John Wesley is mainly known as the touring guitarist for Porcupine Tree, Steven Wilson and a host of other bands and artist. He’s lesser known as an artist under his own name, but his solo material is often just as good as any Steven Wilson related project. ThisIsNotAScene caught up with this very talented Floridian for a nice down to earth chat about hiss latest solo effort, entitled “Disconnect”, working with Steven Wilson and his own guitar heroes.
Hi John, thank for doing this interview. Can you start by telling what the idea/central theme is behind “Disconnect”?
Sure! Some time ago I was going through a rough time and I had to deal with a lot of changes in my life. I was really comfortable where I was in life and I really didn’t wanted to change things, but I had no choice in this matter. In a way it made me disconnect from the life that I once knew. At the same time friends came back from their various combat duties in Iraq and Afghanistan and in a way they felt disconnect from the life they once knew. In a strange way I could really connect with that and by the time I was working on what would become “Disconnect” the idea presented itself to use that subject as the central theme. I wouldn’t say that “Disconnect” is a concept album in the classic sense of the word, but there’s certainly a central theme connecting all the songs together.
“Disconnect” has a rather bleak and melancholic atmosphere to it. How come?
It’s the type of atmosphere I always gravitated to. It’s in my DNA so to speak. It was in Jimi Hendrix’ music in my early youth, to the music I did with Phish to touring with Steven Wilson and Porcupine Tree. PT’s music is overflowing with melancholia. I’m a fairly easygoing and positive person myself and I find music the best way to curb any melancholic feelings.
“Disconnect” covers a plethora of different styles, ranging from straight up alt rock on Any Old Saint and the title to the slightly poppier leanings on “Window” and the Roger Waters inspired “How Goes The War”. Where does this diversity stems from?
It’s basically the completion of my long journey as a songwriter. I listen to tons of different music and I always tried to use that sense of diversity in my songwriting and keep it coherent at the same time. When I listen to my past records the material wasn’t as coherent as I wanted it to be, but I really feel that I finally managed to nail it on “Disconnect”. In a way the album feels like the completion of a very long journey full of hard work. I’m really proud how the record came out.
Can you take us through the motions of writing and recording this album?
Of course! I have a really good team behind me here in Florida. I worked with a couple of people whom I knew for a very long time, be it a session guitarist or actually playing in a band together. One of the key people I worked with on this album is Dean Tidey. He’s a great guitarist in his own right and he really helped me punch through when I reached a dead spot when I was writing the songs for “Disconnect”. On other times he came in with some great ideas and we used that as a base to work from. The same thing happened with my drummer Mark Prator. We’ve known and worked with each other for years. It was really this type of band environment that made the writing and recording sessions such a great experience. If someone comes in with a great idea, put your ego aside and use it!
Alex Lifeson from Rush contributed on “Once A Warrior”. How did you manage to get him aboard?
He’s not really known as someone that does a lot of guest contributions, but he loves doing them. I know the Rush guys through our mutual Porcupine Tree connection and we’ve become friends. I’m also friends with Neil Peart and as you may know he likes to ride on his bike from gig to gig and he wrote a book about this. On a couple of occasions I rode with Neil to the next gig.
Anyway, Neil told Alex that I was working on a new record and Alex contacted me whether there was still space left for a guitar solo. I said “sure” and right before I knew it he sent me this beautiful guitar solo that ended up in ‘Once A Warrior’. When I was working on the mix of the album some people came in and they way utterly amazed by Alex’ solo. It’s a great privilege having him on “Disconnect”.
Your playing style is very emotive and less about showing how well you can play. Why is “feel” more important to you than “technique”?
There’s indeed a lot of emotion in my playing, but I use a lot of technique in my playing as well. However, I never connected to the whole concept of shredding a million miles away. Don’t get me wrong, I really admire people who can do that, but I feel it’s more for the Steve Vai’s and Joe Satriani’s of this world. I’m more inspired by Jeff Beck, David Gilmour, Alex Lifeson and Warren Haynes. Especially the sense of honesty in Gilmour’s playing still mesmerizes me to this very day.
What’s the definition of a great song for you, be it pop, rock or prog?
It’s all about connecting to a certain song. If even twenty people can connect to a song, then that’s a great song in my book. It isn’t about a cleverly placed bridge, a great melody or a catchy hook. It’s all about people connecting and relating to that song.
You’re mostly known as the touring guitarist for both Porcupine Tree and Steven Wilson, but your own material can rival the best of what PT and Steven Wilson has to offer on any given day. Does this bother you?
Not the slightest. I’m just a guy happy to play his guitar. Be that playing and writing my own music or being a touring member of Porcupine Tree, Dimensionaut or Steven Wilson or as a session guitarist. I never really aspired to establish my name as a solo artist. It’s that position that allows me to do what I feel is right about my music without having to live up to certain expectations.
How is it like to work together with someone like Steven Wilson who has his own specific set of ideas on doing things?
That’s true. Steven is someone with a very clear vision on how to do things. That makes it really easy for me when I’m working with him. I’d rather interpret his musical vision and he allows me all the creative freedom in doing so. He’s by no means a dictator or anything and he’s really open for me ideas and suggestions. Like I said previously, he’s someone with a very clear artistic vision and I really don’t feel the need to really change that. His approach is very similar to how I approach my own music.
Steven Wilson has launched a very successful solo career with “Grace For Drowning” and “The Raven That Refused To Sing”. What are the odds he will revive Porcupine Tree and record an album anytime soon?
The material on especially “Grace For Drowning” is so great to play in a live setting. I’m sure Steven will revive Porcupine Tree at some point and start working a new PT album. I just don’t know when that will happen. A lot of people ask me why I’m not involved in the band’s songwriting process, because our playing styles are very complimentary and there are a lot of similarities in our music. The truth is that PT is very much Steve’s baby and musical vision and I feel I don’t belong there. It’s just like too many chefs in the kitchen trying to prepare the same soup. Unless Steven explicitly asks me to write something together for Porcupine Tree I’d love to do it, but until that time I don’t see myself contributing any PT material as a songwriter.
What touring plans do you have in support of “Disconnect”?
I’d like to tour as much as I can, but it’s a slow build. It’s mainly up to the promoters to book shows and especially here in the States that’s difficult enough as it is. That’s why I love coming to Europe and play shows on your side of the Atlantic. Like I said, I’m just a guy happy to play his guitar!