For musician J. Wilms, home is where the heart and next chapter are

After two decades in NYC, Atlanta-born multi-instrumentalist is back and making music true to himself
J. Wilms new album is the independently released “The Fighter.”

Credit: Courtesy of Derrick Quon / Howlin' Wuelf Media

Credit: Courtesy of Derrick Quon / Howlin' Wuelf Media

J. Wilms new album is the independently released “The Fighter.”

Like many artists during the pandemic, Atlanta native Jeremy Wilms produced an impressive body of work. But unlike many other musicians, J., as he likes to be billed, had to move back home to Georgia from New York to realize his vision.

The multi-instrumentalist had reached a creative and personal crossroads as the crisis peaked in New York City. “Things were really depressing at that time,” he recalled recently. Noting that he and his family lived in a neighborhood where refrigerated tractor-trailers were storing dead bodies, “it seemed to be a good time to make a big move. We’d thought about it before, but it was time to really do it. Plus, I’d reached a point where I felt I’d done pretty much all I’d set out to do when I’d first moved up from Atlanta over two decades ago.”

When Wilms and family headed South, they ended up near his parents’ home in the Duluth, eventually settling in the East Cobb suburbs. “It wasn’t a culture shock, really,” he said. “It was just refreshingly different, so it felt like a huge relief to be back down here. Finally, I wasn’t working with four or five different artists a week, going out on the road all the time -- and dealing with all the unhealthy things that go along with the job.”

Once settled in, he could have rested on the laurels of past glories that include collaborating and recording with an incredibly diverse slate of artists. Sessions with Chico Hamilton, Beyonce, Bebel Gilberto, TV on the Radio and Run the Jewels are among his many live and studio credits. He also toured with Broadway musicals, served as a member of house bands for television shows and played guitar in Taylor Mac’s “24-Decade History of Popular Music” series on HBO. But Wilms said he was inspired to move forward with his own career at that point.

“Of course, I loved doing all of that stuff and more,” he sighed, “but I don’t really like to dwell on the past. When I first got into music, I just wanted to write my own songs and sing them, and that was it. But once I started working with other people, I kind of set all that stuff aside. I basically wound up being in everybody else’s band but my own.”

The musical journey of multi-instrumentalist J. Wilms has returned him to metro Atlanta. He will perform Jan. 26 at Atlanta Soto Zen Center.

Credit: Wilhelmina Quon Wilms

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Credit: Wilhelmina Quon Wilms

After Wilms found the right school for his daughter and his wife landed a new job in the University of Georgia’s Department of Theatre and Film Studies, he was free to create his own vision. “I’d always been all over the place stylistically because I’d just adapt to whatever the situation required,” he explained. “But after we got everything else set, I went to work on my own stuff.”

Wilms acknowledged that an online search under his name might turn up an array of styles -- “anything from free jazz to classical to straight-ahead things,” he said. “But the songs I started writing after we’d settled were a real departure from everything I’d been known for doing. I think I basically found my voice. But it wasn’t like anything you’d probably connect my name to in the past; it was stripped down, honest songwriting of the moment.”

The first batch of those songs are collected in “The Fighter,” technically his third solo album. Contrasting with his previous issues, the independently released collection is an intimate batch of ‘70s-style singer-songwriter folk-rock. The resulting sound could easily be marketed as Americana in today’s label-happy marketplace, but Wilms said he has no interest in pigeonholing the collection.

“I really don’t know what to call it, you know? To me, it’s just an album about starting on a path, getting lost and then coming back around to it. Sounds so basic, but it’s really that simple. I think it shows that maybe you’ll find you already had what you needed the whole time. But how do you market that kinda thing? Don’t ask me! I just wrote it, I’ll let the listener decide what to call it. That’s never been my job and I’m not about to start now.”

The songs aren’t necessarily autobiographical, but he noted they were certainly inspired by relocation. “I know I couldn’t have written this record anywhere but here,” he said. “I could finally take long, quiet walks and see real trees and not be bombarded with construction sounds, sirens and all the noise and distractions of the city. It was inspirational on so many levels.”

Going the solo route isn’t as lucrative as his previous gigs, but he feels the pros outweigh the cons. “Many times over,” he said and laughed. “I was getting paid for being a sideman by several people, but it was for playing their music. Now I’m finally free to play my own material as a truly independent artist. It’s all up to me. If the vinyl version of ‘The Fighter’ comes out five months after the digital release, or whenever it’s ready . . . well, it’s ok. It’s on my schedule and that’s fine with me.” (“The Fighter” is available via Bandcamp, Cart/Horse Records and

In addition to playing a few intimate album-release shows, including at Atlanta’s Soto Zen Center on Jan. 26, Wilms is staying busy with a myriad of local projects. He’s currently working on a movie soundtrack with his wife and collaborating with producer Torbitt Schwartz, a.k.a. Little Shalimar. “We’re working on some things that are like a modern version of those cool Krautrock instrumentals of the ‘70s, basically ‘stoney,’ long-form pieces.”

Wilms had hoped that things would slow down when he returned to Atlanta, but he’s good with the fact that it’s working out differently.

“I’m probably busier than I was in New York -- and I’m doing it all on my own terms,” he said. “So it’s definitely good to be home!”


J. Wilms

7 p.m. Jan. 26. Donations accepted at the door. Atlanta Soto Zen Center, 1167 Zonolite Place, Atlanta. or