Throughout the ritual feast that is any well-lived human life, there will be some moments that are like hidden Bouviers, just waiting for their stole-clad instance of glamorous discovery and a Camelot waltz into the pages of history – and others that will be the plain sister who knows it. A certain type of person will drink every day and piss their looks down the sink without even realizing it before 20 years have gone by and 50 of them were marched across what remains of their face, while another kind will be Keith Richards about it and get sexier by the swig because of the fault-lines and gravity-reconfigurations. Gracefulness and recklessness only ever meet and make out in one very particular place, however, whether said grace be dripping in Kennedy diamonds or oozing British anti-charisma. That locale is within the exquisitely resonant pauper’s tomb of stouthearted self-ownership. Wearing the stigmata of alienation as only an amble-worthy Australian can, Wesley Dean is an artist who appears to have been born with the innate understanding that being uncomfortable opens the aperture of your life in a way that nothing else ever will. With Unknown, his latest full-length and in-full-bloom offering, he has not just turned the radial velocity of his life into tunes that will twist your blood, but done so in a manner that quietly praises the virtues of precarity, showing it to be – when answered rather than avoided – a thing glowing like new love.
Some would say that struggle and strife are the only maturation conditions under which the lionhearted part of any man can be loosed. Life certainly taught Wesley Dean early how all of the best elements of it are held together by mere rose metals, and that the one thing you can never do is allow your dreams to get outbid by the odds – or even your internal worry about your own oddity. The Japanese aesthetic tradition of Wabi-sabi is a concept that celebrates what is transient in this life and accepts decay as the second, natural stage of any true beauty. Wesley Dean’s music cranks this idea one louder and insists that all of the hope and happiness happens only when all the holiest parts of a person are playing heathen snooker with chaos in carotene lipstick.
Wesley Dean is, first and foremost, a wayfarer who understood the cantilevered offer of life from his youngest years, and he is now an artist through whom the disjointed patchwork of the highway and its possibilities serves as both turf and tribute. He is a time-traveling troubadour from every time and no time simultaneously, making him peculiarly perfect for this time in a way few, if any, of his contemporaries could legitimately claim. There is an unflinching insurrection in him that is stonecutter congruent for strength. You can hear it in all of the songs, screaming its yard of stars at the grueling transits and squalid suicides that become the fizzled endings of less immovable men.
Dean’s sonic influences span from Glenn Shorrock to Dusty Springfield and onwards through Elvis and Bob Dylan, all of whom can be heard passing in a ghost boat within his fabulist compositions as well as the mode in which he sings them. His quiet, knowing way of disarming and describing life’s more showboating emotions has been compared to that of Chris Stapleton, but the truer and much more apt analogy is Kris Kristofferson – the lyrical luchador from whom even Stapleton himself would admit to having drawn innumerable buckets of inspiration. Wesley Dean has that kind of road dust on him and in him, that brand of Billy the Kid bucking out at you behind every barre chord. He is that species of easy, natural performer in the storytelling style of Johnny Cash, and right up there with all the world-beaters and wintertide for gently forcing you to the right kind of chills.
For those not in yet in the know, Wesley Dean’s professional musical trajectory goes a bit like this: in late 2003, he sang lead in Tambalane with Ben Gillies, in 2008 he won Australian Idol, essentially on a whim; in 2009 he released The Way The World Looks, off which “You” was a smash single; in 2013 he let us in on his Roadtrip Confessions, and by 2018 taught the listening world the true definition of Australiana. 2020 and 2021 saw him send out a spate of standalone singles such as “Are You Gonna Save My World,” “Gypsy,” “Don’t Look Back” and “What Ifs & Whys,” all of which seemed to lean beckoningly in an audacious aural alleyway only Dean was privy to, smoking derisively at the nullified notion that nocturnes couldn’t be sung about daylight colors.
There were also those, such as “I Still Wait For You,” that could put Jack Johnson to shame for pure, unpolished beach poetry. All of Wesley Dean’s songs, from any era of his creative life, showcase an intrinsic awareness that language and words are what give our experiences a home, maybe the only one they will ever have outside of our ever-warping memory of them.
