really? I have so many. The Gladiator soundtrack is amazing. That’s Hans Zimmer, too.  

WILSON: Let’s just have three of Drew’s.

ARNDT: Thomas Newman did Road to Perdition.  

SIMON: I really love The Master soundtrack. There Will Be Blood. Paul Thomas Anderson but essentially Jonny Greenwood.

WILSON: I don’t think I’ve ever listened to movie soundtracks. Is that horrendous? 

ARNDT: The soundtrack from Moon is amazing. We should watch Moon while recording a song. 

SIMON: If you’re talking about series soundtracks, Euphoria is really good. I was blown away by the cinematography and soundtrack. When we wanted to make something challenging for the “Ruiner” video, that show was a huge inspiration at the time.

STILLWELL: On that note, who’s an artist who inspires you that you’d love to work with? They can be dead.

SIMON: Damn, that’s even harder. Nick Drake. 

WILSON: Yes, Nick Drake, obviously. But I would just like to observe him. 

ARNDT: I want to collaborate by just watching him in his studio. 

WILSON: Or his mom, Molly Drake. We could jam on the piano. I would love that. 

ARNDT: Since you just asked about film stuff, I would say Clint Mansell again. He’s my favorite composer and I think I would learn some cool stuff. Also, Bibio makes some really, really wonderful records. He’ll do an ambient record and then a pop record and then a noise record. Maybe Annie Clark, just so she could rip a solo. 

WILSON: That would be so sick.

ARNDT: And we could all wear some sick outfits. 

STILLWELL: What was your first-ever concert?

TAMSIN: Destiny’s Child when I was twelve. It was my first concert, first almost date with a group of friends, a new crew of friends. It was a big night.

SIMON: Mine was Bo Diddley. He’s definitely one of my favorite blues players, so it was so cool to see him. It was Gibson Guitar Fest and he was opening for George Thorogood. I was twelve or thirteen. My brother brought me. That was the first time I had ever seen Bo. 

ARNDT: Mine was Box Car Racer, H20, and The Used. Because I’m hardcore. 

STILLWELL: What about songs you would put on a cross-country road trip playlist? 

WILSON: We actually have a playlist for this. J.J. Cale is on there, always. The Naturally record, oh my god.

ARNDT: Nick Drake is definitely on there. Our last trip, when we went up to play in Canada, we did a lot of Nick Hakim and Unknown Mortal Orchestra.

WILSON: We will definitely listen to Hannah Cohen’s record on this next tour. We will listen to it a million times.

SIMON: I would say Weyes Blood, her new record.

ARNDT: For really long drives, Wilco is definitely on there. Do you guys remember Deru? This album, 1979 by Deru. It’s just an awesome electronic, ambient, chill record. It was really good for night drives. Also Sufjan [Stevens], at some point. 

STILLWELL: What songs or artists you would put on a dinner party list? 

SIMON: Louis Prima.

ARNDT: That’s what I thought you were going to say to “What song makes you happy.”

SIMON: Yeah, he makes me happy. But that’s like great dinner music. Him and Aretha Franklin, that’s great dinner music.

WILSON: So is Buena Vista Social Club. 

ARNDT: I feel like I would put on telepop music, Thievery Corporation.

WILSON: Andy Shauf is nice dinner music actually. It’s amazing. I try to listen to his earliest record of the day, and it’s so cool to hear his evolution. That’s my go-to. Or actually, Aldous Harding. She’s sick. 

STILLWELL: What about for a house party? 

SIMON: That’s a question for Drew. Drew’s great at this. Outkast? 

ARNDT: Oh my god, that’s it. That’s done. For sure. 

WILSON: Empress Of, always. Oh, man, and we forgot to mention Frank Ocean this whole time. And Sylvan Esso. Alvvays as well, if it’s summer. 

ARNDT: LCD Soundsystem, probably. I feel good about that. 

SIMON: Jagwar Ma is pretty good, too. Remember that album, Howlin’? Such a good record. I would also definitely like some Warpaint. 

WILSON: Johnny loves his Warpaint. 

SIMON: Okay, now we’re just listing things we like. 

STILLWELL: What about a smoking playlist?

SIMON: Nick Hakim’s stuff. Weyes Blood is great. Mr Twin Sister’s record Color Your Life is a dope one for those super good vibes. It’s really weird. Really stony. And the Ramona Lisa record is very cool. 

