Poprocks and Moonshine: Local artist talks success in indie music scene

Chris Wilhelm unwinds the rubber band that binds his life’s work into a stack, spreading the collection of albums across the table in front of him. The Asheville-based singer and songwriter is on the verge of a new stage in his music career.
“I am very excited,” Wilhelm said. “One of my goals is to treat it as art. I want to lay down a new body of work and keep going.”
The Hudson, New York native launched his music career as a solo artist before forming a folk rock band, The Wilhelm Brothers, with Cristof Ensslin.
“We would average about 230 shows a year couch-surfing, playing retirement homes during the day and booking venues at night,” Wilhelm said, with a hand placed over The Wilhelm Brothers album Lay Your Burdens Down.
Each CD is tucked inside a paper sleeve vibrantly colored with original paintings by artists from Asheville’s River Arts District.
The Wilhelm Brothers acquired a momentous fan-base in Asheville and surrounding areas before last month’s decision to split.
“I have been a full-time artist for four to five years now,”  Wilhelm said. “If I could tell people one thing it would be this –– you can make a living as an independent musician. We have done all of this without a record label.”
Wilhelm said he released eight albums during the past 15 years, including solo work and collaborations with other musicians such as Ensslin.
Wilhelm said finding the balance between business and creativity is critical when
pursuing music as a career.
“My thing has always been singing and writing, not the business part. Cristof handled the business side of things. You can make a very good living if you find a team of the right band and manager,” Wilhelm said with a warm smile.
Wilhelm said he believes social media is a useful tool for booking shows and gaining publicity. Throughout the years, Wilhelm said he was able to book shows with a dynamic range of audiences.
“I think the strangest gig I ever played was the Asheville Marathon with The Wilhelm Brothers. It was six in the morning and people would just run by and cheer,” Wilhelm said, playfully raising two fists to mimic an enthusiastic passerby.
Wilhelm said he previously opened for Dropkick Murphys in 2004.
Though the two members of The Wilhelm Brothers went their separate ways last month when Ensslin went on to pursue a career in computer programing, Wilhelm said the music has not faded for him.
“I am starting a new project with Kim Smith and I am really excited about it. The name we are going with is Poprocks and Moonshine,” he said, placing his guitar, Marta, on the floor.
Wilhelm said he hopes to keep the focus on folk for the new project, but aims for an aesthetic more similar to the band Shovels and Rope.
Heavily inspired by artists such as Conor Oberst, Andrew Bird and Neil Young, Wilhelm said he walks through the woods to gain inspiration for lyrics.
“The worst thing you can do is think about it,” he said. “You just have to get quiet and write.”
Wilhelm said he performed with a punk band in New York before moving to Boston. He settled down in Asheville after becoming burnt out with Boston’s heavy metal atmosphere of music, he said. He did not entirely abandon his punk rock past.
“There is a certain spirit of punk, a spirit of questioning and looking beyond what is presented to you,” Wilhelm said. “That is still in my music and I hope it stays there.”