The making of a classic
Cair Paravel front man goes solo, adds new band
Jon Wesley never really paid much attention to the classics growing up. Only recently has his love for icons such as Bob Dylan and the Beatles come about, leading the local singer-songwriter to make up for lost time by attacking back-catalogs with rabid eagerness.
One listen to any of the five songs on his new EP, Faking Piece of Mind, however, and you’d think Wesley lived a childhood where road trips with the family were spent wearing out the tape deck with Neil Young and Beach Boys albums.
“Every time I’d tell people I just started listening to Blonde on Blonde, they’d scoff and say, ‘I’ve been listening to that since I was 5,’ “ Wesley said.
Before devoting himself to his solo work, Wesley played with the popular local band Cair Paravel. Not an original member, Wesley started off playing bass but eventually wound up on piano and lead vocals, which is where he stayed until the group recently disbanded.
Even though Wesley admits some of his solo material is composed of Cair Paravel songs that never materialized, people shouldn’t expect anything too similar. Wesley counteracts his former band’s melodic indie-pop with a much looser take on folk-and-country-tinged rock.
After spending some time writing and playing by himself, Wesley knew it was only a matter of time before he would find a backing band to complement his new songs.
“I like playing with a band a lot more,” he said. “It’s the whole meeting-of-minds thing, where there are going to be things you can’t come up with that other people can. It’s also a lot louder.”
When it came time to piece the band together to start playing shows and recording, Wesley turned to some familiar faces, including keyboardist Brandon Maines from local band Cabrini Green and former Cair Paravel bassist Chris Keene. Also drafted into the new lineup were guitarist Nate Pendry (The Deer) and drummer Jordan Mallory (Number One Gun), both of whom Wesley had admired before deciding to work together.
“They were the generation above me, so they were definitely who I grew up watching around town,” said Wesley, a Chico native. “The lineup kind of became a dream team.”
The new roster looks good on paper, but Wesley seems to be even happier with the actual results, knowing he can trust his new bandmates to take the songs in the direction they’re meant to go.
“It’s nice to realize a song the way you think it should sound and have people add things on top,” Wesley said. “I can say, ‘I want this part loud,’ and then they come up with something loud. Everyone on the album is so good.”
While early solo performances consisted of only Wesley, his guitar and a harmonica (in fact, he just returned from a California tour equipped only with himself and his car), Faking Piece of Mind is a far more unified affair.
From the rollicking two-guitar rock of “Revolution (SOC 30)” to the sunny harmonies found on “You Don’t Care,” each song is fully realized and flawlessly recorded by local producer Jeff Schneeweis (also from Number One Gun). Adding to its appeal is the fact the album was recorded as live as possible, with minimal overdubs and vocal takes.
Although Wesley does indeed owe much to the masters who came long before him, his songs also call to mind more recent examples, such as Jeff Tweedy’s transitional period from the ragged energy of Uncle Tupelo to the more mature potential of early Wilco.
In the song “Ramblin,” Wesley sings: “Signs around this town, they point to leave / Happen to agree with most the things I read.”
When asked where he might go, he bounces around ideas of Seattle, Nashville or just touring full-time, yet still settles with a resounding “I really have no idea.” Though any city he winds up in will be lucky to have him, for the time being at least, his indecision is our gain.