We could not be more excited about an ’11 Questions with…’ column, then we are to have songwriter, guitarist, singer, visual artist, philosopher, tattoo artist/business owner and Revered — Chad Wells! He graciously answered these questions a few months ago. To call Chad a renaissance man is to understate all of his gifts. As with all of the musicians who are so kind to participate in this effort, we want to publicly thank him for taking the time out of his busy schedule to answer these questions!
Chad has a lengthy music resume. His time in COH, The Jackalopes, Cricketbows, Wells & Watson and more has given him the opportunity to make some of the most creative atmospheric psychedelic punk rock this side of… well, to be honest these projects are incredibly unique and comparisons just end up showing that the writer’s reach exceeds their grasp.
We have been fans of Cricketbows since their fantastic album, ‘Diamonds‘. That record careens across classic rock to country to an excellent Monkees cover (Porpoise Song) to straight-forward rock and roll (All the Way Down and Kiss Alive) to psychedelic rock (Little Tiny Houses and Landing on The Moon) and tremendous emotional territory in-between all of those genres. Chad’s music has evolved over time from in your face, direct punk made with an eye toward embracing the emotions you are feeling to reflective psychedelia and folk rock in the Wells & Watson duo. And unlike this writer, Revered Wells’ reach is easily within his orbit.
If you do not know the music of Cricketbows then I am excited for you! There is significant music discovery in your future. What started as a solo project transformed over several records into a full band. In fact, the excellent ‘Diamonds‘ which was recorded in 2014 with Grammy winning Producer Brian Olive (Soledad Brothers, The Greenhornes) was the first full length record as a complete group released in 2015. The following EP ‘Communion‘ incorporated pop music intro the band’s repertoire in songs like ‘Beat of My Heart‘. During the challenging year of the pandemic, Chad was even able to create a set of dystopian electronic singles under the moniker New Way Vendetta. Check out the 80’s homage in ‘Light as a Feather.’
The latest Cricketbows album ‘Raised on Rock and Roll‘ raises the stakes higher. While maintaining the sonic elements of their previous recordings, ‘Raised‘ questions the nature of connections that we all too often take for granted. What is it to speak like ‘Electric Guitars’ as Chad sings in the title track? What does it mean to pretend that you care for others when you really do not (‘Saccharine Sweet‘). Remember when you would listen to music when you were supposed to go to sleep but the thrill of discovery kept you awake? The song ‘Raised on Rock and Roll‘ explores the consciousness shaping experience of hearing music that is part of your identity for the first time. Not putting on the cast off identity of your parents and family, but a sense of who you are in music that is not reducible to what others around you are doing. This is so powerful for those of us who had to work to discover music in the pre-Internet era. Even if that experience occurred under the covers when you were supposed to be sleeping. And now when we can hear almost anything at any time in any place, finding music you can call your own is just as life affirming.
Shaped not only by the pandemic but the search for the most captivating melody while still holding the idea of experimentation in their hearts, Cricketbows capture the challenges of identity, social bonds, the faces we show to others and the faces that make us who we truly are as people, as citizens, as family.
Dr. J: What can you share with us about when and how you started writing your latest Cricketbows record?
Chad Wells (CW): We started writing the songs that would become the new Cricketbows record around the same time that our ‘Communion‘ EP came out (Fall 2017). I’m kind of always writing and to collect my ideas, I use everything from quick iPhone video and audio recordings, to scraps of paper and napkins. Generally, these ideas make their way to the band slowly – a song at a time – and we work them up in rehearsal, play them live for a while and eventually we feel like we have enough material to record an album and we go do that. In this case, Zachary Gabbard of The Buffalo Killers had Produced our EP ‘Communion‘ and almost as soon as that collection was released, he called us back to the studio to start working on the next release before we had even had time to start really working on any new material. So, the songs for “Raised On Rock And Roll” were culled from existing demos I had laying around in various states of non-completion and we also chose a couple songs that we had been playing live for some time that I had released as Cricketbows before the band really existed. We went into the studio at Howler Hills (Gabbard’s studio) but the sessions didn’t end up on the final album because the songs just didn’t feel like they were fully together yet. So we took the songs on the road, playing as many shows as we could and we continued reworking the demos in our rehearsal space and we hammered them into shape. Once we finally had a tight set of songs together, we went into the Candyland Recording Studio in Dayton, Kentucky and laid down the tracks that would become the album.
