Late style: you can only get there if you’ve been around long enough to have an early and a middle one. Maturity, wisdom, sophistication are its trademarks. And after doing things a certain way for a while, you may want to do them differently in order to arrive in a new, surprising place.
With late style, Wesley Stace, the artist formerly known as John Wesley Harding, but previously known as Wesley Stace, did things differently. After starting to set some new lyrics to music in his usual way by singing to an acoustic guitar, he realized he was finding old solutions, reinventing a wheel that he had already made, with chord progressions and melodies called as Folk and pop worked songs but didn’t fulfill his desire for something fresh that he’d love to hear in 2021.
The album is due on Omnivore recordings on September 17, 2021.
“The idea was as always: to find a new way to crack the egg of the ‘gentleman-songwriter with lots of lyrics'”, says Stace, “especially in a way that suits my voice (the glass that is never completely cut, the rock but that more closely reflected what I actually hear for the pleasure of cooking on the kitchen stereo where it is very unlikely (without insulting those great songwriters) to hear Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, etc. ”
And so he turned to David Nagler, the musical director of his portable variety show, the Cabinet of Wonders, the Rodgers to his Hart, the Elton to his Bernie, the Bacharach to his David. “I’ve changed my mindset from trying to write everything myself to working with David knowing that he can bring me what I want instead of what I’m musically fiddling with. After 15 years of cabinets and UK UK shows, he knows what my voice can do. And I was very convinced of this series of texts, so I felt good to send them to him. He’s incredibly versatile. And while it may seem too far to me to make a record like Sergio Mendes & Brasil ’66 “Like a Lover”, for example, it really isn’t, because that’s immortal music, and … here it is! “
On Late Style, Wes carries a closet full of new clothes that he has collected in the place where jazz and pop and soul and country merge into something colorful, seductive and gentle – a little Gary McFarland (no stranger to it, his arrangements with social Comments), Mose Allison, Carla Bley, Nina Simone’s wonderful interpretations of great protest songs, the romantic joke by Bob Dorough, Dorothy Ashby, the arrangements by Jean-Claude Vannier and the wonderful cadet productions by Richard Evans, Steely Dan, some Gabor Szabo, Harry Nilsson, the soulful protest of Gil Scott-Heron, the Bee Gees, Tom Lehrer, the Carpenters, whose “Close to You” has been on his setlist for years, and even the Partridge Family (“Come Back Yesterday”).
Late Style is influenced by these artists without imitating them, so the songs feel modern and “modern” at the same time, with Latin and jazz influences and keyboards instead of guitar at the center of the sounds. And despite all the polish and lightness of the attack, some of these melodies have something vaguely unsettling about them: The lockdown jam “Do Nothing If You Can”, the older and smarter, but still cocky vibe of “Where the Bands Are” or the cinematic and apocalyptic “Your Bright Future”. You can call it restless easy listening – gentle, but strangely shaped, with surprising harmonic changes and rhythmic angles. They have the paradoxical aftertaste of having been written as hits without even thinking about having hits.
Unexpectedly, says Wes, the experience of writing the libretto for Errollyn Wallen’s opera Dido’s Ghost, which premiered in July at London’s Barbican, “taught me how liberating and therefore amazing it is to present your own words” . to a composer. And that excited me to do it for the first time with my actual texts. “
“When we first discussed writing songs together,” says David Nagler, “Wes had sent a few musical touchstones, but since we both play music for each other all the time, after a show or when we’re out, I knew what additional styles and sounds I wanted to incorporate that he would also like. “
Wes began emailing David texts with audio recitations to jot down phrasing, intonation, and pronunciation. “The theme and tone of each song determined the musical feel and style for me,” says David, whose 2016 album Carl Sandburg’s Chicago Poems set Sandburg’s words to music. “I recorded demos in my Brooklyn apartment, sent MP3s to Wes who recorded his lead vocals over the demos, and we had a new record written that summer. We had a celebratory lunch in Italy in August, where we happened to be on vacation with our families! “
Although Stace had originally envisioned a record that “could record a phenomenally well-rehearsed combo in a club, maybe even in front of an audience,” COVID had other plans. But through the mysterious magic of modern technology, the recording came from Philadelphia, where Wes lives; New York, where David built tracks from keyboards, acoustic guitars, and virtual instruments; San Francisco, where Wes ‘longtime friend and collaborator Chris von Sneidern (producer of John Wesley Hardings New Deal and Awake, not to mention his own solo artist and at times member of the Flamin’ Groovies) has electric guitar, vocals, horns and drums from Prairie Prince (The Tubes, Todd Rundgren, Jefferson Starship); Chicago, where Kelly Hogan and Nora O’Connor of the Flat Five – and half of Stace’s acapella quartet Love Hall Tryst – added harmonies; and … wherever Mauro Refosco contributed his atmospheric percussion.
Regarding the title Late Style, Wes says: “It is of course true that I am older and have more behind me than in front of me, and that in these lyrics I look at the world at this rather dark time. We have all divided and thought about how to do it could brighten up, but it also seemed like the perfect mood for a more jazzy album. And I have a feeling that the world is demanding a bit of beauty and finesse from artists right now, especially when we are emerging from a time of unkempt Zoom concerts. We all need a bit of elegance. “
As Barry Gifford says in his liner notes: perfect for listening to late-night radio.
“It’s late, but we’ll make it
Well done everyone! “
Wesley Stace, “Well done everyone”