A funny thing happened during the pandemic for musician William Wright: He cleared his calendar, because he thought we were all going to die.
OK, not really, but the guy with so many titles to his name that it’s difficult to list them all — singer, songwriter, rocker, composer, rapper, multi-instrumentalist and now sideman to Emilie “EmiSunshine” Hamilton — found himself, like most other musicians, stranded in the horse latitudes without the winds of industry to power his sails.
No shows. No tours. Nothing but time — to spend with family; to spend on his job as a video content developer for Blount County’s Cornerstone of Recovery; and to create.
“The pandemic really stunted my release rhythm,” Wright told The Daily Times this week. “I’ve just been piling up works I can’t talk myself into doing anything with, and it’s kind of crazy. My desk is completely full, but there’s no schedule for any of it, because I thought we were really going to accelerate into the apocalypse. Now that we’ve survived, it’s like, ‘Oh, no!’”
It is, of course, a good problem to have — and one that the William Wright of more than two decades ago could in no way have foreseen. At the time, he was a Roane County refugee who served in the Pride of the Southland Marching Band and started an indie rock project called Senryu. That band is still part of the East Tennessee music scene, having released its first record, “Stars and Garters,” two decades ago and its most recent, “Jaws of Life,” in 2017.
Four years is the longest Senryu has gone without making a record, and even though the songs are written and his bandmates are ready to pull the trigger, Wright is still searching for his unpause button.
“It’s written, the songs are great and everybody’s ready, but I can’t talk myself into doing it, and I don’t know why that is,” he said. “We’ve also got a Peak Physique (his electro-pop duo with Matt Honkonen) record completely written and ready to go. The videos are shot and everything’s done, and I can’t talk myself into releasing it.”
Over the years, however, he’s learned to listen to the whispers of his muse — and right now, she’s piling on the work but holding back on firing the starter pistol. He’s always managed to juggle numerous different projects, including the LiL iFFy wizard-rap persona that made him a national hip-hop phenomenon, but COVID changed that.
“I think it’s always been the matter of lining the irons up, but they’ve always heated up in sequence, so that when I get through one, the next one’s starting up,” he said. “Now, it’s like I’ve gotten so comfortable spinning the plates that I’ve forgotten how to do the rest of the trick, and now I’m just spinning plates. I haven’t performed my own songs on stage in I don’t know when, but I’m working hard and doing a ton of scoring for media, and writing tons of music all day now.”
And despite the multitude of backlogged projects, there have been glimpses of what he’s been up to: The release of the film score for “This World Alone,” a post-apocalyptic thriller directed by his longtime collaborator, Jordan Noel. Noel pitched it to Wright during a lake party in which the latter was “champagne drunk” when Noel leaned over the side of the boat and requested his scoring services.
“I thought, ‘Well, I’m hallucinating, but I love it,’ and I had no idea what I was doing,” he said with a laugh. “I made that score in a way I would make an experimental record, and now that I’ve been going to school (for Professional Orchestration for Film and TV at the Berklee College of Music), now I know I did it in a way that was completely inefficient. I made decisions that there’s no way I would have made now, but I don’t know if I would be as happy with it if I had done it to the standard I understand now from film school.”
There are other scoring projects in the works, along with contemporary classical compositions — like “ARRAYS” and “A COMPLETE FAILURE OF HUMANITY!,” two pieces that debuted at the St. Petersburg (Russia) International New Music Festival. Wright’s contributions were done virtually, but it allowed him to collaborate with Austrian composer, organist and teacher Klaus Lang. His participation sparked a creative flurry that made his recent addition to EmiSunshine and the Rain a grounding affair.
His friendship with Hamilton’s father, Randall, dates back almost a decade, when the latter first approached Wright about some instrumental contributions to his daughter’s sound. That was before her meteoric career took off, and for the next six or seven years, they stayed in touch until recently, when they discussed Wright adding strings and orchestral arrangements to flesh out the new EmiSunshine record, “Judgment Day,” due out next month.
“I’m usually working on something at my house that my family can’t wait for me to stop working on, but the three songs they sent me, even my family couldn’t get enough of them,” Wright said. “I got them orchestrated pretty fast, and we got to talking about how nice it would be if they could have some of those production factors live. They asked me to help with that, so when the time came to pull the trigger, I had one rehearsal and five days to learn 90 minutes of music.”
Not long after, Randall Hamilton brought Wright an accordion, and he learned to play it on the spot. Friday night, he’ll add a number of instrumental flourishes to the EmiSunshine full band experience, and while a veritable motherlode of work awaits him back home, it’ll provide a nice respite for his fevered creative brain, he said.
“I’m kind of living in a multiverse right now, with things happening as a score composer, a concert music composer and with multiple bands trying to go, whether I want them to or now,” he said. “I’ve got my family, I’m a full-time student at Berklee, and now I’ve got this career as a touring musician with Emi. I didn’t really have any desire to tour again, to be honest, but I think (the Hamiltons) are doing something so special, and if what I can do can help what they do, then that’s kind of a no-brainer.”