"I hate to experience anything that isn't just the cold-hard truth," Jehsea Welles of Ozark, Arkansas is quoted in the press material for the Governors Ball Music Festival, where he will be hitting the Big Apple Stage on Saturday afternoon. A old school rocker at the age of 22, he's said his inspirations range from the cassette of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band that he was given by his grandfather at the age of seven to first hearing "Lithium" on the radio in middle school and deciding to pick up one of those guitar things and bang out his reflective tunes.
Listening to Welles' debut EP, Codeine (2017, C3 Records), you might hear more Kurt than Paul: Welles covered "Heart Shaped Box back in 2015 and once told a interviewer that his themes were, more often than not, "poverty, substance abuse, and the party that ensues." Sounds like a ball!
On the subject of balls, I had the chance to catch Welles before his Governors Ball debut and, as he tells me, "We'll all find out together what Welles is." Fun!
Popdust: The press kit at Gov Ball is really selling you a harbinger of authenticity to rock and roll. Do you identify as that?
Jehsea Welles: In so far as the idea of authenticity [as something] lying dormant in other artists waiting for me to raise my hand and send it forward, I think that's a joke. Compelling, maybe, not it doesn't stand up to a little research.
PD: As a rocker from Arkansas, you seem like an outlier among all the striving rockers vying for our attention. Are there any bands at the festival you'll be excited to catch?
JW: I'd like to see Mr. Mac DeMarco. I think the world of his music.
PD: In an interview, you describe the themes of your songwriting as "poverty, substance abuse, and the party that ensues." Most people view substance abuse as an all-together bad thing. Do you?
JW: Most people view substance abuse as an all-together bad thing. And they ought to. If it weren't for those of us making the art and getting out there on the edges, those folks wouldn't have a decent soundtrack for the gym.
No one will be surprised to see the long-haired white kid argue with the fathered up dogma against substance abuse.
PD: In that interview, you also promised to "break shit" in future live shows. Will that hold true for your show at Randalls Island?
JW: I ain't gonna break my only damn guitar. I'm still deciding how to present us. We'll all find out together what Welles is.
PD: A lot of people have commented about your use of psychedelic visuals and compared your music to acid trips. Any favorite psychedelics?
JW: I like snaggler pops and wishemballs and doesteoarias but other than that I tend not to stray too far from our planal boundaries.
PD: Elsewhere you mentioned becoming a Beatles fan since hearing Sgt. Pepper's on cassette. They just reissued the album in an insane six-CD box set. Do you think there's anything to be said about the more old-school ways of listening to music?
JW: Good to hear they're still squeezing money outa that racket. I'd say only that I enjoyed popping in cassette tapes and laying down needles. To me, it's nostalgic and simple. It's nothing more than that. How folks consume music doesn't much matter just so long as they hear it.
PD: Can you tell me a bit about the rock scene in Ozark, Arkansas?
JW: Ozark has no rock n' roll scene to speak of. We played in turkey houses out there. But in Fayetteville, where the state school and Walmart money are there is an entertainment district and the scaffolding left up after countless 3-year-term-limit turnstyling rock n roll bands make their way through college, that new rock n roll bands can enter and enjoy some weekend warrior success. There are a few that have outlasted and stood out during my tenure in that scrape, kids playing rock n roll out there have my heart. I'd recommend: May the Peace of the Sea be With You, Of the Heavy Sun, Elephantomlephantom, Witch Sisteritch Sister, Iron Irisron, Youth Pastorouth Pastor.
PD: What do you think mainstream rock is missing in 2017?
If it is missing anything, it is not because the bands or musicians are doing it wrong. Mainstream rock as a machine has failed the populous. The artists are still doing what they've always done, waiting to get picked up and put on a stage.
Intrigued? Check out Welles tomorrow night at the Knitting Factory or at the Big Apple stage at 12:45 this Saturday
Andrew Karpan is also from a forgotten part of flyover America. In fact, he can't quite remember where that part is. But you, on the other hand, can follow him on Twitter.