Promoter Hayden Bates has tapped Wilco alumni Pat Sansone and John Stirratt for the next Live at Edmond Town Hall concert, with opening support from singer-songwriter Amanda Bloom. The pair will be appearing in their own ensemble The Autumn Defense, which recently released its fifth project, appropriately titled Fifth.
The June 6 concert has a special early start time with the opener scheduled to hit the stage at 6 pm. Sansone recently told The Newtown Bee that The Autumn Defense has no problem playing late night sets, but the band is due in Annapolis, Maryland, for a 1 pm show the following day so they asked for an earlier than usual start.
The Chicago based duo will be performing with longtime collaborators bassist James Haggerty and drummer Greg Wieczorek.
The Autumn Defense and Sansone’s inclusion in the Wilco lineup sprang from a relationship he struck up with Stirratt in 1999. He was reportedly drawn to the expert production work his partner was providing for indy artists like Joseph Arthur and Josh Rouse, where Sansone deftly replicated a 1960s-era sound and style.
Their debut project The Green Hour cast Stirratt as the primary songwriter and leaned heavily on Sansone for his creative production skills in the studio. Shortly after their sophomore effort, Circles, in 2003, Sansone was invited to join Wilco.
In early 2007, their third effort, The Autumn Defense, was followed up by the most ambitious tour the band had undertaken up to that point, and in 2010 the group signed to Yep Rock Records where they released album number four — Once Around — and earlier this year, Fifth.
In his pre-concert interview with The Bee, Sansone talked about the journey he and his musical partner have enjoyed since their first project together; why Fifth represented a major turning point for the band; working with one of his own musical influences, The Zombies; and his own side project, a coffee table book filled with Polaroid photography.
Newtown Bee: I imagine folks will read this and start Googling Autumn Defense material to get to know the band a little better. Are there any particular shows or videos out there you would recommend so they can get an idea of what the band is all about ?
Sansone: There are plenty of great videos of the band if people want to get a sampling of what they will be seeing at the June 6 show in Newtown. There’s a series of live videos recorded in Nashville called The EastSide Manor Sessions.
Bee: Does your current configuration lean more on acoustic instrumentation, or is it more of an electric rock show with a few acoustic numbers?
Sansone: The Nashville videos I mentioned came from a mellow show, but we tried to give it an arc where we slipped in some rock and roll at the end, so it’s not completely laid back. Our live show on this tour is a nice balance between the electric and acoustic sides of the band.
Bee: Do you draw equally from your catalog for the set list, or is this tour more heavily promoting your latest project?
Sansone: It’s funny that you ask, because as we’re speaking you reached me in the recording studio archiving material from our first project together. There’s going to be a re-release of that first record on vinyl, so I had to go and dig out our original mixes which were all on DAT [digital audio tape], an antique format. So I got to listen to our entire first record, which I hadn’t heard in awhile.
Bee: Thinking back to your early days with John, how has your partnership evolved as you worked together up to and through the completion of Fifth?
Sansone: When John and I met, he had a number of complete or nearly completed songs that he wanted to track. But he really didn’t have a home for them yet, and he didn’t know how he was going to record them or how he was going to be recording with. During that time we were both living in New Orleans and I was working at a couple of recording studios in town. So the project began with John as the primary writer and me being the arranger producer, bringing those songs across the finish line.
Bee: So it sounds like you two had some instant chemistry going. Did you find that you were kind of finishing musical sentences for him?
Sansone: We had very similar aesthetics as far as the records we liked and the kind of records we wanted to make. So when we geared up to make our follow-up a couple of years later, I had written a couple of songs I thought would fit with the project.
Around the time we were out promoting Circles, I was invited to join Wilco. By the time we got into the studio to start working on our third album about two years later, John and I were at the point where our songwriting contributions had evened out to about 50-50.
Bee: I know you’ve been asked this a lot, but was it a real tightrope walk balancing the needs of Wilco and your own projects?
Sansone: The proximity of working with John in both bands opened up new creative avenues, which gave us more opportunities to collaborate — and it helped keep us both on the same schedule. We have the same down times now from Wilco.
Throughout our time working together, we were very conscious that The Autumn Defense remained an active endeavor. We pulled it off, although it meant we weren’t able to put out so many records — we did five albums in 12 years. A lot of bands can accomplish that in less than half the time.
Bee: Your latest project, Fifth, represents the end of an evolution in terms of both your day-to-day creative and recording processes, and how you utilized your core supporting musicians in studio, right?
Sansone: One of the most exciting recent developments for us was the opportunity to bring all the members of our touring band into the studio to record Fifth, and then to go out on the road supporting it with the core band that recorded it. This particular backing band has been set since 2007, although Greg, our drummer, has been with us on every record. He was on just one track in 1999, but he’s been on everything since. He’s a big part of our Autumn Defense sound.
Bee: It must have added a new dimension to the sessions because of the immediacy and continuity between touring, and your live tracking of the full touring band in studio to create Fifth.
Sansone: This was the first time bringing who we are on stage with us into the studio — it really made the foundation work. We’d been playing with them for so long, and we’re such good friends it made the process easy, and it was enjoyable. Things happened much more spontaneously then they sometimes (do) when you’re building an album piece by piece.
Bee: You are also a photographer and publisher — and a devotee of the Polaroid SX70. Tell me about how you translated your love of shooting these moments in time into your finished coffee table book 100 Polaroids?
Sansone: I learned a lot designing and publishing a book. It kind of grew into the project it became unexpectedly. At Wilco’s Solid Sound Festival, it was my job to put up an exhibit of some of the photos I was taking. For that exhibit I had to put a catalog together. So I decided to make an art book that would be in the style of the monographs that I love. I found a printer in Los Angeles who specializes in that sort of thing. And I dove into it, sort of the same way I dive into recording.
Bee: Let’s wrap this up revisiting your work with the Zombies. I understand they were one of your big influences coming up — how did it come together?
Sansone: I did eight shows opening for them last month. They were a big inspiration for the sound of Autumn Defense. It was inspirational to watch their show every night. They still sound so strong, and you just can’t argue with the greatness of their material. It was fantastic, and they are also lovely people as well.
To be around your musical heroes that sound fantastic every night — and have them be really nice to you — was quite a thrill. I highly recommend you go see them if they are anywhere near your town.
Tickets for Live at ETH: The Autumn Defense are $20, and are available at EdmondTownHall.org. Proceeds of the concert will benefit ongoing improvements of the historic building at 45 Main Street.