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The expected way the tale of an emerging indie pop/rock band like The Black Doves unfolds is this: founder and frontman Steve Wilson puts an ad on CraigsList in early 2008 to find an incredible ensemble that can help him complete his debut project. The San Antonio based group is so in synch so quickly that Wilson makes a cool, whimsical name change (from solo artist to The Black Doves), they do a first gig at the local club Sneakers and soon they’re playing the local stop of the Van’s Warped Tour on a bill that featured superstars like Paramore.
From there, the high energy band—whose lineup includes Brent Matthews (drums), Danny Trevino (lead guitar),
Frank Rodriguez (bass) and Bruce Phillips (keys)—is invited to showcase at South By Southwest and plays venues throughout the region, including clubs in Shreveport, Louisiana, Fitzgerald’s in Houston and their “home base,” Jack’s in San Antonio. Add a critically acclaimed debut album (Moments of Clarity) to the mix and you’ve got the makings of a powerful DIY success story. Right?
Only there’s a catch—and his name is Uncle Sam. Wilson, who served in the Army (82nd Airborne Division) and Texas National Guard on the GI Bill during college, has been in the Air Force for the past ten years. He flew during the “shock and awe” first night of “Operation Iraqi Freedom” and has done missions for “Operation Enduring Freedom” in Afghanistan. He was able to find time to write and perform acoustic solo gigs while based at Barksdale AFB in Shreveport between deployments, and took a short break from his duties to fly to Spokane to record tracks that would ultimately develop into the core of Moments of Clarity. Currently a flight instructor at the Naval Air Station in Pensacola, Florida, he’s miles away from his Texas based band mates and the city where The Black Doves was born. The solitude and logistical frustration of trying to keep The Black Doves’ musical momentum going despite the distance is one of the driving forces behind the songs on the band’s new five song EP Discovering Gravity.
“All of the songs on Moments of Clarity are autobiographical, based on different experiences in my life and those around me,” says Captain Steve Wilson, who grew up a classic military brat. His father is a 27 year Air Force veteran and his mother is from England. Wilson attended the University of Wyoming for two years before enlisting under the GI Bill; he later completed his college education at the University of North Texas, where he began playing singer/songwriter acoustic shows and traveling around Texas—all the while enrolled in AFROTC.
“These recordings aren’t like those pop projects where a bunch of great writers get in a room and pen tunes about nothing they’ve actually been through. I have actually lived every word of what I write. I wrote ‘Like I Do’ for my oldest son Connor, who is eight now. It’s a prayer that while I’m away, God watches over him like I do when I’m there. I wrote ‘Ask Me To’, which evolved into a rocker but was originally an acoustic tune, at a picnic table on an island in the Indian Ocean while on a mission for Enduring Freedom. It’s an open love letter to my wife about trying to make up for all my shortcomings.
“I was very fortunate that the guys who became my band and evolved with me into The Black Doves instinctively knew how to convey these emotions and take a personal involvement in them when we play live,” he adds. “Discovering Gravity is about falling down and learning to pick yourself up, facing all the challenges of life, struggling to make things happen in the music business while working an extraordinary, time consuming ‘day job,’ and having the rug pulled out from under me when I got transferred to Pensacola. I confront a lot of my personal issues—a process which began when I wrote a lyric that captures the spirit of the project: ‘When I discovered gravity, I found the truth that set me free.’
”Although the music industry and the U.S. Government seem like very different employers with distinctive demands on Wilson’s energy and creativity, the multi-talented performer has discovered some unique ways to merge his two worlds. In 2008, he scored major accolades with two compositions in the “Songs From the Soul of Service” songwriting contest, an amateur competition that is a collaborative effort between the Dallas Songwriter Association and the Defense Department’s America Supports You program—which highlights corporate and grassroots support for U.S. service members and their families. Wilson’s “Ask Me To” took top honors in the pop/rock category and won first place in the competition overall. “Like I Do” placed third in the Inspirational Song category. More recently, The Black Doves performed at Snowball Express, a Dallas-based event for families of fallen heroes; among the bands appearing was The Lt. Dan Band, led by actor Gary Sinise, a major endorser of the event dedicated to “creating hope and new memories for the children of fallen military heroes.”
“Despite the challenges of having these dual careers,” says Wilson, “I feel blessed that having a secure job in the military has allowed me to pursue my musical dreams with The Black Doves while not yet having to rely on the money that came from it. Eventually, as things progress, my goal is to play music full time and to go on tour with these amazing musicians. My wife always tells me that she wishes I was as happy and on top of the world off the stage as I am while getting ready to get up there and play for people. I’ve flown major missions for my country, but there’s nothing more exciting or gratifying for me than performing my songs for an appreciative audience and connecting with them on that emotional and spiritual level.”