With a professional and master level ear for sound, Jim Wellman shows us the beautiful juxtaposition between a happy sound and a heavy message on his newest album Dawn To Dusk. Bending many genres together to create something fresh and beautiful, Jim Wellman shows us what is capable when an artist follows their own personal vision.
Ryan: The album Dawn To Dusk is a little bit of a lot of things. How would you describe your sound to anyone that has not heard your music yet?
Jim: My musical roots are largely 70’s American Jazz/ Funk/Disco, with little bits of the relatively lighter bossa nova, and Tijuana brass sounds thrown in. Previously I was aiming at a specific audience for this sort of thing who appreciated lengthy jazzy soloing for example, but for this album I consciously tried for a more general audience by cutting the soloing down, and using a wider variation of styles that included other influences like various film composers like Bernard Herman, Michel Legrand, and ‘classic’ song writing from the likes of Cole Porter. It was always in the back of my mind that I was writing a musical of dissent, and so I took the license to include a lot of variety in styles, but in the arrangements I used a conventional set of instruments, in particular Rhodes, horn section, heavy bass riffs, percussion, and kept the sound production fairly ‘honest’ like a big live band to maintain a core to the project.
Ryan: The album itself has many songs that deal with very serious concepts. What is the theme that runs through the album? The message you think is the most prominent?
Jim: I am not a big fan of sound bites, anything you can say in one sentence is likely not to stand up too much scrutiny when you put it to the test. Everything real is a lot more complex and subtle, which is why I take the hour or so of the album to develop complex interlocking themes that are all related (at least in my head that is).
However, I can say that the entire album derives from one observation, that this last century has been the bloodiest and most environmentally damaging in the history of mankind since we first stood up around 5 million years ago. I wanted to examine why that is when we seem to be so proud of our civilization and technical achievements, but more importantly to Identify how to effect change and not be slaves to the status quo.
Ryan: Every song is layers upon layers of sound, with many complicated musical styles. How do you go about creating these beautiful songs?
Jim: The tendency to delve into complex numerous layers of sound is a definite stylistic choice for me and always has been, I see it as a metaphor for the many voices rather than the leader’s voice. Its the musical melting pot, and every phrase or rhythm has its own identity but fits with others to form a greater collaborative whole. I started this album with a sheet of things I wanted to say, and spent about a month stringing together chord sequences (A bit different for me because previously I have started with a groove, or riff and squashed the chords and songs into that) found what ideas worked with what sequences and tempos, spent a lot of time on the lyrics , musically experiment with A LOT of jams, imagining new parts ,generate randomised shifts of the notes, or sometimes cycling through lots of stock parts to find a part that works for the song, then a LOT of refinement and polishing to integrate into (usually) a complex swung 16ths groove.
Ryan: I thought your lead single Probably Good was a great choice for a single, but I am personally drawn to the opening track Lucy as a single as well. Is there a chance Lucy might be the next single released?
Jim: The second release before the LP is going to be a 4track EP and Lucy is in there. This song was actually completely reworked from my previous album, and the rest of the album is new expansions on its themes. The reason for releasing an EP first, is that I think the album can be a little ‘demanding’ in the early stages when I wanted to establish various evolutionary theories so I could progress to more poetic song writing later in the album drawing on that groundwork. I also used narration in two songs. So I decided to release the most commercial tracks first, and then the Lp would be another layer again of getting deeper into the details (for those still with me) after the EP and fully exploring the concept.
Ryan: Artists find inspiration in many ways. Where do you find your inspiration comes from?
Jim: It’s just a rich tapestry of culture from all mediums. An unspoken evolving language of ideas that appreciates what came before and tries to add something to it. A simple example lyrically would be in Cynical Century one line is ” When love was supreme in my mind” which to me resonated both with Coltrane and the Supremes.
And musically, there is one little phrase in the guitar solo on Lucy that reminded me of a verse line from Bacharach’s “Do you know the way to San Hose “so that stayed in. In a word I suppose its postmodernism.
