Having signed a contract with InsideOut recently, guitarist and composer John Wesley is ready for another adventure as a solo artist. A brand new album titled “Disconect” is set to be released in March and it sees Wesley’s creative renewal, the culmination of all the musical input he has had in the past few years.
Prog Sphere spoke to John about the new album and the circumstances led to its inception.
You are set to release your sixth studio album “Disconnect” in March, what marks your first solo full-length recording in almost nine years. How does it feel to be back with the new material completely signed by John Wesley?
It feels “right”. I am constantly writing, but I also love performing, so over the years I would not focus on creating the recordings of my writings and just focus on performing and running the studio on the off times. So for me, finally shifting my focus back to my songs is the right thing to do.
What can you tell me about the new songs comparing with 2005′s “Shiver” and 2011′s EP “The Lilypad Suite”?
I think as a songwriter/performer I am always in search of growth, so Disconnect represents several things, one being a huge increase in the skillset in the songwriting/production, Dean showed me some areas in both that I had never explored, so that was huge.
I understand that new album, in some way, represents a creative renewal for you. Lead me through the creative process of “Disconnect”. Did your writing approach for “Disconnect” change comparing with “Shiver” or the most recent “The Lilypad Suite”?
A huge element that came to be on Disconnect, started with Lilypad Suite. That is my focus on the electric guitar as the main texture. Dean plays very differently than I do and it really opened my eyes to what was possible. Some of the sessions with the two of us were spent experimenting with every pedal and sound we had, working with no restrictions to sounds, it was extremely liberating. Lyrically I felt the concepts on Disconnect are more dialed in, I hit a huge stride with the Lilypad Suite and was able to refine the process for Disconnect. Musically Dean was able to coax some additional ideas out of me that I would not have accessed as well as contributing some incredible ideas to the songs that just really pulled things together.
For the purpose of releasing “Disconnect” you signed a deal with InsideOut Music. The label is mostly known for putting out releases tagged under the progressive rock/metal genre. Does this mean that you went full-on with prog with the new album?
Thomas Waber of Inside Out said it best… “There are many types of prog”. This album is very “prog” but not in the traditional sense. It’s a very song focused record, but the elements that really push it into the prog genre are the experimentations with the guitar textures and the extended instrumental sections and the arrangements. Prog has always had a bit of play with time signatures, but on this album I made sure any time signature challenges were not contrived, or obvious… They are certainly there, but you have to count them to find them! It’s much more prog in a “Rush/Floyd” way than a Genesis or Yes based sort of way.
How does the album title effect the material presented on the record? Give me a snapshot of the topics you explore on the new songs.
All of the songs represent some form of “Disconnect” or another. This is a complex album lyrically. As I was writing this record my life was changing. It was changing in ways that I had no control over. My career, my marriage, my mother, my house, my studio… All of this was about to change forever. I was fairly happy where I was at that time, and I didn’t want these changes, yet I was being forced to “disconnect” from my old life. I was entering a time in which I was going to lose people that I cared deeply about, the life I was living at that time, the band I was playing with, all of it was changing. So in reaction I found myself “disconnecting” as if some sort of protective mechanism kicked in so that I would not blow a fuse completely and crash and burn.
In this time I began to observe others around me that were living in a similar state of “disconnect” and I started attempting to learn how these individuals coped with this issue. Some friends of mine had done service in Iraq and Afghanistan, some I knew before and then after they came home. Afterwards, I had noticed in them their own struggle with “disconnect”. I watched how they had changed. I also learned a great deal about how our government takes care of our returning warriors… And they don’t take care of them very well. The results of this apathy from the Government for these men can be life altering. Some other people I know were on a path of “disconnect” through addiction, or just a general apathy for life and hiding in worlds online that don’t exist in the hopes of making some sort of connection, that ultimately leads to an isolation from intimate relationships and friendships. I am close to some who had “disconnected” as a result of illness, some mental some physical… Neither of their choosing and watching their struggles factored into the songs. Through all of these observations, I created characters that mirrored these experiences and so I then wrote about them. Those songs became this album.
“Disconnect” is a collective experience, a part of the human condition that all of us will endure in some form or another. Some of us will hide, some of us will cave in and some of us will come through stronger. For me, ultimately through this learning, I discovered once again that the one thing you can count on in life is “change”, you will be forced to “Disconnect” from many things and people you care about and there is no stopping that “train of life” so to speak. So it’s not about what in your life changes, it’s about how you cope with these changes and “guide the ship” that brings us out on the other side. I lost some very important elements in my life including my mother in that time period, but I managed to “bump the ship” into a new realm that brought me some wonderful new changes. Amazing new “connections”.
What evolution do you feel “Disconnect” represents comparing with your previous works?
Disconnect is the next step, lyrically and musically… I try to constantly grow as a player and writer. I take in from all the influences around me and Disconnect is the culmination of where those influences lead me at that point. I am constantly changing, just in the time since finishing that record, my playing has taken a huge leap forward… Constant motion is what I strive for.
