Reflecting on our conversation, I felt as though it took Will some time to come out of his shell, so to speak. At first, his answers seemed slightly guarded and intentionally humble; contrived perhaps. But as the interview went on, I believe Will identified the sincerity in my contributions and line of questioning. And eventually he became more invested in the exchange. I’d say this would summarize his childhood years quite well. Where at first, he was tasked with navigating a tough populous in his hometown. But eventually, as he came to trust music as a nonjudgmental, creative outlet, he began to reveal his true self.
I was speaking with Exhorder’s founder Vinnie LaBella recently. And the topic of punk music came up. We exchanged ideas about how it influenced thrash music, and how the two were both extremely intertwined and infectious. I brought an idea to the forefront that we both agreed was fact. If you do not live the genre of music you currently write and produce, you will not be successful. Moreso, you will be lying to yourself, a fallacy in the court of public opinion, and at the very least, a hard sell. I believe this to be true for all genres. And I believe it to be one of the many reasons why Will Wesley will always pass muster. At times country, at times rock and roll, and always with an underlying current of blues, he has lived and breathed these elements since he was a child. Growing up in Baker, Louisiana, which was settled but not thriving, an impoverished society delivered these principles to Will at a young age. He was the youngest of three children. And with a growing family to feed, his father had set down the guitar to pick up more shifts at a local plant. Though family finances had overshadowed his father’s dreams of being a full-time musician, Will quickly became of age to have that torch passed down to him. Sharing in Will’s ambition and love of music, he made sure to instill in him the idea that playing music was to be taken seriously. He wouldn’t have Will simply learn a few chords. He wanted him learning music theory. And he imparted to Will how important the business aspect of music would become in due time.
Exploring his motives as a young man, Will was the first to admit that he picked up the guitar in an effort to get more girls. It is worth affirming there were a few other factors that garnered his attention, like the support of his father and the strength it lent their bond. He would also admit that playing guitar didn’t change much when it came to girls. But before long, ironically, he was passing up dates to play shows. Falling in love with the art gave him tunnel vision. No tangible thing could replace it. Unlike his surroundings, it didn’t judge him. It didn’t threaten him. And it brought him closer in the mind of a working father of three.
Drawn to punk music in his early years, Will was a fan of the idea that “three chords and the truth” could transcend genres and audiences. The similarities in the cores of genres, he pointed out, kept him relearning the things he already knew. These subtle resemblances provided comfort for a youth that was constantly trying to find his voice in music. Yet he did not hesitate to decide upon original songs as his chosen path. Like many, he would practice covering a variety of songs in his room to get his chops up. But for Will, his expression manifested itself as original compositions of straight rock and roll. Given his propensity for punk rock, he became an avid fan of bands like Green Day, Sublime, and 311. His first band would be called Crotch. Before you knew it, this kid from the small town of Baker, Louisiana had orange hair and was stage diving. He recalled a surreal experience one night at a Green Day concert when he was just fourteen. “Billie Joe Armstrong asked if anybody plays guitar. And my brother at the time lifted me higher than anyone else and this dude gets me on stage. And I look out in this crowd and there is just thousands and thousands of people. I’m scared but its just like… I am alive! You know what I’m saying?” He went on to tell us what Billie whispered in his ear at that moment. “Look dude I really hope you know how to play. The chords are G, D and C. And I was like, yeah yeah I know that. And the dude just gives me the guitar, and he kisses me square in the mouth. And when I started playing and the crowd started going nuts, I knew from there… man crowd applause and live audiences are quite addictive. I was addicted and I’ve been that way ever since”.
An experience like this made him want for nothing else. All he wanted to do was play bar chords and get laid. Luckily, the urgings of his parents would still permeate through the desires of a young Will. Though he had dropped out of school, to his mother’s wishes he acquiesced and returned, getting his diploma. And to his father’s wishes, he allowed words of wisdom to take the place of his immature cravings. As his father explained to him, “If you’re gonna do this, you can’t do it half-way. There’s musicians on the street homeless that can play you out of this city. You’re gonna have to be a business person to survive.” Into his twenties, Will became a music director for Grady Champion, a Grammy Award-winning blues musician out of Canton Mississippi, and toured around the world. During his time home, he got involved with a woman who was also a musician. The two would form a duo. The goal for Will at that time, aside from pursuing his relationship, was to see the music they made gain traction. So, he immersed himself and his efforts to that end. The relationship would eventually fade, as did their musical duo. The typical town gossip would follow and belittlement had him feeling low. Depression began to set in as Will began to question himself. Looking back, he realized that he had come from making great strides in his own career only to put himself in the background for a relationship. The promotion of this duo was perhaps motivated more by love interests and less by creative interests.
Will began to hear his father’s words in his mind. There would be no more playing for the sake of playing, or playing for the sake of a relationship. He needed to return to his roots; creative writing through close attention to music theory, and creative direction through close attention to business acumen. He needed someone that existed outside the local whirlpool of small-town mentalities and rumors, someone that could help clear his mind and focus. He called a friend he had worked with in the past by the name of Phil Chandler. Phil had produced for Will in the past and done some bar gigs with him. But most importantly, Phil was from out-of-town. The two began to discuss a number of songs that Will wanted to get recorded, as well as Phil’s recently recorded EP under the band name Orange Joe. Opportunities to gig at that time were few and far between. Being that this occurred during the onset of Covid, the two had to get creative to kept things moving. One solution they settled upon was writing (and subsequently selling) commercial jingles. As their momentum began to accelerate, they decided to take what else they had and publish it together. The result would be a body of work that housed Phil’s EP as well as Will’s recorded songs. It was a seventeen song, double album called Both Sides of the Tracks. Characteristically typical of any bands’ first album, they described it as an extremely polar, country rock/ country americana album. But despite Covid, it kept them productive creatively. And it earmarked a moment in time, both good and bad. Some of Will and Phil’s friends, family, and fellow musicians that were involved with this album didn’t make it through the pandemic. But on the other side of this traumatic occurrence, Both Sides of the Tracks stood tall. Its reception was global, garnering radio play on stations everywhere. This was a fortunate break being that distribution services were backlogged due to many cooped up musicians at home writing and recording. This catalyst also contributed to the star-studded roster on their debut album. Singer/ songwriter and guitarist Kern Pratt, fiddle player Michael Cleveland, singer/ fiddle player/ producer Allison Krauss, singer/ songwriter/ guitarist Doc Watson, and singer/ songwriter/ guitarist John Marty Stewart were some of the people that contributed to this release.
Obvious hardships gave birth to a robust independence for them both. The album that was recorded, produced, and promoted from their homes now had a global presence. They formed their own label, Roanoke Records and solidified management with Brian Abrams of Century Palm Agency on a beach over a fifth of honey whiskey. Since then, their hard work has resulted in a European tour, a spot opening for the globally recognized band Alabama, and multiple show dates in Switzerland and Bangkok. Their next album, Ready to Ride is set to drop this summer. Subscribe to our podcast by picking your streaming service below and hear about the duo’s experiences overseas, the noticeably darker tone of this next album, partner Phil Chandlers thoughts on music business, and so much more. Thanks goes out to Will Wesley and Phil Chandler for such a great interview.
Author: David Trahan