WILSON: Joni Mitchell’s Clouds is the best. In “Songs to Aging Children Come,” all the dissonance is lovely. 

ARNDT: Oneohtrix Point Never. It’s really weird electronic music and I think it would be really interesting. And there’s this electronic group called Gidge, which we actually listen to a lot in the studio. They’re a Swedish duo and it’s pretty chill electronic music. In between takes, we were taking a break. We would just start all on this one record called Autumn Bells.

WILSON: Jessica Pratt would be really lovely to listen to. They’re just simple—well not simple, but they’re lovely songs, easy to digest.

STILLWELL: What about a playlist for crying in your bedroom?

SIMON: Let me break out all of my playlists.

ARNDT: Happy crying or sad crying?

STILLWELL: Could be any kind of crying.

ARNDT: “A Lighter Shade of Pale” is one of my favorite crying songs. Can we just say Daughter? 

WILSON: Of course! I think they’d appreciate it. Also, Sharon Van Etten.

ALL: Sharon! 

WILSON: All the tears for Sharon.  

STILLWELL: What about a song, just one, to play at your funeral?

ARNDT: I already have it. I can’t believe I’m saying this. It’s also from The Fountain soundtrack. It’s called “Together We Will Live Forever.”

STILLWELL: So if it was just you doing this interview, the whole playlist would just be the soundtrack from The Fountain. 

SIMON: [Laughs] Yeah, put the entire album on there. 

ARNDT: It’s a really good song, just a simple piano song. It’s both a good wedding song and a good funeral song.

SIMON: Probably “Magnolia” by J.J. Cale.

ARNDT: I will play that at your funeral for sure.

SIMON: Thank you.

WILSON: That’s a tricky question. I think I’d have to have a Carole King song. Something from Tapestry, but I don’t know. 

ARNDT: A James Taylor song would be nice. 

WILSON: I can’t decide. 

ARNDT: We’re just going to play “Monster Mash” at Tamsin’s funeral. Don’t worry, Tamsin, you don’t overthink things. 

STILLWELL: What about a song you sing in the shower?

WILSON: Recently it’s been Hannah Cohen. Have we said her enough? 

STILLWELL: No, who? 

WILSON: [Laughs] I love her. But maybe not Hannah Cohen, because I don’t want to creep her out by talking about singing her while I’m in the shower. 

SIMON: I woke up this morning with a Rex Orange County song in my head. I think it was “10/10” but that was just in my head in the shower this morning.

ARNDT: I’m going to go with Beach Boys. It seems like a fun thing to do in the shower.

SIMON: I’ve definitely done the Beatles.

STILLWELL: It’s on your setlist. 

SIMON: My shower setlist. 

STILLWELL: If you guys do karaoke, do you have a karaoke memory?

WILSON: My memory is just fear. It’s too much. I love watching people that genuinely love karaoke do karaoke, but it is the last thing I want to do.

SIMON: When we were on tour with Daughter, they loved doing karaoke. Neil, who was doing front of the house for them, would do, like, fucking Slayer karaoke. He was so into it. I liked it. I would try to do maybe a Chuck Berry song or something, but I’m so scared.

ARNDT: I remember doing Missy Elliott once, and that was more just about picking a song everyone likes and it doesn’t matter how you do. Everyone likes Missy Elliott. It was safe. 

WILSON: In high school, the only bar we were able to get into underage was a karaoke bar called Duckies. So there were some karaoke moments. Someone did the classic eighties song… Bonnie Tyler! “Total Eclipse of the Heart.”

STILLWELL: That is, honest to God, my go-to karaoke song. You just brought back horrible memories for me. If your life were a TV show, what would the theme song be?

ARNDT: Can I take the Curb Your Enthusiasm theme song?

STILLWELL: Yes, but you have to live exactly like Larry David. 

SIMON: I want to be on Drew’s show. 

WILSON: Can I take the Frasier theme song? 

STILLWELL: Are you the Frasier of the group?

WILSON: I’m the Niles. Ideally, I’d be Roz, but no one is as cool as Roz. 

SIMON: I’d be Eddie, the dog.

Listen to Wilsen’s “Add To Queue” playlist below, and follow Interview on Spotify for more.