While most of the world had crashed to a collective and very complete coda by early 2021, Wesley Dean was moving his young family quite literally to the other side of the world from everything he knew as familiar in any form, willfully adding a level of unpredictability to what was already this generation’s most unprecedented year. The renegade spirit in the new record which came out of that Herculean transition can neither be adequately corralled in words nor replicated via any other avenue.
As a piece of audible art, Unknown is positively respirating with stories that announce their depth at a half-glance and places where time runs on odd bends. Produced and mixed by Justin Cortelyou, it is a record alive with the burning lakes and sheathed swords of a shoeless hero who sought to learn all there was to know about this ravening monster known as mankind. Unknown is an Excalibur tale, told from the standpoint of the Stone. Road fables this autobiographical can only be properly read aloud by a voice with some traffic in it, and Wesley Dean’s voice is vintage corduroy in a marmalade shade, full of tomahawk tones that either turn like a coiled serpent in his palm or ring out like a midnight mass held in the bright sacrament of high noon.
In lead track “Leave Adelaide Alone,” the city of his birth stands in a as an abandoned lover, the kind you simply outgrow but never stop caring deeply for. It is a song about the spherical thinking regarding your original home that only comes once you have left it for a long, long time. “Never Thought Of You” nods to the view of one’s parents’ divorce once seen through adult eyes, and shows how familial grief is the unleavable departure lounge in an airport of wingless birds – such a specific kind of pain that Dean burnishes to a bright patina by having the inner valor not to look away from it.
“Gaslighter,” besides being a personal favorite of certain elfin ears, is a song those same Legolas lobes were fortunate enough to hear Wesley Dean sing live at his eighth-ever show in America, at Atlanta’s City Winery on a Monday made far less mundane by his performance. Containing exquisitely insightful lines like, “I was never begging for your help / So please don’t flatter yourself,” the tune is an accusation aflame about the bartering we do with brutes before we get brave enough to banish them. Written about Dean’s original rep here in America who turned out not to be who he said he was, even this common hurt the Sunshine Coast craftsman has turned on its head, using the gaslighter in question as the fuel not just for his exit, but for his next excellence. Excellent advice for us all.
The enclosed tunnel of reverberation in “Gateway 7” is calling down Tom Petty from his jangling Heaven, the rafters and whiskey-dipped levies of Dean’s voice on full display here in a song that is sexy in the way of kissing a stranger in a nightclub. Only Wesley Dean could have followed such a mood with “Pages,” a pressurized piano ballad about that which can be sluiced from one’s soul by purposely turning the past and its paralytic regrets to cinders and taking each day as an isolated penguin post office from which you can write anything, send away anyone, and post everything productively back to yourself.
Wesley Dean is never better than when he is singing at something, and maybe best when he is singing to an intangible thing. In “Anxiety” that untouchable thing is the whisper-network of self-doubt, which he calls out as the over-compensatory guttersnipe that it is and lets it know in no uncertain terms that he is wired much too fiercely for any such ignominious end as cowing to its dark demands. Speaking of shadows, “Is Anyone Alive” starts off in low, Tartarean underwaters that have a narrative necessity all their own, and which powerfully hearkens back to everything The Highwaymen were about – which was everything that mattered most in this life.
“Hello, I Love You, Goodbye” may be the alpha song here for emphasizing the whole record’s underlying message: that absolutely everything represents catch-kindling in the chronicle of exploration that should form the pavement of any person’s experience on this Earth. In a Traveling Wilburys-esque way, this one underscores the intemporality and Whippet-speed of everything that will ever happen to you, and asks you not to be so shocked by it when the pattern is just as the title suggests, and always the same. Knowing Dean to be a great fan of Jim Morrison and The Doors allows the secondary enjoyment of what he’s done, consciously or otherwise, with the name of this tune as well.
