Self-described as “an ashtray full of bubblegum,” there are two men fast making a name for themselves among the local indie circuit.
You may ask who, but then again, you’d be answering your own question. PressureLife talked with Wesley Who frontman Wesley Holbrook and drummer Steve Wask as they begin recording a new album set for an early 2017 release. The duo discusses the albums they grew up on, pros and cons of touring, and, of course, the merits of Will Smith.
PressureLife: Did Wesley Who start off as a two-piece? Right off the bat, was that your conception going into it, or was this something that ended up being a marriage of convenience after you two met?
Wesley Holbrook: A little bit of both. We were a two-piece before. We were a different band before, William Lindsey and the Lies, and it was also a two-piece and then the name changed. But the reason for the two-piece is for the convenience, mostly. You’re only dividing money two ways after a show and you can fit [the equipment] all in a Toyota. If we added somebody else after five years of being together, it would be hard teaching that person all the little tricks that we know.
PL: Performing as a two-piece: Was there ever a learning curve as far as finding your sound and getting down a nice set or was it something that you came into it with?
WH: Personally, I’ve always been in a two-piece since high school. I used to play drums and more. The science of you having to split your guitar into a bass and a guitar to discover the sound. It’s a long time coming. Perfecting the sound of it is something you have to worry about with a two-piece. Again, my associate and I have made a whole career of figuring out the tricks of splitting an octave pedal and things like that, but there is certainly a learning curve.
PL: In one of your biographies you mention using tube amps exclusively, is that still true?
WH: Yes. Well, currently it’s in the shop, but, yes. The amp that I try to use is a custom-made tube amp.
PL: Any place around here that you got it custom made at or was it by a friend?
WH: Actually, my father made it for me.
PL: Very cool. What about you Steve? Any particular gear you like using?
Steve Wask: I like Pearl, Pearl Exports. I’ve always used Pearl Export.
PL: When we talked last, you said you like to take the winter off to work on new material. Is that true now? Got anything coming up on the horizon?
WH: Yeah, we actually recorded an album in March of this year and we didn’t release it yet, obviously. Over the course of the summer, we’ve been playing those songs all summer, so now we’re much better at them than when we recorded them earlier this year. So, we’re going to re-record everything this winter and, hopefully, have something out early next year.
PL: Any working titles yet, or is that still too far off?
WH: That’s too far off. We’re still working on the lyrics, let alone the title.
PL: When I mentioned you guys to the rest of the magazine, I described you a bit like Buddy Holly and the Ramones got together. There’s a gritty garage element of course, but there’s also a sense of optimism, a shimmery, fun element to everything. Is there a conscious effort when you’re composing the songs to maintain that lighter side, that pop sensibility juxtaposed against the punk side?
WH: Buddy Holly is a great reference because I learned how to play guitar from Buddy Holly songs. I specifically never swear in any of my music. Will Smith doesn’t swear in his raps to sell records and I’ve always agreed with that philosophy. I also like the idea of happy-sounding songs sometimes with darker-tinged lyrics, but that’s something that everyone can agree with. They’re simple, I’m not trying to get too deep with anything. Steve’s always pushing me because he’s a big Prince fan. He’s slightly dirtier, so there’s some dirty sexual lyrics in there. That’s about as dark as it goes.
PL: Speaking of that, what albums did you grow up with that shaped who you are musically?
WH: You referenced the Ramones and Buddy Holly. I always thought it was the White Stripes and Prince. Their second album, De Stijl, is a big influence for me.
SW: For me, I’d say Nirvana’s In Utero and Prince’s Gold Experience.
PL: When you recorded your album, With The Synthetic Movement, it was at Bad Racket Studios here in Cleveland. How was the experience? Did you like the setup they had there?
WH: Yeah. Usually we do our own recording, so it’s always an interesting experience going to a studio. It’s a really nice studio. They put a lot of care into the design of the studio and it’s great. James, who specifically recorded us was very helpful in the process with recommendations.
PL: Do you think you’re going to record your new one there?
WH: The next one we’re going to do ourselves. We feel more comfortable that way. There’s more control over it. I’m a control freak.
PL: With sites like Tidal and Pandora and Spotify, basically the next generation of Napster, do you feel like the looseness of accessibility to your music has helped or hurt your career so far?
SW: Those services are good and bad, I feel. They help get your name out there, but services like Spotify and Tidal and all that, they’re destroying the art of music. They’re devaluing music.
PL: How so?
SW: We live in a streaming generation, unfortunately, and people like quick music.
WH: There’s a level of, “You’re not legitimate unless you’re on all those services,” which is a terrible thing.
SW: Well, if you’re not on those services, you don’t get your name out there. We don’t really agree with how they work.
PL: As far as the pay to play?
SW: That’s basically what you’re doing, but that’s what this age is that we live in anyway. We pay to play.
PL: Switching from online to live, what local places do you really dig playing at around here?
SW: I like Mahall’s a lot.
WH: Yeah, Mahall’s is great. The people there are nice and the basement is really the place to be. It’s really cool.
SW: I like Happy Dog and the Beachland.
WH: I’m specifically fond of the Westside [Happy Dog]. And a shout out to the Grog Shop. They’ve always been very nice to us.
PL: Any places that have been a challenge to perform at? Not necessarily bad, but proved as obstacles that you weren’t expecting.
SW: [Laughs] I’d say Canton.
WH: Well, yeah. Some of the outer towns. Canton’s always a weird spot. We just played our first show in Akron and it was an interesting experience.
PL: How so?
WH: None of them have been difficult, but you can’t always expect a full crowd, regardless of where you are. We survive.
PL: You’re out in the scene doing live shows, any other local acts that you caught recently that you dig?
WH: I actually just saw the band, Trios, and they’re very, very good. I was surprised I never heard of them before. They might be new, I don’t even know.
SW: I like Pack Wolf.
WH: Yeah, Pack Wolf is great.
PL: If you could have any one of your songs feature in a song for a movie, which song would you pick and what movie would it feature in?
WH: I know the song I have in mind. It’s actually one of the ones from the new album. It does have a name. We’ve been playing it out all year. It’s “All I Ever Wanted,” and it’s a song about getting everything you want and it not being everything you wanted it to be. I don’t know the movie it would be in, but I imagine a sad, mopey one.
PL: Perhaps a Wes Anderson overture.
WH: Yeah, something indie, for sure.
PL: As far as the new album, can you say anything to the musical direction you’re taking it?
WH: With everything else we released, especially when we recorded that album, there was no bass on it because we don’t have a bass live. Generally we try to make the album sound like it was live and you saw it. For this new one, I’d like to add a few layers, doubling myself on the vocals and harmonies and adding a bass on the record and really filling out the sound for more of a studio experience, if you will.
Be sure to check out Wesley Who on Facebook as well as their Bandcamp page where you can listen to and purchase all of their albums.