Call of the Colony
“I learned not to fall asleep in a horse costume.” That wasn’t the response I expected when I asked 24-year-old musician ColeWilson what lessons he had learned while touring with his ensemble, The Apple Miner Colony.
The Apple Miner Colony was spawned from the College of Santa Fe’s tight-knit community of musicians, artists, and budding composers from the Contemporary Music Program. Wilson, who arrived at CSF as a design major with an interest in political science and visual art, was already a seasoned performer. Walking around the campus while pondering the formation of his own band, he approached music students while they played their classical instruments. “Then it all kind of had a snowball effect,” Wilson said, explaining how the AMC swelled to more than 20 players before the band’s debut gig.
Comprising musicians with backgrounds in high-school marching bands and led by the enigmaticWilson, the group set about developing an uncommon style. Marrying the sweet plucks and strums of contemporary American folk music (think Sufjan Stevens or Fleet Foxes) and the compositional flavor of a modest symphony orchestra and chorus, AMC wasn’t exactly striving to win the affections of headbangers or the emo crowd.
Wilson and the group finally unleashed their well-rehearsed sound in 2006 at CSF’s O’Shaughnessy Performance Space. For their debut, Wilson and company were “dressed to the nines,” he recalled, “with a huge vocal chorus, two clarinets, Dave Keeling on keys, an upright bass… and we gave out apples; about 200 of them.”
During one show at CSF, Wilson appeared on the stage with an armful of red yarn and handed out pieces of it to the crowd. “The lyrics to the song during this part of the show were literally instructions on me giving my heart away,” he recalled. On one occasion, AMC’s onstage finale involved a vintage apple truck borrowed from a local car dealership, a mountain of balloons, fireworks, and a perfectly coinciding rainstorm. In other words, the band went big or it stayed home.
Wilson said that during the recording of the band’s debut album, 2008’s The Heat Haunted Fever, “I didn’t want anyone to play a note that I didn’t write.” Players were getting bored, but they weren’t voicing it. “A lot of people got used to waiting 54 measures” before being able to chime in. By the time AMC’s follow-up album was recorded (2009’s When the Morning Comes Home), Wilson’s approach to songwriting became less single-minded: “My ability peaked at a certain point, and my arrangements were probably a little too heavy on the fifth notes.” Wilson began writing more for specific instruments and enlisted more help in arranging from band mate Keeling.
Wilson and Keeling attribute a lot of their early breaks to former CSF dean of students Joseph Fitzpatrick. “I approached Joseph with the attitude of, ‘ There’s no way we’re going to fail,’ ” Wilson said. With Fitzpatrick’s help, AMC’s first album was primarily funded through the college.
At the end of the 2009 school year, Wilson, Apple Miner Colony, and a documentary film crew (which included CSF students Tristan Love, James Longmire, and Michael Everett) went on a five-week, 6,000-mile