All good art tells a story. The tale might not be a very pleasant one, but it keeps our attention throughout every twist, turn, and tumble of the plot. Thus, what people quickly discover about the life and music of Benjamin Wesley is that this singer-songwriter has a seemingly unending supply of narratives to share, and he does so with style and panache.
As anyone who’s ever seen Wesley put on one his celebrated one-man shows around the greater Houston, TX area can attest, the guy is extremely talented. Not many of us would be able to manage both an electric guitar and bass guitar strung about our necks while also manipulating the various synths, pads, and processors required to provide the beats, loops, and noises that give his songs such character. What makes this music so special is that you gain the sense – whether you’re watching a live set or listening to his music over your headphones – that he’s in the midst of a conversation with you, and you alone.
Part of this ability has been learned over the many years he’s spent playing music across the country. He cut his teeth on the road playing fiddle and banjo in the folk-punk band ROSA. He then honed his showmanship handling all manner of guitar duties for the gregarious rap collective Tha Fucking Transmissions. At the same time, he was serving as the frontman for Basses Loaded, a psych-rock band consisting of three bass players and a drummer. All the while, he was writing, crafting, and preparing his own material, saving his most personal material for just the right time.
2009 saw Wesley self-release his debut EP, Geschtichte (German for “history” or simply “story”) – a record that was lauded by critics across the whole of the Houston music scene. Yet, for all of that success, questions lingered about the depth of his art and what the future might hold. Should he continue? Should he tour? Do I have stories worth telling? Am I too old for this shit? Do I even want to attempt to carve out a place in the music industry, as it’s currently running?
His response to all of that navel-gazing and philosophizing? He decided to make another record, and this time, he was going to up the ante. Think/Thoughts comes across instantly as that intensely autobiographical album that so many songwriters have to release at some point in their careers. The album is replete with scenes and reflections dripping with cathartic release. The detailed tale told about administering CPR to his stepfather in “Great Moments In Life” is especially moving, though I’m also fond of the whimsical remembrances of good times with friends conveyed in “Aliens & Lightning Bugs.”
Throughout it all, Wesley has managed to match the passion of the stories told with the quality of the music. Buzzing guitar licks dance with bubbling synth melodies while strong beats frolic with sturdy bass rumbles and quirky embellishments of electronic noises. At the root of all these various sonic surprises is a hard kernel of honest pop goodness, tempered with timeless folk sensibilities – there’s no point in the music sounding fancy, stylish, and accomplished if it isn’t accessible and relatable.
Benjamin Wesley isn’t just another new-school folk singer who’s learned how to play a few interesting chord progressions while managing to teach himself a bit about modern technology to give himself a visual edge. This is a man proud of both his German heritage and his hometown of Houston, TX, and he’s experienced his own fair share of loss, anguish, and disappointment. Yet, he’s managed to come out on the other side – a little older and a little wiser, as the cliché goes – with stories that he wants to tell and music that he’s excited to share with others. And while he might be singing to a crowd of people at a show, he’s really just sitting there with you, talking with an old friend over a couple of drinks. Enjoy.