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Local Limelight: Q & A With Wesley Hilsabeck

 by Sam Friedman
 published on Thursday, April 20, 2006

<em>Photo courtesy of the January Taxi/issues/arts/696777
Photo courtesy of the January Taxi
 

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There's something distinctly intimate about the laid-back acoustic strummings of California-native Wesley Hilsabeck -- as if he's inviting you into his bedroom for a private performance. Perhaps it's the $80 four-track cassette recorder that he produces all his music on.

"Over-produced music frustrates me to no end," he says of his bare-bones sound. "There's just something special about minimalist recording -- I mean I want to be able to hear the chair creak in the background, you know."

Over the past few months, Hilsabeck and his trusty guitar have quietly built up a dedicated following in Tempe, and the shaggy-haired marketing senior says a small EP will be available within a few months. Preparing for a gig at downtown arts venue One Place, SPM collared Hilsabeck to ask some critical questions.

SPM: So what's the history of Wesley Hilsabeck as an artist?

Hilsabeck: I started off playing bass in a punk band in high school. It was a blast. I picked up guitar soon thereafter. That's when things started to mellow out for me, musically speaking.

SPM: Your music sounds a little melancholy. Is it hard to escape the tortured soul persona when writing acoustic songs?

Hilsabeck: It would seem so. But if it comes across that way, it is never a conscious or intentional decision. I will never sit down to write a song with the hope that is going to depress someone. Songwriting is therapeutic for me, and my goal in sharing it with others is that they might be able to relate.

SPM: Who or what do you draw inspiration from?

Hilsabeck: Personal experience will always be my primary source of inspiration. I usually take what has happened to me and add in some ambiguities. The experiences of friends and family are fair game too.

SPM: Describe your local following in three words

Hilsabeck: Bad mother fuckers.

SPM: Is it hard to find inspiration amidst Tempe's concrete jungle?

Hilsabeck: Not really. I love Tempe. I have a great network of friends -- all very talented individuals. Tempe is loaded with things and people to be inspired by; you just need to know where to look.

SPM: Do you think the "Jack Johnson" factor has helped or hindered young singer-songwriters?

Hilsabeck: It's more of a hindrance, in my opinion. It furthers the ease to stereotype acoustic artists. It's a shame when someone automatically thinks you're going to sound like Jack Johnson or Chris Carrabba and wear your heart on your sleeve just because you pull out an acoustic.

SPM: What's the nicest thing someone ever said about your music?

Hilsabeck: "There are some people in this world that should find their dreams fulfilled just because in doing so, they give the world a greater sense of mind, and a greater sense of heart. I see such an artist in you." My sister said that. I don't think I can ever get a more meaningful complement.

SPM: And the nastiest?

Hilsabeck: "Sounds like Bob Dylan." Not that I don't like Dylan. It just seemed like a thoughtless remark.

SPM: Do you think singer-songwriters sometimes wander down the wrong side of pretentious?

Hilsabeck: Is there a good side to pretension? It may be easier for a person to get a little arrogant as a singer-songwriter because all of the focus is on him or her. But I wouldn't say that such musicians are more inclined to be that way because of the nature of their music. The Rolling Stones are pretentious. You don't see many singer-songwriters doing that sort of thing.

SPM: How do you want people to feel when they hear you're music?

Hilsabeck: My only hope is that they feel something. I want to write songs that people still think about long after they're over. So if you walk away from it feeling happy, that's wonderful. Sad, that's fine too. As long as my music is valuable to the listener, I will be content.

Reach the reporter at sam.friedman@asu.edu.



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