The Herald Sessions: Dave Wells talks music and the launch of his new album

IN LIGHTS: Dave Wells has fought through a number of obstacles to realise his dream of releasing his debut album. Picture: Simon McCarthy
IN LIGHTS: Dave Wells has fought through a number of obstacles to realise his dream of releasing his debut album. Picture: Simon McCarthy

MANY people who have been made redundant or found themselves unemployed often speak of “losing their identity.”

Rightly or wrongly, in a capitalist society our job often defines who we are in the eyes of others.

Four years ago Maitland’s Dave Wells found himself on the employment scrapheap. The purchasing officer was made redundant, a victim of the mining downturn.

“Those who have experienced redundancy or loss of their job out of their control, it’s quite a life-turning experience,” Wells says.

“You find yourself spun out of this social cog. You get so used to turning over and going to work every day and all the sudden your routine in your life is upside down and you don’t know where it’s going to go.

“It was very competitive and I had a lot of trouble finding work at the time. I just decided maybe it’s a career change.”

Music was the silver lining of Wells’ redundancy. Rather than wallow in self-pity, he focused on his love of music and set in motion the wheels which eventually rolled towards recording his self-titled debut album, which was released on Friday.

“At that time music was plan B, and now music is plan A,” he says. “In some respect, that’s what Run Free is about because I started writing Run Free around that time.”

Run Free was the first single off the album last year, a folk-rock call to arms about following your dreams.

“It was about rightyo, maybe you should put something you love first and make that plan A and not worry too much about the consequences and have a go of something of that nature, opposed to always going with the safe bet,” Wells says.

Music wasn’t completely new to the 37-year-old. Wells first began playing drums as a teenager, banging beats to ’90s bands Green Day and Radiohead.

At that time music was plan B, and now music is plan A.

Dave Wells

From there he discovered his soaring voice - which sits between Vance Joy, Jeff Buckley and Augie March’s Glenn Richards – by singing along to Crowded House’s 1988 album Temple Of The Low Men.

“I remember as a kid driving everyone crazy singing along to Temple Of The Low Men, which isn’t a bad album to have on repeat in any household,” he says.

In the 2000s Wells fronted indie-rock band Sketching Cato, who released two promising EPs before breaking up in 2009.

Around the same time Wells’ father died and he retreated away from the stage for several years.

“I found myself back in the lounge room writing songs but not performing or doing anything,” Wells says. “It was a bummer of a time, but not that I regret it, it was a learning curve.”

That learning curve resulted in five-track solo EP Carrington Street in 2014, which was named after the flood-prone neighbourhood in Maitland where Wells was raised. 

FLOATING: Dave Wells has fought through a number of obstacles to realise his dream of releasing his debut album.

FLOATING: Dave Wells has fought through a number of obstacles to realise his dream of releasing his debut album.

The warm response locally towards Carrington Street lured Wells back to performing, but shortly after he was made redundant and was unemployed for 12 months.

During that time Wells studied primary school teaching at university and worked odd jobs at Dashville for good friend and fellow musician Matt Johnston.

These days Wells is a teacher’s aid at Maitland Public School and also plays guitar in the Dashville Progress Society and fellow Dashville band Baghead.

Work began 18 months ago on Wells’ self-titled debut.

When Weekender met with Wells following his performance at the 2017 Gum Ball music festival he and Newcastle producer Robbie Long, of Funky Lizard Studios, almost had the record complete. So they thought.

A combination of Wells’ perfectionist nature and a series of personal obstacles – which included the death of his grandmother from Alzheimer’s  disease and a loved one’s mental health battle – meant the album’s journey to completion became more complicated.

On reflection, Wells says the road bumps have given the album greater meaning.

“I’ve learnt so much through the whole recording process,” he says. “I’ve learn a lot as a person.

“I’ve learnt a lot about mental health and being a songwriter and that transition of being a songwriter into a recording artist.”

The crowning moment of the album is the second single Picasso’s Cloud. The song was inspired by Portrait of Dora Maar, a painting of one of Pablo Picasso’s secret lovers.

Wells, who comes from a visual arts background, saw the painting at a Picasso exhibition in Sydney and quickly began writing his own tale of infidelity.

Picasso’s Cloud was written from the perspective of how one feels when they are suddenly left behind for someone else,” he says. 

FORMATIVE YEARS: Dave Wells, second from left, with his former band Sketching Cato in 2009.

FORMATIVE YEARS: Dave Wells, second from left, with his former band Sketching Cato in 2009.

“Not so much the helpless, sadness or hurt, rather one’s own battle to express and concur the frustration, jealously and spitefulness that is infused with a vindictive anger towards someone who can so easily move on with contentment.”

Elsewhere, Wells continues his exploration of lust, freedom and moral boundaries on the melancholic ballads Falling Out Of Love and The Curse, the one song written on the banjo, rather than his favoured acoustic guitar.

Social realism, as he describes it, is another lyrical fascination on tracks like Cruel Little World.

“We all immerse ourselves in current affairs and international news and it’s more prominent than it’s ever been and I just questioned what is it we switch off from and say, ‘OK, I’ve going to get my lunch ready and go to work now’,” he says.

“It pushes those moral boundaries and asked if there is more I can do rather than just receive this information. Do I have to be reactive all the time, or can I be proactive?”

While it’s taken 37 years for Wells to realise his dream of releasing a debut album, he promises the sequel will be a more timely affair. 

“I’m really looking forward to the next one and I’ve already written a swag of songs for the next album,” he says.

Dave Wells launches his self-titled album at 48 Watt Street on August 31.