OK, get this: Some guy was on the top floor of a giant skyscraper, looking through a dirty window.
He eventually got depressed and decided to jump through it. He fell all the way to the end. He didnāt die. Why didnāt he die? (Insert hard thinking.) Give up? Well, he was a window-washer, and he jumped through the glass into the building.
Kinda dark. Kinda a sweet relief. Perspective is tricky. And for Jason Wells of for algernon, although his sound veers toward soothing, then leans into the moody side, a focused, optimistic, artistic view is key.
āAs long as I can play and create, Iām happy,ā he says. āThe pressure of having the record that makes or breaks me, well, I donāt really care anymore. I have moments when I wonder why I go on, and then I get an e-mail from someone somewhere. If I reached out to one person, thatās awesome to me. I donāt know what else could happen from there.ā
Grandmaās Casio electronic piano was Wellsā first stab at Rock. For a while, he clung to nothing but Gangsta Rap and Frank Sinatra. Later, on guitar, he pumped out originals. He laughs quietly.
āNow I have too many instruments,ā he says. āBanjos, ukuleles, all kinds of crazy stuff.ā
He likes literary references and āstupid long titles.ā He talks about the dark singers ā Elliott Smith, Nick Drake ā with an ironic grin. A Cincinnati West-sider with a red-brown scruffy beard, glasses, a simple sweater and black Chucks, Wells admits that his fingertips are numb. Nerves.
Although lighthearted and modest by nature, his craftily subtle songs are spaciously pensive, with a whispery, bare quality reminiscent of Chris Whitley. The āopen backgroundā feel to his minimalistic tunes doesnāt overpower the whole mood but rather supports it
He later worked with fellow locals the Minni-Thins. āIām not a leader in a band situation,ā Wells says, āso I back away and let other people take over, and what I had originally envisioned goes away in that atmosphere, so I work better alone.ā
At one point, eight people performed with for algernon live, complete with strings and horns.
āIt was beautiful,ā he says, ābut I ended up stripping it back down.ā
Friends add parts, but Wells mostly records alone. Releasing a slew of CDs since 2001, his latest two creations, (con)sequence and an ungentlemanly act at sea, will be released concurrently at his next show. Until now, ungentlemanly has been in the closet.
āThe songs were pretty revealing, and people would listen to it and ask, āAre you OK?ā ā Wells says. āAfter three of those phone calls I was like, āIām not gonna let anyone else hear this. Itās some of the craziest stuff Iāve ever done.ā Later, I was happiest with it, actually.ā
Currently, Dayton band Sleepybird backs him live.
āI basically stalked them until they were my friend,ā he says. āIāve been writing with them in mind. Their sound naturally fit with these two albums ā dark, orchestral and folky at the same time. Big and tiny all at once. The practices weāve had have been amazing. I get lost just listening to them, so Iām really glad to have them along.ā
Drawn to the vast scope of Icelandic group Sigur Ros, Wells remarks, āI didnāt write anything for like six months after seeing (Sigur Ros) play live. Thatās the way you should walk out after seeing someone. You should feel inspired. You should feel healed. I donāt think Iām anywhere near that, but thatās the goal Iām looking for when Iām writing, and now with Sleepybird I see potential I guess.
āI remember this story about Bruce Springsteen,ā Wells says. āHe was playing some New Jersey bar and someone came up to him and said, āYou really saved my life tonight,ā and it doesnāt matter from there. Everything else is just a blessing from there on out.ā
Wells smiles, looking away, glancing into the coffee shop window.
Sometimes, despite yesterdayās cloudiness, the view through the glass becomes streak-free. All clear.
FOR ALGERNON (foralgernon.com) will host a CD release party at Rohs Street CafĆ© on Saturday with Sleepybird. Buy tickets, check out performance times and find nearby bars and restaurants here.