Ladies and gents, Alan Wilkis

Every so often, another request drops into the e-mail: “Would you listen to our music and give us a mention on AM, Then FM?”

They come because AM, Then FM is listed with The Hype Machine, one of the big mp3 aggregators. All too often, though, the folks making the request see only that we’re a music blog and don’t see that we’re mostly about rediscovering older tunes.

In keeping with that mission — and departing from it entirely — I’d like to introduce you to someone new today.

Last week, I received an e-mail from one Alan Wilkis, who asked simply, “Can I send you my music?” He got my attention when he described his album — “Babies Dream Big” — as “a genre-hopper, but pretty heavily rooted in ’70s-’80s electronic, soft rock and soul music.”

I gave it a spin on his MySpace page. It’s good enough to share here.

Alan also was gracious enough to do an e-mail interview. Some highlights:

Alan is 26, living in a Brooklyn apartment that doubles as his recording studio. He’s a city kid, born and raised in New York.

“I grew up with a lot of Motown and Beatles in the house, and the soundtrack to the movie ‘Stand By Me’ was a family road trip staple.”

Alan started playing the guitar when he was 12.

“I remember hitting a point where I could play along to all the pop stuff I was listening to on the radio, and I asked my teacher what else was out there. He introduced me to Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan, lots of classic rock guitar god stuff, and my mind was completely blown — I was humbled to say the least. It was a big lesson in: There’s a LOT COOLER music out there than what’s ‘cool’ right now.”

Alan went off to Harvard, where he played guitar in the Witness Protection Program, an eight-piece hip-hop group with live music backing.

After graduating in 2004, Alan moved back to New York, where he and WPP’s drummer, Pete Kennedy, formed A+P, a two-man rock band. (Follow the link. Check out “Rocker.”) After two years, A+P “came to an amicable end.”

Working in his home studio, Alan started coming up with a new sound.

“I revisited albums that I’d heard a million times in completely new ways — tried to absorb what I could on the studio end. Eventually, the experiments started vaguely resembling songs.”

Alan’s finished songs bring together lots of vintage or classic influences and reimagines and reapplies them. They sound familiar, but are fresh.

“(I’m) tipping my hat to all the things I have loved over the years while trying to (lovingly) turn them on their heads! Like in “Burnin,” I remember thinking what if Boston played the guitar solo in a Prince song, arena rock guitarmony with R&B synthesizers? It’s pretty hard for anyone to be original anymore … but I think there’s always room for reimagining. … The absolute core of the album is taking familiar sounds and textures and trying to present them in (hopefully) unexpected/surprising/refreshing new ways.”

Well, let’s get to it, shall we? Give it a try. Decide for yourself.


“Astronaut (Would You Be One?)” and “It’s Been Great,” Alan Wilkis, from “Babies Dream Big,” 2008.

“Astronaut” is the one that keeps sticking in my head. Imagine a direct line from David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” to Peter Schilling’s “Major Tom” to this. Yet “Astronaut” is brighter, more uplifting.

“It’s Been Great” is what we’ve been waiting for Stevie Wonder to deliver.

Hard to pick just two, though. Go to Alan’s MySpace page to listen to more.

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Filed under March 2008, Sounds

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