Bruce Hornsby isn’t your typical wedding singer. But when his pal Justin Vernon, of Bon Iver fame, asked Hornsby to perform at Raleigh chef Ashley Christensen and Kaitlyn Goalen’s wedding last month in Raleigh, he gave the green light.
Christensen owns several restaurants in downtown Raleigh and is the 2019 James Beard Award winner for Outstanding Chef in the country. Goalen is the executive director of Christensen’s AC Restaurants.
In other words, who could blame Hornsby for performing at an event where the culinary delights were going to be sublime?
Hornsby, 63, will appear with his band The Noisemakers July 23 at the North Carolina Museum of Art. He called from his Williamsburg, Va., home to detail how he scored such an enviable invitation, what his pal Spike Lee is like and what’s on his musical bucket list.
Q: How did you end up at the wedding of the year?
A: I was asked by Justin Vernon and Brad Cook to be the “surprise” musical guest for the reception. It worked well; they were totally surprised and seemed a bit shocked when Brad and I walked in. I played first, by myself, with Justin singing and playing along when the spirit moved him.
Then we did a few songs as a band, and after that I had to jump on my tour bus and move to the next town. I had never met Ashley. It was a lovely event, and the newlyweds are a beautiful couple.
Q: Your latest album “Absolute Zero” veers in a number of different directions. Were the songs written over a long period of time?
A: Over the last 11 years I’ve written over 230 different pieces of music for Spike Lee films. There were several that felt special to me, felt that they needed to be developed into songs. I had my engineer create a file of 14 of these, and I already had some song ideas for some of them.
So my charge was to get in my studio and do the hard mental lifting, the hard thought needed to create over these musical pieces that,for the most part, felt like fairly complete musical statements. So I did that and entered a very intense period of creativity surrounding these “cues” I had written.
There’s no one standard model. Lots of these songs were written, again, with music coming first because of the cues. But three songs were written lyrics first: “Never In This House,” “Voyager One” and “The Blinding Light Of Dreams,” three songs that are extremely musically disparate stylistically.
Q: Regarding Spike Lee, you have a long relationship with him. How much do you guys talk about your passion, basketball?
A: Hoops comes up fairly frequently in our conversations. He knows I have a son, Keith, who has been playing in the NBA G-League for the past three years after his very strong college career at UNC-Asheville and Louisiana State University, so he’s interested in that. We mostly talk about friends, family and upcoming projects.
Q: It seems that so many musicians wish they were athletes. Did you ever have that feeling, and how much fun has it been watching your sons excel at sports at such a high level?
A: I was a jock as a kid, so it was fun to have them become interested. When they became deeply involved and ambitious, it tended to become less about fun and more about managing potential burnout in the face of the never-ending grind. So the life of a parent with kids playing sports at a high level is at once exhilarating and stressful. They became (Division 1) athletes because they excelled to the point that they were recruited, fairly heavily, by colleges- Russell the runner at a high-major level, and Keith the baller at a mid to low-level, and were offered scholarships by several of the schools recruiting them.
Q: Many of your contemporaries refuse to record new music. They’re content to ride the nostalgia wave, but what compels you to continue to create and record?
A: I’m a restless creative soul, and I’m bored quickly. Playing a song the same way at all times is a bit of a prison for me, and I’m always looking to keep my band interested, so I’m always looking for new musical moments that keep the music fresh.
Q. How did you hook up with Justin Vernon?
A: Justin Vernon Of Bon Iver and Brad Cook invited me to come to Eau Claire, Wisc., to work on new music and play a gig with them in April 2018. I came bearing gifts — film music compositions I thought Justin may respond to. One of the pieces he liked, maybe the first one, was a cue that I called “Cast-Off.” I often title my instrumental pieces based on the source of inspiration that led to the composition.
I had decided I needed to write a sort-of semi-grand end-credit piece, so listened to some score music on YouTube. I was listening to the end piece from Tom Hanks’ “Cast Away” and got an idea from that. I called it “Cast-Off” for that reason.
We were working on the piece, and Justin said to me “’Cast-Off’ is a good title. Why don’t you try working from that?” So I dug into that idea, and came up with these words depicting someone accepts and even embraces rejection, a song about humility and patience in the face of this. Justin added the B-section (pre-chorus) and we were off.
Q: You’ve worked with so many fascinating recording artists. Who else would you like to work with?
A: As far as a bucket list goes, I don’t have one; any list I may have had has been pretty much filled in at this point. Paul Simon asked about my playing on his last record, and of course I said an enthusiastic yes, but alas, it never came together.
Who: Bruce Hornsby & The Noisemakers. Amos Lee will open.
When: 7:30 p.m. July 23
Where: North Carolina Museum of Art Joseph M. Bryan Theater in the Museum Park, 2110 Blue Ridge Road, Raleigh
Info: 919-715-5923 or ncartmuseum.org