While he was still in high school in Basking Ridge, NJ, Stratton, who now lives in Red Hook, would commute to an Astoria recording studio to work on his first album. Eventually Stratton learned that Stevens, one of his musical heroes, occupied the same studio room as him on different days.
"I found out Sufjan was recording Illinois here," says Stratton, chuckling. He’s fielded questions about Stevens before. "Michigan was a big influence on me in high school, and Sufjan agreed to appear on my record."
As exciting as that may sound for a fan, it came as a bit of a disappointment for Stratton, as Stevens’ contributions were minimal.
"He really had nothing to do with it besides putting oboe on the first and last song," says Stratton. "We had to edit it heavily and rearrange it completely just to get something that was close to what we had intended."
It also delayed the album’s release months, as Stevens was touring China and the two musicians never had direct correspondence with each other. In the end, it was a failed collaboration.
"He didn’t like the way his oboe turned out, so he asked us to take his name off the credits," says Stratton. "He was like a ghost figure on that first record."
I’m no longer the biggest Sufjan fan," he explains. "I’m glad it happened, but it was a very protracted and confusing experience."
Still, Stratton doesn’t regret being a blip on Stevens’ radar.
"It brought me more listeners than I ever would have had," he says. "That record is still the most listened to because of his small role."
While Sufjan completists haven’t forgotten about him, Stratton has moved on, recording two more albums and an EP since then. And any further musical partnerships have been with friends, many of them classmates from Bennington College in Vermont, where Stratton graduated from last year.
"Bands like Mountain Man and The Wailing Wall are bands that I play with a lot that are my friends," says Stratton. "It can get weirdly cliquish, but we try not to think about ourselves as a scene too much because we play with a lot of different people."
Stratton’s musical tastes place him outside many of the Brooklyn scenes. For one, it’s just him, so there are no lo-fi weed psych jams to be heard here, even if he wanted to make them.
"The closest ‘scene’ I guess I could be considered a part of is The Silent Barn crowd," offers Stratton, laughing. "Because a friend of mine books me there."
High school musical: Will Stratton.
Just the same, Stratton’s dynamic, often hushed brand of folk pop probably wouldn’t work at most Brooklyn venues. He also loves living and recording in Red Hook, where he moved recently from Bushwick.
"In Bushwick, it was pretty densely populated and there was a lot of noise all the time," he explains. "There’s an atmosphere down here that gives me a chance to think. To breathe. To exist. The quiet at night is good for recording. I’m getting a mattress from my old apartment and putting it up with hooks on the wall to dampen the sound."
His latest album, recorded in a bedroom as well, is called New Vanguard Blues, and was self-released in July in a digital-only format. Sounding like Nick Drake was suddenly blessed with John Fahey’s blues guitar picking skills, it features Stratton almost exclusively on just acoustic guitar and vocals. Recorded over a weekend earlier this year, it is the precursive antithesis to his next effort.
Stratton’s fourth album, tentatively titled The Late Romantics will be much more complex.
"There will be a lot heavier orchestration [on the next one]," explains Stratton. "I tried to make more it a more communal experience with my friends on previous records and improvise. We’d do seven or eight takes, and now not I’m doing that as much. It’s being done a little more compositionally."
There will also be a shift in the way he approaches the melodies in his songs.
"I’m trying to make [this record] more discordant," says Stratton. "I think peoples’ first instincts are not always to make really discordant music, so it helps to write it out with this one."
That all sounds just finejust don’t let Sufjan Stevens and his oboe anywhere near it.
Jan. 1, Silent Barn
915 Wyckoff Ave. (betw. Weirfield & Hancock Sts.), Queens
212-253-8080; 8, $TBA.