Willie Nile discusses songwriting
Rockabilly poet, a rocker’s rocker, alternative folk singer-songwriter. After recording his first album in 1980, Willie Nile has released more than a dozen studio and live albums. The New York Times called him “one of the most gifted singer-songwriters to emerge from the New York scene in years.”
He is currently touring across the country and will play at the Ridgefield Playhouse on Feb. 7 with finger-picking acoustic ninja Trace Bundy. Nile recently spoke with us about his musical process.
Andrea Valluzzo: Who’s been your biggest musical inspiration?
AV: How do you describe your musical style?
WN: I would say it’s poetic rock and roll with some literate references here and there — Marx Brothers you can dance to.
AV: What’s your writing process? Music first or lyrics first?
WN: It comes every which way. I would say sometimes the words come first and sometimes they come together where it’s a guitar lick or a title or just a rhythm.
AV: You’ve played with a lot of well-known musicians. What are some of your favorite highlights over the years?
WN: I’ve been very lucky. My first record out, I was asked to tour with The Who across the U.S. So the first time out I was playing small clubs, had never played with a band, and next I know I’m playing arenas, so that was extraordinary. I toured with Ringo and the All Star Band, opened up for him, got to sing with him one night. I’ve been on stage with Springsteen many times, he is very generous … always good fun.
AV: What’s a typical day like?
WN: I wake up late morning, pick up the guitar, play a bit, do some stretching, run some errands, go online and catch up (I do most of business online). With touring and writing, I’m traveling a lot. I’m not always on the road, but the last four-five months I’ve been in Europe. I’m always coming and going from Manhattan, so there is not an average day.
AV: Give us a preview of your Playhouse concert. What will the show be like?
WN: It’s a full band show. It will be some songs across my catalog: some greatest hits, some obscure things and some Bob Dylan. It’s a night of rock and roll, and I’ll be doing some of my old songs, new songs and some surprises. It’s going to be a night of rock and roll and we are going to burn down the house, blow the roof off — they’d better call the fire department.
AV: What was the inspiration behind your 2016 album, World War Willie?
WN: It’s a collection of songs. I thought … there was World War I, World War II, why not World War Willie? It’s a collection, a rocking album with some laughter, some tears, and some passion. It’s absolutely tied into current events.
AV: Is is true your latest studio album (your 11th), Positively Bob: Willie Nile Sings Bob Dylan, was recorded in only two days?
WN: Ninety percent of that was done in two days. That’s not normal. Normally it can take a few weeks. I had great musicians to work with and that made it easy, we got lucky.
AV: What’s next for you?
WN: More touring, and I’m going to make another album. I have another batch of songs I’m excited about and hope to record in the spring.