Avi Salloway, the bandleader for Billy Wylder, stops by this week. The eclectic and brilliant band will be performing at BSP Kingston this Friday, March 29 as part of its Strike the Match record release tour. The 7:30 p.m. show also features W. M’Bollo and Daturo Road.
I am imploring you to attend. Billy Wylder is a group with an earthy and stimulating sound which has been compared to Paul Simon. It reminds me a little bit of the upbeat unifying energy of Rusted Root paired with lush and warm melody-drenched folk balladry. Its danceable and human songs are just what the doctor ordered in such impersonal and discouraging times when colorful imagination, emotion, musicianship and connection seem to be in short order. If you love multi-vocal harmonies you will flip out at the honeyed folksy co-ed vocals of this group.
Though Salloway is a dedicated activist, the music of the band is also not secondary to message. The skill of the band is vast. It feels so precisely in service to a flowing sense of spirit and a common goal that it is truly awe-inspiring. It was a wonderful surprise to find out about them when Salloway contacted me to tell me they were coming to town.
What inspired your recent work?
I spent three years from 2013 to 2016 touring around the world with Bombino, the Tuareg guitar hero from Agadez, Niger. It was a transcendent journey and deeply inspired my guitar playing, musical sensibility, songwriting and world view. While on the road and when I returned home I wrote the songs that became the new Billy Wylder record, Strike the Match. We brought the songs to life with a beautiful cast of musicians from The Wylder Family and recorded the album at Eyeland Studios, home of our friends The Low Anthem in Providence, RI.
My social and environmental activism work has also connected me with dynamic and resilient communities at Standing Rock and in the Middle East. I have experienced the creative spirit rise up in the face of darkness and adversity and it is life-affirming. This album is a reflection of the beauty and struggle I have experienced over the last few years. Strike the Match carries the feeling of urgency and equally is filled with songs of love, adventure, and imagination.
You have a wide background of very cool folk causes in the band, from what I am reading. We have many farm markets in the Hudson Valley. what is it about sustainable living and bringing people together through art and song that most appeals to you? Is this part of the meaning of the album title? can you answer that as well?
I grew up learning music from the Seeger family, and from an early age was exposed to the power of music to bring people together and build social justice. My grandmother Wilma “Billie” Hotaling, whom the band is named after, was a prolific painter, author, musician, and educator. Billie wrote “Count the Stars Through the Cracks,” a harrowing historical fiction novel about a young brother and sister’s escape from the antebellum South along the Underground Railroad. My grandma led by example, showing me what creativity looks like and how critical art can be as a form of love and resistance. These ethos are woven into my DNA and the spirit of the band.
We’re living in a critical time. Humanity has become our own greatest threat to survival and sustainability, not to mention the eight million other species that we’re “co-existing” with on the planet. There are 7.6 billion people on the globe and the systems of modernization and capitalism have spun out of control. We have the power to build a new legacy and change how we inhabit the earth, and it’s going to take a major consciousness and behavioral shift. At our shows we have a beautiful opportunity to build community, connecting concertgoers with local nonprofits and organizers, creating opportunities for direct action around environmental sustainability, immigration, and racial justice. The album title is about taking action. Strike the match, be the light in the face of darkness.
How do you think we can heal as a society and move forward in a manner more respectful to the Earth?
I believe change starts with ourselves. Making efforts to support local food systems, minimize our carbon footprints and learn from other communities who are living more sustainably. Simultaneously as the critical mass of environmentally conscious public grows we can organize and leverage our people power to elect representative that will fight to transform our energy and food systems. I believe in the Green New Deal and encourage folks to get involved with the Sunrise Movement. I also encourage us to get to know and support indigenous communities in our areas, building alliances and to share strategies for sustainability and resistance.
What is your favorite song to perform live or are they all sort of evolving in response to different venues, crowds or moments that have their own magic?
I love playing “Great Blue Heron” and losing myself to the perpetual 12/8 groove.