How did your work with Porcupine Tree, Steven Wilson, Fish, Steve Rothery, Sean Malone and Sound of Contact influence or inspire what is to be your sixth studio album?
I am constantly seeking new influences and working with artists such as these can only add to my palette of colors for songwriting and performing. I don’t think there is an artist I have worked with that did not influence me in some way. So working with artists such as these that are constantly pushing the envelope helped me to find my own boundaries… And go beyond them.
You mentioned that you worked with a great team of musicians on the new album. Can you uncover some of the names that appear on the record?
Dean Tidey co produced with me and was co writer on most of the album. He was great at pushing me into some new ideas. He is an amazing guitarist as well and contributed some beautiful parts. My longtime collaborator Mark Prator was on the drums, Patrick Bettison on bass and Geri X contributed some backing vocals. A great crew.
What were the biggest challenges you faced when making “Disconnect”? Tell me about the technical side of “Disconnect”.
The biggest challenge for me on Disconnect was allowing my desire to let my guitar work take a prominent role in the arrangements to be equal my vocal work. I have always identified myself as being more of a guitarist than a vocalist, but it was through my vocal work that I have made the most inroads as I toured so much on my own with just an acoustic. A lot of fans who had never seen me live with Fish or Porcupine Tree didn’t realize that my first love is electric guitar. As I was arranging these songs, the desire to play more guitar and express some of my ideas and concepts through the guitar was a constant push internally that I was initially trying to keep back as some people are not as connected to the progressive/instrumental side of songwriting. As the process went on I realized I had to be true to myself… And so this record takes huge steps in allowing my guitar work to finally take it’s place in the arrangements that I hear in my head.
Where was it recorded? Who produced it?
We recorded and mixed the album here in Tampa at my studio, Redroom Recorders, Dean Tidey and I produced it and Steven Orchard and Steven Wilson mixed it. Steve Orchard mixed it here, Steve W mixed “Window” in his studio.
I suppose that you will be promoting the new album live. Who will be in your line-up for the gigs?
Mark Prator on drums, Patrick Bettison on bass, Dean can not tour at the moment so Ian Medhurst will play all the live gigs on second guitar, and me! Geri X will sit in on some gigs on vocals when she is free… She is simply amazing and has her own career, but we really connect and will perform together when time permits.
You grab inspiration from many distinctive musical genres. How do you go about channeling this inspiration into writing?
Well… I have to admit that as of the last few years it has become all about the guitar for me. I dabbled in keys and sequencing and such, but I always found myself going back to guitar sounds. Dean came along and opened some doors sonically on the guitar that I had not explored and between the two of us we really pushed into some areas and tones that I had not ventured into. I realized guitar is what I hear, what I do best and where I see my writing focusing on. It’s almost like starting over, all those years in Porcupine Tree seem like a launching point to go even further sonically with the guitar. So that is where I tend to focus these days.
You’ve been playing the PRS guitars for many years now. What is it you are looking for from the technical side of this instrument?
I seem to need a real personal and spiritual connection to the guitars I play. When I was very young I bonded with Les Pauls, but in those early Pauls that I would play I always seemed to want more. I went through a phase in the 80’s of “pointy head” guitars, that work great for others but not for me. Then in 1989, a friend hooked me up with a PRS CE24 bolt on and that was it… I had found my guitar! Eventually we were able to get PRS to endorse the band… Then they offered to make a guitar to my specs and the single cut 22 piezo trem was born. I connected to that guitar like no other I have ever played. In the last few years, guitars made by La Rose were given to me and I really bonded with two of them, then, I was gifted with a Joe Walsh model Les Paul. And something about that individual guitar clicked… So live and on the album the Joe W. and my main singlecut PRS went back and forth. The La Rose, a Gretch White Falcon and my old trusty 71 Tele complete the guitar tones on the album. The PRS single-cut 22, the Joe W. and the La Rose all have that “thing” that you can’t quantify. It just “is” and you connect with it. On tour you will see a lot of the single cut PRS 22 and the Joe W. Les Paul and a PRS P22 Trem. It’s funny, I keep the La Roses at home so nothing can hurt them, I can’t replace them as they are one offs and I only take them out to record anymore!
Considering that solo work of an artist is closely related to the “personal”, how much everything you managed to do as John Wesley is indeed autobiographical?
Everything on the album is initially autobiographical, but quickly becomes combined with observations and concepts to create a “character.” So there is a little of “me” in all of it. Yet none of it ends up being me… It has to become more global, the experience in each song has to become a shared experience. Each song has to become a template, a template that each of us can slide into to share the experience of these situations through the eyes of another, and yet anchor in our own personal experience. So every story becomes personal to each and everyone of us. But this will only happen if you dare to take that ride. If you listen and decide to take that trip through that certain character’s life, which I hope many do, these songs become an empathic ride, designed to show us that ultimately we are all connected, no matter how hard we may attempt. to “Disconnect”.
What does the future hold?
More music, more guitar, more life, more adventure, more experience, more “connection”.