Knowing Jesse Wells, he probably didn’t realize how much he was making our week. Maybe our whole month, whatever month it is. Right when the world really needed a pick-me-up, Welles unveiled a funky new EP on Bandcamp entitled Non-Essential Business. There was seemingly no advance notice aside from a photo on the eve of its release: Jesse in his high school (Ozark, Arkansas) jersey and a polka-dot scarf tied like a cape, grinning with his guitar at the ready. “I’m puttin out an EP tomorrow,” he announced in the caption. “5 surreal jazz funk tracks are called NON-ESSENTIAL BUSINESS. I never do this shit cus well whatevs, but if we keep locked in like this, I’ll keep releasing the b.s. I normally make for me and my close ones. Get excited it BLOWS.” No surprise here: it does not blow. On the contrary, it’s that special kind of underground music that is so damn catchy, you want to make sure your friends hear it.
Being big fans, we had to ask Jesse for some more background on the five snazzy tracks that make up Non-Essential Business. “I am, like everyone else, bored,” he told P&W. “So I picked up harmonica and started listenin’ to Sly Stone and Bitches Brew [Miles Davis] and watched where it went.” When asked how long he’s been playing jazz/funk, he replied, “Got the Mothership Connection [Parliament] at a garage sale in the 9th grade. Grew up playing in jazz bands in high school through college. Quasi jazz. White boy jazz. Still don’t know how to improvise from that perspective. I’m feeling around in a dark room, but I found a wall to lean against.”
Getting surprise new music mid-pandemic is a unique treat, but this jazzy chill pill of an EP would be exciting anytime. We should have seen it coming – during our last interview backstage at Mercury Lounge last year, Jesse teased, “I want to put out more music – a tune a day is what I want to try for – while I’m at home.” Right after that, he happened to add, “I didn’t get to hear King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard until they had several albums out, and I finally caught ‘em with I’m In Your Mind Fuzz and I was just sucked in. I’d love to get on the road with ol’ Stu.” This made us wonder if we’d hear any Gizzard vibes sneaking into future Welles music, and Non-Essential Business has now answered that question (check out KGATLW’s Paper Mâché Dream Balloon and Sketches of Brunswick East). We wouldn’t change a thing about the pure classic rock sound Welles achieved on his 2018 debut album, Red Trees and White Trashes. Even so, it’s a thrill to hear him branch out wildly with such finesse, especially as he layers over himself in this D.I.Y. format.
Opening song “No Time to Pout” is a syncopated trip that stalls in all the sweet spots. The way he delivers the chorus, “So what are you crying about? Ain’t got no time to pout,” is motivating even in a time when tears are justifiable. The tough love turns into tender love with next track “Treat Your Self Well.” The well-timed reminder surfaces within a groove that goes with the getaway car in a foxy cult crime movie. Amid all the jazz funk attitude, he simultaneously finds that feel-good sixties-rock coolness that defines past Welles hits (listen to “Are You Feeling Like Me” and “Life Like Mine”). This is really noticeable in the extra-sticky “Don’t Go Changing,” a mood-altering hit that keeps building and resolving in satisfying ways. His self-harmonizing in the chorus sounds like the best part of another era, and the song also features a spoken-word taste of his easygoing personality. In a tone of voice reminiscent of Mitch Hedberg, Welles takes on the “bad people” who “love to just screw your head into the ground, man” with a timeless “fuck ‘em.”
The positive energy carries on through “Everybody’s Got a Little Bit (Even If They Don’t Wanna Admit),” an unhurried jam with some serious lyrical flow. “From the bird in the sky / to the worm in the ground / Tell ‘em all what you heard at the fountain of sound / And tell ‘em all real loud / so they’ll hear it in the back / They can steal your sound / you just make another track” he sings. Beneath that smooth poetry, his titular line, “Everybody’s got a little bit / even if they don’t wanna admit” continues softly. Final song “Thankful” – which begins and ends with some old-school “ah, ah, ah, oww!”s right out of his soul – leaves a valuable message looping in your head. “Let’s be thankful for the things we’ve got / even if we ain’t got a lot” Welles urges over a glimmering bass line. And with tunes as fresh as these, thankful is exactly how we feel.
Article: Olivia Isenhart