As much as we would like to take full credit for discovering Nashville singer-guitar player-rapper, Spree Wilson, Q-Tip beat us to him. It was Q-Tip who first got hold of Spree’s demo and decided that he needed a record deal. Still, Spree’s career is in the early stages; with only one mixtape behind him, and another one coming out this month, we are predicting big things for this multi-hyphenate musician.
One reason for our confidence is that Spree’s music captures the multi-genre mishmash that seems to be a prerequisite for popular music these days. Everything must be dance-worthy: pop requires a dubstep hook, and rap requires a pop chorus. For example, Spree does rap on a few of his songs, such as our track of the week “King Sh*t (The Answer),” but he is really more of a singer than a rapper. His fast-paced, production heavy beats have a very post-2000 pop feel to them, but when accompanied by his acoustic guitar and entirely earnest lyrics, it feels dismissive to define him as a pop artist. It is tempting to lump all rapper-singers and potential pop-artists into the R&B category, but with Wilson, there is more rhythm and funk than rhythm and blues.
We’ll let you decide how to categorize this week’s Discovery, although we do sort of love Wilson’s self-description…
NAME: Spree Wilson
HOMETOWN: Nashville, Tennessee
MUSICAL STYLE: If André 3000 and Janelle Monáe had a baby, I would be their baby, with Cee-Lo as my uncle.
NASHVILLE ROOTS: When I was growing up, Nashville didn’t have a huge urban [music] scene. I had to create my own little vibe down there. But it was pretty cool because I got engulfed in a lot of musicians in Nashville—the guitar players, the bass players—all the musicians that were down there because they were recording gospel music or country music. I learned a lot about being a musician. I moved out of Nashville as soon as I got out of high school. [laughs] I had to get out of there, man! You already know what’s going to happen to you; you’re going to end up in some low-paying job, [a] working-class hero, you’re going to have a million kids or something like that. That wasn’t the story [I wanted] for my life. Leaving the place where you grew up is kind of daunting. There’s a lot of fear. The way I moved to New York, that’s super rare, most people won’t just pick up and leave and go to a place and struggle, really, really struggle.
MOVING TO NEW YORK WITH JUST ONE SUITCASE: It was actually a little duffel bag, a duffel bag and my guitar—that was the only thing I could bring with me on the train—at the time, you had to pay for an extra bag, and I couldn’t afford it. When I first arrived, I was homeless, so I slept in Penn Station. It wasn’t that bad, it’s a lot more heavily guarded at this point, but when I got to New York, you could just sit in the [waiting] area like you were waiting for a train. Every night I would sit and sleep there. During the daytime I would leave, so they never saw me hanging around the whole day. I did that for about three weeks.
BEING DISCOVERED BY Q-TIP: I got a call from a friend of mine, she said “I just wanted to let you know that my friend Kamal—I gave him your demo and he really loved it and he wants you to call him.” And I was like, “Kamal? Who the hell is Kamal?” [When I found out Kamal was Q-Tip,] I was like “Get the hell outta here. Come on, man, stop bullshitting me.” But she was like, “No, I’m dead serious. He wants you to call him. Tomorrow.” All I remember [about the call] is that the phone kept ringing and ringing and ringing, and then on the sixth ring or something like that [Q-Tip] goes, “Hello?” I was so nervous. He told me that he liked the demo he’d received and wanted to work with me and stuff like that, I think he was going out of the country [because] he was like, “Hey, can you call me in, like, 22 days.” So I called him 22 days after that and he was like, “Now’s not a good time, I’ll call you when we have something.” At that point I kind of figured I wasn’t going to hear from him again, it seemed like he wasn’t really into it anymore. He called me a month later and said “I wanted to know if it’s all right if I start taking your music around to labels.” He was a really, really genuine person and he kept his word, which I appreciate.
ON MEETING HIS HEROES: André 3000 is one of my favorite artists of all time. I met him one time; he’s actually pretty cool. I try not to meet my heroes; most of my heroes, the ones that I’ve met, they’re human. I’ve built them up so much that they become disappointments; in my head they’re like superheroes—when you meet them, you find [out] that they’re human and that they have human [personalities], which you might not like [laughs]. I don’t want to fall out of love with my heroes.
THE POINT OF HIS MUSIC…: Is simple, it’s twofold. The point of my music is what every artist dreams of: to inspire and to motivate people. I’m not one of those people who think “Music can’t change things.” I think music can change, not necessarily the world, but the way people think. As an urban youth, somebody who came from a lower-to-middle class household making the kind of music that I make, I [also] want to push the perception that music is colorless; it’s like we’re still stuck in the 1950s, for some reason, and it has a lot to do with the music industry’s perception of what black artists, or white artists, can make. It’s totally ridiculous; music has no color line at all. That’s what I really, really, really want to push forward: you can make any kind of music, no matter what color you are! [My song]”Rare Moments,” yeah, the production is heightened, but it’s really just a country love ballad, or “The Spark” is a very pop-driven, more of a Mumford and Sons or Coldplay or whatever. There are no boundaries to music, and that’s what’s most important to me. I get hit with that a lot, being black in the music industry, they want you to do a certain type of music: “Ah, man you should just do R&B, or rap. You should just do rap the whole time.” That’s not what it’s about, it’s about how you feel at that particular moment.
FIRST SONG THAT STRUCK HOME : The first song that resonated with me is probably “Little Wing,” by Jimi Hendrix. I think that’s the first song that really had an emotional impact on me. That song is so pretty and so beautiful, then when I found out it’s about his mother, who died… I never knew that. I knew that what he was playing and singing about was really, really honest. Some guitars just have soul and you don’t have to sing a word…
EMOTIONAL MEMORIES: When I was writing songs, I wasn’t going through [the emotions] at the time, I was recollecting a past experience, something that happened to me. I don’t think it’s hard to [get back] into that moment, it’s more a question of, “Do I want to go back to that place, do I want to perform those songs?” than “Can I get there?” A lot of songs I’ve written in the past, I was in a dark place at the time, it’s like going to the psychiatrist every show.
IF YOU WERE INVISIBLE FOR A DAY…? This probably sounds boring, but it would be exciting to me, if I was invisible I would figure out where my favorite artists were recording their music and sit in on their session, like Dr. Dre. I would just study all their stuff for a day, steal all their tricks. I studied music, so I would try and sneak in a session that I’m not supposed to be in, like Kanye West and Jay-Z, something super secretive and just take-in stuff.