What separates upstart pop act Danny Wilson from the rest of the new kids on the rock block?
Let us count the ways. First, to paraphrase Blondie's old slogan, Danny Wilson is a trio --one that hails from Dundee, Scotland. The group's name is taken from Frank Sinatra's title role in the 1952 movie "Meet Danny Wilson," which is also the title of the band's debut album. That record, which features the recent Top 20 hit "Mary's Prayer," exudes remarkable depth and maturity, marking the Scotsmen as highly precocious popsters.
Further distinguishing the LP--and further removing the threesome from run-of-the-mill rock rookies--are sharp, literate lyrics that incorporate everything from Catholic imagery to references to "friendly aliens."
And Danny Wilson--which opens for Simply Red on Saturday and Sunday at the Wiltern Theatre--couches these words in elegant, gliding, jazzy pop. At times, this soulful melange is given added instrumental spin and color courtesy of avant-garde jazz trumpet wizard Lester Bowie and his unit, Brass Fantasy--not exactly the standard choice to have embellish a rock band's debut LP.
And at a time when rafts of groups are taking inspiration from old-school hard rockers, glamour boys or comparatively newer bands like R.E.M., it's striking to hear a new outfit evidence such devout worship to the late, great Steely Dan.
"When I was in school, everybody was listening either to heavy metal or punk or whatever," singer-songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Gary Clark, 25, explained in a recent phone interview.
"I was kind of searching about, trying to find something (different)," he said. "In Scotland, Steely Dan really wasn't a band that anyone listened to or got played on the radio or anything. But a friend of mine said, 'If you want to hear guitar playing, there's some great guitar playing on these Steely Dan records.' So I bought one. I think the first one was 'The Royal Scam.' "
Love at first listen?
"Oh yeah, and from there I worked my way back. . . . The music really had a big influence on me, because after listening to the Clash and stuff like that (I was struck by) the quality of the music. I knew that's what I wanted, that kind of quality."
And, in large part, that kind of quality is what he and his partners (keyboardist/bassist/percussionist Ged Grimes and Gary's singer/multi-instrumentalist brother Kit) got.
Interestingly, Gary Clark has been playing much longer with Grimes--10 years--than with his brother. The professional association with Kit spans about three years. But that's still long enough that he chuckled knowingly when asked about the often-tricky, mixed-bag situation of brothers working together in rock bands.
"Like you say, there are pluses and definite minuses, as well. I haven't always worked with Kit; I have always worked with Ged. But, see, I'm 25 and Kit's 20. So there's quite a big age difference," he said, noting that he and his brother never played in bands together until shortly before Danny Wilson formed.
"That's when I realized that I actually really enjoyed working with my brother, which was a real shock to the system," he recalls, laughing. "So later (Ged and I) asked him to join our band. And, at the time, Kit's youth and energy and the different stuff he was listening to was really valuable to us.
"And I still really love it--one of the things is the honesty that there is between brothers. It can really be off-putting to maybe a record producer or someone working with us who sees that we just come right out with it. It can be quite disconcerting. And sometimes, brothers, in their inimitable fashion, will have a huge argument about nothing .
"But in general, it's not necessary for us to compromise that much," he said in his lilting brogue. "There are only three of us, and we do tend to agree on quite a lot, which is quite amazing."
One thing they agreed on was the group's name, but only reluctantly after it was determined that the group's original moniker, Spencer Tracey, could potentially cause legal problems. (The album carries a remnant of that previous life, a 90-second instrumental entitled "Spencer-Tracey.")
These cinematic references bring us to yet another trait distinguishing Danny Wilson from many other new bands in the midst of its first major tour, where the typical complaints involve poor food, lousy accommodations, insufficient sleep, etc. But what's Danny Wilson's beef?
"One of the worst things about traveling about so much," Clark said, "is you never get a chance to go see any movies."