By: Dr. Matt Warnock
Photo Credit: Le Michelle Nguyen
Montreal has long been a hotbed for creativity. Whether it’s the city’s massively popular Jazz Festival, the downtown arts culture or bands such as Arcade Fire bursting onto the international scene, Montreal has steadily produced some of Canada’s best artists, musicians and actors of the past 100 years.
While he may not be as recognizable as former Montreal residents William Shattner (yes I crafted this intro so I could mention Captain Kirt) and Arcade Fire, singer-songwriter Wes Walls is making waves and turning heads everywhere he plunks down his acoustic guitar and lays down his unique folk-rock influenced tones.
With a background that includes spending time on Canada’s west coast, in London, England and of course La Belle Province, Walls brings many influences into his music, while maintaining a personal touch in every chord, fingerpick and lyric. With his first E.P. garnering attention from fans and critics alike, Walls is heading into the second decade of the 21st century with a strong backwind that will no doubt propel his music into new and exciting directions.
Matt Warnock: What inspired your move from B.C. to Montreal, was it a musical or personal choice to make the move?
Wes Walls: It was a little bit of both, really. The Vancouver music scene is strong, I loved being part of it, but most of the action happens out East. Montreal is a city of networking and mixing and it’s really creative, which is inspiring. Plus it’s close to Toronto where a lot of opportunities are.
Lifestyle was also a big reason for moving here because after living in Europe I really wanted to be somewhere with a rich culture and Montreal is definitely the best place for that in Canada.
Matt: How do you find the Montreal Indie scene is doing right now, is it as healthy as it was a few years ago?
Wes: Definitely. The perception from the outside might be that the Montreal music scene is cooling off after a bunch of bands attracted attention a few years ago, especially Arcade Fire. But the city is really vibrant and creative, and there are tons of interesting bands with unique sounds.
Plus there are a lot of good music venues and enthusiastic indie music fans, especially with four universities here, and festivals like Pop Montreal that keep the whole scene really active and healthy. I think it’s just a matter of time before we see more good bands coming into the spotlight from Montreal.
Matt: You’ve spent time performing in London, how do you compare the U.K. scene to the Canadian scene in your experience as a musician?
Wes: When I went to London, I kind of just dropped in with my acoustic guitar and got a job in a pub and partied a lot for a year. I played pub gigs with my acoustic guitar and met people, and lived just a few blocks from Denmark Street which was amazing being from small-town Canada.
I definitely got a sense of the size and the history of the music scene there, which was pretty intimidating at the time. There was this famous place called the 100 Club nearby where veterans of huge bands from the ‘60s and ‘70s would play tiny shows just for fun. So the musical legacy of London is still present there in a big way, and that doesn’t exist in Canada in the same fashion.
Matt: You finished a degree in Audio Engineering, how do you bring that side of your background into your music and has it helped you as a performer over the years?
Wes: When I write a song on acoustic guitar I usually have a really strong vision of how other instruments will fit in. I hear it all in my head, so it was really important to learn how to record properly so that I could translate my imagination into music and bring it to life.
I guess knowing audio production for me is comparable to an author knowing how to write, it’s necessary for me in order to be creative in my own way. Working in my home studio layering up tracks is one of my favorite things to do, so audio production has been pretty central to my musical identity.
Matt: When you write a song what comes first the lyrics or the chords?
Wes: I usually experiment and find chords that I like the sound of. I know I have the right chords when a melody just flows out of them. Then I’ll play around with what I have until some lyrics come to mind, and work with that.
Like most songwriters, for me some songs will just flow out onto the page in one go, and sometimes it takes months, writing and rewriting one or two lines at a time.
Matt: Do you write on the guitar or away from the guitar?
Wes: Always on the guitar for some reason. I’ve had some interesting results collaborating with people who play piano or make beats, and I’ve tried making some synth stuff myself, but for some reason my creative process just works best with guitar in hand. It’s what I’m good at.
Matt: What guitar are you playing right now and do you prefer to run your acoustic through an amp or a P.A.?
Wes: I still play the Seagull acoustic guitar that I learned on, and someone would have a hard sell trying to get me to play another brand of guitar. In a live setting I typically run it direct in with minimal effects and processing, and it sounds great.
I run my semi-hollow body Epiphone electric through a Fender Deluxe with a Maxon OD808 overdrive pedal. It’s kind of my staple sound and I love it. I also always use a heavier gauge of string than usual on both guitars to get a richer sound.
Matt: You’re 2008 E.P. brought some well-deserved attention to your music, do you have plans for a full record in the coming months?
Wes: Thanks, actually I plan to finish another E.P. I have one song complete called “She Could Be” which I released on my website, and the drum tracks have been laid down for two more. A full studio album is definitely a future plan, for when the time is right. I have enough songs, kicking around ten of them, but for now I just want to finish the E.P. It’s amazing how much you can do with three really kick-ass songs, so that’s what I’m going for right now.