Q&A: John Wesley

Porcupine Tree's tour guitarist taught Steven Wilson how to shoot a gun. In turn, Wilson showed him how to make records, and what it means to be an artist.

By Steven Humphries, PROG #44, April 2014, transcribed by pwrwindows

John Wesley has carved out a solo career between stints as a guitar sideman for Fish, Porcupine Tree and Steven Wilson. But soon after joining Sound Of Contact as a touring member last year, Wesley had an epiphany: he needed to once again prioritise his own creative impulses.

"By the end of the European tour, I realised I needed to bring my own vision to life and 1 left," he recalls from his home in Tampa, Florida.

The result? Wesley's sixth solo album, titled Disconnect. The guitar-heavy record, which includes a cameo appearance by Rush's Alex Lifeson, boasts Wesley's strongest melodies to date. The lanky songwriter credits his artistic growth spurt to his many hours in the studio with Wilson. "Tracking him as his engineer, all the recording techniques were there for me to learn from," he says.

In the early 1990s, you were discovered by Marillion. How did that happen?

I was a broke, single father looking for work. A friend of mine said, "I've got this position as a guitar tech for an English band." On the first day of rehearsal, the first thing I ever heard them play was "Splintering Heart" and my jaw hit the floor. We all went out to a club that night. I got a little hammered and got up on stage with the band and started ripping out Led Zeppelin. It grew from there. They listened to some of my songs and four shows later, I was the opening act. At one point or another, all of the band members have been on one of my records. I will be eternally grateful.

You then became Fish's guitarist and co-wrote his Fellini Days album. I take it there was never a dull moment?

I have more Fish stories than the law allows! There was a nightly wrestling match on the tour bus. I would always brush my teeth at my bunk and then go spit in the sink. Fish and tour manager Yatta [aka Kelvin Boys-Yates] were determined that they would wrestle me down and get me to swallow my toothpaste. I would always try and brush my teeth when they weren't looking, but they'd come at me from both sides of the bus and jump me in the aisle. I was a double black belt in Taekwondo at the time and had spent many years wrestling, so I always ended up climbing out from underneath them and making it successfully to the bathroom. That happened probably 50 times!

During your tenure in Porcupine Tree, how did you help Steven Wilson wage his campaign against the iPod?

It's in his Insurgentes movie. He was filming himself killing iPods and I'm quite the gun aficionado, so we decided to shoot some iPods. Steve wasn't comfortable with guns, but we made him look great. We had a lot of fun shooting those little iPods to pieces. He got to weld one and it blew up. We chopped up an iPod in a wood chipper. Then we went to Disney World. There was a Carousel of Progress and he stood in front so it read as the Carousel of Prog!

What are the lyrical themes running through Disconnect?

I had some life changes in the middle of making it. My son was born exactly the same week as I lost my mother. One of the things we discover in life is that nothing stays the same, whether you want it to or not. There were several instances in my life where I had to disconnect, whether it be from certain individuals or certain phases of my life that I had to let go of. At the same time, I have a lot of friends in the military. Watching them come back from tours of engagement, they came back very disconnected. Watching them struggle with their daily lives led to an encapsulation of a theme. We all have our little battles of disconnection and every single song on the record highlights that.

How did you rope in Alex Lifeson to play a guitar solo on the song "Once A Warrior"?

When Alex came to see Porcupine Tree play for the first time, I had to play his solo in "Anesthetize" live. As I was in soundcheck that day, it occurred to me how much of my style as a young player came from him. I thought, "He's going to see me play - he's going to know I robbed him blind!" I'd never had a chance to meet him before. What a great night! We hung out and he was the last person to leave. Later, we were discussing the fact I was doing a record and he said, "Hey man, if you've got any room on there. . ." He actually approached me! They'd just finished touring and I approached him a few weeks later and said, "Can you do this now?" Within a week, he sent me a beautiful solo. There's a Rush vibe on the album.

Speaking of Rush, you regularly go on lengthy motorcycle rides with Neil Peart. What's that like?

He is one of the most skilled riders I've ever ridden with. You're up and on the road by eight in the morning. Pack a candy bar, because that's going to be your lunch. You're not off the bike until dusk. That's hardcore. He has a small circle of people he trusts as riders. But you have to be on your game to ride with Neil. He's one of the wittiest and most caring people I've ever met.

Are you excited to step to the fore once again with Disconnect?

Steven Wilson really showed me the true meaning of the word 'artist'. At some point, you have to stop looking around you and truly look inside yourself and create music that makes you happy.


Disconnect is out on March 31 via InsideOut. See wwwJohn-wesley.com.