By Thomas S. Orwat Jr.
Although he may not be a household name, 67 year old, Buffalo, NY born singer-songwriter, Willie Nile, is held in the highest regards by some of the most prestigious musicians in the world. Bruce Springsteen, Pete Townshend, and Bono have all been huge supporters of Nile for decades; and for good reason. Since his 1980, self titled debut release, Nile has impressed with his crafty songwriting and unique New York City inspiried sound. Pete Townshend was so impressed with Nile’s first record, that he demanded that Nile open for The Who on their massive 1980 tour.
But, soon after his 1981 album, ‘Golden Down,’ Nile’s career was put on hold, due to music business legal issues that derailed his career for a decade. However, Nile rebounded in 1981 and released a powerful, radio-ready opus entitled, ‘Places I Have Never Been,’ in 1991, which featured the infectious single, “Heaven Help the Lonely.”
Nile then didn’t release another full length album until 2000. Since then, Nile had been very prolific, releasing six musicial masterpieces.
His most recent release, ‘World War Wille,’ will be available for purchase or download on April 1st. This musically diverse, 12 track release may be Nile’s most solid collection of songs yet. Any fan of rock music would greatly appreciate Nile’s street smart poetry, coupled with a penchant for infectious musical backing, whether it be folk rock or all out anthemic rockers.
What follows is an exclusive Rock Music Star interview with the one and only – Wille Nile.
RMS: Willie, you were just in Buffalo, NY a couple weeks ago when Bruce Springsteen was in town performing his classic ‘River’ album in its entirety.
WN: Yes. What a great show. Did you get a chance to see it?
RMS: Yes, I thought it was amazing. However, I did feel a bit sorry for any of the causal fans that weren’t familiar with the ‘River’ album. There are some pretty slow spots on that release, and I could see some of the crowd getting a little restless during it.
WN: There are a handful of ballads on it. For me, as an artist, it was beautiful to see; it was one of his pivotal works. And they played the hell out it. I saw them in NYC earlier in the tour, as well. In Buffalo, NY, when they came out, and the way they played, and the great confidence- the band was so tight. And then, after they played the entire ‘River’ record, the roof comes off, and no one can throw a party like Bruce.
RMS: You mentioned the word “Confidence.” That is the one word that comes to mind when istened to your new release, ‘World War Willie.’ As your career has progressed, you really have mastered the craft of songwriting. I feel that your last two releases, ‘American Ride,’ and the new one, ‘World War Willie,’ really show an artist who is operating at the highest level skill of songwriting.
WN: Thank you!
RMS: You’re welcome. ‘World War Willie’ is brilliantly crafted. I love the themes and subject matter, and also your ability to add humor on some of the tracks, and the musical diversity that weaves throughout the release. You really come across as confident.
WN: Well, that’s true. I feel that confidence. I’ve been touring so much over the last five years. During the 80s, I didn’t really tour at all, except in 1980, when I toured across the US, supporting The Who. But, back in 1981, I walked away from the music business, because it became more about business than the music. That was not what I came for, so I was out of there. But, over the last few years, I’ve been playing so much- more than I ever have. And as a result, I feel more confident about writing, the studio, and the stage. I’m having great days, and a blast doing this. And , I think it comes across on the albums, and never more than on this new release, ‘World War Willie.’ Of the 12 songs on the album, eight of the vocal tracks are the actual scratch vocals and guitar parts. I didn’t change it, or re-record them separately. But, I had so much fun making this record. Of course, there is always a lot of hard work that goes into it, but with this one, it really was almost effortless making it. I think you can sense that, in the live feel of the record. Everyone involved played so great on it. I really think that I’m making my best records of my career these days.
RMS: Many artists that are your age are just going through the motions and content, with playing their hits and not writing new material. You seem as if you still have that desire and drive that you had when you were beginning your career. Is this because you still have something to prove?
WN: I don’t have anything to prove, not for a long time. No, no, I still have the hunger, clearly. Also, I feel the same passion and fire that I did when I first came here, to New York City. I graduated from the University if Buffalo in 1971. And I never said, what do I do now? I knew that I wanted to come out to New York City and make records. I never even walked out on a stage before that. So, I brought my guitar, and moved to New York City. I started playing clubs and making records. Something still can be said for following your dreams. It has led me to some very interesting places. And, the most important thing, is that you keep on learning.
