Copyright ©2007 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved.
May 13, 2007.
concert, Tyrone Wells tells a story of a time when he was struggling to get
his music noticed and had to take a gig playing at a swap meet. While he
was playing his love ballad “Sea Breeze,” he heard a woman talking on a cell
phone telling someone that he was playing the song. Wells was surprised
that the woman would say that, after his set he walked up to her and asked
he what that meant. The woman explained that her best friend’s boyfriend
Sam had written the song for the friend. This was rather surprising to
Wells, who distinctly remembered writing the song himself with co-writer
told the woman he was the author, but she was having nothing of it. Finally
he showed her a copy of his indie-released CD, with the song on it and the
writer’s credit for himself. Suddenly the woman grew angry and called her
friend. Turns out Sam had been playing some of Wells’ songs for his
girlfriend and claiming that he was composing them for her.
felt a little bad about diming the guy out, but Sam brought it on himself.
It’s going to be harder and harder for this dude to get away with his
deceptions, because Wells’ major label debut CD
(Universal/Republic) is now starting a buzz in stores and on radios and
is touring tirelessly to promote the disk; a show which is made up of his
own great music, funny and self-depreciating intro stories and a cool soul
medley made up of songs like Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition,” Michael
Jackson’s “Rock with You,” Lauryn Hill’s “Doo Wop (That Thing)” and Mary J.
Blige’s “Family Affair.”
stopped in to chat with Wells backstage at his recent show at World Café
Live in Philadelphia.
How did you originally get
preacher’s kid, so I grew up around music a lot. I have four sisters who
are very musical. My mom played the piano. My dad played accordion and
sang. My grandpa sang. So I just was around it all my life.
You mentioned your father
was a preacher. How do you feel that influenced your art?
think initially, when I was first out of high school, I felt like I had to
play Christian music because I was from a preacher’s family. I felt that
pressure. Not that they put it on me, but I just thought I should. More
recently I’ve been able to strike that pressure – which is probably
self-applied – and find my way and still make the music I want to make. So
that the music has integrity. I’m proud of what I’m doing.
You were originally in a
Christian band called Skypark. When did you realize that wasn’t the
direction you wanted to go?
when we were in Skypark, when we were asked if there was Christian band we
should bring in, we would say no, because we felt like that was really just
kind of pigeonholing the market. It was really kind of cutting out a lot of
people from listening. Our music wasn’t preachy. It wasn’t really… it was
kind of like Switchfoot of something like that, where we certainly all
shared a belief system, but we didn’t push that in the music. We felt like
we were Christians by faith, but not Christians by genre.
While there are certainly
some spiritual lyrics on
On, I don’t
think I’d necessarily call it a religious album. Was that an interesting
balancing act to pull off?
it was. But I try to just be honest and write from the heart. Whatever
comes out… I never felt quite at home with the Christian market. Just
because I felt like the subject matter of what you could write about was so
limited. So, I kind of just started to think it would be easier for me and
I would enjoy writing more things.
I really like the single
“What Are We Fighting For,” which also has a very trenchant message. Is it
inspired specifically by Iraq or by more about the world in general?
definitely more general. It was first inspired by watching the news and
feeling discouraged about all the death that was going on. That was the
seed, but as I wrote it, I wanted it to be broader than what is going on
right now. I tried to make it more personal, too. In the second verse I
talk about the different loaded guns that we all pull, which are silent
indifference or thoughts of vengeance or words from a wicked tongue. These
are all weapons. We all can wield them.
It seems like on the new
CD, when the songs turn to love like “Sugar So Sweet,” “Sea Breeze,”
“Falling,” “Looking at Her Face” and “Don’t You Change” they seem to be
rather hopeful or positive. Is that a reflection of where you are now in
your life? Also, as a songwriter, do you find happy relationships more
interesting than troubled ones?
think it’s probably a little bit of where I am. I’m recently married, a
year and a half ago…
you. It’s still funny. Even when I was dating her, I would write these
horrible sad breakup songs. And she’d be like, “What’s this about?”
They were coming out of left field. I think I still wrote them because… a
lot of the time the seed for a song is a feeling or a memory. It doesn’t
necessarily have to be where you’re at then and there.
