With close to 2,000 bands playing in Austin, Texas for the annual South By Southwest music festival it’s hard to stand out as a musician. But Tyrone Wells makes it look easy. After seeing Wells perform, you won’t be able to forget him.
Known by many for his inspiring live performance, Wells talked to me about his most recent release, Remain, whether he’d rather someone witness his concert live first or hear his album, and the inspiration behind some of his music.
“Music to me is not a way to see dollar signs; it’s an honest expression of my soul,” Wells said. Now if only every musician felt that way. Read on for my exclusive interview with Tyrone Wells and be sure to download his song “More” as well as other breakout artists from SXSW for free on Amazon here.
Is this your first time at South By Southwest?
It is my first time officially, yes. A couple years ago I played for a distribution company as an independent artist that was distributing my record, but that wasn’t an official showcase or anything. So this is my first time really. I’m very excited.
Do you prepare for a festival differently than a regular tour?
Not really. I’ve toured so much that I look at it as any other show. The sets are so short so we have to do some thinking about all the songs we need to cut and everything.
How do you go about picking what songs to play?
That’s a really hard thing for me to do. To a certain degree, you play to the crowd and whatever you think will go over best, then you put your strongest forces in the front. It’s really only five or six songs is what it is.
Is there a different type of audience at a festival vs. your normal show?
This one specifically is. There are people that just come to watch, but a lot of it is industry people. They are very different than just someone who comes to listen to your music. This is different than when we play other music festivals in cities. That is great because there are people who are there to hear music and have a good time. But, I do love playing festivals, it’s great.
Are you more nervous at a festival like SXSW since there’s so much hype?
This festival, there’s a lot of buzz about it and people are like, “It’s so important.” But it’s been my experience that, realistically, everything in my career has just been one step at a time. It’s not like everything is going to change over night because of something that I do here. At least, that’s my perspective. I could be surprised and maybe my whole world could change, but for the most part I feel like it’s always a marathon and never a sprint and this is just mile 15 of the marathon.
So tell me about your latest record, Remain. This is your second major label release?
Yes, this is my second release on Universal Records, but I’ve done four independent releases. My fourth independent release got picked up by Universal and then my most current record on Universal was my second record that they’ve released. So, it’s my first time having a major label behind me when going in to making a record. It was a really great experience. I recorded some of the songs in London and worked with a producer named Martin Terefe who did Jason Mraz’s last record and James Morrison’s first record, and a lot of different artists that I really like.
How was the recording process different this time around?
I think the biggest difference is that for the first time I had more of a recording budget and therefore, I didn’t have to cut corners everywhere. In the past it’s been a shoestring budget so it’s really great to have a label behind me.
What was the inspiration behind the album? Did you do anything different on this release?
The last album I think I probably wrote 30 songs, but this current one I wrote 60 or 70 songs and tried to just pick the ones that I thought were the best, which was really hard. There are songs that I recorded that I’m so afraid are going to fall to the waste side, that I really love. In those terms, I wrote a lot more and I worked with three different producers this time instead of just one. This record was a lot more, I want to say epic or emotional lush in its production than previous works. My last record was definitely more sparse, this one has a more full band sound.
Would you rather have someone see you live first or hear your record?
That’s a good question. I guess I don’t mind how they hear me first as long as they’re listening. I think for me, the majority of my fan base has been because of live shows just because I’ve played a lot. Also, just word of mouth. Friends showing friends the music. It’s hard to answer. Either way, as long as they come and listen I’m grateful.
I love the lyrics in your song “More.” What was the inspiration behind it?
It’s funny. A little side note on that song, it almost didn’t make the record because I had written the chorus with a friend of mine. Loved the chorus but didn’t like the verses that we wrote. So when I was in the studio I was messing around with it and showed it to another friend of mine and we decided to take a crack at writing different verses and a different bridge. And we did right there on the spot and then recorded it that same day. So the verses and the bridge to that song were written the same day they were recorded, which lyrically and musically was a really cool thing that came together so quickly. It became the first single on the record, that’s the one that’s on the radio.
It’s really the age old search of mankind to find more meaning, whether it be faith in God or faith in humanity or hope for a better day and hope that we can see people loving each other in this world and coming together instead of always separating. Less selfishness and more togetherness. I think everybody who hears that song plugs their own life into it and whatever is more for that person is what they draw from it.
I met a girl who really wants to write screen plays and she adopted the song as her mantra. For me, it was the age old search for God and connecting to him and finding more meaning in that. I love playing “More” live.
What makes you stand out from the other bands at SXSW?
I’ve been asking myself that question. There are so many musicians here. Honestly, I’m doing my best to be really vulnerable and honest. Music to me is not a way to see dollar signs; it’s an honest expression of my soul. I think that’s true for a lot of artists, but it’s definitely true for me. I think something that’s unique about what I do is, I have people tell me all the time at shows that they cried or they were weeping or they were really moved by what I have to share. So, if you really want to cry come to my show. No [laughs]. People laugh a lot at my show too. I don’t know. It’s just an honest expression and I feel like it’s a good experience. I lot of people tell me that they walk away feeling really inspired and that’s the highest compliment that I could receive and I love that and I’m grateful for that.
What would you be doing if it wasn’t for music?
It’s really hard for me to say. I’m sure I could find several things that I would enjoy. I think maybe something in teaching or counseling. But, because there is music I guess I don’t have to worry that much about it. I would really like to be that guy that when he’s 70 he’s still writing songs because I love the process.
To listen to some of Tyrone’s music and find upcoming tour dates, be sure to visit him on MySpace.