A phone rings loudly in the background, and Graham Wilkinson excuses himself to lift one of his five-month old twins into his arms. His wife continues to nurse the other while taking a conference call with her boss in Norway.
“That’s some modern times stuff right there,” laughs Wilkinson, baby in hand.
Despite his east Texas upbringing, the 30-year-old singer/songwriter’s story is anything but traditional. After college in Arkansas, he worked at a jet-engine power plant in Greece and taught English on the Micronesian island of Pohnpei. It was his brother’s death (the late Aaron Wilkinson, guitarist for the Moldy Peaches) that finally brought him home.
“He was my best friend,” says Wilkinson. “I couldn’t leave my family again, so I stayed in Texas. I met my wife and daughter, who pretty much saved me from being kind of self-destructive. I had to start taking music more seriously and get out all those things that needed getting out.”
Aaron was buddies with songwriter Hayes Carll, so Wilkinson arrived in Austin with a big-brother figure to help show him the way. Carll sings on Wilkinson’s song, “Ragamuffin,” a tribute to his brother.
Wilkinson found work at an outdoors store, where, the morning after seeing him perform, acclaimed songsmith Alejandro Escovedo walked in with his wife. Without hesitating, Wilkinson talked up his new EP to the Americana artist, only to discover he didn’t have a copy with him. Escovedo came back for it, eventually becoming like a father figure to Wilkinson and playing on his album, Yearbook.
That 2009 LP was a big step for Wilkinson. Soon after that album’s release, Wilkinson’s band, the Underground Township, dissolved. He’s now setting out on the road with a restructured four piece, consisting of bass, drums, and Burning Spear’s former horn arranger on sax and flute.
“We go from country to rock ‘n’ roll to reggae … upbeat songs, sad songs, just however the crowd’s feeling at the time,” says Wilkinson. “We’ve played at dance halls in Texas where there’s old-time cowboys with big ol’ belt buckles, two-stepping to a dance-hall reggae song. Reggae and bluegrass are really one in the same if you switch it up.”
Wilkinson recently released a new single and video, “Focus,” on his website. He jokes that he was six beers deep in the 110-degree heat when they recorded it in an Airstream. “It’s the launch of a new plan and a new situation,” he says. “I’ve got these little babies — new faces, new beginnings — it’s all a manifestation of that.”
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