Because he was a boy tuned to an open, inquisitive frequency from birth, Dean can sing “Never Goin’ Back To The Darkside” with the intuition of one who fully became himself under the power of the uniquely benighted-schmaltz in the boondog life. His voice here is a haven for older wolves and you will despise yourself if you miss the Van-Halen-to-Vai-like electric guitar break that is baring its teeth beneath the last bars, a gorgeous menace in a musical sea of strings and droplets of keys at the end.
“Eleven One” appears on the album in a live rendition and with the indelible inversion of a classic platitude, “if the shoe fits, then you don’t have to wear it.” Melding the pandemic mask image with one of psychological reflection amid all of the costuming humans do in order to cover their own nakedness when alone with their thoughts, “Eleven One” is a song that actively ponders without answering: if you really could rewind the versions of yourself back to the beginning with each rotation of a turned hat brim in your hands, would you?
“Where Only You and I Remain” boasts a welcome bit of Allman Brothers in its chorus while the immense, astral echo of “Time Is A Tale” must certainly have caused John Lennon to wink down on Wes in soul-synchronous approval of that song’s lyrics, lift, and Lydian optimism. The final two songs rounding out Unknown, “That’s Why I’m Here” and the titular “Unknown,” are open letters to Dean’s family, expressing his gratitude and awe of them for following him here, and likewise announcing in the most vivid sparseness yet his unwavering intention of dying like an emperor if he must on the altar of his dreams – facing the sky.
QRO was graced with the quadruple-shot-espresso privilege of shutting down Nashville’s Frothy Monkey coffee shop with Wesley Dean on a four-hour Friday night when he was still deep in the writing wonder-zone of Unknown. Because he can talk animatedly of everything from moonwalks to skeptical gypsy ghost-women, your official cassowary correspondent here would have considered every minute of his conversational genius better than Nitro brew and night drives, whether his passport had a kangaroo on it or not. Read on for Oz marvels and opalite ruminations from a bona fide wind walker.
QRO: Your music shows you, at every turn, to be such a young old soul, Wes. How old were you in countable years on this physical plane when music really took off as the core of your personality?
Wesley Dean: I was pretty young, yeah! I think Michael Jackson’s Thriller was the first thing that I ever sonically laid eyes on, and I was obsessed. It was all about Michael in the late ‘80s and early 90s.
QRO: Please tell me you still know every second of the choreography because I do and if you don’t, I have to abruptly end this interview now…[laughs]
WD: Oh, I won Michael Jackson lookalike competitions sooo… [laughs]
QRO: Oh my god, I need those pictures, please! That is outstanding!
WD: I pretty much looked like Macaulay Culkin, but I had the glove and everything and I could beatbox and do the moonwalk.
QRO: Oh, you’re way ahead of me if you could moonwalk; I tried so hard!
WD: When I was on Idol, I moonwalked in front of Jermaine Jackson, which was pretty intimidating stuff because I thought, “If I fall over doing the moonwalk in front of Jermaine Jackson on live, national tv, it’s going to be amazing!” [laughs]
QRO: That could’ve been the highlight of your artistic career right there! My attitude would’ve been, “Yo, I fell trying to moonwalk in front of Jermaine Jackson. What’d you do today?” [laughs]
WD: I would’ve been an Australian icon then for sure. [laughs] But yeah, when I first started writing music was when I was twelve. I strung my Mom’s nylon-string guitar and it was pretty much overnight. I went from listening to Michael Jackson’s Dangerous, or Thriller, or Bad – and stuff like Al Jolson, whom I was really into because my grandfather was.
Al Jolson kind of haunted me in a way, the black-and-white, but the music had some sort of familiarity to me. Louis Armstrong, The Beatles – I was listening to all those kinds of records – to then, Nirvana! Literally overnight. I stayed up late one night, it was the Unplugged session, and I just thought, “Wait a minute.” It was just the tone of his voice; it was everything that I was feeling at the time. I know a lot of ‘90s kids say that…
QRO: Cannot raise my hand loudly enough!
