Daniel Wesley is a singer/songwriter. It’s a simple sentence to describe a complex craft, and one that Wesley executes remarkably well. He makes it seem effortless on record, and to a degree even in conversation, but the process has been a growing experience over the course of five albums. He recently released his latest disc, Easy Livin’. Launched by the infectious first single, “Head Outta Water,” it hopefully, and likely, will be his breakthrough from Canada into a wider scope of the U.S. and abroad.
In this interview, Daniel Wesley discusses the careful but natural path he has followed to take his career to the next level, and how that path has helped him grow as a musician and writer.
For those who are just learning about you with this new album, can you walk through the timeline of where you were with each album?
The first one was Outlaw, in 2006. I played in heavy rock bands for years and years, and musically it was cool stuff, but it wasn’t working out. Some people were doing other things, others weren’t committed, others were going to rehab — there were all these things going on and it just imploded. I wanted to keep going and I thought, I can count on myself. I wrote all the songs for the band before, so I decided to see if I could do my own thing, but I wanted to do something different, something that made me happy, and just clear my head. I started writing and finding guys that were really cool and fun to play with, and it went from there. That was the start of me making music for me, because it was a dream of mine to be a fulltime musician. A local station, the Fox here in Vancouver, started playing one of the songs, “You Ain’t S–t,” and people started calling in.
Sing & Dance  did well, and radio in Vancouver gave it a big push. Suddenly we were selling 700, 800, 900 concert tickets here and then we got a distribution deal through Fontana/Universal in Toronto and I got an agent and a management team. I recorded Drifting  in winter, and I wanted to go back to a more acoustic sound.
Things changed, as they normally do, and I found myself not playing with the guys I originally started playing with. Even though it was a solo project, the guys kind of became like a band of brothers. We parted ways and that led me to sign with 604 Records in 2009 and work with Dave Genn on the fourth album [Daniel Wesley], which was awesome, because up until then I produced all the music myself and was really indie, built through word of mouth. Radio stations across Canada started playing my stuff, I toured a bunch and that brings it to this album [Easy Livin’]. I’m starting to get a name across Canada and the West Coast of the States a bit and trying to make this thing a little more international. I have a new management team [Chief Music Management], a new agent and life is great!
It took you a while to allow a producer into your world. What did it take to convince you to sign to both management and a label, and how did those situations come about?
I wanted a manager because it all seems to work easier when you have a manager — as long as they’re working their asses off for you. I wanted to try a major label, and 604 is like an indie major; they have an office in Vancouver with twelve people working their butts off. It’s not some lavish office. Everyone works hard for what they get and I like that idea. Chief manages a bunch of bands, and he’s been Nickelback’s tour manager and sound guy since the very beginning. I’ve never made any rash decisions, but I’m not one of those artists who can just sit on the sidelines and wait for things to happen. I’m always talking to management and my agent. I think about things to do all the time, but it’s really nice having people doing things for you and tackling things. It’s a good way to have things going on.
Your music is tagged as rock, pop and sometimes reggae. When people think of reggae, a certain sound and vibe come to mind, and a certain stereotype, of course. Lyrically, however, it goes a lot deeper. Does the casual listener often overlook that depth?
I don’t know. I think it depends on the person. People come up and say “this” song means something to them because it talks about “this,” and I didn’t even realize it. There have been a handful of songs over the last couple of albums … I have been concentrating more on lyrics. I’m not trying to make a statement, but sometimes deep down I am for myself; it’s a subconscious thing. Sometimes I don’t know what they’re about until they’re done, because I’m trying to channel the feeling that I have. All the songs are what I’m feeling at the moment. “Pilgrimage” [Daniel Wesley] was written because of all the gang violence going on, and “Ballad of Haiti” I really tapped into, but a lot of times it’s like I don’t know until it’s over. Doing interviews for the album, people ask about the songs and I’m like, “I haven’t even thought about it until now.”
How was the recording process different for this album? What is that process like for you in terms of studio performance, takes, comps and keeping a live feel to the songs?
It’s different from song to song. I worked with Dave Ogilvie on the bulk of the album and with Greig Nori for three songs. I play with the guys when we’re doing the take, but I’m not one to keep my guitar and vocal from the take. I like doing them again just because I like being able to concentrate on one thing. When I play live I have to do both and do them the best I can, and I think I do a good job of it, but when you’re in the studio you don’t have to do them at the same time. I like overdubbing all my stuff, but usually I’m in the same room with the drummer and bass player and we cut the drums and bass live together. That’s a huge thing, more important than me cutting with them — as long as the bass and drums are cut live together and they see each other in the same room, that’s what you feel the most, and the rest you can kind of lay over the top of it. After that, I look at it like a playground, having as many things around me as possible and just going for it. And it was done pretty quickly. The stuff with Ogilvie took a long time because my schedule was so crazy. I was touring while doing the stuff with him. So I was home for three or four days and gone for two weeks. The stuff with Nori, we were just as efficient as with Ogilvie about the three songs we did, and we did them in six days because I was there the whole time. But generally I like moving quickly in the studio. I hate laboring over it. As long as you’ve got good people, it’s going to sound good. There’s no point doing take after take.
Was “Head Outta Water” the obvious first single? Why or why not?
That song didn’t even exist until I did two sessions with Nori. I’d done all the sessions with Ogilvie and another song that didn’t make the album, and another song, and all of a sudden I had “Head Outta Water” and I said, “We have to do this song.” It was the last song we recorded for the album and I said, “I think this is the most radio-friendly song. It’s upbeat rock.” I’ve had a lot of radio success, but I’ve also had a lot of problems getting on radio because I don’t sound Canadian, I’m not a rock band, and that’s the one that sounds most like a rock band. It’s doing well. I think all the songs are really good, so it wasn’t easy to pick, but it sounded like something a lot of rock stations would play.
This is the track that introduces you to new audiences. What do you hope it tells them?
I guess that I’m diverse, because I never put a single out like “Head Outta Water,” but I feel like a lot of my singles are different. Nothing I’d ever recorded sounded like “Pilgrimage,” so I think I’m a mixed bag of music and I think that’s a good thing. Something I keep in mind more than anything is to always make sure I mix it up because I don’t want to get bored with what I’m doing. I’m having fun because I’m open to anything, so I think it shows that there’s a lot of depth to the different sounds that I can create and I think that’s a good thing, because in the age of the iPod, people rarely put on an album. Or they listen to three songs and they want to put another album on because a lot of albums tend to sound like one song. I don’t think this album really has that. I feel that it’s kind of like a gauntlet of material from the beginning until the end.
Will the U.S. see you soon?
I’ve been down the West Coast five times but have never done an American tour. The big thing I’ve been talking to my management about is I’ve got to get down there more. You can only tour Canada so much, and I’m not only in the music business for the music but also for the traveling and being able to see things. The older you get, the more you want to see, and I’ve always thought the States were amazing, so definitely with this album I want to follow it up with a bunch of touring. I don’t know if it will be this year, but it will definitely be next year. I haven’t forgotten about it, that’s for sure!
Read more of Daniel Wesley’s interview here: http://www.guitarworld.com/interview-daniel-wesley-discusses-his-songwri…
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