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Episode 4: Anthony Wilkerson

Anthony Wilkerson with guitar
Peter Kamp
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Anthony Wilkerson played a set and talked about his music in KBIA's Studio B, as part of the series Studio B Sessions, with host Connor McGovern.

Anthony Wilkerson is a singer-songwriter who has a deep passion for country-and-Western music. Honky-tonk heroes like Marty Robbins and Hank Williams have greatly influenced his sound, but Wilkerson strives to create something unique within the genres that shape him.

Wilkerson stopped by KBIA's Studio B to talk with us about his inspirations, songwriting process and his EP “Hard Pressed,” which was released last April.

He also played a set for us, and talked with host Connor McGovern in Studio B. Here's an excerpt from their conversation:

Connor McGovern: I want to go way back before your first professional releases and ask you, what are some early inspirations that made you want to become a musician and songwriter?

Anthony Wilkerson: That early inspiration would be like, you know, that feeling you get like, when you hear a song and you just, like, got emotional for the first time.

McGovern: Talking about that song that made you emotional for the first time, do you have one in mind?

Wilkerson: I guess we're gonna put all the cards on the table! The first song that ever made me emotional was “Believe” by Brooks & Dunn. I think that's just hilarious because I don't know if I've listened to that song since I was a kid. But I was, like, 12 years old, and that song hit, man. I don't know what it was. It was like we got down to … like, Jesus stuff. Or something. Oh, man, it really got me, I just bawled like a baby, and it was like a “Whoa!” moment. … It's so funny.

McGovern: Your bio online, you say you have a signature octatonic sound that can go from slow waltz to an upbeat two-step. What drew you to the sounds of country-and-Western music and how have you created your own sound within those genres?

Wilkerson: I always tell people that are, like, “Why did you become a country singer?” It's really as easy of an answer as it is: it's just what I make. You know, it's like I could try the things that I love, but it's what is the most true to me. When I picked up a guitar for songwriting, it's really, really what came through and even now I still play in rock bands and things like that. But any song that I write always comes out with that, like my grandpa calls it, "country sparkle." You know what I mean? Just that little quality to it. And it's also in the way I talk maybe, a little bit, to be from Little Rock, Arkansas [before coming] to Columbia.

McGovern: When did you move to Columbia?

Wilkerson: Like 2015 maybe, a while ago. And … I just liked it so much. I had to come back to a great town.

McGovern: So you're originally from Little Rock, Arkansas, and then you now reside here in Missouri. How has the region in which you've grown up in and lived in affected the music?

Wilkerson: Well, you know, you hear a lot of my songs sometimes have the lyrical content of the working man. … If you're not busting your hump five days a week, nine to five, like, you're missing out, you know? And to be honest, I’m one of the first people in my family to sort of break that cycle, even though for the longest time I was a construction worker and I did I did do that work, and I really felt it. But being the first one to sort of try and break [through it] all, and still having a story to tell … You can love country music and be whatever you want to be, and that's the message I try to convey. I definitely don't like [to be] closed-off as country music sometimes has been. I'm trying to really open it up.

McGovern: Do you think that that kind of lyrical, poetic aspect has been lost in today's mainstream country radio?

Wilkerson: I really like the music field you know, I love any song. I just feel like if someone put a little piece of themselves in that song, like, that's all that matters to me. If you like that part of the mainstream media, of course, there is a place and time for pop music and pop country and pop everything.

McGovern: I was curious about your very well-constructed recordings, you can hear the different elements - like the electric guitars, percussion, harmonies, etc. Is it difficult to layer in a simple piece of a song for the recording, but then strip it back down to its bare bones for solo acoustic performances like this?

Wilkerson: Well, the thing is, with recording is, I just do all that. So I go to my studio and I record all those parts for the most part. So even when I'm in there, even when I'm in my studio, recording all my stuff, like, it's easy because I've been making scratch tracks with the different recordings. It's really pretty simple. …

McGovern: How do you reference what you get inspired by, when you hear another artist inspire you or make it so you can hear a piece of themselves and their song, and it resonates with you? How do you feel when people come to you and say, “Wow, this stuff that you wrote has really connected with me"?

Wilkerson: I have a lovely friend who has a YouTube channel … and she shouted me out on their last [episode[ and sent a lot of sweet, sweet people over to my YouTube channel. And they all commented things like, “I don't like country music, but I like this." And like, “This will make me a country music convert,” and those kinds of things. Those ones really got me because I was like, “Oh, there's a place for weird country artists out there.” You know, it's okay, to be like yourself. … I got to play with Orville Peck not too long ago, and that was an audience that he brings. They're the most supportive and, just, loving audience. … It does give you such a sense of accomplishment. When they call up and be, like, “This song really hit,” you know? Like, “That was a beautiful song.” You're like, "Oh, I did it."

I got to play with Orville Peck not too long ago, and that was an audience that he brings. They're the most supportive and, just, loving audience. … It does give you such a sense of accomplishment. When they call up and be, like, “This song really hit,” you know? Like, “That was a beautiful song.” You're like, "Oh, I did it."

McGovern: So talking about the different sounds and music and songs like “The Sorrow I Had,” I can also hear some elements of blues music. How does the blues incorporate itself into your music?

Wilkerson: I mean, I do love all music. And it does include the blues but you know I think what you're hearing there is more just old honky-tonk music, just real bluesy. Because it was in that real crossover era. Like a lot of times it was blues musicians and honky-tonks and stuff. I was really trying to capture, especially with this last release itself where it was really trying to really hone in on the older style of things, really stripped-down sort of like that. Like you said, that bluesy sort of thing that just comes with old-timey music. Because we're all just stealing things from the blues.

Sarah Petrowich studies cross platform editing and producing within journalism, as well as political science at the University of Missouri - Columbia.
Connor McGovern is a host and producer of KBIA's Studio B Sessions. He was born and raised in Houston, Texas, and will graduate with degrees in Journalism and Entrepreneurship from the University of Missouri in May 2023. Previously, Connor has collaborated on KBIA's Missouri on Mic, and he continues to work as a copy editor for the Columbia Missourian and a host on KCOU 88.1 FM.
Aaron worked as a full-time on-air host at KBIA from 2017 to 2022. He continues as the Managing Producer on High Turnout Wide Margins.