WD: Yeah! And it’s funny how there was this mass consciousness where everyone felt the same thing all of a sudden and this poor guy became the spokesperson for this feeling of uncertainty, anxiety, and depression.
QRO: It’s also the last time I think that happened because, if you really look, after Nirvana, there is no household name connecting everyone like that anymore.
WD: No, and how it just kept going! It’s crazy, isn’t it?
QRO: It is, alongside the fact that he was possibly the most empathic human being that has ever lived, making him the least equipped of anyone to hold up the worries of the world.
WD: I think that’s what I related to at that age because I was still too young to really know myself and I too am deeply empathic so you’re carrying things you can’t understand yet. At that same time, Mom and Dad had split and the household wasn’t calm, let’s just say that.
Everything kind of came to a head at that stage so I became this extroverted introvert, which I didn’t know at that time either. So, at school I was the clown, but at home I was the guy with the guitar that would hide under the bed if someone came knocking. I learned how to play the piano around that time and we had an old pianola where you operated it with your feet. I’d stop and see the chord shapes and learn what sounded good, and then I had all the Bee Gees chord chart books and stuff like that.
You can sit around and go, “Well that’s not for me, and that’s not for me,” to the point where nothing is for you.
QRO: You taught yourself entirely did you not? You never had lessons?
WD: No, I did teach myself. I just felt like that was the only way I was going to say what I wanted to say. It was a spiritual thing, really. When I look back I see that I was kind of searching for something more than what I had around me at the time. I was always so out of the box at school that everyone was like, “What are you going to do with your life because seriously mate, this is not it!” [laughs]
QRO: Even though I was and remain the school nerd of all time, we would’ve been sitting next to each other in class because I still get that! [laughs]
WD: It really was a running joke! And then I formed a band at school called New Status…
QRO: Ooooh, were you a little bit New Romantic?
WD: It was like a three-piece, hammering-it-out kind of thing. Then, I moved to Sydney to live with my Dad in ‘98. Again, overnight: Thursday I was going to school in Adelaide, and Monday I was starting school in Sydney. Boom! It was collectively decided that maybe I was better off closer to my Dad, in a bigger city, with more opportunities.
At the time, I wasn’t too happy about that, but looking back I realize it was probably a good thing for me because the experience that happened after it was just out of this world. I was going to a performing arts school and started playing gigs at like thirteen or fourteen. I was getting my own gigs and then started collaborating with people like Andrew Farriss from INXS, Don Walker from Cold Chisel, playing guitar for dance bands, and playing for Missy Higgins once or twice when she was coming up and no one knew who she was yet.
I was in and around that Australian music scene. I wasn’t an artist myself yet; it was more like I was just getting to know everybody, playing shows, getting experience, writing with a few people, and mainly writing on my own. I was pretty isolated though, as a kid, from there on. It took me a while to get momentum through word of mouth or whatever. You know, I never recorded anything; I was just playing local shows and people were used to coming to see me in little venues.
Live music in Australia is not like in America. It probably had an element of America in the 80s where the pop-rock scene was massive and big bands like INXS were coming out of there. I missed that boat, but there were some amazing venues in Sydney where I used to play, places like The Excelsior, which was the local hang. All the artists and bohemians and musicians would gather, and we would play each other’s music. That was sort of me cutting my teeth and paying my dues in that little venue.
Talking about timing and people colliding, there were six or seven local musicians who came around right at the same time, with a similar sound, and who were in pursuit of similar things, all coming together and creating this cool buzz. We didn’t really think of it as anything other than just a fun night; it’s just what we did.
I look at music as a service. You’re of service to those people that are sitting down and going, “This song really changed my life”
QRO: But you know that’s how every great movement in art happens. Nobody sets out to say, “I’m going to paint the Mona Lisa today.” The legendary ones, in any medium, are always just like, “I’m just going to go play with my friends.”
