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. Most recently, John Wesley has performed as sideman, guitarist/vocalist for critically acclaimed UK based recording act Porcupine Tree, during the In Absentia, Deadwing, Fear of a Blank Planet, and The Incident world tours. He has performed in the band for nine years, culminating in 2010 with sold out performances at Radio City Music Hall and the Royal Albert Hall.
I had a telephone conversation with John regarding life as a musician with Porcupine Tree and his new 6th solo album, Disconnect, out now on InsideOut Music.
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Q: When did you realise you wanted to be a professional guitar player and how did that happen?
A: The professional part of it didn’t come until my late teen. I started playing guitar when I was 13 and I knew that was all I wanted to do. I didn’t really think about being successful, I just knew I wanted to play guitar. Does that make sense? I said, I’m gonna do this, I don’t know how yet.
Q: Where do you take your inspiration from when you write your music and you start playing?
A: Clearly, most of it comes from the sounds I hear, I’d just be playing something that I hear and it will connect my mind and I would have at some point thinking about some concept lyrically. It’s quite like daydreaming with a guitar in your hands, and trying to hear something that you’re playing, and things start to connect and then the lyrical concept or the idea will connect to that.
Q: Any artist in particular who inspires you?
A: Obviously the big ones, you know, Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, always inspire me. Later on there was Pink Floyd. Also a lot of songwriters and also the Beatles.
Q: Some of your old music is available for free download on your website. Why did you decide to give these tracks away for free?
A: Well, during a time of my career I was really frustrated, I was playing a gig and someone said I can buy your cd, but it was only import so sometimes you’d have to pay 28 dollars for a CD and at some point I wasn’t making a lot of money and it was eating me alive inside that I was creating all this music for people to hear it and nobody was hearing it; so I made deals to get my music back from the record companies that had them, so I decided to give it people and did it online, and then few months later radios started playing the songs and it kinda took off. It was really born out of the frustration that when I make music I have to have people hear it, you know.
Q: You recently signed with InsideOut Music and a new album came out on March 31. How was working on Disconnect and what does the album represent for you?
A: Because of my involvement with Porcupine Tree I was very busy so the album started in the last tour with Porcupine Tree, about 4 years ago, and I started working on it but then life kind of got on the way, I had to move from my house, had to move my studio, we had a baby, my mom died 3 days after I had the baby, so life was kinda putting all the breaks in the legs, and last year I signed the contract and it came to my head that what I really needed to do was to turn that focus on myself. So what this album really represents is a combination of all that work that I’ve done through the years and becoming focused on creating something that is truly what I’m trying to get to. This is the place where I’m trying to get to create for all those years.
Q: Why this title?
A: In the last few years I was going to disconnect. I was having to disconnect from the old life, we had a baby the old life was gone, the studio that I had had for years … also, disconnecting from Porcupine Tree for a while, I wasn’t ready to do that, I was having a great time, we were on top of our game, and we had that ended and for now it’s a big disconnect. I noticed that there were friends around me that, some of my friends had just come back from Iraq and Afghanistan and they saw really rough things over there and I watched them change and they were kind of disconnected, I realise that every day whether we wanted it or not we were disconnecting from elements of our lives that we have no control over. And how we get through life whether or not we survive that disconnection, how we handle that. So I started to put it into the lyrics and it became more of a global thing, my friends disconnecting from their life, and all these experiences when they came home. They had to have job, they had to have everything set, so you know these things were creeping in the talks.
Q: What do you think of the state of mainstream music today?
A: I don’t even participate in it anymore. It’s gone to a point to where I can’t really listen to a regular radio anymore or watch Television shows like The Voice or any of these Simon Cowell shows. I can’t really watch modern music television. For me music now is about seeking and discovering rather than having it played for you. Does that make sense? At my age I’m so over, I can’t even listen to mainstream music anymore, I still like a great pop song, don’t get me wrong, if someone plays a fantastic pop song. But there is so much crap around.
Q: Are you planning to tour?
A: Yes, we’re trying to put together some dates right now, managing a tour is so difficult these days, and for me coming out from Porcupine Tree and going solo is like starting over. So what now? I will eventually tour, but it’s really like starting over, it’s like being 18 again, trying to get to play in the local pizza place.
Q: What the best aspect of being a rockstar?
A: Being able to do what you love. I love to play guitar, I love to perform, I love sing, I love to write, I love to work in the studio, even though at this point i didn’t have a huge amount of money I’ve been able to do what I love and that’s the best aspect.