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Jon Tyler Wiley & His Virginia Choir further develop sound with ‘Pictures in the Dark’

by | May 17, 2024 | ALLFFP, Arts and Entertainment

Local rockers Jon Tyler Wiley & His Virginia Choir recently released their first full-length album titled “Pictures in the Dark.” They have slowly been releasing singles over the last three years on streaming services, and the album collects some of those singles along with newly recorded tracks.  

Wiley sees a difference in the audience for singles versus full albums.  

“In this landscape, any independent artist is constantly fighting an uphill battle to get noticed within an internet algorithm,” he said. “I was nervous about doing so many singles but then, as we released them, so many people messaged me saying, ‘I love that song Flowers.’  

“Well, Flowers had been out for a year. These were people I had seen at shows and had heard the song live. When so much is digital, so much is easy to miss. So it’s allowed me to breathe new life into some of these songs that have been out a little bit and have a second chance as an artist to stand behind your music and say I really like this and I want you to hear it.  

“While streaming services are great for people that want to listen to music or have it on in the background or have it on a road trip, there’s nothing like pouring yourself a good drink, putting on a record and sitting in a room and listening to a record. That’s experiencing music.”  

The album also marks a turning point for the personnel in the band. Longtime collaborator Eddie Dickerson and keyboardist Thomas Johnson left after recording. The rhythm section of Joanna Smith on bass and Piper Barbre on drums remain the backbone of the group and have been joined by Lonnie Southall on mandolin and Sean Mahon on keyboards.  

“Sean is an extremely talented pianist and keyboardist based in the DC area but we are often competing with The Kennedy Center for his attention, so we get him when we can,” Wiley said. “He’s a true virtuoso’s virtuoso. Having him pushes the band into Springsteen territory, which is super fun when we can have that. 

“We have been playing with Lonnie Southall from the band Wylder, he kind of stepped in when Eddie backed out last year. He plays mandolin and really saved the day. It’s been a lot of fun working with him. He has a really good presence on stage and brings good energy to the band. When I combine that with Joanna and Piper having psychic chemistry with one another, the show can go places where even I can’t see it going. Joanna and Piper are just a rock. They’ve been ride or die from the beginning.” 

Along with the aforementioned Springsteen, Wiley’s influences include Tom Petty and The Rolling Stones. He also cites a classic country song as starting point for the song “.45” , a cautionary tale about gun violence.  

“That song was really inspired by a Johnny Cash tune, ‘Don’t Take Your Guns To Town’,” Wiley said. “I’ve done that exercise before where you take a classic song and not rewrite it but reimagine it. It’s a really different song, but it’s just about the same story. The Johnny Cash song is such a dark song and I wanted to make the music reflect the lyrics. I wanted this to be angrier and darker and scarier for sure. I think all of that reflects where we’re at.” 

Ironically the album begins with a song titled, “The Ending of the End.” It’s a big song with an arena-worthy chorus.  

“I thought that song set the scene for the whole record,” Wiley said. “It’s talking about waiting on the apocalypse, but it’s still light and fun. To me, the theme of the record is searching for light and dark. I thought that was one of the best examples of that.” 

That sense of foreboding runs through several songs on the album that were written during the pandemic. The album title comes from a line in “Full-Handed”.  

“Eddie wrote ‘Full-Handed’ and allowed us to use it,” Wiley explained. “He wrote that song about a couple of people he knew in college getting a divorce, and that song is from the kid’s perspective. The first verse goes ‘I’ve been sitting here wishing, drawing pictures to pass the time. I’ve been dreaming of tomorrow, but you left us here with Mom.’” 

The album ends on a hopeful note with “Song of Moving On,” which Wiley says he wrote to help him get through the COVID-19 pandemic.  

“During the pandemic, I was going through a little depression,” he said. “I was scrolling through the music on my phone and trying to find the right song that could cheer me up and will me out of it, and I couldn’t find the song. So, I decided I’m going to write one. That one came very quickly. I was talking to myself. I just wanted something light and hopeful. I think the music almost suggests a hymn sometimes. It felt right to end the record on some triumphant note of survival.” 

In addition to leading his band, Wiley has been hosting many fellow Virginia singer-songwriters at a monthly showcase held at The Heist in Bowling Green. The event is called “One Night Only” since each one features a different lineup. In August, Wiley will be expanding that concept with some full band performances at Wilderness Run Vineyards in Spotsylvania. Admission will be $5.   

“So many of these people have bands and you can’t fit that on every stage so we’re going out to Wilderness Run and we’re going to have an all day festival,” he said. I’m hoping we can make that a good old party. It’s a beautiful setting and I think it will be a great time.”  

If you go

One Day Only Festival with Jon Tyler Wiley & His Virginia Choir, Mackenzie Roark Band, The Judy Chops, Jonathan Brown, and Caroline Vain. Wilderness Run Vineyards, 1109 Plank Rd, Spotsylvania Courthouse, VA, Saturday August 24th, 1-9 p.m. $5 at the gate.  

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