20 minutes With Jesse Wells of Rock Outfit Welles

“I have an angsty streak in me like any fella does,” says Jesse Wells, the 23-year-old frontman of Welles. The band released their debut full-length Red Trees and White Trashes, an angsty letter to rock and grunge, in June.

Before Welles, the Arkansas native was part of Dead Indian and later Cosmic American, two bands that he says were “very much a product of me and the fellas,” and he’d write to themes like the persecution of Native Americans—whatever the band wanted to talk about.

After becoming part of Cosmic American, Wells says “things became a lot more groovy” and he began writing to the idea of being like a Brian Jonestown collective. Cosmic American was about dual guitars, dual solos, and since it was the first time Wells wasn’t the only guitarist in the band, he figured why not pile on the guitars.

“Regardless of what band I’ve been in, though, I’ve always been recording the tunes on my own and writing myself,” he says. “Even the songs I wrote before that never got played or fit with the bands I was with, those are still my tunes.”

These unused songs make up the Red Trees and White Trashes album and were written after Wells finished college and was living in an artist commune within Fayetteville, Arkansas.

“I’m not really writing specifically for Welles now, I feel kind of a freedom to do whatever I wish to and we’ll curate a pile of the songs into an album when it comes time,” he adds.

While the earlier bands are now defunct, there are familiar hints of his past work in this 13-track album, which is a whisky neat celebration of rock ‘n’ roll and at times an homage to Nirvana-like rock ‘n’ roll. His voice oftentimes moves between Cobain and Decemberists’ Colin Meloy, carrying out a style that’s enticing for those with strong likings for either rock lead. The connection to Cobain though is something he’s well aware of.

“I didn’t know about Cobain until I was in 11th grade. I heard Lithium and ‘I was just like geez’,” he says. “When I heard Cobain's music I thought, ‘Okay, this is a definite valid singing style; you can just kind of mumble and then scream’. That was inspiring. I thought I could gather three of my friends and we can make some really loud rock ‘n roll.”

In 2015, Wells released a cover of Nirvana’s “Heart Shaped Box” via Pigeons & Planes, too, although the actual recording has disappeared from the internet it seems.

The college days also saw him invested in Blind Melon and Shannon Hoon specifically, and he’s always been a fan of Robert Plant (“Plant was more something you aspire to but never attain, that’s just an incredible voice”), Zeppelin and The Beatles, declaring The Beatles’ White Album as the record he couldn’t live without.

As for “some oddballs,” Wells directs our attention to ‘60s Brit rockers Jethro Tull, who instead of having a lead guitarist had a flutist.

“You had [Ian] Anderson playing a flute and singing while playing an acoustic guitar and they had this really Celtic vibe which hit me then at an impressionable age and still hits me today.”

“I’m also really inspired by Little Wings, which is this guy Kyle Field out in California,” he quickly adds into the convo. “He makes his own surfer music and I think he’s a total rockstar and deserves more attention...I mean we all want to be A&R reps too,” he says referring to the joy of discovering and promoting talent. “He’s my guy.”

The four-piece band that’s “all electric guitars and no acoustic” recently opened for Rival Sons, and it’s slots like this that Wells says have given the band a spotlight. “We’ve been fortunate to play a bunch of shows already and play for people regardless if they knew us or not. We’ve been opening up for bigger groups, which has been really good for us.”

“I would like people to like rock ‘n’ roll a bit more, I think all of us [in the band] do. It would mean we could afford not to work at a coffee shop, but it’s just a fact of life. You take it right on the chin and keep going because you love rock ‘n’ roll so much you won’t sacrifice for it,” he says in a completely matter-of-fact way. “Suck it, buttercup, you have to labour if you have a dream.”

Head here to get the album and other cool stuff.

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