Making a Scene Presents an Interview with Lee Wilder
Lee Wilder’s debut album Sound Emporium is true to its title, channeling not only myriad music genres, but also influences from film, literature, and just life itself. Its ten songs of impassioned, gospel-flecked Americana are infused with danceable, sometimes bombastic grunge and pop sensibilities.
“I call it a bipolar gospel journey,” mulled Wilder from his northern Arizona home. “Just me struggling to be present, in the moment. I have found that the real source of creativity is in consciousness.”
Inspired by parents who played together in the popular California band Country Music Machine, Wilder began obsessively playing guitar and songwriting after watching La Bamba at age 9. His early love of oldies radio was soon shaped by the edgier side of 90s Alternative – The Pixies, Melvins, The Breeders – after he and a friend attended a Nirvana show as young teens.
Having made a name for himself and his band in San Diego, by 2018 Wilder found himself spiraling into self-destruction. “After ruining a marriage and pretty much losing everything of any emotional value in my life, I decided I needed to live a more sober and purposeful life,” he recalled. “During that process, I was in the studio with producers Dan Cervantes and Jordan Andreen. The result is Sound Emporium.”
Recording to tape at San Diego’s Audio Design Recording, Wilder and an array of accomplished players crafted an achingly authentic, entirely analog record embroidered with boldly imaginative arrangements. Often co-writing with his producers and players, Wilder shunned genre templates to freely indulge a rich, eclectic palette of influences.
Many of Sound Emporium’s lyrics were in-the-moment cascades captured first or second take, an approach that further energizes the record’s wild-eyed romp through styles and subject matter. Recurring themes include love, loss, and tales heard along the way. “When people tell me their story, I just absorb it,” Wilder explained. “And when I step up to a microphone or sit down with my guitar, everything just comes out.”
Album opener “Rollin” is a raucous yet ornate outpouring, Wilder’s gospel-y delivery draped in slide guitar, ecstatic brass, and soaring female backups, while the Theremin- and saw-laced “Bluebird” is a gorgeous waltz duet with Brit chanteuse Jess Roberts. “Fever” was recorded while Wilder was experiencing a manic episode, its grungy guitar dynamics offset by an almost spoken baritone verse. Flitting between brooding calm and saturated chaos, the song’s multiple personalities are all portrayed by Wilder in the accompanying Rory Morison-directed video.
The dimly lit, lounge act of “Company Man” personifies the empathy that pervades Sound Emporium, its slightly deranged deadpan delivery worthy of Mike Patton. “It’s just the result of me listening to people saying, ‘man, I really feel stuck in life. I’ve got everything on paper, but in my core I’m just really not happy,’” offered Wilder. The spaghetti Western “No Man’s Land” takes a poetic dive to an ego-shattering rock bottom, with Wilder crooning “I started fires of my own / I carved a future out of bone”, while album closer “Cave In” marries a marching groove to heady choral hooks, its orchestral instrumentation building to a borderline Polyphonic Spree rapture of bitter-sweet, largely autobiographical optimism.
Ultimately, Wilder sees Sound Emporium as a visceral, broadly relatable grab bar in listeners’ rollercoaster lives; a sonic and lyrical experience that embraces letting go of toxic and trivial thoughts in favor of truly conscious, participatory existence.
“I’m hoping that people want to be a part of it, not just as a listener, but as an artist themselves,” Wilder concluded. “I believe that there’s an artist in everybody, from the Fortune 500 CEO to someone who’s just struggling to get their head right.”
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