Charlottesville rockers Sons of Bill mature on new album, “Oh God Ma’am” 

click to enlarge Sons of Bill

Matthew Burke

Sons of Bill

John Lennon famously sang that "life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans."

Charlottesville native rockers Sons of Bill can attest to the truth of that statement.

On the road to creating their new album, "Oh God Ma'am," the band formed by the three Wilson brothers, now in their 30s, experienced "a lot of the kind of unnecessary but unavoidable tragedies that come to you in adult life … divorces, addictions," says vocalist and guitarist James Wilson.

On top of that, Wilson "randomly, comically and tragically" cut his hand on a glass more than a year ago, cutting five tendons and the median nerve in his right hand.

Doctors told him they weren't sure if he would ever regain feeling in his hand or be able to play the guitar again. But after a year of physical therapy, he's had a miraculous recovery.

"I still can't feel my hand as well as I could before but … we're out there playing shows," he reports. "In a lot of ways, it's your limitations that make you focus and develop your own style and so I think I'm playing better than ever."

Due to the aforementioned life events, the band ended up taking two years to record "Oh God Ma'am," a more mature, deliberate and thoughtfully crafted album that Rolling Stone has praised as "lush" and "literate … a wide-ranging album that mixes honesty, hooks and headiness in equal measure."

"It was sort of a moment where it felt like the youthful dream of running from reality, which so much of rock 'n' roll is, was kind of coming to an end," Wilson says, "and if we were going to continue to make music, we were going to make something very different. And so, I think we made a better record for it, a more honest record. It's starker and beautiful."

The album takes its title from an inside joke: Touring in Florida, Sons of Bill drummer Todd Wellons was shocked after being propositioned by a hooker and blurted out, "Oh God, ma'am!"

"That was the origin of the thing but it's taken on increased meaning for us throughout the years – something between intrigue and terror, but formal," Wilson explains. "Like you're cooking out and your steak catches on fire, you go, 'Oh God, ma'am!'"

The core of Sons of Bill is made up of Wilson and his brothers Abe and Sam along with Wellons and bassist Seth Green. The Wilson brothers are the sons of University of Virginia professor emeritus William Wilson, an expert on theology and Southern literature who's currently writing a book about the late novelist and historian Shelby Foote. James Wilson and his brother Sam live in Nashville while brother Abe remains in Virginia.

In this Spotify era when most rock bands are struggling to make a living, Wilson says his goal is to keep making music with his brothers "until they throw dirt on me."

Rock, he says, is now about the survivors, like Sons of Bill, those who persevere and somehow find a way to keep doing it because they were born to make music.

"There's something beautiful about rock 'n' roll being about the survivors [and] not the people that are out there trying to make it, to become rock stars," Wilson observes. "Nobody makes it anymore. Everybody just survives, you know? And there's something beautiful about that."

Sons of Bill with guests Wrinkle Neck Mules play the Broadberry, 2729 W. Broad St., on Aug. 2 at 8 p.m. Tickets cost $18. For information, visit thebroadberry.com.



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