WD: For sure! That’s it. And that’s when I felt like, “Okay, I understand this…I think.” As an artist or a songwriter, you never really get your head around it, at least not for a very long time. There’s a double-edged sword there. I learned a lot about people. I think I learned a lot about music, but I never really learned a lot about me. It was everything else but. I never really thought about that. It was not until I met Charlie, my wife, and then she was like a mirror.
QRO: As all great and transformative women must be, Wes!
WD: Yeah! It was awesome, and I think maybe I was a mirror to her as well, but she came along and pretty much rescued me in a big way. Not in any kind of “woe is me” way, but more like my trajectory could have been very different if I hadn’t met her. I probably could have gone back into my shell and not wanted to do this anymore, and then I would’ve always wondered where I would have ended up. Char was a breath of fresh air and my shoulders went from my ears to their right place.
QRO: That’s how you know! Friends, lovers, whatever – when you simultaneously relax in a way you never have that allows for whole new kinds of vulnerability and ramp up your own velocity in ways that likewise terrify you, those are always your people. I think that’s beautiful and I’m glad you found her so young.
WD: Yeah, we were young! I was just turning 26 and had always kind of been the guy without the girlfriend because music was all I focused on. Then I met her, and it just hit me in the face and I thought, “I’m going to enter Australian Idol,” something I never, ever thought I would do, being a bohemian musician who never watched television. I wasn’t interested in the commercial world at all. I just wanted to go in there and see what I could do without any bias, because you can sit around and go, “Well that’s not for me, and that’s not for me,” to the point where nothing is for you.
QRO: Oh, I know a lot of those people!
WD: Yeah, me too! I guess that was the first time I said, “Well, maybe it is for me. Maybe I am Mr. Self-Sabotage Guy. Maybe I should just do something completely different to teach myself a lesson.” I’m still trying to work out how to describe that scenario because it was an interesting move, but it felt right so I did it. Never thought I’d win the thing! Every week I was like, “Hang on…really? I’m still in?” [laughs]
It’s like something just picked me up and said, “You need to be here,” and that was that.
QRO: But that’s why, Wes! Because you didn’t go in saying, “I’m going to fill-in-the-blank.” You were easy inside yourself about it, which is a characteristic I’m guessing very few of your competitors could boast.
WD: I really felt like I’d done every gig up until Idol. I was playing nine times a week in bars, sometimes four hours at a time, just really slogging it out. So, when that came up I was like, “What do you mean half a song every Sunday? And I can arrange it? Alright, great!” [laughs]
When I came out of that, all of a sudden I was famous, which was something I was never planning for, though it’s the nature of being on stage. I look at music as a service. You’re of service to those people that are sitting down and going, “This song really changed my life” or “Your journey on television really inspired me.” Those stories were great.
Afterward, Sony and I parted ways in a very mutual agreement. It was a very respectful scenario that I was grateful for and then I went off and created a band called Buffalo Tales. Everyone thought I’d gone nuts because they all thought I’d changed my name to “Buffalo.” [laughs] It was nothing like that; it was literally me going, “I’m going to do something completely the opposite,” and I recorded it with a friend of mine in his studio out the back of his house.
It was very enjoyable because there was no pressure or cameras or expectations. I just wanted to get back to writing music again and back to ground zero for a second. I don’t think people really understood that and I found out that once you’re in that box, you’re really in that box. I’ve always struggled with boxes, especially as a songwriter. You want to be able to go all over the place from classical to hip-hop so you can grow.
Being here really is the first time I’ve felt like I’ve found myself creatively because there are so many people here that do what I do. Nashville is a town that is built on music. It’s surprising in the best way to me, even after almost a year of being here.
QRO: Nashville is pure magic. There is something in the air, water, and ground, no question. Even taking the industry part out of it, I am really glad you’re here now because I know that Nashville will be a fertile place for your life, not just your musical endeavors.
WD: Oh, my boys are loving it! Char’s loving it too and it feels really grounded. As I go on in music, there’s a part that does scare me a little bit, but I know that I am doing what I want to do. Being out there playing music, as I get on as a Dad, it’s not like I’m 21 again. It’s something really sacred now to me.
