Based out of Providence, Rhode Island, Convinced Friend is the latest project from lifelong songwriter, A.S. Wilson. After growing up in an oilfield town south of New Orleans, Wilson spent a decade in bands across a variety of American locations, performing with the likes of Strange Bedfellows and Bad Hand. Despite his background making music with others, it was solitude as much as anything that brought about Convinced Friend, finding himself without a musical community around him, he went deeper into intimacy and tenderness, taking his songwriting to a newfound personal plane. Back in November last year, Wilson teamed up with Relief Map Records to release his self-titled debut, a collection of indie-rock songs with a rich sense of place and narrative.
With a name lifted from a Quaker term for religious conversion, you might expect faith to be at the heart of Wilson’s songwriting, yet this record feels a lot more wedded to humanity than any higher power. While writing Wilson kept coming back to a line by Jack Gilbert, “the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless furnace of this world”, as he explains, the album draws on that idea, “that sense of not allowing suffering to make us solipsistic, but instead open us towards others and the world”. While the record is personal, its recording was altogether more communal, Wilson fleshing the songs out with Nova One’s Casey Belisle before working with producer and musician Bradford Krieger, the trio working together to capture the spirit that Wilson had been missing. The resultant record is an eclectic romp through genres, from the dustbowl twang of Safeway through to the mechanical pulse of White Collar, a song that recalls Good Looks as it dissects the sometimes crippling world of the modern worker. Particularly gorgeous is the initially stripped-back Weekend, with just the steady tick of an acoustic guitar, Wilson seems to find the struggle of others and offers a place to let them lie, “some place warm and dark, where you can let it settle down”, he offers no judgement, just the unerring support of an old friend, “are you calling to tell me why you’re always freaking out? Well I know you and I don’t mind”. As the record closes on the Local Natives-like strains of All At Once, it feels like it has almost come out of the dark and into the light, as if from all the hardened edges and moments of doubt, Convinced Friend offers hope, and the promise it’ll be waiting there for you whenever you need it the most.
FTR: For those who don’t know who are Convinced Friend?
Convinced Friend is the vehicle for my most direct songwriting. I’ve played in bands my whole life, but during a pretty solitary period after relocating to New England the basic contours of what became this project started to coalesce, really trying to hone in on songcraft as opposed to prioritizing certain sonic touchstones or genre adherence. At first I intended to just use my name, but I like leaving it open to collaboration and having a separate room for the songs to live in.
The name comes from the Quaker term for conversion, becoming a ‘Convinced’ Friend. I’m not Quaker myself, but I found it a lovely phrase to sum up a lot of the things my songs circle around – the process of weighing the evidence and committing to a way, a person, or a life, while understanding the uncertainties that remain.
FTR: What can you remember about your first show?
If we’re talking first, I was 13 years old playing a Tom Delonge Stratocaster at a local car wash in rural South Louisiana. I can’t remember our band name exactly, but it was some gauche metaphor about the ocean. Still, I fell in love with putting on and playing shows: all the quaint little tasks beforehand, the magic of people actually showing up (or the pain & confusion when they don’t), the satisfaction of feeling in tune with your bandmates, the food and conversations afterward. It’s such a lovely communal practice, and I’m glad we can have it back after the pandemic and hope we find more sustainable ways for artists to pursue it.
In terms of the first Convinced Friend show, it was a lovely DIY gig about a year ago in Providence, where we played everything nice and hushed to avoid the neighbors complaining – one of the residents downstairs sent up a lasagna, so I think we sounded pretty good.
FTR: Why do you make music? Why not another art form?
Well, it’s sheer force of habit at this point. I’ve been writing and working on music since I was a teenager, and it became a main source for forming an identity growing up in a small town at the birth of the internet. I had always felt a pull to write in some form and am a super voracious reader of fiction and poetry, but songwriting became the main medium for that practice. Now it’s one of the only things I’ve ever cared about getting really good at, and pursuing a craft as far as it can go seems like a pretty good way to spend a life.
I also think songwriting prompts me to focus my attention in a way that’s very grounding for me. I can’t write good songs if I’m distracted and sleepwalking through life, which I can tend toward if I’m not careful.
FTR: What can people expect from the Convinced Friend live show?
We just had a really lovely album release show here in Providence a week ago and have some more regional things planned for early 2023 and further afield into the summer, so come and see if you can! Since the songs were largely ironed out and recorded solo, I’m excited for them to morph and grow in the live context. I expect them to get a little more wooly and wild. I’ve also always loved how songs can be taken in different directions even on a show-by-show basis, affected by the setting and general mood of the band. I doubt we’ll reach Crazy Horse levels of live experimentation, but I’m looking forward to loosening my grip on how I think they ought to sound and letting them breathe.
FTR: What’s next for Convinced Friend?
Definitely a lot more playing live as above, but I’m particularly excited for how that will affect the writing process. I’ve got a lot of song drafts to put towards a new record to start next year, but I want it to be more collaborative with the band and not rush things. This first record was such a psychological process for me of navigating self-doubt and releasing it felt like turning a big corner, so I’m excited to take a slightly freer approach.
They Listen To…
Songs: Ohia – The Big Game is Every Night
The top Youtube comment sums it up: “Jason Molina outtakes are better than other songwriters’ whole careers.”
Ted Lucas – I’ll Find A Way
This got reissued a few years back from Yoga Records – an achingly beautiful record from start to finish.
Sandro Perri – Wrong About The Rain
I want to live inside this melody forever.
Nicholas Krgovich – Rosemary
How this record did not immediately blow up is a mystery to me. Best break-up record of all time.
Credit Electric – Pages
A newer band I’ve really loved – sounds like Duster covering The Flying Burrito Bros.