Dr. J: In the past you worked closely with your bandmates in Cricketbows, did the coronavirus/Covid-19 situation change how you wrote and worked on the record?
CW: The record was fully written and recorded prior to the Pandemic so it didn’t really affect the writing or production of the album. It did monumentally delay the release of the album and the mixing process had to be done remotely. Whereas in the past we would sit in on mixing sessions with an engineer and sort of have our hands on the board and our suggestions acted upon in real time, in this case we would get mixes from Mike Montgomery via email, listen and send him back notes about what to turn up, what to turn down, what to EQ differently and things like that.
Dr. J: ‘Raised on Rock and Roll‘ is a song that lists several artists, albums and lyrical imagery from several classic rock and roll songs, did you set out to address these particular artists/musicians/creatives when starting to work on that song?
CW: I definitely didn’t start with a list or motive to include all of those specific artists, songs or albums. I had the first line “I speak electric guitar, in fire orange and bright blue” which was a nod to the fact that Aarika and I both suffer from or are gifted with a bit of Synesthesia – a condition where sounds may be experienced in the brain as a color or shape or taste instead of just as sound. From there, I wanted to expand on that line in a direction that talked about how my mind works the way it does because I was raised in a world where Rock And Roll music was not just a backdrop to life, but was an important element of life. We weren’t religious really and we weren’t sports or military people. Everything that a so-called “normal” person might get from those family traditions and lifestyles, I got from Rock And Roll – so I tried to touch on some of the cornerstones and recurring images and symbols of that part of my upbringing. So I reference the “lightning” of “Elvis and Bowie and Frehley” as well as referring to The Beatles as the “Saints” I say prayers to along with nods to everything from Fats Domino to Pink Floyd.
Dr. J: ‘Kentucky Mountain Lady‘ also addresses love and personal connection – is that a correct interpretation of some of the lyrics and the feel of the song? In addition, if that is correct, did you intend to address love or did the song evolve in that direction over time?
CW: I wrote that song after a road trip down to Menifee County, Kentucky with my wife and my Father to visit the final resting place of my Grandfather, Bethard Wells. While we were there, we drove around the area where my paternal Grandparents grew up. The smells of those woods and the beautiful fog filled hollows between the hills and mountains was extremely inspiring to me and left me with a yearning to get back there. I imagined a world where my wife and I could live and love and survive on the fruits of what that land provides. I tried to paint a pretty straightforward picture of that magical area and how the environment itself could be a sort of rural utopia perfectly suited to living a life with someone you love outside the rat race of the city.
Dr. J: How did ‘Kentucky Mountain Lady‘ come together musically for you?
CW: I tend to play with a few alternate tunings and one of my favorites is called “open G”. When a player that’s used to playing in standard tunings, sets their instrument up in an alternate tuning, they tend to find and unlock creative ideas that they wouldn’t necessarily stumble upon in the standard tuning. Chord shapes are different and note relationships between the strings are different. So I had stumbled across these very jazzy, warm chords that ended up being the verse chords of the song. Open G lends itself to a very country, bluesy, rural folk sound so the sound of the tuning and playing around with different droning patterns with moving melodic patterns was the perfect bed for the song. In hindsight I hear a lot of Joni Mitchell influence in the song and music and it also feels very similar to “Echoes” by Pink Floyd – as does our song “Raggedy Hillside” which is also in Open G. I think that the experiments with Americana style music by Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones, Crosby, Stills And Nash and groups like that have always been some of my favorite music but I rarely wrote anything in that style until Cricketbows came together and we just sort of drifted into that kind of sound together as a band when we started using less distortion and effects and started playing a lot more acoustic music and using very clean sounds.
Dr. J: Where do you often derive inspiration to make music?
CW: My inspiration to create is compulsive. I communicate better with lyrics and sound than I do just trying to talk. I listen to a ton of music and when I hear something that gives me an emotional response, I am often inspired to try to recreate that response myself with my own music. I’m not talented enough as a player to just learn someone else’s song and get the emotional response that way, so I experiment and fiddle about until I find things that speak to me. Also, playing with the players in Cricketbows is so inspirational. I can play two notes and everyone will join in and play along and expand a song into new territories through improvisation that is really amazing. The average listener, just happening upon one of our jam sessions would believe that we had written and rehearsed something a million times because it’s so cohesively fluid – but in reality we are probably playing the thing for the first time.
