Jeremy Wilms and I spoke shortly before the holidays and we immediately found a common matter of agreement: the importance of coffee. He paused our conversation before it could start to quickly grab a cup of the brown liquid gold.
“Nothing gets done without it,” he explained. Having just downed a cup of the stuff myself, I could not have agreed more.
Early in his career he made a choice to just use the initial J. and thus was known as J. Wilms, an appellation he continues to use at times. Referring to him by either J. or Jeremy is “all good,” he told me.
Jeremy had just released a new album called The Fighter. It is his third album but first effort as a singer-songwriter. Why did it take over 20 years of recording and touring as a sideman to release an album like “The Fighter?”
“When I first got into music I wanted to write songs and sing,” he shares. “But I realized early on I was not a great vocalist. It did not come naturally to me. What did come naturally to me was playing guitar, playing bass, playing piano. I wound up being in everybody else’s band.”
Still, over the years he would be writing material from time to time. It was during the pandemic he really found the time to concentrate on his own music, to hone in on what he wanted to say. “For the first time I wasn’t working with four or five different artists a week and going on the road. Suddenly I was home.”
The Fighter is full of what many would call relationship songs, presented in a country-folk manner. Jeremy notes, however, these songs are not just about relationships with others but also your relationship with yourself. “I had other songs,” he said, “but this group of songs all worked together for me. They were all about starting on a path and getting lost. Coming back around and having some realization that you had what you needed the whole time.”
The title track makes the point quite well. Admitting he has been a fighter for so long, one who is not sure what he is doing wrong and why he needs to fight, he comes to the realization that the one he has been fighting for has been there all the time. And it is “someone who can help me understand that I don’t need to fight any more.”
“I’ll Start Tomorrow” is an ode to procrastination:
“I’m going to write a song/It’s gonna be epic and strong/Put all the feelings that I felt for so long/I’ll start tomorrow to write a song.”
And in the meantime, the hands of time keep turning and the song, the book, and many other things “I” am going to do remain undone.
“All The Roads,” “Hey My,” “Yes, I Know,” and the six other songs on the album similarly ponder relationships between others and the self. “The Fighter” makes you think, especially if you are in a reflective mood. You might come away thinking “I am happy with myself and I’m not going to try to be anybody else anymore.”
Jeremy agrees, “Yeah, that’s for sure the vibe, and with that comes some sort of sacrifice to some extent. I’m definitely not making the same income as I was playing music with four other people as a sideman right now. But I’m getting to do this and I am trying to book a tour of my own for the late, late, late winter, early spring.”
Focusing on his singer-songwriter side has brought Jeremy a sense of freedom. He no longer feels the need to hide behind his instrumentalist persona. Neither does he put off doing another singer-songwriter album for another twenty years.
And now that the songwriter side has been freed will there be another such album in Jeremy’s future?
“Oh yeah, yeah,” he told me. “I haven’t had time to work on it lately but there were a whole bunch of other songs that did not fit (on “The Fighter”). They were sort of rocking out.”
The next album will be more in line with J.J. Cale’s album entitled Naturally. It will be a little funkier, a little cheekier, and maybe a little less serious. Hopefully he will have that album out by summer. At least that is the plan.
In the meantime, he will be doing a short tour, re-mixing and re-releasing his first album – a jazz album – that was released ten years ago, and working on the soundtrack for a feature length film to be released this fall.
“My wife is a professor at UGA in the performance arts department,” Jeremy told me. “And right now she is making a film and I am composing for that. They hope for a fall 2024 release but it might take a little longer.” Jeremy sees that as an entry into the burgeoning film industry growing in Atlanta, GA. So he is indeed a busy man despite not being as active as a sideman as he has been for the past 20 to 25 years. And maybe, just maybe, he is feeling freer to pursue what he has wanted to do since the beginning.
The Fighter can be found on Bandcamp, Cart/Horse Records and Jeremy Wilms Official.