Tamsin Wilson recalls sitting in her New York apartment feeling generally dissatisfied and impatient. What jolted her out of this mood was a little centipede that had wandered inside.
“He seemed at peace, just roaming around,” Wilson says. “For a split second, I really envied him.”
This experience inspired the track “Centipede,” which she wrote for her band Wilsen, and which became the lead track on the band’s debut full-length I Go Missing In My Sleep. It’s a tranquil track that actually captures the feeling of staring at this creature for just a second, as time seems to slow down (“Oh I wonder how you move/Your hundred little legs/They spin with such grace.”)
“Centipede” sets the tone of the record, which wanders into a sense of calmness that is neither sad nor happy—a strange detached feeling permeates every song. Wilson says that when she wrote the songs for the album, she didn’t really have an aesthetic in mind, but can see in retrospect how she was creating a cocoon for herself.
“It was a period of time when I was really seeking an escape from the craziness of New York, and just really seeking a bit of stillness,” Wilson says. “I think that ended up encroaching into the songs.”
The band has been playing together since 2012. Wilson, who grew up in the U.K. and later Canada, started the band after finishing college in Boston and moving to New York City. As a teenager, she dreamed of being in the music industry, but imagined herself working behind the scenes. The experience of playing with her bandmates and working out songs with them was an “unexpected surprise.”
The band self-released a handful of EPs, and slowly crafted this first album over an extended period of time, which was released in April.
When the band started the record, they didn’t have a deal with a label, and they didn’t know exactly what it would sound like. Wilson, the group’s primary songwriter, didn’t show the band the songs until just before their first couple of weeks of studio time was booked. They headed out on tour after that first session, and worked in the studio for another 10 days after. In the months that followed, they finished everything up in their respective homes doing overdubs.
These songs were initially very simple acoustic songs. Like the opening song about a centipede, Wilson remains calm and observational in her songwriting.
“I love people and their stories and their histories, and there are a lot of songs influenced by other people’s histories,” she says.
Through the process of recording, the songs became fleshed out with layers of instrumentation, subtle soundscapes, and emotional flourishes. It’s a gentle work of art.
“It’s a wonderful way of working because we were able to revisit parts, and build parts along our entire timeline,” Wilson says. “It was a huge discovery process for sure. You can wake up in the middle of the night and catch something, or a week later, you might want to change something.”
When the album was done, they shopped it around to different labels. Secret City was a perfect fit for them because, as Wilson says, they nurture artists to have careers, not hit singles.
“The catalog is all career artists. They’ve all been with the label since the first record. That was such a good sign for us,” Wilson says. “We want to be doing this for a long, long time.”
They hit the road for their first headlining full U.S. tour and stop in Santa Cruz on Sept. 15. They’ve toured a handful of times before, but they were always supporting other acts.
So far, Wilson has been surprised by the number of fans who have turned out for their first U.S. tour as headliners, but it’s also the path she and her bandmates in Wilsen have planned all along: create a slow build and generate fans incrementally.
“Who knows? Maybe now that we’re on a label, things will change. Top 40 here we come,” Wilson says. “No, I’m joking.”
INFO: 9 p.m., Sept. 15, Crepe Place, 1134 Soquel Ave., Santa Cruz. $10. 429-6994.