Derek Anthony Wilson is the mind behind the genre-bending, high-energy, and outstandingly-creative music group, Archpalatine. They released their first album in 2018 and have been rising in the Philadelphia music scene since. Their latest release, Transition Period, was released earlier this month and is available on Spotify now. CVZ spoke with Derek over the phone to discuss the new EP, Derek's inspirations and aspirations--and to our absolute delight--he performed a freestyle rap especially for this interview.
Let’s first talk about your musician background.
I grew up in Philly, born and raised. My older sister went to middle school with Will Smith’s brother--so that puts a time stamp on things. I’m an 80s baby, 90s kid. I went to Chestnut Hill Academy, and I was in their boys’ choir. What made me want to do music is singing in church first, and then hearing Mariah Carey sing. I stole my sister’s tape of her Vision of Love album. Being a boy soprano, I could sing emotions, I thought I was fly. Then one day my voice changed. It was devastating. Like, I couldn't sing The Magic Flute anymore. I went to an all boys school and we had to cast sopranos as the female roles, and right in the middle of the production my voice changed.
How do you describe your sound?
It’s something that’s been a struggle to define for a very long time because of the eclectic nature behind it. Most of the time, the industry standard is to choose one genre and go that way. I grew up having a jazz pianist and a classical voice teacher, and singing in an operatic style choir. And I was the only black guy in my school with a whole bunch of white males--the genres of music our parents’ listened to were very different. My classmates introduced me to a lot of new sounds, all these great bands in the 90s, that inspired my taste growing up. So now when I describe my sound, I say it’s theatrical soul rock or sometimes futuristic Philly funk.
Part of what we like so much about your music is your ability to switch it up! It’s such a fun EP to journey through, and already on our second listen-through we were singing along. Lyrically, what are the themes you explore on the new EP?
I was once called just Palatine, and there was another band in the area also called Palatine, and their common law trademark allegedly superseded our Library of Congress trademark. So we changed our name, it was a big deal, a transitional period. So the song “Transition Period” is about having to change the name of the project. And I’m so proud and happy that that song came out of that, and the new name which I love even more came out of that. “UFO,” on the other hand, was my idea for a song for Beyonce.
In “Riding and Rolling,” I always imagine I’m riding in a car going down Pacific Coast Highway with a woman. She has on a bonnet, like a Susan Sarandon bonnet. And we just had this long conversation--I don’t know what the story might be. But it’s tense. And we’re in it together. Then the song goes, “Time has taken its toll, we’ve gone as far as we can go. This time we gotta ride, and we gotta roll.” Just ride it out.
What is the writing process like for Archpalatine?
Danny Newport and I co-wrote all the songs together. We spent all our time together in his studio and worked out each song over the course of the end of 2017. We both frequented the Grape Room in Manayunk--he was the bartender, I was the host of the open mic. And we became good friends. The first song we wrote was “Way With Words,” and we were so proud of that first song. We didn’t write others immediately because we were so proud of that first song. It shaped the way the whole album was written. We found a formula that worked for us. We have a great musical synergy.
The art direction for your project is really strong. We especially love the cover artwork for Transition Period. What inspires your visual art?
My friend Charles and I collaborate on the art for the project. A lot of the photoshoots and artwork come from drawings that I’ve done or Charles has done in collaboration with me. For the album cover for Amalgam, we made oobleck, which is a paste made of cornstarch and water. When you touch it it hardens and oozes down. We sat in my living room and poured oobleck over my crown originally made of clay. We changed it to metal because that’s what amalgam means in the literal sense, a mixture of metals.
And then suddenly, to our surprise, Derek starts freestyling. As fluidly as if he were speaking.
Rollin with the punches, rolling with the tide,
Take the ebb and flow, take it where you want to go
Keep the wheels rolling you might go fast you might go slow
That's the Danny Newport flow
I don’t usually freestyle like this, it's crazy
I guess it’s cause I’m sitting in the car feeling lazy
He pauses for a moment.
OH MY GOODNESS WHAT IS HAPPENING RIGHT NOW?
Sometimes you freestyle
When do you stop, at the eight mile?
When your time is up and you gotta go quick?
Feeling so crazy and you’re kinda a lil sick
You gotta keep going
Talking to Kristen and Paige
Thery’re so cool, Cherry-Veen Zine
Scream it out, scream and shout
Imma stop now cause I might mess up
And mess up any clout
I might have for the web
Now it’s time to go
I can’t for your next question
So just let me know
by Paige Walter