Multi-trait artist Wesley Stace has more to his credit, born in the UK, than most realize – a beloved teaching career, a series of bestselling novels, dozens of albums and an appreciation of the classics. In this case, the classics are concerts live, in person and on stage.
Singer-songwriter Wesley Stace has always gone his own way throughout his decades-long career, and that has remained true even during the COVID-19 pandemic. At a time when many musicians turned to live streaming, “I didn’t do a single Zoom gig throughout the lockdown. I was not in it, ”he says. “As far as the Zoom shows go, I saw a couple and I was like, ‘Dude, everyone looks so miserable in their room. I didn’t want to do this.
That means it’s been over a year and a half since Stace’s last performances in front of a live audience, doing his next gig at the Loft at City Winery-New York on September 23 (and one he does in Boston la night before) extra special. With his group of five musicians, he will play songs from his new album, Late style, which he just released on September 17th via Omnivore Records.
Although Stace is best known for playing folk-rock songs (under his own name and, prior to 2013, under the stage name John Wesley Harding), Late style incorporates elements of jazz, pop and soul. “I’ve always looked for different ways to make my music,” he says. “This time I decided to do a whole other thing. I thought, “The world doesn’t need more scruffy art right now. The world needs elegant, finished, beautiful and stylish music to brighten it up. ‘”
He cites the track “Where the Bands Are” as an excellent example of his new musical style: “It sounds swing. it sounds a bit like [jazz/blues singer and pianist] Mose Allison. And it is unlike anything I have done before. There is no acoustic guitar everywhere, and the melody is wonderful.
The beauty of the album is a deliberate counterpoint to some of the more serious lyrics. “I felt that there were certain things that were being said about society and politics on this album that I thought would be made more acceptable by beautiful, lush sounds, so that they were more likely to be heard, “he said. “I think my words can be funny enough, but they are never hypocritical. There is nothing sarcastic about it. I am not that kind of person. I find that as I get older – and I think a lot of songwriters find this as I get older – I really want things to be clearer. I want to say things so that people fully understand what I’m talking about and understand. “
Stace’s lyrical eloquence has been a hallmark of his career since he started releasing albums in the late ’80s, though he says he never intentionally started writing that way. Originally from England (although he has lived in the United States for three decades now, calling today from his home in Philadelphia), he studied English Literature at the very prestigious University of Cambridge, “but I did certainly never took any creative writing classes in my life – other than the ones I taught, ”he says, adding that he has taught writing classes at Princeton University, Swarthmore College and Fairleigh Dickinson University.
Originally, Stace believed he would end up doing this kind of full-time college job, only stumbling across a career as a singer-songwriter. “It sort of chooses you in a fun way,” he says of the music. “I started playing guitar in college. I had a guitar before that, but I didn’t really start until I was 17 or 18 [years old]. He was prompted to do this by “not wanting to be a poet, but having words to say.” He cites Randy Newman, Joni Mitchell, Bruce Springsteen and Leonard Cohen among his early inspirations for songwriting.
He went on to release over two dozen critically acclaimed albums – and he continues to expand his musical expertise, writing the libretto for Errollyn Wallen’s opera. The ghost of Dido, which had its world premiere at the London Barbican in July. This musical career did not dampen his enthusiasm for literature, however: he also published four novels, Misfortune (2005), By Georges (2007), Charles Jessold, considered a murderer (2011), and Wonderkid (2014).
With her own well-established career, Stace has also turned her attention to helping other artists gain exposure. Since 2009, he is curator Wesley Stace’s Cabinet of Wonders, a variety show that performs regularly in New York City and beyond, featuring a wide range of musicians, comedians, writers and other artists of all skill levels, from trendy newbies to masters in their fields. Former guests included Rosanne Cash, Moby, Salman Rushdie, Josh Ritter, Graham Parker, Kristin Hersh, Eugene Mirman and several dozen more.
Stace says he can be so prolific because he’s disciplined to do a variety of jobs, so he’s never suffered from writer’s block. “No way to get stuck because I’m not a muse, I just set myself tasks and I do them – I’m good on a deadline, let’s put it that way,” he explains. “It’s not very romantic. It’s very pragmatic. I can imagine that if I was just doing one thing or another, I might have trouble trying to recreate that specific thing or feeling. But in fact, it’s never like that for me because I always work in a very different way.
Considering Stace’s productivity and talent, it should be interesting to see where he takes his career in the future. Although he can’t predict what might happen next, although he does promise there will definitely be more music. “I always have hundreds of songs lying around – and then there’s an opportunity,” he says. “You just have to keep changing it. You can’t keep doing the same thing, so I’m just trying to mix things up.