John Wesley has built a long and varied career as a songwriter, “sideman” guitarist, and recording artist. His music has been called lyrically sensitive and musically dynamic. His songwriting style incorporates emotionally-charged vocals that evoke the honesty and intimacy of Roger Waters and Patty Griffin coupled with a melodic yet intricate guitar style reminiscent of David Gilmour, Alex Lifeson, Jeff Beck, and Warren Haynes.
Wesley’s guitar-driven acoustic and electric songs represent the cultivation of many inspirations — alternative, progressive, art, and classic rock genres intertwined with poignant lyrics drawn from the poetry of the common man. What really appeals to Wesley’s fans worldwide is a spark of sincerity and sensitivity so oft absent in today’s mainstream music.
PRS: What was it about the guitar that first pulled you in?
JW: When I was young, music in general always seemed to grab me and divert my attention from whatever I was doing. Elton John’s “Benny and the Jets” got me started on piano, but I didn’t enjoy that instrument. I ran across some Cream albums for a dollar at a garage sale, then I heard a recording of “Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress” and those guitar sounds hooked me. I found out a guitar teacher lived down the street, I started lessons and never looked back.
PRS: Who were some of your biggest musical influences?
JW: Eric Clapton of course, David Gilmore, Jeff Beck, the last several years I have really been into Warren Haynes... I have a mad love for the Dickey and Duane solo journeys from the Allmans. But at the same time ACDC, and heavy tones like that always tended to grab me. I discovered Hendrix at one point and was consumed. Jimmy Page and that sunburst was a poster that I had in my room, I used to stare at that guitar and those sounds really informed my playing. In my late teens I found myself chasing the complex arrangements of Alex Lifeson... Santana... So many of the greats really.
PRS: How has your playing evolved over the years?
JW: For some years I found myself chasing techniques that ultimately were not me. When I was younger I think I confused “chops” and “musicality”. As I played more and aged I learned to access chops to obtain musicality. I was at the same time developing as a lyricist and was writing vocal melodies for most of the songs in the band I was in, yet I didn’t sing. I felt the need to “sing”, but not being a “vocalist” at the time, I used the guitar to find my “voice”. I found my playing getting very vocal. Years later, actually in my late 20’s I began to sing, and got most of my sideman gigs because I could play complex arrangements... and sing! Now I find myself hearing solos and soundscapes in my head to a level that I never did when I was younger. I really chase the things I hear in my head on guitar, and when I am stuck on parts for recording sometimes I’ll even take my hands off the guitar. I’ll close my eyes and try to hear the parts or sing them, then find them on the guitar. My playing has evolved to being much more “vocal” than when I was younger.
PRS: Can you describe your songwriting process?
JW: I have had a fairly extensive recording set up in my house for years and during the writing of this album, I closed my commercial recording studio and moved the gear home, giving me access to a fairly extensive palette of sounds. I have amps mic’d up all the time and several amp heads, also as many different styles of guitars around me as possible and a variety of pedals. My process is based less on “inspiration” and more on “perspiration” as the saying goes. I try to make time most days of the work week to come in and pick up whatever guitar speaks to me that day, and plug it in to a favorite amp. It is already mic’d up and ready to go so I turn on the Pro Tools HDX rig and start playing. Eventually things start coming out and I try to pull the bits that work out and focus on them. I am fairly vicious in my editing process and most everything ends up on the cutting room floor so to speak, but what remains gets shaped and put into a form that I can then start playing it with my studio partner Mark who is the drummer on the album. I have a really small house, but have managed to create a drum room, control room, amp space and made it all easy to access. Then Mark and I will work through the tracks and when enough are assembled, we change drum heads and start tracking. Being a lyricist, I do have to admit that sometimes the songs start from a set of lyrics and melodies that have no music, and again...I’ll sit down and hammer out the song until it flies, or until I drop it and move on.
PRS: Let’s talk about the new record for a minute… How long has this album been in the making?
JW: It took about a year and half from when I made the decision it was time to focus on the album. Being on mostly independent labels most of my solo career, the budgets are such that the writing and recording has to be worked in around making a living and living “life”. Mark and I both have kids and share a small recording business, so the album took shape as we could work it in.
PRS: How would you describe this album stylistically?
JW: I write from a very “song” oriented perspective. It has taken me years to meld the singer songwriter side of me with the love of heavy guitar tones and parts. The arrangements for the songs are complex but all of them grew organically. I have been really attached to 70’s prog rock but from a very guitar oriented perspective. I like to think of the sound as the actual definition of “prog rock”. It truly is prog with heavy guitars and a very in depth lyrical structure. The album comes from that place I grew up in where we used to buy a record, gather your friends around, put it on and stare at the sleeve, read the credits and lyrics and take the journey. We did a beautiful vinyl/cd version of the album for those that want to take a trip back to that experience or for those a bit younger who want create a newer version of that experience. It’s all guitar. No synths or modeling amps. Not that I don’t think those are not valid, they are, it’s just that I have set myself up here to be able to use the amps I love, real drums and organic tones and therefore do so. As for “synth” sounding things, I have an assortment of pedals and use them to create non guitar sounds when I need them. My piano skills are limited so I rely on the guitar for all the parts I hear in my head.
PRS: What PRS models did you use on this record and what made you gravitate towards these?
JW: My main single cut that Winn had the artist shop make for me almost ten years ago saw the most action. I have one of the CE Baritones that really sits in the mix nice and is on a majority of the album. I use a variety of tones and “classic” instruments as well when creating parts and sometimes the older guitars won’t intonate properly so I rely on my 305 quite a bit to blend in some “cut” with the heavier guitars. I also have a McCarty Archtop for the parts that need some “hollow body” type sounds. I blended the piezo and pickup of my P22 for a couple unique arpeggio parts that sit under the mix and that helps certain parts to poke out as well.
PRS: Did you write on any instruments other than guitar?
JW: I have tried, but at one point I had to sit back and realize that I have spent the majority of my musical life working on the guitar and come to the understanding that the guitar is home for me and my writing comes out the best on the guitar.
PRS: We recently sent you a McCarty 594 model and although you didn’t have an opportunity to use this guitar on the album, can you tell us about your experience with this instrument so far?
JW: When I was young I grew to be really attached to that “vintage PAF” kind of tone you would hear with Page, Gary Moore, early Santana or Joe Walsh. So I have chased that tone and feel through the years with different instruments, but could never afford or tour those classic old guitars. When I picked up the 594 I was a bit shocked, I normally gravitate to a different neck style number one, but this neck felt amazingly comfortable and before I even plugged the guitar in I could hear how it rang out. I could bend the strings and hit the intonation on the bends with no problem and as soon as I plugged it in, I knew I had found a guitar that would help me access the tones I hear in my head. There was something special about the guitars that Moore, Page and Walsh used to play, the 594 is the first guitar in a long time bring me to the place that those guitars took me all those years ago. I have to use several instruments in my solo set due to tunings or tones and the 594 will be on a good portion of that touring set.