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  • Nathan Yoder

Artist Interview Series: Derek Hunter Wilson

As show coverage drops off during this period of quarantine, the "features" space on this site will feature more and more artist interviews, with the intention of keeping musicians connected with fans, and vice versa. This installment spotlights Derek Hunter Wilson, a multi-instrumentalist based in Portland, Oregon who is very involved in the local scene. He composes collaborative instrumentals and also takes on solo improvisations, finding inspiration in introspection and honest reflection.

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Derek Hunter Wilson's musical career started out in a fairly typical fashion, but eventually spun in a much more non-linear direction. Like many musicians, he grew up playing drums and guitar in rock bands with friends, but in his early 20's he became aware of minimalism and ambient music and began branching out. When he was 25, Wilson moved to Thailand to teach English, and explains that "living there, my life became a bombardment of language and the language part of my mind became burnt out. I became only interested in instrumental music then." Around the same time, he became increasingly inspired by contemporary classical, which was rising in popularity in Europe, and immersed himself in that genre. Eventually, after returning to Portland and settling back in, he released his first album, Travelogue, through Beacon Sound.

Wilson is well-versed in a variety of styles, and performs live using a number of different instruments. However, he feels most at ease composing on piano. He is self-taught (as he is with every instrument), and typically conjures up new musical ideas through improvisation and experimentation. He writes, "the majority of my compositions start from...allowing something to develop from whatever seed came from the improvisation. From there I start to try and understand what the emotional make-up of the piece is, what the palette of other sounds should be, what the instruments are doing, and their relationships to each other." Wilson will also sometimes pose prompts or challenges to himself when he writes, but reflects that in the end, "I think the best work comes from working instinctively rather than being overly analytical about it."

His two recently-released projects differ greatly in regard to composing and recording processes, but these divergent approaches both result in stunning finished products. On last year's Steel, Wood, & Air, all instruments were recorded live, without effects or overdubs. Wilson explains, "I realized it’s super easy for me to just layer instrument after instrument onto a piece without much thought behind doing so (and) I wanted to challenge myself to not use effects as a crutch." He also loved getting a bunch of musicians in the studio together at once - something that can be difficult to coordinate. Reflecting on collaboration in general, Wilson writes, "working on a project with another can be an opportunity to learn and grow by doing something you might not normally do, and also allows for you can’t necessarily predict what the other will end up doing."

The other project, an ongoing series titled Abstraktes, captures semi-improvised solo piano pieces. Though he modestly admits that improvisation is an art he is still working on, Wilson explains it as "an opportunity to clear one’s mind and be in the present moment, creating either a dialogue with yourself or whomever you’re playing with. You can’t have other thoughts whirling in your head when you’re improvising - you have to be totally present."

Wilson's current projects capture some of this solo/collaborative toggling, and though there are threads connecting to his past work, his newer music is evolving as well. He has recorded music in the ambient vein for years, but none of it has been released, and he is now considering what that might look like. Wilson did just release a track titled Brutal this past Friday, which provides a glimpse into his take on that style. He has also been collaborating with Joshua Ward from Location Services on a project titled "Niksen" and disclosed that the duo is sitting on about three albums worth of material, some of which should be released soon. And while another solo full-length is a ways off yet, Wilson dropped that he has a 10-minute piece recorded last summer and scored for piano, violin, cello, french horn, bass clarinet, and harp that he is really proud of. Hopefully it sees daylight soon!

Check out some of DHW's albums on his Bandcamp page, and again, stay tuned for future releases this year. When asked about supporting the arts, Wilson relayed that while purchasing music is helpful if you have the means, simply reaching out to musicians and sending positive messages in this time of stress can really brighten up the days of many. But he also noted, thoughtfully, that there are so many affected industries, and less visible folks (like session musicians, engineers, etc.) who need love too. For now, besides offering whatever support possible, we consumers of music can at least look forward to releases from Derek Hunter Wilson and other artists on the other side of this.


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