3 Questions

3 Questions with Musician Cole Bee Wilson

Three chords and the truth

If the name Cole Bee Wilson rings a bell for Santa Feans who have been around a minute, it’s almost certainly because they got down with the musician’s massive and collaborative Apple Miner Colony that operated back during the heyday of the College of Santa Fe and Warehouse 21. A sprawling group that rose almost in response to the likes of Neutral Milk Hotel and Sufjan Stevens, the indie band had too many members to count—they came, they saw, they conquered. These days, though, Wilson says, he’s a little more interested in stripped-down songwriting, even as he works with other projects. Wilson takes over the El Rey Court’s La Reina bar with his countrified tunes this week (7 pm Sunday, Jan. 14. Free. 1862 Cerrillos Road, (505) 982-1931), and he’s legit, too, both as a dude who works a ranch in the summers to this day and who cut his teeth for the now-defunct Santa Fe Southern Railway. We caught up with Wilson to learn more. This interview edited for length and clarity. (Alex De Vore)

You’ve worked in numerous styles over the years. What best describes what you’re doing these days?

As an aside, I play in a three-piece prog/post-rock/shoegaze band called Holy Garden District…and I write orchestral music, too; plus a bunch of music for the exhibits at [all of the] Meow Wolf [locations]. But the short answer is that I’m ready to play an acoustic guitar by myself. What you’ll hear at La Reina is extremely sparse and sad, but also corny and humorous.

There have been several country musicians who have claimed to coin the phrase that ‘country music is just three chords and the truth,’ and that is really what I’ve been trying to get after the last couple years with my songwriting. In 2022, I released an album called Jukebox Chapel, and I went full minimalist. The next body of work—and I recorded this album in March of last year but decided I really wanted to take a different approach—is like a sister album to Jukebox Chapel.

I think for some Santa Fe people, your name conjures images of a large band. What was it like scaling down into more intimate creative avenues?

I think a lot of it has to do with age. When I was running Apple Miner Colony, I was in my early 20s, and I was a child shepherding a bunch of other children. But I had an enormous, fiery, youthful voice about the world, and my feelings in it and my place in it. So did all of my peers.

Post-Apple Miner Colony, I played in a bunch of different bands in Austin, Texas, and eventually came back around to doubling down with Meow Wolf in 2013…and then that became my life, and that is also a pretty consistent state of maximalism. So in my private practice, it felt like a really natural progression for me to land in a place that was stridently minimal, sort of trying to get at the exact poetry of something with as few brush strokes as possible.

Not long after Apple Miner Colony, I started writing country music out of the blue. I wasn’t expecting it, but…I started writing these indie cowboy songwriter pieces about losing the band, the college, being broke….

The Meow Wolf artist community has experienced lots of loss, including the deaths of co-founder Matt King and artist Mikey Rae. Have these events inspired you in any way?

One of the very first things I did after Matt King died was to reach for my guitar, and I wrote this song that is literally just three chords and the truth called ‘Love Does it All,’ and that actually is the title track of this album I’m working on that’s about all the beautiful things that love does for us. It enriches us, fills us up, lifts us up; gives us our highest highs. But it’s also about how love is so much broader and deeper than that. Love also destroys you. Love completely devastates you. And on the other side of all that devastation, you find these terrible gifts—this deepening of experiencing what it is to be alive.

We’ve all heard folks older than us repeat these sort of universal truths that we take for granted, but before you actually experience things like true love and true loss, and ecstatic bliss and devastating grief, you don’t actually know. They’re just words. I’ve got this new song, and it’s probably the most raw of all the songs on the new album, called ‘King Cobra,’ and the chorus goes, ‘Everybody tries to tell you how it is/But they can’t until you understand/That’s just the bitch of it/You don’t know the truth til it’s got you by the wrist/Shaking you like a pitbull, kid.”

The whole album is really a sort of hard sit-in with all of the grief of last year and the half-year before that. It’s not just about Matt, it’s not just about Mikey. It’s about anybody who has lost somebody.

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