Interviews and Articles

Fret Not: Wictor Slides into Fine Folk Style, by Chris Kocher, Press & Sun-Bulletin (Binghamton, NY), April 28, 2006

What is an American?

It's something that most of us don't even think about, but the question has very personal meaning to folk singer/songwriter Pat Wictor. Because his father's job in the oil industry moved the family around a lot, he was born to American parents in Venezuela - and at 18, he had to renounce any Venezuelan allegiances.

In a roundabout way, the experience - which gave him a taste of what it's like to be an immigrant to the United States - led him to his exploration of folk music.

"The whole question of what it means to be an American is so constantly on the table these days, with a lot of discussion about it in the culture at large," Wictor said. "To me, one of the cements we have is our wonderful and rich musical heritage. That's a common language and a common set of experiences that we have that binds us."
With Wictor's love of America's musical roots - and his immersion in its myriad forms - it's hard to tell listening to his latest CD, Waiting for the Water, just which songs are his own and which are covers of older artists. That's a testament both to his own songwriting skills and his ability to make others' songs his own.

Wictor's trademark -- along with his clear baritone -- is the acoustic lap slide guitar, an instrument that many have tried but few have mastered. With a standard guitar, the strings are kept close to the fret board to ensure ease of playing; lap slide strings should never come into contact with the frets. The player moves a slide along the strings to form notes - a technique that Wictor admits can be tricky, but well worth the effort.

"You're basically courting disaster every time you play, because you're a millimeter away from being out of tune with every note," said the Brooklyn-based musician. "The thing that you gain with slide guitar and lap-style playing is that it's extremely expressive. ... You can make the strings sing in a way that's real close to how a human voice sings."

Interestingly, though, one of the most beautiful songs on Waiting for the Water has no instruments at all (apart from a harmonica).The gospel-inspired Love is the Water is a powerful a cappella effort that teamed Wictor with the ladies of Philadelphia's Full Frontal Folk.

He credits his collaborators with much of the song's success: "I knew I wanted an a cappella song and I knew I wanted a choral arrangement, but I had no idea what that would be. (Full Frontal Folk) listened to my little, skeletal single-voice recording and came up with this whole arrangement."

The song, with its theme of breaking down barriers within people's hearts, has found resonance in churches.
"From the kid who stopped going to church at age 14 ... I've now returned to going to churches to perform that song during services," Wictor said. "It's been a wonderful experience -- that people would find a spiritual connection with that song means a great deal to me."

Among Wictor's other standout songs on the 10-track album are Where Did You Go? (a tender goodbye to a loved one), Dover Town (an English folk-style ballad) and Sleep Easy (a lullaby sweet enough to hush any crying child).

The CD also includes versions of bluesman Son House's Death Letter; Rich Deans' Civil War ballad, Don't Dig My Grave Too Deep, and Skip James' slaughterhouse lament, Hard Time Killing Floor Blues.

For Wictor, the key to successful covers is finding an emotional connection as well as a different approach.
"Even a song that I love and speaks to me, if I can't do something with it that sounds different than someone else has done, I find it harder to make a case for singing it - because why would anyone listen to my version over anyone else's?" he said.

Wictor's love of folk was planted at an early age, as he learned songs such as Michael, Row the Boat Ashore.
"I can remember as a kid in elementary school being exposed to all kinds of folk songs which stayed with me - the melodies, the language of it," he said. "There was a yearning to reconnect with those songs that wasn't fulfilled until 20 years later, when I started playing."

After college, he worked for six years as a humanities teacher. But his muse led him to focus on his music career full-time.

"I like being part of a tradition - and it's not that I have any affection for traditions per se, but because folk music is so bound up with our history as a country, to write things in that vein makes me feel connected with all these people who came before me," Wictor said. "Which is part of what I'd like to evoke - that I come from somewhere and I'm connected with a community and a country and a culture."
Share on Tumblr

updated: 9 years ago