After I meet Jeh Sea Welles – or as I’ll refer to him from this point on, “Welles” – and spend some time shooting the breeze, I can’t help but think of a famous Patrick Rothfuss passage – There are three things all wise men fear: the sea in storm, a night with no moon, and the anger of a gentle man.
Granted, the context of the passage pertains to a half-finished fantasy novel gathering dust on my bookshelf, but nevertheless, with Welles the words run true.
In his general nature, Welles is totally unassuming.
Everything about his appearance would certainly suggest he’s a musician, or at least falls into some iteration of the creative mold. Welles’ general amiability juxtaposes itself against the brash, in your face manner of his music. As an entity, Welles is just as dynamic as his music, if not more so.
He wears a threadbare sea green sweater with fortuitously tasteful holes that reveal a vintage tee of some sort; hardly the presumed attire for a fledgling rock deity. His mane of dusty brown hair picking up off his shoulders and onto his forehead with the slightest breeze on an unseasonably warm late winter morning. His pants are what most would call “fitted” or even “skinny,” with boots to top it off.
At this point, it’d be hard to imagine Welles not being a musician, though his appearance might not suggest genre of choice would be heavy rock n roll, much less the guy to pen a perversely poetic track like “Do You Know How to Fuck?”
Granted, the song’s brash title does serve as a bit of a misdirect, as the song itself acts as a psych-gaze opine of curiosity; Welles is a young rock n roller, after all. The song elicits memories of Song for the Deaf era Queens of the Stone Age. “Do You Know How to Fuck?” is arguably the best indication of how Welles’ future iterations might stand within the spectrum of rock music, but its still a far cry from his unassuming conversational manner.
He speaks softly as he wraps wayward strands around his ear and out of his face, sipping slowly on an iced coffee at Portland Brew. A group of high school students walk by, reminding us all that it was President’s Day. The conversation is easy, relaxed, but wary all the same.
We talk about a particularly profane song – as if “Do You Know How to Fuck?” would suggest otherwise – that Welles had finished editing a demo earlier in the day. While such a song title and the possibility of profanity may suggest it, Welles attests that sensationalism isn’t far outside his modus operandi.
“I don’t write about profanity for the sake of profanity. Only – its colloquial – as you would talk to your friends; maybe not your mother, but your friends.”
There’s a brief discussion about Welles’ writing process, which is wholly narrative, but varied enough that the 23-year old doesn’t eliminate any and all mystique. In fact, there’s still an almost alarming disconnect between the growling rock wizard on his eponymous EP, Welles, and the mild mannered conversationalist Jeh Sea seated next to me.
Not that one should spend inordinate amounts of time trying to understand the paradigm between Jeh Sea and Welles, but in all reality, they’re one in the same. At the time of the interview, Welles had only been in Nashville for four or five months, but much like his brazen musical alter ego, Welles was unaffected by the change.
In fact, Welles seems to have taken the increase in industry involvement in stride.
“It’s a lot bigger, but things have been good. I’ve just been writing, just doing what I’ve always done, and anticipating tour and releases and stuff like that. So its kind of the first step into the music business after the do-it-yourself standpoint. So, you do kind of come to a halt while doing it all yourself and then putting it in hands that can better serve you. That can act for you and have better connections. “
Suddenly, Welles’ depth of perspective becomes wholly indicative of a career well on its way to acclaim and admiration; and that’s without considering his music. Despite Welles’ relative youth, he’s far from inexperienced in terms of taste – he spent the better part of his formative years in Arkansas booking his own festivals with anyone and everyone.
“…In Ozark, when I was a kid, I’d put together festivals. I’d call all my friends – they built an amphitheatre in the park and get all my friends that had a guitar, whether they had any songs or not and give them thirty minutes to play whatever.”
Welles was wholly magnanimous in his festival coordinating in Ozark, Arkansas, which undoubtedly served him in his move to Nashville. But prior to coming our way, Welles made a stop in Fayetteville, further strengthening his chops – “I was pushing people. Mostly wrestling with kid’s parents and stuff. Like they didn’t want their kids playing rock n roll music. But in Fayetteville, there’s quite a music scene. So when I moved up there, things started blooming.”
He continues on about his time in Arkansas, speaking in acting metaphors – read through, director, and playwriting – but has no interest in the stage (he simply likes the metaphor). He’s uninhibited while speaking extemporaneously but never allows himself to become unhinged with prosaic turns of phrase or allegory. He’s concerted with the conversation, but always reorients to focusing on his music.
Welles’ time in Arkansas is neither here nor there with regard to his current situation; his primary focus – his music and breaking into and (subsequently/proverbially) out of Nashville.
While Welles’ time in Nashville has been brief, his impact has certainly made waves, despite having a single track officially released. The tunes off of Welles’ upcoming LP causes a shift from soft-spoken Arkansan who happens to play music into a rock and roll enigma on the precipice of rock deity status. It’d be safe to assume that those waves made prior to the release will reach near-tidal status upon the release of the LP.
The LP runs the gamut of rock n roll excellence, with songs that contain Robert Plant meets Kurt Cobain vocals (“Into Ashes”) and instrumental breaks that would make the heavy crushers like King Gizzard and King Tuff blush (“Seasons”). Depsite such glowing comparisons, Welles never seems to lose sight of his own musical uniquity – he always maintains a certain level of palpable emotion throughout each track which judging from his notably reserved temperament, suggest he’s all but poured his entire self into the songs.
But no song seems to exhibit the fullest extent of Welles’ self as “Seventeen.” In terms of prospective songs that serve as benchmarks for Welles’ future, you’d be hard pressed to find a better indicator than “Seventeen.” It’s a ballad of sorts – imgine if Billie Joe Armstrong attempted to do his best Eddie Vedder impression – that’s drenched in anecdotal experience and personal trepidations.
Its forthright, and unabashed, sensitive and thoughtful; much like Welles himself. It is the most universally Welles-ish song in his current ouvre, as it showcases the unbridled vigor of his rock n roll abilities, all the while maintaining his pensive and meditative nature.
And so goes the story of Nashville’s newest rock n roll prodigal son, Welles. He made the hajj from Arkansas to Nashville, found his “congregation” of supporters during his initial foray into town, and has already set himself on the path the rock n roll righteousness. If there was any doubt of Welles’ place within the rock n roll community, let it be known he is set to rise like no other.