Riveting Riffs Logo One  Nicholas Wells - Now and Then
Nicholas Wells Photo Two

You don’t have to have an exceptionally trained ear to realize that Nicholas Wells is a pretty special musical talent and while you are talking to him you also realize you are talking to an exceptional person. Is he a singer and songwriter? Yes. Is he an arranger and producer? Yes. Oh by the way he also plays the piano and guitar. With the release of his EP Now and Then Nicholas Wells gifted the world with some of the most beautiful songs that you will listen to this year, including the title track “Now and Then,” a song that can be interpreted through the lens of young love or perhaps of two friends that once were.  It is not a song about a breaking heart or a bitter memory, but quite the opposite. It is filled with warm memories

Wells talks about where his songs originate, “Usually the song will come after something significant happens. I will get a feeling that will hang around me for days and it will end up in a song or else it won’t go away. If you are not writing a song for yourself (but instead pitching it to someone else) you still have to find where the song is coming from, because you can really sniff out when a song is not authentic. It was always about go back to your muse. Who hurt you in the past? Let’s bring all that stuff up now, so we can start writing,” he says laughing lightly.

Nicholas Wells Photo ThreeIf you find yourself going through a challenging time or perhaps you have a friend who is going through a difficult period in their life you may find yourself playing Nicholas Wells’ song “What I’m Here For,” over and over again, as it is a very inspirational and comforting song.

“That song is one of the final songs that I wrote for the EP and it was after I looked back at the rest of the songs I had written. I had written seventeen to twenty songs that eventually I narrowed down to find the theme of the story that I wanted to tell. Looking back I realized I should balance this a little bit, because there was a lot of heavy stuff.

The EP is about rediscovering life and finding happiness, despite the twists and turns that life throws at you, be it illness or tragedy or death in the family, growing up and realizing you have lost touch with certain people or you have just reached a certain age. There is sadness in life and it was a real personal mission of mine after going through a really hard time to find the good in life.

“What I’m Here For,” is a response to the first track “Thunder,” which is about finding  strength and happiness in someone being there for me and helping me through the storm.  “What I Am Here For,” is about the joy and gratification you get from being there for someone else. The song is about being there for someone during a very hard time,” explains Wells.

The song “What I’m Here For,” owes its existence to three cats that have been a part of Nicholas Wells’ life.  

“Going back a little bit I had a cat that passed away and having to put her down was one of the most difficult and traumatic experiences ever. I just thought I couldn’t get another pet, but all of a sudden this one feral cat started showing up on my back porch in the middle of the winter and I started leaving some food out for it. It kept coming back every day. I remember seeing it snowed several inches and this little thing was hopping down the hill through the snow, because it knew there would be a can there on the deck,” he says.

Eventually the shelters gave a home to the feral cat, but it had an impact on his life and he adopted two cats from a shelter, because that experience got him to the place where he wanted to be there for someone or something.

“That’s the reason why the music video for “What I’m Here For,” features my two cats. These two cats were in the shelter for two years, before I came and found them.  They went from a little room with twenty cats and now I find them sleeping all over the house. They are totally cozy and in a very loving situation. I felt that I had to feature them in the video.

Initially that was the song that everybody was excited about and was drawn to, but now more people who hear the record are getting in a little deeper and listening to some of the harder hitting songs. I have received a lot of positive response to "What I’m Here For.”

The music of Nicholas Wells has continued to evolve from his two previous recordings Stumbling Forward in 2015 and Something to Believe In (2010).

“For me music has always been about creating something with a meaning. I find myself going around somedays with this uneasy feeling that I can’t shake until I sit down and I start writing and it is the only way that I can get those feelings out there.  It has always been about something that had to come out and it has always been about real true things.

Something to Believe In was an album I started recording in college with a close friend of mine who I now work with regularly. We now produce artists on the side. We have produced plenty of records for many different artists. We were using some of the college’s studios. He got a job at a major studio and now I do work at that studio for other artists. At the time we were able to go in and use the facilities at night. A lot of Something To Believe In was recorded between the hours of midnight and seven am. The two of us would go home, sleep for a couple of hours and then go to class.  That album consisted of some newer songs, but also songs that I had written years ago, but had always wanted to do right.

Something To Believe In was my first studio album. I then learned a ton working in the studio, engineering, producing or doing session work.

Our goal with Stumbling Forward was to create something that was a very cohesive piece of musicians in the studio just playing the songs. We filled it out with a bunch of string arrangements, but every song had a similar theme and sound. The themes have changed between the three (recordings), because of my growth as a songwriter, but mostly as a person. My changing perspective about life has completely influenced my writing. Now and Then was really a mission to get those things out there,” he says.

The various facets of Wells’ experience and talents came into play with the creation and recording of “Waking Up At the End.”

