Interview: BJ Wilbanks

Photo: Evan Leavitt

“When I was kid, my granddad showed me some gospel music licks on the guitar,” recalls blue-eyed soul man BJ Wilbanks. “I got interested in playing, but didn’t take it seriously until I was a teenager, and I started writing, kind of out of necessity for me. It was like therapy for heartbreak and all that stuff. You most impactful memories are usually the saddest ones. I follow Willie Nelson’s ideology, I write my best at my worst,” he laughs. “Feeling bad and a little guitar knowledge got me started.”

The Georgia-based Wilbanks will release his full-length self-titled album on April 28th, recorded in what looked like a basement bomb shelter in Marietta. “There was no ego in the studio; the only way you’re going to make something of value or something with heart is if you get yourself the hell out of it. The most amazing music is the most vulnerable,” he declares. “People asked me what I was going for on the album, but I didn’t really have a plan, I just wanted to put together the songs I thought were the best at the time, things I dug, and things I could tell the crowd really dug. It’s a snapshot of my life at a certain time. There’s not really theme; it’s a conglomeration of me, a cohesive representation of the different styles I like,” he adds. “I’m a musical omnivore, I like it all.”

When the nine piece band assembled in the studio, Wilbanks swears it was pure magic. “You’re lucky if you have a moment during recording where you say ‘holy crap, that was awesome.’ When we had one of those I was blown away, but we ended up having way too many to count—those hair-on-the-back-of-our-necks-standing-up, tingling, emotional responses to recording this music, and you can feel that love and vibration coming through on the songs. That energy is there,” he conitnues. “I’ve never experienced so many moments like that.” It’s true, that energy virtually oozes through the speakers; imagine a blend the best elements of 60s R&B, retro soul, and southern rock into a laid-back, rootsy concoction that’s smoother than, as Chris Stapleton might say, Tennessee whiskey, and Wilbanks’ rich, smokey voice cuts through those beautiful layers like a hot knife through honey-flavored butter. Have mercy.

“I write a lot about the interconnection we all should have,” he says. “I don’t get too into mysticism, but I feel like everybody knows that we’re all connected in some way, and I hope this music makes them feel that connection. We’re spiritual beings, and the closest way to get to that connection is through music,” concludes Wilbanks. “I’ve never found a better source.”

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