The BBC called his last album The Innocent Ones “stunning … The rock and roll album of the year”, Rolling Stone included it in their “Top Ten Best Under-the-Radar Albums of 2011″ list, and USA Today called the album’s “One Guitar” the number one song in the nation. Yet most of you have probably never heard of him nor recognize the title of the album they’re each raving about. Hopefully that’s all about to change. For after more then 20 years since his last contract with a major label, Willie Nile’s next release, American Ride, will be coming out June 25, 2013 on Loud and Proud Records and will be the first artist released under the label’s new deal with RED Distribution, a division of Sony Music.
I had interviewed Nile back in 2008, but we had conducted it via email so I hadn’t had the opportunity to actually talk with him. While an email question and answer exchange ensures accuracy, it’s impersonal and doesn’t give you much of a chance to get to know the person you’re interviewing. To be honest, most of the time you don’t get to know a person even when you interview them over the phone.
Thankfully that wasn’t the case with Nile when we talked in person recently. Not only were there no time constraints, it was far less an interview and much more a conversation. Sure we chatted about his new record, signing with a label and other stuff, but I found out more about him from the way he spoke about these things than I did from the answers he gave. Nile is rare in that he is exactly like you think he’ll be after listening to his songs. Compassionate, intelligent, aware and a genuinely considerate and caring individual.
Most of us, when you ask us how we’re doing, will answer with the expected and safe, fine. When Willie asked me “How you doing?” as we started our interview, he was really asking. So I told him. When I reciprocated with the same question he started by telling me it was a beautiful day, sunny and clear, in New York City and how “It was a great day to be alive”. But, there was something else and it soon came out. He was in mourning as a close friend, Rob Morsberger, who had done the string arrangements for Willie’s last release, The Innocent Ones, had just died from brain cancer.
Instead of talking about himself or his own work, Nile spent the first few minutes of our interview telling me about his friend and what a great singer/songwriter he had been. He then proceeded to tell me a story which from another person would have sounded like, “Look what I did, aren’t I special?” But in Nile’s case it was an opportunity to tell me about somebody else’s generosity. He told me how he had gone to one of the final concerts Morsberger had given and how it made him think Randy Newman should really hear his music.
So he had gone home and spent a couple of hours trying to compose an email to Newman’s publicist which would be intriguing enough to be passed along to Newman. Nile doesn’t know Newman, and even felt like he had to include his CV thinking Newman might not have heard of him. However, it didn’t prevent him from trying to help his friend gain some recognition for his work. When he told me how Newman had left two messages on Morsberger’s voice mail the next day, it was with awe and respect in his voice for Newman. There wasn’t a hint of pride or self promotion. He told me this story because he had been genuinely touched by Newman’s generosity.