Dr. J: How would you describe the music that you typically create? How has that process evolved or changed over time (especially as you think about your journey from ‘Diamonds’ to the ‘Communion’ EP to the most recent album)?
CW: Cricketbows has always been about being honest. My previous bands were always sort of me playing a character or a role that is about the theme of the band. In Cricketbows I found a place where I could write from my heart and soul and not worry about what the audience might think. As we’ve progressed as a group, I think that we’re developing a sound that is pretty hard to pin down but it’s also extremely recognizable in some way. Our disparate influences come together to form something that’s all at once new and exciting but is also steeped in the traditions of what I can only call “Classic Rock”. Cricketbows is psychedelic but we tend to stray away from the trappings of typical psychedelia. We’re not using silly voices and effects that sound like we’re other-dimensional ghosts. We’re not using a bunch of effects that make the guitars go “WAHWAHWAHWAHWAH”. We’re using ultra clean signals and real voices with minimal effects. It is far more relative to early Elton John, Blind Faith, Eric Clapton and Fleetwood Mac than it is to MGMT. or King Gizzard or whatever modern psych is. I guess in the simplest terms, we’re more like “The White Album” than we are like “Sgt. Peppers”.
Dr. J: What is next for you musically? How would you describe your thoughts at this point for your next project after ‘Raised on Rock and Roll‘?
CW: I have no idea how we’re going to move forward with a new record in the current state of the world. I hope that vaccines work and that we’re eventually able to be in a room together again. If not, it’s going to be some interesting home recording stuff. We have been playing around with some cover songs recorded remotely. We released a Black Crowes (“Good Friday”) cover back around the beginning of the Pandemic and lockdowns and it was pretty fun and interesting. We have a couple others in the can that we may or may not release. One is a cover of “I Think We’re Alone Now” that is pretty fun. Side projects are also a thing. Aarika and I do a couple different projects together that work well as far as remote recording and things like that – New Way Vendetta, a new-wave influenced electro-punk band and Wells & Watson – a darker Americana themed acoustic project. We have plans to release a bunch of stuff under a bunch of different names in the near future. As for Cricketbows, we’ll just be patient and see where it all goes.
Dr. J: What is your favorite song to perform? What makes it a current favorite in your performances?
CW: “Ride Or Die” from the new album is my favorite to perform as it has a country-gospel intro with lots of harmony and prettiness and then kicks into a beefed up glam punk song that is a really strong, tight rock song.
Dr. J: What is one message you would hope that listeners find in the unique nature of your latest music?
CW: I think this new music is about honesty and love. Be true and do love stuff!
Dr. J: As a musician, how are you adapting to the challenges of the Coronavirus?
CW: It’s very hard. It’s hard to watch the people who are out trying to play shows and do stuff as if Coronavirus is not happening – or as if it’s worth the risk. We haven’t been in a room together as a band during this whole thing. We haven’t played a note in the same room together as a band in over a year now but I sit at home and watch all kinds of people who are still cramming into studios and onto stages together. I know how little these players get paid to perform. I know how few people are coming out to see them play. Music is my life to the degree that I’ve risked everything to do it. Gone broke trying to do it. Passed on jobs and money and all kinds of opportunities to do other things because the music was more important than anything else. But I’ve seen what the virus has done to friends and members of my family who got it – and if my music was responsible for one single Coronavirus case it would absolutely destroy me. People who are playing shows will say that they’re being careful, but what about the people who might come to your show that aren’t being careful?
So here we sit, not playing any album release shows. Not booking anything for the future and hoping that it’ll all go away. In the meantime, I’m trying to use the time constructively. I’ve learned new recording programs, I’ve learned to do animation that we use in our videos and I’ve focused on a lot of the behind the scenes, nuts and bolts parts of our online presence and band management stuff that usually gets overlooked.
You can follow Chad Wells and Cricketbows on various social media including:
Facebook Twitter at @cricketbows Instagram at Cricketbows
Spotify Bandcamp YouTube at CricketbowsOfficial
We want to extend our sincere gratitude to Revered Wells for answering our questions and continuing to make some really excellent music! Click on the links throughout the article to visit Cricketbows’ Bandcamp page! If any musicians or artists would like to participate in future ’11 Questions’ columns, please feel free to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. All photos and images courtesy of Chad Wells and Gabrielle Elizabeth Studios photography.