QRO: Well, and even the way that you can be what I would call a real star – not a tv star or a radio star, but a star of a person – Nashville encourages that. I feel like you will be able to choose your path here from a selection of so many fruitful roads in a way that just isn’t possible anyplace else.
WD: It feels like the path is creating itself; it’s bizarre! This album that I’ve just done, it has almost written itself. The whole thing is autobiographical. It’s all about my experience moving here, finding myself through being a Dad, and life here in America. It’s such a different world from being in Australia. I still sit here going, “How am I here?,” because two years ago it was, “Well, I guess I’m not doing music anymore.”
I was at a crossroads living in a small town in Queensland, my kids were going to school, everything was settled, and I was doing maybe a tour a year – and that was as a passenger in a show, not my own music. Then, in an eighteen-month turnaround, I had written this music, showed it to some friends, down the channel it went, and now I’m here.
QRO: Wow! I absolutely love the way that all of the most vital moments in your life have come on like a bullet, just out of nowhere and zero apologies for abruption, taking you night-to-day in the equivalent of seconds.
WD: Yeah, it’s like something just picked me up and said, “You need to be here,” and that was that.
As much as I write about me, it’s really just me trying to understand the scenarios of the world and my own projections. I’m so interested in humans.
QRO: That’s how you know you’re doing what you are supposed to be doing, sir. The spirit of your new record is surely testimony to that.
WD: It’s been lightning in a bottle, honestly. Everything has come together so quickly. Some of these songs I’ve had in my back pocket for a few years. It’s almost like I wrote these songs then but they mean more to me now, and they explain how you should be careful what you write about! [laughs]
QRO: Don’t I know it! I’ve learned that if I say something out loud and I mondo-mean it, it’s beyond manifestation, really. It will just come to you if you love it the right way over a sustained period of time. I think that’s exactly how you’re supposed to go about any artistic career – listening intently to what you really want like that.
WD: For sure, and as much as I write about me, it’s really just me trying to understand the scenarios of the world and my own projections. I’m so interested in humans. Sometimes, not all the time, but sometimes I feel a little out of place and so I go about trying to understand it through music. Other times I’m really literal and just tell it like it is, but one of the writers here did describe me like an abstract painter! [laughs]
QRO: Ooooh, I love that! That’s a huge compliment!
WD: Oh, I was thrilled about that; that was like a box ticked for me! But ask me to write a simple, straightforward song and it can take a while for me to do that because I’m coming at it with all different imagery and such. I love Kevin Parker because he does that.
QRO: Good gods in every heaven do I adore that man! And a solid 80% of my never-ending respect for him comes from, frankly, the balls it takes to say the things he does in those songs. He’s just telling his life in this really literal way and most people don’t have the guts to be that honest, much less on a world stage.
That does hit on something I really wanted to ask you about your own writing. Bono says he’s never written a song, he’s only received them. Do you feel like you’re surgically exposing your own heart in those incredibly intimate musical moments that have your name on them, or do you feel you are channeling something bigger, older, and beyond you like Mr. Hewson describes?
WD: Sometimes I listen to my songs as a punter, and I’ll be like, “Okay, what does that mean?” Then, six months later, I’ll understand it. It’s like I’ve got to catch up sometimes with the stuff I write.
QRO: Do you ever feel like you write something that you could never write again?
WD: Oh yeah. There’s a song I wrote called “This Thing Called Life” that is like a six-and-a-half-minute song and…you know, you don’t release a six-and-a-half-minute song if you’re going for anything but a six-and-a-half-minute song! [laughs]
QRO: Rush does! [laughs]
WD: Unless you’re Geddy [Lee] you’re kidding yourself, especially in this day and age when people have 20-second attention spans! No one’s ever going to sit and listen, I thought, but apparently they did because I got so many message about that song. I’m still so surprised that people actually took the time and I think, “Where did that one come from?” For me, I don’t know where that one came from.
Everyone is a seeker in some way.
