A Chat With: Welles
From playing major festivals like Bonnaroo and ACL and sharing stages with the likes of Greta Van Fleet, Royal Blood, and The Regrettes to releasing his debut album Red Trees and White Trashes, Jesse Wells (AKA Welles) has been on a roll for the past couple of years. With his addictively gritty and emotive sound that’s reminiscent of 90’s grunge and classic rock’n’roll, while also refreshing and revitalizing at the same time, it’s no surprise that Welles continues to garner the attention of new listeners.
This month, Welles will head out on yet another tour, headlining shows across the country— including a stop at Schubas on February 20th. Ahead of the show, get to know more about the songwriter as he discusses his move to Nashville, covering The Cure, his tour essentials and more.
What was your first musical memory?
In the first grade I was walking down the sidewalk with the class singing Don McLean’s “American Pie.” I remember grabbing classmates on either side of me and getting ‘em to sing the chorus with me until the teacher finally came and asked me to not sing that. Picture of bunch of 6 year olds singing ‘them good ole boys were drinking whisky and rye,’ arm in arm, rolling down the sidewalk.
Congratulations on releasing your debut album Red Trees and White Trashes in June last year! What was your favorite moment during the writing and recording process of these songs?
I enjoyed writing them back on space mountain in AR. I used to stay out late, wake up and go and get coffee with my mom in the mornings. Then I’d go back to the apartment and write. Salad days for sure.
Since moving to Nashville from your hometown in Arkansas, what would you say is the biggest growth you’ve seen in your songwriting and artistry, or the biggest lesson you’ve learned?
I’ve written a few songs folks like, but I’ve gotten mostly negative feedback otherwise. I’ve stayed productive aside from being on tour 7-8 months out of the year. The most profound lesson, or at least just a consistent thing I’ve been aware of since coming to Nashville and touring the states is that everywhere is relatively the same. When I first moved up I found myself saying ‘oh just like Arkansas’ a lot. The more I traveled the more I found that everywhere is just like everywhere else.
Your sound has been compared to legends like Kurt Cobain and the more modern Ty Segall, but who are some musicians who have influenced you that people might not expect?
I grew up with a lot of CSNY and Simon and Garfunkel. I spent a lot of time with Dylan, still do. I like a guy who calls himself ‘Little Wings.’ Check out ‘Light Brang’ or ‘Boom’. Guy’s a poet.
I love the cover of “Lovesong” you recently did for Spotify Singles. What made you pick that song for your cover?
A buddy of mine reckoned I oughta give that Cure tune a try. I recorded a version down in my basement, folks agreed, and we went into the studio and did that. It was honestly my first encounter with new wave. I missed the 80’s. The aesthetic always seemed so inorganic to me. I’ve come around though.
When you’re writing, do you ever look to other art mediums like movies, books or visual art for inspiration? If so, what are some recent works that have inspired you?
There was a period of time that Apocalypse Now! was pretty much on repeat in my apartment. I want to capture the horror. I read some Ginsberg and Salinger too. Visual art is a bit frustrating for me, there’s a disconnect but I’ve got plenty of years to come around.
Who would you love to work with in the future (either touring with or collaborating on a song)?
I’d love to tour or to write with Ty Segall. He’s brilliant. I think Mac Demarco is the tops.
You’ve spent a lot of time on the road, playing music festivals and touring with bands like The Regrettes and Greta Van Fleet. What are the three things you can’t live without on tour?
I don’t roll nowhere without my off-white BPA- free walmart thermos. I hate the idea of using so much plastic all the time, it’s gross. I like to have Dr. Bronner’s peppermint soap, I keep a little thing of it. And a lot of kombucha. I like the GTS gingerade brand.
Which cities or shows on your upcoming February/March tour are you most looking forward to, and how would you describe your live show in three words?
I’m stoked to be back on the west coast! And the east coast! Honestly when I’m in the van, I’m equally excited every day. It’s a wonderful life.
If you were entered into a talent show and couldn’t pick music as your talent, what would your special talent be?
I would tell em jokes till I lost.