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Wesley Wolfe: Gifted Songwriter Talks by Iman Lababedi

Here’s something you’ve never read before. I will explain at the end of the paragraph.

I am getting a lift back from the concert where he was the opening act and where with sweetly assuming but strongly constructed pop songs that offer the current generation of rock fans nothing less and nothing more than Buddy Holly offered an earlier one, he made himself a lot of friends.

Now here is why you have never read a paragraph like that before: I wrote those words about Marshall Crenshaw twenty-eight years ago but I am referring to Wesley Wolfe last Friday night. Wolfe is a great singer-songwriter of a type that comes along very rarely: he is a gifted melody writer, a smart lyricist and he is on the brink. And he gave me a lift back.  And rock nyc got to him first.

 I called Paul Finn when I arrived in Chapel Hill Friday afternoon  and  Paul said he’d have somebody pick me up and drive me downtown. I didn’t expect Wesley to be my driver but there he is with a copy of the vinyl Storage (“I recorded a thirty five minute album with the idea it’d fit on two sides of an album”) and a split cassette (with local band Other Tree taking the other half) released post-Storage.

Wesley is a tall good looking bloke with black hair, sorta a cross between Keanu Reeves and Jackie Chan but better than that sounds. He drives me to a supermarket cum coffe shop  and it is a fine Spring afternoon as we sit and talk. Wolfe is from Cape Canavaral where his mother is a school teacher and his father an engineer for the space center. “My sister lives in Orlando. She’s a DJ. Like house type stuff. She’s got two turntables.”

Wolfe is thirty two years old and he picked up the guitar for the first time when he was fifteen. “I had to get piano lessons in the eight grade in order to get a guitar. I play more guitar than piano but I can feel my way around. Key of C I’m good at! I write songs on the guitar.

“Or I’ll start with a rhythm. It depends on how much time I have to invest in something.”

Wesley had a band in Florida. “We were together for ten years. We moved up here (Chapel Hill) first of all for the music scene and then it was kinda central for touring. Eight and a half hours to nashville and eight and a half hours to New York City. Nine hours to Florida. If we were going out on weekends we could easily hit three or four shows a weekend.” The band was called Jehovan Chain. “We were playing post punk pop like stuff.We released a coupla albums. Nothing official just stuff we had at shows.We didn’t know anything about getting press or anything like that or how that happens or how you get on the radio.

“We were one of three bands in our hometown.” Jehovah Chain had a following, moved to Chapel Hill and broke up. “Again. It was off and on. Like every two years we’d break up, we were old skateboad buddies. And my friend Kevin, he was one of the first people I met when I moved to Florida when I was eight years old. We’re still in touch. Kevin’s in a band in Austin. And my friend Dan was the best skater so he was going to be the guitar player at first but we convinced him to get a bass.”

Wesley moved to Chapel Hill seven  years ago. “I was working at the Double Tree Hotel and transferred here.” Wesley says how trusting everybody is in Chapel Hill and as if on cue a complete stranger asks us to watch his bag for him.

 “I’ve moved from job to job since then. Serving and bartending. It’s the easiest way to get free time.” He has worked at a popular Asian restaurant for the past six years.Wesley  works three nights a week and spent the rest of the time working on music.

“I’be been working on Storage, off and on, for the past four years.” When he wasn’t getting married and renovating a house. “My wife is getting ready to go to law school.” As Wesley once put it: they’ve got different stories but they share the same scars. He denies my claim the songs are depressing about love. I mention “Gone For Good” “I don’t know if that’s about love. Maybe more about friendships and memories.” Actually a closer listen kinda proves his point. From “Sunshine” to new song “Live Until I Die”, Wesley uses love to get him over the horrors of EVERYTHING ELSE!!

When not choosing “between coffee and suicide” Wolfe has a little computer set up. “My friend Al owes a studio and last year what I did was I started interning in the studio to learn more tricks and see how the professionals do it and I learned a lot from working with him. He gave me keys so I can use it any time I want.

“The next album is gonna sound different because he’s just updated the pro tools and I got pro tools and now I can go over there and use his sound treated rooms and stuff. It’s gonna spend more like I spent a thousand dollars a day producing it. . Not that I didn’t like the way Storage ended up sounding” The album is a power pop lovers heaven. “My favorite music is pop. I would say my main influence from being a teenager was Nirvana.” Which might sound a bit off topic but the Kurt Cobain lesson was melody matters. “So that got me into loud electric guitars and those three chord songs.

“Starting out at fifteen, sixteen, in a band, like a lotta bands, will get carried away with the technicalities of song writing. Are you a sloppy guitar player, do you have technique. Can you play like this. And at first we got lost in that and I started to get more into: what about writing songs? It’s hard. yeah, it’s easy to sit there and play the same  things over and over again but what about writing a song? Developing a song in those three chords that works. Holding someones attention for two, three minutes.”

There are only ten songs on Storage and every songs stands up as a song. “I had three albums worth of material and basically just hand picked the ones that went together. I was looking at eighteen minutes a side for vinyl and that’s why it’s eighteen minutes.”

I ask whether Wesley is frustrated by the lack of acolades for his songs. “It’s a little frustrating but this is the most exposeur my songs have had ever. Just the knowledge that… Paul just emailed me,  told me the first email order was sold. Some guy in California. So my songs were out playing somewhere in California that interested someone enough to buy the record.

“For me it’s back to the begining again but now I’m conscious that it’s not just this magical thing that handpicks things out of the air and puts it on the radio. I know there’s a method.”

Wesley explains that he got involved with Odessa Records after buying their first three releases. “I knew about the Manx and Americans In France and my friend Jolts placys drums in the Impossible Arms  so I w
as supporting his band. And I was really impressed that here was this Paul Finn guy and Odessa. So once the album was done and my whole thing was I wanted to put it out myself and not wait for anybody else and so I emailed him with questions as to how to get records pressed. So when it was all done Paul asked to hear a copy, this was just before Christmas, and he asked me if I wanted to be distributed by Odessa and have him represent me. Do all the promotion.”

So Wesley has onealbum, a track on the new Odessa Compiliation and three tracks on the split cassette and all of which are great. The newer ones a little looser but no less wonderful that the album tracks, Wolfe looks to the future. “I’d like to play around town more and maybe go to DC and hopefully go to New York before the end of the year. I also want to start working on new material.”

The set that night was excellent (my review is elsewhere, type in Odessa Fest on the site’s google search) and like five hours later Wes is driving me back to my hotel and I remember that night nearly thirty years ago with Crenshaw. I ended my Creem interviewe betting on big things for Crenshaw and while Marshall forged himself a lifetime career he never did what he deserved to do sales wise. I think Wolfe should be huge as well but for right now you have Wolfe  to yourself. Take advantage. Buy the album. You will really really love it.

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