QRO: I’m always interested in that when I meet other songwriters because there’s that sense, in any writing, that you have something to extract from yourself and it’s a wholly unique kind of pressure. I’m forever trying to delineate between my nerd-worrier self and just the good-manic nature of being an artist.
WD: I do think about it a lot: where does it come from? I think we’re all plugged into something and whatever we’re here to do, the message will come through in the way we need to receive it, whether that’s as a carpenter in the tangible world or a songwriter pulling this stuff out of thin air. Everyone is a seeker in some way.
QRO: As a person who scours continents and atlases as a soul-hobby, I could not agree more! I do spend a lot of time in my own mind interrogating the difference in people who can and will snap into the “routine,” or the expected program of life at some point, which they almost always do because they are afraid not to. Then, they end up looking and sounding nothing like they did back when they were braver with themselves. I meant my Cyndi Lauper meets Patti Smith meets Emily Brontë aesthetic at 14, and it took me to my 40s to realize that some people were buying the same posters as me but not ever living the life of the bloody Ramones shirt and the boots, if you get me?
WD: Oh man, I do! And that’s not to sound like, “Oh, I see things that you don’t,” toward those people at all….it’s just being capable of articulating what you see and think from a clear place.
QRO: So, that’s an interesting question for artists because, inherently, being the species of person that would die before they would lay down in a rut like that adds a whole extra level to that already-present feeling of ostracization that is both the demon and the lover of every great creator.
WD: Yeah, it definitely impacts the work! When I’m in a songwriting situation, it’s only when I’m on my own. It’s like a meditation. I definitely go somewhere else.
QRO: I call it “dropping into the zone” because, to me, it truly is like an acid drop into a state of consciousness that is not this. All this talk of channeling does remind me to get you to tell me about the writing of “Gypsy” and the Tealight Tales, all those lovely backyard gigs you were playing.
WD: Yeah, it’s cool that you know about that! I used to do these shows, The Tealight Tales, as they were called. I went out in the Australian desert landscape and played this little show for the community out there. There was an old house that had been there since the 1800s. At soundcheck, I’m on stage and I’m imagining this woman running down by the river they had on the property, crying and screaming at God because she had lost her baby. I thought it was a really crazy image to have at soundcheck, and then the melody and most of the lyrics for that song just sort of hit me in one download of information.
Later, I learned that there was this lady who had lived there for a long time who’d had that happen to her – it was like cot death or something like that. You’d walk through the house and they’d left everything just as it was so I really felt like I was back in that time. It just felt like she was there and she was almost like, “What do you want? What are you doing on my property?” I was the gypsy and this was her place, but it felt really familiar. The song, when it says “better love the gypsy” at the end, was like us saying that to each other so there are about four tiers of meaning there. That was another song that I felt was being given to me.
QRO: It’s in my Top Three favorites of yours. You know, the gypsy image has been toyed with a lot in rock, but you’ve taken it to a completely different place there and I enjoy the hell out of that.
WD: It’s a celebration song. I didn’t want it to be like Stevie Nicks’ or Van Morrison’s songs on the same subject, but “gypsy” really was the only word that was true to the message.
QRO: I think archetypes like that are centuries old and thus retold in a thousand forms for a very real reason, and I also think that kind of archetypal correlation is one of the major unspoken connections between Australia and the United States, inside and outside of art. They are both pioneer countries, you’ve got the cowboy/drover archetype heavily present in both, and you’ve got the feeling of being disconnected from the empire even as you are one yourself. I think that’s why, where there is crossover between them, there is hardcore crossover. There’s common language there.
WD: I definitely agree! And even locally as well. I’m good friends with Glenn Shorrock from Little River Band and he grew up in the same spot I did – Elizabeth, in Adelaide, which is where Cold Chisel, parts of AC/DC, and the Easybeats came from as well. I was 30 years late to all those parties, and I would have loved to have been around when those guys were, but their presence is still so strong and lingering that you can feel like you lived it yourself.
