>> Any night you go to Mohawk Place in Buffalo is special. Blisteringly iconic and heartwarming at once, the venue is the Western New York version of CBGB and anyone who’s been around long enough to have gone to a few shows there has a great story or two about the place. Last Friday night was no different except there was the exclusivity of meeting the man behind the music before the show and fate had it that I pulled up in front of Mohawk at the exact same time as the Welles tour van. Jesse himself got out to move the cones blocking the parking spot they would need to unload their gear. I yelled across the street for him.
The first thing anyone would notice about Jesse Wells is his absolutely soul piercing eyes. They don’t look at you or through you, but into you in an intense way. But not intense enough to make you uncomfortable. His eyes are welcoming and almost understanding to a fault, the way he throws his long hair to the side nonchalantly isn’t forced or stylized, it’s simply him, and his eyes tell the same story.
He invited me and the photographer upstairs to the dressing room right away where it’s quieter and the lighting is better. “We’re not some brooding artists that don’t want to be bothered before the show. We opened for too many people like that”, he says as we’re headed through an alley between Mohawk Place itself and another building, garbage, stairwells, and dark windows blot the scene as we head up a steel staircase next to red brick. “As soon as the openers get here we’re inviting them up!"
This is Jesse Wells; accommodating, sincere, experienced, open and completely honest. You can’t help but like him right off. The whole band is like that and our conversation is less than an interview and more like a few friends shooting the breeze.
“The road is good," he says shifting on the stairwell in the alley outside the green room. “We take better care of ourselves on the road then we do when we're home in Nashville. You know, we drive between six and fourteen hours and then get a hotel room and we still have things to talk about. That’s indicative of how well we get along.”
Jesse is still writing and recording with the band in the tour van. They have an interface and laptop and rotate around the van to the recording station to lay down different ideas: “It’s a craft and I don’t feel very good if I’m not writing.” He admits to writing hundreds if not thousands of songs since 2012. But his latest effort and the album they are touring on 'Red Trees and White Trashes' is what he calls “the culmination of all the rock and roll we’ve previously experienced. We had Lennon and Dylan and Bowie and we can draw inspiration from them and still make new rock and roll!”
The track “Seventeen” has garnered a lot of attention through streaming services and has become his most played track. He talked about writing that song before there was label interest and how vulnerable he is every time he plays it. “When I wrote it I just realized that manhood was going to be different from the way my dad or his dad experienced it. It was going to be interesting, more complex, and now I know it was going to be a bit more graceful. There’s an authenticity to it. A bit self-deprecating but a bit hopeful.”
We move inside to the dressing room where Jesse picks up a guitar and strums a bit. While downstairs, we can hear someone playing acoustic and singing some classic rock hits. Photos are taken and Jesse seems unfazed. Just another day at the office for a rock star, climbing his way with his band mates out of regional obscurity and into the national lime light. The rest of his band has now gathered around and are listening in or getting ready as the show time draws nearer.
The horizon is bright for Welles. The band is finally cutting their teeth on the road and getting the attention they deserve. They’re all hard workers and see that this is merely the beginning. “I want to do a double LP next," Jesse says sitting with one leg propped up and still strumming his guitar, "I’ll call it 'Hells Welles.' The first side will be the pretty things, the good tricks. And the second one will be just absolute decay and decimation!” He shuffles in his seat as he gets reaction from the rest of the band: “I have Nirvana's 'Bleach' in me and I have a 'White Album' in me. We have all this rock and roll behind us and there’s all these styles. I want to play it all.”
For now the tour continues. The van writing, the long drives, all of it. But it doesn’t bother Welles. The future is looking bright as more and more people find out about this incredible band and they certainly aren’t slowing down. <<