A few days before he releases his brand-new album, Think/Thoughts, next weekend Houston musician Benjamin Wesley will sit in with the renowned and shadowy Jandek at Big Star Bar. No small shakes for any Houston artist, considering the myths that have surrounded the internationally adored Jandek for nearly the past four decades.
Wesley is already a veteran of the local music scene with bands like Tha Fucking Transmissions, Basses Loaded and an early incarnation of American Sharks. He released his first solo disc, Geschichte, in early 2009, and quickly made a name for himself as the guy playing three or four instruments at once at parties, clubs and charity gigs.
His songs are tender, bitter and quirky expanses that bring to mind Animal Collective jamming with a highly caffeinated Bob Dylan. Funny enough, Wesley is in the caffeine business himself: He's a manager at the Washington Avenue location of Catalina Coffee.
Think/Thoughts gets its official release next Friday at Fitzgerald's, and the nine-track offering builds on the promise of Geschichte, embedding hooks aplenty on top of Wesley's fractured storytelling.
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Chatter: How did this Jandek thing come about?
Benjamin Wesley: My name had come up in conversation with Sterling Smith, who records under the name Jandek, about needing electronic musicians for his Big Star gig. This was mentioned to me rather casually by (SugarHill Studios engineer) Chris Longwood, and I asked him to show [Smith] a video of some music I had composed for the Houston Ballet.
Somehow I got a video of the performance, but didn't think it would warrant much attention because it was owned by the Houston Ballet and couldn't be reproduced so it turned into just something I showed a few of my friends. Chris showed this to Mr. Smith, however, and it must have made a good impression on him, because he said that he wanted me to do whatever it was I was doing in the video for his show.
I was playing on electronic loop recorders and synths, and he thought the sounds he heard would fit the theme for this show. A few weeks went by and I got a phone call from the booking agent and was asked to perform. I was told that there would be no rehearsals for this gig.
It was explained that, when Smith performed, it was called Jandek and whoever performed with him was a part of Jandek during that sonic experience. I was given a time to show up for sound check, a list of the other players I will be playing with and the theme that we will be going for.
C: How was your SXSW?
BW: My management company set up some really great showcases for me to play during both the interactive part of SXSW and the music part of it. I played in some unique places, to some new faces and gained some fans. I played hard, partied hard and walked a whole lot. It was a hoot, but I decided not to really have expectations for my shows or the experiences that would present themselves because you have to just ride the wave on such a clusterfuck of an event.
C: Your new album Think/Thoughts is coming in hot next week. Why did it take so long to follow up Geschichte?
BW: Geschichte was written in a few months and recorded in two nights. Around the time I started going under the name Benjamin Wesley I was sensing the breakup of all of the projects I was in, so I bought a beat machine and borrowed a toy keyboard from Roky Moon (Mike Hardin), my roommate at the time, and wrote some songs.
That first EP didn't really have my undivided attention. The songs were from the heart, but we didn't take a lot time to overdub or produce the tracks. I performed the album pretty much live, and for better or worse it has a sort of lo-fi, late-night feel to it, but it got a few things off of my chest.
I talked Chris into getting away from the studio to work on this one, so part of it we recorded in a cabin in the Hill Country around Austin, and part of it in the loft we both live in, which is an renovated old hospital that has a really electric, eerie vibe to it.
Once the recording and mixing was done, we sent it to NYC for Joe Lambert of Animal Collective, Panda Bear and Washed Out fame, [and] put the paint on the Cadillac with the mastering. Of course there was life happening during all that, with its ups and downs and round and rounds, sometimes things don't allow themselves to be rushed, and that's kind of what the whole experience taught me. I guess that's worth something.
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