Ryan: If you could collaborate with another artist, who would you choose to work on a song with and why?
Jim: I think I answered that with my previous work about 10 years ago with Roy Ayers. I love soloing and the harmonies and rhythms he can churn out in real time improvisation are beyond my comprehension. I wanted to film him on the vibes too which did on the Love Not Truth Track. Vocally also, give him a backing track and he streams varied ideas off the top of his head, incredible.
Now I think I would like to work in production for unsigned independent artists (Not having to solve every problem from the first chord change to the last fade) and bring some of that finesse in groove and arrangements (language) that comes with age that I never had when I started.
Ryan: The digital/download generation is here and physical sales are not as popular as they used to be. How do you feel about the new age of music?
Jim: I think it’s great as long as it brings meritocracy with it. The middle men in the music industry always walked off with the lions share of the proceeds from their artist’s work. This used to be simple economics because the costs of producing quality recordings were way above the reach of most artists, and meant that they needed to seek investors (Record Companies) to front the costs and get distribution. Now anyone can make professional recordings with a reasonable outlay on home computers. and distribute it themselves worldwide through downloads. But that means that the amount of music out there is now astronomical, and it is a lot harder to turn music into a paying day job rather than a spare time hobby and develop professional skills in song writing/ production. I wonder if this has made popular music culture generally more derivative and formulaic, conforming to genre aimed at delaminated niches rather than the rich diversity and innovations of the melting pot. What is needed (and the tools are now with us), is a process of meritocracy where new music is judged and selected on merit and progresses up a chain to wider exposure. I am not sure we are there yet, the industry still seems to be dominated by major corporations who know the dark arts of promotion if not actual control over monopolised content in the main channels of exposure. That is why I wanted to work with James Moore (Independent Music Promotions) on promoting this project, because he seems to have done more than any other on the net to advise independent artists how to compete in the new marketplace. However, that in itself a full time job, and let’s face it, if musicians wanted to do that themselves they probably would have chosen to be in sales already and probably earning a lot more than they do from music. So some meritocratic internet institutions available to all to gain exposure and distribution would be a great advance to music culture IMO.
Ryan: At this point in your musical career, what are some of your biggest highlights?
Jim: I think the first taste of success with The Brand New Heavies was a great thrill, pressing the record button on Roy Ayers and watching him fly, but it was pretty much a downhill ride for me and I gave up in about 2005 after my last album petered out with minimal exposure. The decision to create again was only taken about 16 months ago in response to escalations in world affairs I just had to do something to express my dissent. I have to say a new highlight is the appreciation of the new generation of home recording software which is so much more advanced and useful than what I had to work with in the past.
Ryan: If you could give any advice to any musicians looking to make their first album, what advice would you give?
Jim: The most important thing is to set your standards high and constantly raise them. To get ahead of the massive crowd of competing music you have to get song writing groove and production to another level to stand out. The tendency when you start the process is to think, that song is great I’m really proud of that, and leave it at that, rather than tearing it apart over and over, every aspect and rebuilding to see if you get it any better, or just go back to what you had.
Ryan: Do you have a particular favourite song on the album and why?
Jim: The album started with a couple of sheets of ideas of all the things I wanted to say.
Obviously some tracks turn out better than others, and everyone has their favourites. In fact, I think already I have been told that 8 out of the 11 tracks on this LP are a certain person’s favourite track. That is exactly what I wanted, we each have our own dialect to bring to music appreciation. Ultimately though it is a concept album, and for me it’s the whole that was more important than the sum of the parts.
Ryan: Lastly, and thank you for your time. Is there any news that you would like to tell your fans about for 2016?
Jim: Be very wary as citizens, I think big moves are coming our way and not good ones for us IMO. Oh and check out or subscribe to my you tube channel there was always intended to be a visual side to the concept too.
Ryan, thank you very much for your interest and for the interview, Jim Wellman