Wesley Dean — interview
Some of the greatest experiences arise out of uncertainty. For Wesley Dean—known throughout his native Australia as Wes Carr—that meant relocating to Nashville in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. With his wife and kids by his side, the singer-songwriter closed one chapter on his life and opened a new one, which officially kicks off today with his latest full-length album, unknown.
I recently sat down with Dean to discuss musical meditation, the ultimate artistic failure, and the Kurt Cobain connection.
AH: By the time this feature hits, your new record unknown will have made its way into the universe. As a proud parent of the songs represented, what are your hopes and expectations for them as they leave your care and venture off on their own?
WD: Expectations kill creativity. I hope that people hear the music and relate to the songs, and take away something for themselves.. I’ve always written from a very personal place. In order for me to communicate, I have to be truthful and vulnerable. And, I hope by doing so, the listener can relate to my story and I hope it offers something to help them through their life.
AH: In my experience, hopes and expectations can be a tricky thing to navigate when you work in a creative field. How do you manage the person inside who sets goals and then sets out to achieve them with the artist who needs to make it about the music first?
WD: Great question. I never set out to achieve anything when I sit down to write. Because half the time I don’t sit down to write, the music just comes without much thought and initially it’s like a meditation/jam session. It all happens automatically until a chord or a melody lands in my lap. A lot of the time I hear the whole song, and the instrumentation is complete, and then I have to scramble to get the idea down before it flies away.
I’m always trying to challenge myself every time I write, but I don’t put too much expectation on the creative process and I try not to force anything because that’s when it’s sudden death! I don’t have a formula at first, and that’s the fun part of the process. When the ‘sketching’ is done that’s when you either abandon the idea or start to put color on the canvas and knock it into shape so in translates. For me, a great song helps people to get them through life…if it helps one person or millions, it doesn’t matter, music is so subjective, my job as an artist is to always tell the truth and not to be afraid to be vulnerable. Because the worst thing is…is to be famous for what you don’t represent in life. Success without true fulfillment is the ultimate failure.
AH: The biggest thing I took away from unknown was just how fantastic it was from a full album perspective. As a lover of records from the 60s and 70s—the kind you could drop a needle on and just let spin—this collection of songs has that feel. How important was it for you to make an album and not just a bunch of singles distributed together?
WD: Albums are what represents the artist at that point in time in their life. I think they’re important. It’s the whole book as apposed to just a couple of sentences. It was important to tell my story this way ‘cause it was the only way. My record unknown is autobiographical from beginning to end.
The world is fast these days…every thing is instant, and I see how my boys can sometimes skip through songs on Spotify or Apple Music and they listen to the first 30 seconds and just move on. I’m teaching them to slow down and have an appreciation for what the artist has to say and at least get to the chorus! I feel like it’s an artist’s duty these days more than ever to create albums and it’s unique again to release something longer, like a full-length album or a song that’s longer than just a few minutes.
AH: With that in mind, what would someone learn about you sitting down to listen to unknown front to back?
WD: unknown is my story. From growing up to getting married and having kids to moving from Australia to the USA in the peak of Covid. It’s about the regrets and the blessings throughout my life…what I’ve come to learn through failing over and over, where I’ve been and who I am today. I started singing and writing music when I was 8 years old and I’m 40 this year. Everything I’ve learned to-date went into this record. It was like capturing lightning in a bottle. It wasn’t just about me and the music, it was mainly about my family—my wife left her entire life in Australia, and my boys aged 8 and 2, and the huge transition moving countries at the peak of Covid, February 2021. It was a very uncertain time because we didn’t know when we’d get back to see our friends and family in all the intensity. Looking back it was a bit mad to leave when we did, but everything worked out and the opportunity to move at that time was too great. This record wouldn’t have been made if we hadn’t left. Everything works out how it’s meant to.
AH: As you take a step back and look at your career as a whole, where does this record rank among your personal achievements? Where does it sit on the musical/creative timeline?
WD: It’s very much up there, but I’m not one for celebrating achievements, to be really honest with you. I know I possibly should, but I’m always anticipating the next new song or album idea. It’s just inbuilt in me, from when I was really young. I’ve achieved so much and I’m proud of myself for that, but at the end of the day, it’s the legacy I leave for my kids is what matters the most, so when I’m 100 years old I hope I look back and know I did everything I could to inspire them to follow their dreams and do good in the world.
AH: You found success with music in your native Australia. Did coming to the States and repositioning yourself pose an opportunity that, in some ways, made it possible to reinvent your personal brand?
WD: Yeah, maybe in some ways. It’s a fresh start…with new music, and I’m not depending on any former success. I’m starting again with a new name in a new land. I love the process—it’s inspiring to create something brand new on my own terms. Dean is my middle name. I was once known as Wes Carr, which is also my name. Mum gave me the names Wesley Dean…and, she used to scream “Wesley Dean!” whenever I was in trouble growing up. (Laughter)
AH: As you mentioned, you moved to Nashville in early 2021, which was smack dab in the middle of the pandemic and some pretty intense social and political upheaval for the country. Beyond the music, was it a culture shock to settle down when everything was so unsettled?
WD: The opportunity was too great to sit around in a holding pattern in Australia waiting for Covid to end. We were granted permission from the Aussie government to leave the borders, and so, we decided to feel the fear and do it anyway! It was intense and we’re still processing it all, because it wasn’t just the outside world that felt out of control and uncertain, but it was moving countries with two young kids and keeping them safe, and leaving everyone and everything we knew behind. We sold our house and gave away all of our possessions, and we knew once we boarded that plane, what was to come was completely unknown. Covid could’ve gotten worse for all we knew. When we arrived in Nashville, all of my initial plans that I’d been working on for my music career launch in America fell through, which was completely unexpected. I had to regroup and start all over again. We couldn’t go home because of Covid, and everything felt out of control the whole year whilst writing and making this record. I just had to focus on what mattered and, what made it special, was how close my family unit became, and my wife and I are proud of that fact and we hope that our boys can look back on the experience and find inspiration in us taking a leap of faith in the most uncertain times. The one constant thing was making this record in such an intense time. AND, I recognize that I am very blessed to have had an opportunity to move countries at that time and to chase my dream of being a musician in America. So many people never get even close to their dreams.
AH: Looking past unknown, how has the change of scenery impacted your songwriting? Has being in a new place refueled you creativity?
WD: I’m always learning. In America there’s no ceiling, and the potential is so great to grow rapidly. I’ve worked with some great songwriters and met some really successful people in the year I’ve been here. Always inspiring to get to know and hear about other people’s journey down the rabbit hole of creativity and the music business. It only enhances your own work.
AH: You’ve been pursuing music since boyhood. What would the Wesley who first picked up an instrument and was enamored by what it could do think of unknown if he had a chance to listen to it back then?
WD: I’ve mellowed musically since those days, but not lyrically. I was into Nirvana mainly back then. Kurt inspired me to pick up a guitar. I’ve always written from a very personal point of view ever since I started writing. I’m sure little me would like the record.
AH: Time machine question. If you could jump ahead 10 years and get a glimpse of what your career looks like a decade from now, would you take that journey? If not, why?
WD: Although so tempting,—that would be pretty awesome, I’m such a time travel geek—but I wouldn’t want to do that. Curiosity killed the cat! (Laughter) I love the process in the present too much and experiencing things in real time, and so, jumping ten years ahead would not only disrupt the time space continuum but would entirely ruin whatever the outcome is.
For more information on Dean, visit www.wesleydeanmusic.com.