The Autumn Defense, a side project of the acclaimed alt-rock band Wilco, arrive in Providence Friday as part of a brief New England tour that includes an appearance at this year’s Newport Folk Festival. Formed in 1999, the band is known for a sophisticated indie-pop sound with harmonies heavily influenced by 70’s AM radio and artists like America, Seals and Croft and Firefall.

We spoke to Pat Sansone, co-founder of The Autumn Defense (along with Wilco bass player John Stirrat) as he was preparing for the tour that visits POP Emporium in Providence Friday. The tour concludes Saturday July 28th at the Newport Folk Festival where the band will play a “For Pete’s Sake” session at Ft. Adams.

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On the Road

Sansone is looking forward to the tour. “We haven’t done an honest to goodness tour in a long time,” he noted. “This version of the band has been playing together for many years so it doesn’t really take very long for us to get into the mindset. We pretty much just pick up our instruments and start playing and it feels very familiar and comfortable.”

After a few more dates, it’s on to the Museum Stage at Newport next weekend. “This project (Autumn Defense) is pretty flexible – John and I just played out west as a duo. We love doing it with a full band. At Newport, it’ll be “me, John and our drummer Greg (Wieczorek). The approach is going to be an acoustic stripped-down version of the show with John and I on acoustic guitars and Greg on percussion. Greg is also our third harmony voice in the band so it’s really nice having him for the three-part harmony.”

With indie powerhouse Wilco as their main gig, Sansone and Stirrat approach Autumn Defense with a different perspective.

“They’re different – the most obvious way, in Defense, it’s just my songs and John’s songs, there’s a different part of your person that’s being utilized and satisfied when your expressing yourself by singing your own songs. It feels good to perform this music that we are so directly tied to creatively.

“With Wilco, it’s thrilling, but there’s also a different experience as we’re there to support and boost and add to the songwriting vision of Jeff (Tweedy). I love being in that situation and I love playing with those guys. We play to much bigger crowds than the Autumn Defense. That has its own excitement. They’re just different beasts.”

Sansone is usually listed as “multi-instrumentalist” especially as a member of Wilco. It’s an intriguing tag, and we asked him about it.

“I’m happy to be identified that way, it’s just what I am. In Wilco, I’m able to do a lot of different things, all the different roles I like to play. I love being in the studio and jumping around on different instruments. There’s a give and take there, I know so many great musicians and a lot of players have dedicated their life to one instrument and they’re just mind blowing. For whatever reason, that’s the path I’ve chosen to take. I enjoy it, I don’t know, maybe I just have a short attention span and I get bored easily,” joked Sansone.

Mississippi Native

Sansone grew up in Mississippi, where music is part of the state’s heritage. It’s also part of his family legacy – his grandmother was a musician and his father ran a popular concert venue in Meridian, MS.

“I grew up in Mississippi surrounded by all kinds of music. When I was a kid growing up in the 70’s, I was really influenced by what was on the radio at the time, and I also was interested in music that people in my family played, which was more on the jazz and blues side. When I was a teenager, I was listening to the Beatles, The Byrds and The Who, music that wasn’t directly connected to Mississippi. It wasn’t until much later that I discovered how important and deep the well was there. I didn’t really have an appreciation for it until I was a bit older but certainly feel like it was valuable to grow up there and soak it up by osmosis. It was kind of like a big conversation was happening there.”

Voter Education

Sansone is a spokesperson for a voter education initiative this election year, known as #iVoted. “The way it works is that admission to a show is free if you show a picture of yourself voting at the polling place, you just have to show evidence that you actually voted. It’s a fun way to encourage registration and awareness and just kind of celebrate participation in the process,” explained Sansone.

“It’s really the vision and the effort of my friend and manager Emily White. She’s really the engine behind it, I’m just here to help spread the word about it. It’s a way to encourage people to be aware of how to register to vote and then to vote in ways connected with the music world – promoters, musicians, clubs, venues – it’s an effort for awareness.”

Local #iVoted shows are in the works – we’ll update you on when they are scheduled.

Click here for details on Autumn Defense Friday at POP – Johnny Irion opens. Meanwhile, check out some videos of the band, including the Bob Welch classic “Sentimental Lady.”