Spend 30 minutes or so with Sons of Bill — say, in the conference room of the BMI building in Nashville, hours before the band is due to kick off an international tour with a show at the Americana Music Festival — and you'll be thrown into a conversation that moves multiple miles a minute, jumping between topics such as Wilco, Slayer, The Sound and the Fury's Quentin Compson and Big Star's Chris Bell. Led by three Virginia-bred brothers, Sons of Bill is the sort of family band whose sheer energy makes everyone want to be part of the clan… as long as you can keep up.
You can't blame the guys for moving fast. After taking the entire summer to rest and recoup after nearly a decade's worth of touring, Sons of Bill are back with a new album, Love & Logic. It's a classic roots-rock record for the modern age, filled with B3 organ, acoustic guitar, envelope-pushing arrangements and the sound of three siblings whose voices were born to mesh. Ken Coomer, who co-founded Wilco in the mid-Nineties before refashioning himself as a producer for artists like Will Hoge, recorded the album in his Nashville studio.
"Ken knew about the hangups that can happen when you have a band with multiple songwriters," says James Wilson, who shares frontman duties with his brothers Abe and Sam. "He'd been in a band that had gone through some serious growing pains and transformations. Just look at the difference between Being There and Summerteeth. It's huge. We wanted to push ourselves to grow like that, and Ken helped us negotiate the way."
One of the album's highlights is "Lost in the Cosmos (Song for Chris Bell)," a slow-burning power ballad written for the Big Star musician. Abe Wilson took three years to finish the song, slowly chipping away at a tune that examines the challenges of being an artist in a world that doesn't always reward the artistic lifestyle. [Watch the song's music video, shot in the band's hometown of Charlottesville, Virginia, above.]
"James and I were listening to a lot of Big Star," Abe remembers," and we decided that Chris Bell really needed a song of his own. The Replacements have already given Alex Chilton a song, but Chris needed some love, too."
Like the rest of love Love & Logic, "Lost in the Cosmos (Song for Chris Bell)" moves between the foundations of roots music — pedal steel, strummed acoustics and triple-stacked harmonies colored by Virginia accents — and a swooning, sweeping sound that owes more to Pink Floyd's space-rock than anything else. The rest of the album stays somewhere between those wide goal posts.
"This feels less like a rebirth for the band, and more like an arrival," says Sam, whose guitar solo gives "Lost in the Comos" a jolt of energy during its second half. "You never want to make the same record twice. With this one, we were all on the same page from day one… and we're happy with where it took us."
The final three months of 2014 will take Sons of Bill across most of the western world, with their current cross-country tour giving way to some U.K. dates after Christmas.