The Up and Coming Rocker Talks Debut Album and Stylistic Evolution.
The promising up and comer unleashes a monstrous debut LP.
There is a refreshing grittiness to Welles' debut record. Appropriately titled Red Trees and White Trashes, a volatile lineup of 13 songs, each even more dizzying and addictive than the last, the album works as both a cross-baring release and a feverish dose of adrenaline. "It's not been anything like a religion, probably why I enjoy it. Music has a spiritual component. I get the most out of it playing with other folks. It's having a conversation in a different language," rock firestorm and band frontman Jesse Wells muses in a conversation with Popdust, reflecting upon the record which marches along at a brisk and unapologetic pace.
Opener "How Sweet It Is to Love" pours out the gasoline; "Into Ashes," with its cobra-like rattle, strikes the match; and "Codeine" lights the whole damn house on fire. By the fourth track, what you are witnessing is an ambitious creator making such a bold statement, it's hard to imagine where he could possibly go next. Borrowing a line out of "Seventeen," an invigoratingly soul-tearing, raw and cerebral moment, almost a mix of Nirvana and Tom Petty, the album's title is "just my life," he says. "The music is just songs I make during my life. A working title from a time back was 'Through Red Trees and White Trashes,' which may explain the title a bit better, though for brevity's sake..."
Through the album's generally grim tone ⎯⎯ "There is an overall dismal feeling to a lot of tunes," he says, "but I'm afraid that's just my affection" ⎯⎯ "Seasons," as frantically grunge-rock as it is, carries the most emotion for him. "I think it's because I mentioned my folks and maybe a bit more information than I wanted to disclose," he says, pointedly. That is just the springboard for self-exploration, as he analyzes his typical approach to the music itself. "I've seen that I have a tendency to take the musically-easy way out of musical hang-ups. I'll just cut the damn part if I can't do it well, when in fact it's worth the difficulty and practice for myself to make the tune work."
Below, Welles dissects essential cuts and discusses the role of the album's three producers, rock 'n roll evolution and the age of 17.
"Into Ashes" is like a snake slithering across the desert floor. What went into creating this song's almost sinister mood?
I did it in 45 minutes on an evening on Space Mountain. I was teaching a lot of Alice and Chains tunes at the School of Rock where I worked, so their riffs were creeping in on me. I needed a spooky lyric, and what's more spooky than the unknown? Do you know what I've done? Nope. Well, that's kinda creepy. That's what I wanted.
You worked with three separate producers on this record, Beau Boggs (Anderson East, Jamey Johnson), Bobby Emmett (Nicki Lane), and Dave Cobb (Sturgill Simpson, Chris Stapleton). They're three very different creators. What kind of energy did they bring to what you wanted to do?
I was along for the ride, regardless of what these fellas brought, but they happen to be great talents, each of them. So, I was in good hands. The energy was just that ⎯⎯ palpable, present. All three of these guys have fire for brains. I felt like I fit right in.
Was it easy to keep a cohesive style across the various tracks each produced?
It wasn't an intention or a spoken thought to keep a cohesive style. I reckon just so long as my voice is crackling all over them, that it was a cohesive enough member. I suppose it is easy to keep it in track, sonically, when you're literally recording all of it in a couple days. There was no time to go off the deep end, and the songs were already written.
How has your rock 'n roll style changed from the time you started playing music to this album?
It has been snowballing and developing, each year I hear new artists that change the way I write.
You have a song that explicitly talks about your love of rock 'n' roll. What's so invigorating and compelling about this genre?
I can't explain. From a young age, it's made me hot to trot. My mother has this memory of my rollin' into the living room screaming "LOOKIN' FOR ADVENTURE" after I'd heard "Born to be Wild" the first time. Rock 'n' roll is a good home for my passions.
"Crush 19" is among the most visceral moments on the record. What led to this song?
It was actually about 20 clicks slower when I wrote it, much more intense in that regard. There is a lot of suspense as that chord progression climbs and falls. I heard a Wolf Alice tune that inspired me to write it.
Conversely, "Life Like Mine" is a bit more chill, psychedelic even. What's the story here?
Well, I'm inconsistent. I didn't have a drum kit or any real studio set up when I recorded the demo, so I was using a lot of auxiliary percussion I'd made and acoustic instruments to get the song down, which led to its sound. A tune is like a child; nurture and nature take equal parts in its development.
There is such a rasp to your voice on "Summer," which is another slow-burn. This might be the most haunting of the bunch. What summer are you singing about here?
I really enjoyed making that one. We were done with most everything else; my voice was completely shredded; and I was in a foul mood. Probably just needed something to eat, but everyone put up with me for that one. I sat in the corner of the studio; they mic'd me; and we straight went for it. No rehearsal, maybe just a couple takes. I was pouring my misery and anxiety into it. I'm singing about summer '12 or '13, I think. I played a house party in Little Rock, then I came home and wrote it. It's taken on new meanings since that time, and some of the lyrics I'd only just added that week.
"Seventeen" came out months ago leading up to the album. Was 17 a pretty transformative year for you?
I actually wrote that when I was 19 about a 17-year-old person. Every year has seemed so formative for me when I look back on them. It's really hard to say one did me in any more than the other one.
That age has often been sung about in music, including on Steve Nicks' "Edge of Seventeen." What is it about that age that is so important?
I'm not sure it's anything about the age. 17 is the only three-syllable number in the teens. 7 is the only two-syllable integer. Any prefix or suffix renders it 3 syllables, one more than almost (I think) any number. It reminds me of the word cigarette (3 syllables). There is something very lyrical about both these words, and they are overused for that reason. I'm just one of the folks out there using it again.
Listen to Red Trees and White Trashes below:
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