Like, for example, are you
a “Jealous Man”?
The new album seems to
experiment with a lot of styles, “What Are You Fighting For” has a gospel
feel, “Baby Don’t You Change” is bluesy, “She’s Leaving” is rockier, “Sea
Breeze” and “Dream Like New York” are really lovely ballads, “Jealous Man”
is very minimalist, “Sugar So Sweet” is funky with a real rock-based chorus,
“Need” is folkier. Were you looking to experiment with styles on the CD?
I think when I write I tend to write eclectically. Then when you bring a
band into the whole occasion and all their influences, it becomes kind of a
little bit eclectic. It wasn’t really intentional. Well, I mean I guess it
was in that I didn’t think about it. So it just happened.
In “Dream Like New York”
you say the child inside you dares to believe you can fly. Do you dream as
high as the skies?
absolutely. It’s an exciting time for me. I’ve been doing this for quite a
while. When you sign a major record deal there’s a feeling of validation.
You feel like, wow, this has been working. Whether or not it’s like – you
know major labels, for a lot of artists, they come and go – you just have to
be about the art that you make. I’m grateful that they’re here now. Who
knows if they’ll be here in a couple of years. But I’ll keep doing the art
and I’ll continue to dream and hopefully the music that I write inspires
You’ve indie released two
Close: Live at McClains.
How did you hook up with Universal?
is really weird. For like six years I was doing the indie thing. Never
talked to one label. Not even indies. I just did my own thing. Then in
the course of two weeks, literally, after I made
Hold On –
was made independently – it just hit that tipping point. At
least in California where we were selling out venues that held over 1,000
people. It all of the sudden had started turning. Within a month we had
talked with literally every major label. We had showcases everywhere. New
York. LA. We actually had a couple of offers on the table so we got to do
a little bidding war
which as an artist you’re very grateful for.
Some of the songs on the
new album were also on the indies. How did you decide which songs you
wanted to revisit?
decided to redo, I think specifically a couple of them on the record
It’s a live record. So I wanted to recut some of the songs that never
had studio treatment. But, “Sea Breeze” I had recorded several times.
The reason I released it again is because the audience is so much wider now.
When you have your
first record in the stores, I wanted to put those songs that I knew people
really connected to. “Sea Breeze” is one of those ones that really has
some legs on it. I think one of the times I really knew, I showed up
at a wedding that I played that was about
an hour away from where I lived. I didn’t know any of the people in
the room. I started playing “Sea Breeze” and half the room was singing
along with me. I just knew this song was connecting beyond me.
So, I knew I wanted to put it on the record.
Radio playlists are so regimented these days. You used to be
able to hear rock, pop, country and soul on the same station and that just
doesn't happen anymore. Do you think that can make it tougher for a band to
find an audience?
I don’t know. I think I missed out on the real free radio
days. I’m probably too young. When they would play all the genres… I love
that idea. Because I think there is so much good music all across the
different genres. I think it’s a little bit harder, because everything is
so niched. This radio station will only play this kind of music and this
radio station will play this kind of music. You can’t be on the
station unless you write this kind of music. I think our record is pop
enough for some of these stations, but it’s not quite pop enough to really
hit Top 40. So we find ourselves sometimes feeling in between the radio
stations. A little too pop for the really, really – not rustic, but the
stuff that is not slick at all – and then not slick enough for the stuff
that’s really slick. So, I feel that pull.
Nowadays musicians have so
many more ways to reach out with their music – movies, TV, iTunes, your
official site, your MySpace page. Does that open things up a bit?
Absolutely. At every show we have people who have came because of MySpace.
Another thing that is huge is the TV placements. I’ve been grateful to have
quite a few TV placements.
had I think 25 to 30 TV placements now. The list of shows is too long. I
think you can find it on my site. But there’s a bunch of them.
In the end, how would you like people to see your music?
I hope that people will feel like the music – without being
too corny – like it’s a friend. There are certain records that I put on
that just feel so good and you have memories that are associated with the
music. I just hope that the records that I make can become friends with the
people that buy them.
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Copyright ©2007 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved.
May 13, 2007.