Maybe, for some musicians, the fire burns out as they get older. But, for me, maybe it’s been because it hasn’t been easy. All, these years, I’ve kept my fire, but I don’t know, maybe it’s just genetic that I still feel the same way as I did when I first started out. When I walk out on stage and play an older song, I play it with the same feel that I did when I first played it. And know I have all these years of learning the craft, and now I can forget about the craft, when I do it, because it’s effortless for me. It’s so much fun. I think, initially, and to this day, music has some redemption to it. It helps me understand the world a little better. I’m not doing this to become an American idol; that was never my goal. I was always a writer first. I write to express myself, and say what I’m feeling, and about the world around me. Whether it’s a party song, or a song of lust, love or politics, terrorism, or whatever it may be. On this album, I have a song called, “City Bank Nile,” which is about the financial world. “Grandpa Rocks” is something I can relate to, being that I have four grandchildren which I’m nuts about. The music is real for me. That’s the difference. I’m not looking to be a pop star, or some famous dude. I’d love to be stinking rich, but it’s not about me, it’s about the music.
RMS: Well, you may not be to most famous artist/songwriter in the world, but you ceratinly have some very high profile supporters of your music, such as Bruce Springsteen, Pete Townshend, and Bono, to name a few.
WN: I’m very lucky, and some things, money can’t buy. It’s been so great to have the support of those artists. I have a clip on my site of the time when I played the Best Buy theater in NYC, and the Grammy’s Music Cares charity was honoring Pete Townshend. It was a big event, with The Who and five different artists. And I did two of Pete’s songs, “Substitute,” and, “The Kids are Alright,” with The Who. And then, for the finale, we did “Won’t Get Fooled Again.” Bruce Springsteen performed at that event, as did Joan Jett and Billy Idol. So, that was an honor and a blast to be part of that great event. I toured with The Who in 1980, and I became friends with them. To this day, we still keep in touch; I have their support and friendship, and it means the world to me.
RMS: You have also shared the stage with Bruce Springsteen many times. What is most impressive about this, is that Bruce joined you on your songs. I can’t think of very many artists that Bruce would go onstage and play guitar in the background for. It clearly shows that he has a lot of respect for you.
WN: He is such a great guy. If you knew him, he is all that you would hope that he would be. He has his feet on the ground; he is a regular guy with a big heart. Rock n’ Roll still, to this day, means the world to him. You saw him in Buffalo- he was playing his ass off. There is no phoning it in with Bruce. His support means the world to me. He is very generous to the artist that he digs. He has called me up onstage numerous times. At Giants stadium in front of 70,000 people, I was on stage playing with him for like a half an hour. He called me up to do two songs. The place was going nuts. The E-street band was roaring, Bruce was roaring. I went off the stage, and was talking to somebody, and Bruce was calling me back on stage. I went back up, and it was during the time when the entire band goes to the front of the stage. It was so much fun, and it’s fun to rock with your friends. It’s always an honor to be onstage with him. God bless him.
RMS: Another big supporter of yours are the Goo Goo Dolls. You have opened for them a few times. Like Bruce and Pete, their main songwriter, John Rzeznik, has acheived much acclaim for his song writing skills. What is your opinion of Rzeznik’s songwriting?
WN: It’s amazing! They have had so many hits. The songs are really great. I’m so proud of them. Johnny is a great songwriter; the band is great. They rock. They are great guys. And that is important to me- it matters. I remember when I lived in Buffalo, NY during the 80s, I would see the name, “The Goo Goo Dolls;” they would be playing these clubs around town, and I always thought it was a cool name for a band. They did the small clubs for a while, and then they hit the hit with, “Name.” And then it was off to the races. I was so happy to see that. They are guys that love music, and it means the world to them. They paid their dues, and then they got rewarded. Now Robby (Goo Goo Dolls bass player/songwriter), in turn… what a great guy, I can’t say enough about him. He has his ‘Music is Art’ thing. He doesn’t have to do that. He doesn’t have to champion music for young people, and try to inspire them and support them and encourage them. But he does it! He does it because he believes. He is a believer. The Goo Goo Dolls are believers. I’m a believer that music can transform, change, and be meaningful. That’s why I do it. I will never walk on a stage if I don’t think it will be great. I’ve had fevers, I’ve been sick and I still get up and perform. It means everything to me. And with Robby, it was a thrill and an honor to play his ‘Music is Art’ festival this last summer. I loved doing it; it was pouring rain. I’m very impressed with him as a person and musician. I consider him as a brother of rock n’ roll.
RMS: He is very cool, and doesn’t have a big rockstar ego, just like you.
WN: Yeah, I never fell into that trap. It was never my thing.
RMS: Final question, Willie. You have accomplished some amazing things over your career, but what would be the biggest highlight, thus far?
WN: Well, like I mentioned before, playing with Bruce at Giants stadium in front of 70,000 was huge. Also, touring with the Who across America in 1980. That was bigger then any dream that I could even dream, and yet, it happened. And then, years later, playing onstage with the band at the Music Cares event. Also, I toured with Ringo Starr, and I got to sing with him. That was a real honor. I’ve been pretty lucky. All those moments were very special.
For more on Willie Nile, visit www.willienile.com