“It’s hard to tell, but I feel more confident in my writing,” Wells says over lunch at West Chester’s Panera. “I have a lot of stage fright. The more things I have in front of me, the better I feel. Some of these new songs, part of my musicianship is hitting a button to sequence something and maybe playing a percussive piece. I’ve come out of my shell quite a bit. People (at for algernon’s MidPoint Music Festival appearance) thought I was drunk, but I was just dancing and getting down on the ground.”
Part of that confidence resulted from for algernon’s latest lineup, assembled for the band’s 2010 MidPoint appearance. After splitting with Dayton’s Sleepybird, his previous backing band, Wells retooled for algernon with Spectacular Fantastic guitarist John Williams, former Homunculus bassist Adam Schoen and Newbees drummer Tim Seiwert, a shift that pushed Wells into a new creative gear.
“In the past, the band has been pretty much myself, playing all the parts, mostly poorly,” Wells says with a self-depracating laugh. “That created a whole different aesthetic on the albums than I would get in a live setting. I put together the band exclusively for MidPoint and we had such a good time, we decided to keep playing.”
For algernon’s revamped line-up has resulted in increased local gigs and the recording of the Starling Redux EP, consisting of one brand new song, “Alice,” and a handful of older tracks re-recorded by the current band. The EP is essentially a stopgap until they complete for algernon’s fifth full-length, slated for sometime next year.
“As usual, people expect what they heard on the disc, or go home expecting to hear on the disc what they saw live,” Wells says.
“We thought it would be fun to go back and do songs that we’re doing in the live set and get people ready for what’s next. ‘Alice’ is a good song to represent what’s forthcoming.”
Wells’ latest version of for algernon is his most collaborative lineup, offering him an entirely new band dynamic. His bandmates’ broad diversity of musical experience has exponentially broadened Wells’ creative vision.
“I’ve got all these different aspects of different genres and it’s fun to play off everybody’s feedback,” Wells says. “I’m not used to that at all. It’s a lot of compromising. I’ve gone from the dictatorship of my own private island to a big democracy, so it’s a lot of fun.”
Wells has raised the bar concerning for algernon’s sonic profile, and also pushed the envelope regarding the band’s visual presentation. With music close to completion, Wells has canvassed several local visual artists for possible interpretations of the new songs.
“I’ve talked to lot of filmmakers, graphic artists, illustrators, even some ballet people, and I say, ‘I would love to see what this music would inspire from you visually and we’d love to put it in our live show,’ ” Wells says. “Maybe it’s just for the release (concert), maybe it’s for a couple of shows, I don’t know. Music’s changing so much; hardly anybody’s buying CDs, nobody wants to buy MP3s anymore, so I feel like, as an artist, I have to adapt to what people want to take home.”
Since for algernon’s structure begins with Wells, the basic sound of the as-yet untitled new album is largely the same. But he admits the new creative paradigm has impacted his songwriting and arranging.
“I’ve always written with an end result in mind; I had these people in mind but I wasn’t sure where I wanted to take it,” Wells says. “I’ve always had an album title in my head, and the only aesthetic I have for this is I want a basic construction with complex parts, so it has changed my writing style a bit. Knowing what I have, I’ve had to allow more space for everything to fit in but not crowd.”
Even with Wells’ newfound confidence, for algernon’s core philosophy has remained darkly consistent throughout all four albums and continues on the new work.
“Everything in my personal life, reflected in the writing, has been about rebuilding,” Wells says. “I’ve felt like everything has been futile and it’s been a struggle. The theme on every record has been getting closer to letting go of everything so I can reshape and reform myself and make myself happy. That’s the theme of the record; letting go of the past to build yourself up. Almost every song is about falling down and getting back up.”
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