QRO: Yes, because a place that remote and insular holds memories and time differently, more tightly, I think. It’s no secret to anyone who has known me for five minutes that, of the kajillion stamps in my passport, Australia outstrips them all by lightyears and always has. What you just said is one of the reasons why. There is just something really, really special about Australia and the way it sees itself in the world, artistically – and the way it reflects back the other places that it goes.
WD: Yes, there is definitely a knowingness, and maybe that’s because we are from a very spiritual country. There is a lot of spiritual energy down there. The indigenous of the land have knowledge that is 3,000 years old and more. It’s incredible! That land, it’s such an inspiring landscape.
I’m pretty proud to be an artist from Australia because it’s an amazing country and there is so much talent there. To be a successful artist there, you really have to have an ambition that exceeds anything imaginable. You have to hang in! But if you have that knowingness that this is where you’re supposed to be going and this is what you’re here for, you’re always going to be cool; you’re going to be alright there.
I just want to be sure my sons can turn around later and say, “Well Dad gave it a real red-hot go.” At least I won’t have to feel miserable, like I cowered in my comfortable corner.
QRO: That’s the living, breathing soul of my torrid love affair with it, Wes! Adoration of that wild energy and that tilted world, that fire you can’t get anyplace else and nobody else has or can even spiritually spell! [laughs] Talk about archetypes: long before I ever started traveling like the Irish tinker-druid I absolutely am, Australia helped me dream.
WD: It makes me really glad to hear that because these are perspectives you can’t see as clearly when it’s your own home. I’m very proud and happy that you’ve been so inspired by it.
QRO: Nothing has ever inspired me more, I promise you, and I know that will never change. And now, I shall inspire fear and loathing in you by putting you randomly on the spot by way of viciously concluding our chat, ready?
WD: Uh-oh, okay, I’m holding onto the table… [laughs]
QRO: Favorite Ramones song if you could only pick one. Go!
WD: Aw, no! I can’t even think…..wait a minute….
QRO: Answer extremely carefully because this is going to tell me everything I could ever need to know about you – there’s no judgment but I will be judging you, and harshly! [laughs]
WD: [laughs] Okay, hang on. So, the history of punk music, right. For me, the first punk rocker was Jim Morrison.
QRO: Of course! That’s why my mother’s black Challenger is named “Mojo Rising.” Jim Morrison was undeniably the first and last of many crucial, chaotic things. He was a feral deity and that provocateur in him was the first time you ever saw that in a mainstream format, I agree.
WD: Yes! It gives you permission to be your own artist. If you look back at the thread of punk music, I’ve always thought that one of the first punk songs ever written was “Not To Touch The Earth.” Even though he was theatrical, there was something about what he was achieving that was just primal.
I’ve never been asked this about The Ramones, which is great! But I think the one that has stuck with me is “Judy Is A Punk.” I love the attitude and what they were about, the grit in the stance. That’s all I’m trying to do in my own music and life; I just want to be sure my sons can turn around later and say, “Well Dad gave it a real red-hot go.” At least I won’t have to feel miserable, like I cowered in my comfortable corner.
QRO: All four original Ramones, Jim Morrison, and certainly myself salute what you are doing and what you have done, Wes. It is the shimmering opposite of cowering and requires such an admirable courage past measure. The sounds you’ve gotten out of your rare choices are spectacular, and I am certain all of the other benefits coming to you for that boldness will be too. Thank you for the sheer joy of this conversation and especially your time as I know you had plenty of other places you could be on a Friday night!
WD: This has been the most fun I’ve ever had on any interview by far; thank you so much for your unbelievable support and the thought you put into your questions. It’s so kind of you and I really appreciate it.
QRO: You’re the artist I’m always digging for – the one that is singing and writing from the raw ruby place. This has been an honor and I can’t wait to see you on the road!
Wesley Dean is currently on tour in support of Unknown. Drive, hitchhike, or moonwalk across as many towns, counties, or states as you must to see him, for he has traveled much further, physically and metaphysically, in order to be able to see you.