Just eighteen days after he cured our isolation blues with a surprise jazz funk EP called Non-Essential Business, Jesse Wells casually unveiled his “second quarantine EP.” His self-described “country folk americana whatever” release, entitled Q2, includes five feel-good songs that have repeatedly made us grin – whether over the personality in his lyrics, or his WTF level of technical expertise. It’s awesome to see a classic rocker like Welles show off his genre-surfing abilities as much as he has been lately, and he’s not stopping here. According to a recent social video that showed him at home busting out some Black Sabbath on guitar (one of many fleeting clips that his followers enjoy on a regular basis), his third quarantine EP is coming soon. It will bring us yet another shift in style: 70s heavy metal.
His second quarantine EP showcases a country side that we haven’t yet gotten to know, yet still maintains that special sixties-rock element that has kept us so hooked on the music of Welles. It’s a tie-dyed, grassy, barbecue-ready sound that comes through on Q2; a dazed and jaded kind of country that he delivers like an old pro. Hailing from Ozark, Arkansas – “where there’s beer and molasses,” as he sang on debut album Red Trees and White Trashes – Welles seems to weave nostalgia from his upbringing into the fabric of Q2. Upon its release, Welles shared an interesting tidbit with P&W that further explains his impressive knowledge of country guitar licks. “In high school, I worked at KDYN Real Country Radio (Ozark, AR) as a host and DJ for Dial-A-Deal. I heard a lot of country and love most of it. Daniel Donato made me wanna actually play that way when I moved to Nashville. So I’ve been practicing.”
While the low-res cowboy hat that comes with it is delightfully crude, don’t let the Microsoft Paint album art fool you. Q2 sounds so polished, we had to ask Jesse how he’s pulling it off. Is he really putting all this together at home? Is anyone else contributing? Replying to our inquiries with two disappearing videos, he walked around a modest room stuffed with guitars, drums, and cords snaking around the floor, finishing the fast tour at the laptop on his desk. Next to it, he zoomed in on the price tag stuck to his M-Audio Fast Track Pro interface: $37.95. It was purchased at McKay’s, a regional chain of used music/book/movie stores with a location in Nashville. “No mac, no protools, nothing over 150 bucks. I am completely alone when I record,” Jesse told us. Knowing his production chops, it was unsurprising to learn he’s doing it all himself, but exciting nonetheless to see him confirm it. In a short homemade video that accompanied Q2’s release, you can catch Welles making breakfast, strumming on his porch, greeting his cat, and drumming in that music room he briefly showed us.
Q2’s opener, “Calamity,” seems like it was designed to stick in your head. Brimming with his honeyed self-harmonization, not only is it catchy – it’s witty as hell. Hearing him peacefully sing, “I want death / I want calamity… I want blood / I want a thousand-year flood / Don’t ask me why I want it / I just want it just because,” we obviously had some questions. Was he portraying a certain character? Or does it come from a real screw-everything kind of mood that hits him? Jesse responded in his signature chill way. “Calamity is just hungover me. I get better as the day goes on.” Second song “Goodbye Sheetrock” builds up to a nimble guitar solo that makes us want to stomp on dusty floorboards in somebody’s barn. Lyrically, he plays on the ol’ country song tradition of listing what you’ve lost in a breakup, with a few clever twists. “Goodbye, good sex / hello, hand!” he sings unashamedly. “You know it’d all feel that much better if I were only in a band / if I owned an acre of land / if I could eat corn out of a can.”
“Runnin’” feels like a golden oldie you forgot about, but it’s not; it’s all fresh stuff from Jesse. Delivered in his husky timbre, it’s like a wild west bad guy theme topped off with an equestrian trot of a beat. “I am a runner / I take my pills / I run ahead of all the people speeding, all the trucks and cars” he sings, later adding, “The Lord did not intend for there to be a man like me.” It’s just the right time for such a socially-distanced jam, and the getaway vibe continues with “Talkin’ People.” Welles describes a desirable escape – via canoe – from a certain type of aggravator we’ve all surely encountered. “And I’ll never have to talk again / to people who pick sides like they’re picking apples / wrapped in identity and ready for battle / They spread awareness like Nutella / and no they don’t all fall underneath that umbrella / but I’ll never have to talk again,” he sings dreamily. If you’re into Welles for that magical 1968ish groove he always seems to be achieving, prepare your soul for Q2’s closing track, “Treat ‘Em Well.” Packed with classic guitar riffs from the beginning, the melody matches the song’s loving message. “Treat ‘em well, treat ‘em well / whoever they are / even if they’re not your friends / go ahead and treat ‘em well.”
Article: Olivia Isenhart