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It was a drab Friday in Kansas City. One of those majorly uneventful days; the skies were slightly grey, it felt like Thursday for some reason, and everyone just had this off-putting air about them. Things would soon change, as Friday night promised a heap of great music and good friends at the Riot Room… I just had to get over that midday hump. And meeting up with Jesse Wells ahead of his headlining set at the Riot Room was just the push that was needed.
We headed across the street from the venue, to Mills Record Company, to hang out and chat.
I caught your set at SXSW when you played the church. Was this your first South By? Did you have a favorite SXSW show or memory from this year?
The First Presbyterian Church? Yeah that was a funny gig. That was probably my favorite set, one of the only ones we played there.
I had done South By the year before that, and then I had really been doing it since I was 18, but never as an official member. You can hit all these markets on the outskirts or just outside of Austin that are still… they try to buy in on the whole SXSW thing so they have their own festival.
We played at the British Music Embassy too this year, it was cool, kind of a smaller place, we were all sharing gear. You know SXSW is just a wreck. I liked that church gig though, because if anything, this may sound lame, but we had plenty of time to get set up and get ready.
I stayed through your set, and up to that point, you were the loudest band, by far. How was that?
I’m used to that, man. You know, everywhere we go we’re usually the loudest band. I don’t say that like a “draggin’ my knuckles” or braggy kind of way either, it’s just there’s a quieter culture surrounding rock and roll right now, that kind of bedroom pop rock culture for it.
You’ve always kind of been that way though? I was recently listening to your previous project Dead Indian, and it’s just as loud.
Oh yeah, Dead Indian was aggressive. Well, it wasn’t as much being aggressive as being miserable, but it was loud and boisterous.
I dug it, it had a more of that Southern Rock tinge to it, and I picked up on a lot of grunge influence.
Yeah, I haven’t listened to that stuff in forever, I can barely remember. It was a lot more grunge, it was closer to my grunge days, high school when I was listening to a lot of Nirvana.
Describe your perfect show.
Oh, well it’s only a 30 minute set. It’s in Smoke & Barrel Tavern in Fayetteville, Arkansas…. and there’s like 4 band bill. We’re somewhere wedged in between. And the place is packed; completely and utterly packed. Everyone is sweatin’. And you just jump up and play a real burner for 30 minutes, and everyone is in to it for 30 minutes. Just having those shorter sets, I mean, I can think of my favorite band and I’m going to get bored at some point watching them for an hour and a half. So I like those quick ones, where everyone can actually be in the moment, cause they know that moment is going to pass pretty soon.
Curate a music festival. Where is it, who’s playing?
Let’s have it on Mulberry Mountain, north of Ozark; it’s where Wakarusa used to be. I would love to see Beck just as like a huge, closing headliner. And see him play like, Sea Change and Modern Guilt, I just like those records so much. And you’d have…well it’d be a rock n’ roll festival. So Mac Demarco, definitely. King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard, get your ass over here. Orb…basically anyone over there at Flightless Records making rock n’ roll. I wanna hear the Mild High Club.
I’ve heard your music described as “dirge”, where did that come from, I think it’s a fitting way to describe your style.
Yeah, it reminds me of the “Life Like Mine” music video, cause that’s like a funeral march, with all those flowers and such. Dirge can be my style haha. I hide a lot of my personal shit in metaphors; I want a lot of privacy and separation. I prefer to be practical haha.
What really gets you in the mood to write? Is it a space, a ritual, anything special?
I build up to it, a couple of days even, like warming up. It’s like a run or something. But it’s all about routine and schedule for me. I love to write in the morning, first thing. Get some coffee in me around 9am, and from 9-11am I’m like a fountain pen and can just really put it all together: get lyrics and ideas down. I’ll sometimes take a pause in there to talk to my friends or my family. I’m drinking coffee so I just want to talk to a lot people.
So yeah, I write down all of my lyrics, and as far as recording goes, lately it’s just been record when you get a chance while out on the road. But I’ll go down to the basement of my house in Nashville. I don’t get high or drink while recording or writing, just so I can finish what I’ve started.
The songs are written mostly on acoustic guitars. You know, I like to be able to make sure I can play it all the way through before i go and lay it down. Even still, I’m right there in front of the mic recording each take. I’ll go through and listen back to each take to sort through and find the neatest little thing I did by accident, then I’ll save that.
Pretend you work in a record store. Someone walks in asking for recommendations, what do they have to ask for for you to pick up “Red Trees & White Trashes”?
Ummm….something new that sounds old. They want something that sounds worn-in, not worn-out. Still young, still fresh, but with a familiar grit that we’ve seen in so many artists through the years.
Alright, I’ve got a few records for you to find. Pick an album cover that elicits how tour has been so far:
What about 2018 so far:
What album cover embodies your (theoretical) online dating profile?
Welles is gearing up for a late-summer tour, in support of Dead Sara. Peep the dates here, and get your fanny to a show.