Nicholas Wells brought in live strings for this song and he talks about the thinking behind that and the recording of the strings, “I have always been inspired by movie scores. I have been inspired by composers like John Williams (recipient of 24 Grammy Awards, 5 Academy Awards, 4 Golden Globes and 7 British Academy Film Awards) and Alan Silvestri (also an Academy Award winner) who did Forrest Gump, Contact and other very beautiful scores. Then there was Thomas Newman’s musical score of Meet Joe Black. I thought the strings for “Waking Up At the End,” have to be emotional and they can’t just sit there.  In playing the song back I was humming certain counter melodies and things that would work and I worked them out with the violas and cellos going back and forth. I feel it is very much in the style of Thomas Newman’s writing where there are a lot of these beautiful musical suspensions, releases and rich harmonies that create an emotional tension and expression. I wanted it to sound like a movie score with someone singing over it.

I don’t have access to an orchestra, but they are all real players. All of the strings on that recording were done by four people. To make it sound like a full orchestra it is written into four parts. If you play the same instrument playing the same way twice and you listen to them it sounds incredibly weird, because that doesn’t happen naturally. You get something called phasing when you get the same kind of signal happening at the same time. The way that an orchestra sounds the way that it does, is because of the way each person plays and it is the difference in each person’s instrument. It is like a choir.

For the four strings players we had them track the song fifteen to twenty times. Each time we would move the microphones a little differently. They would play their instruments a little differently. Some of them brought separate instruments that they swapped out depending on the takes. They would use different bows and emulate different styles of playing. If it was violin one and violin two, one violinist would play one part and the other would play the other part and then they would swap parts and we would have them play each other’s parts.

The way they were mic’d up made a difference. The sound of an orchestra is the blend of everything from a distance instead of the gritty sound of a bow hitting the strings, so we put the microphones high above the group and we took that sound. Nicholas Wells Photo One

If I mute the vocals and just listen to the strings and the piano I am very happy, because we hit it on the head with what I was trying to do.”

As for the writing of the song he says, “I wrote “Waking Up At the End,” about two in the morning. The funny thing is in the song I say I am just twenty-eight and I was twenty-eight when I wrote the song and the song is about time flying by faster than you can keep track of it. I am turning thirty this year and I don’t know what happened between twenty-eight and thirty.

The chorus lyrics are, “Summer days come, as soon as they start / Close your eyes and the whole night is one beat of your heart / I’m afraid to get older and to lose time I spend / And I find myself waking up at the end.

This was the final song that I wrote for the EP and I think it is really the thesis of the project. In just a short amount of time I (experienced) several losses, of family friends and young friends, a grandparent and a pet. I am also reaching a point in my life “I’m so scared that those somedays are going to catch up with me.” (He quotes the lyric.)

I have been friends with the same people since elementary school and middle school. We all still try to get together whenever we can. I started seeing my friends getting married and having their first children. When we were thirteen or fourteen years old and walking down the street at night, while talking about how things might be, this is a someday when these things are starting to happen and we are starting to know the answers to these questions. It started to change my perspective about life and this song is what came out of that.”

The lyrics were also influenced by the memory of a conversation he had with one of his brothers, when Wells was fifteen years old, “He said, The summer has just begun and we have all of this time off ahead of us. We can do whatever we want. It just flew by, like snapping my fingers. I still feel fifteen. Where did the last fifteen years go? How did that happen? How do I slow this down, so I don’t suddenly look in the mirror and it is another fifteen years from now?

I remember one of the strings players was listening to the song and he looked up with tears in his eyes and he said you hit this one out of the park. Everyone had the same reaction. To me the biggest form of success is if someone listening to my music can have the same emotions while I did when writing them.  That I was able to touch people in that way meant a lot.”

While time may seem like it is flying by for Nicholas Wells, this writer wonders if certain aspects of his life must seem frozen in time to him. He lives in Westchester, New York, ten minutes from the home he grew up in. It is also where his love for music was first born, when his parents who are also musicians started their children taking music lessons. Between the three brothers they play piano, saxophone, trumpet and guitar. It is also where his parents gave them what he describes as generous Christmas gifts or recording equipment. Later stage microphones would be added and a good keyboard. Then there were the jamming sessions at home.

“This was the time I was about eight. One of the things that I had at the time was the ability to record onto a CD, which (not many other) people had at the time. I had my little portable CD player and the thought that I could record. I could take it upstairs and put it in that thing to listen.  I was actually on a CD. I thought this is so cool! I could make full songs, so I became inspired to write songs.  I started arranging them. I have recordings from the time I was eight until now. Through middle school and high school there are songs about the different crushes that I had and the tumultuous relationships I had (he laughs). Every word of my musical diary is preserved. I am pretty grateful for that,” he says.

As for living in the town where he grew up he says, “I love it here and the town that I have been around for so long. It is amazing to be able to go into (New York City), do shows, take a quick ride out and when I get off the train I hear crickets. It is the best of both worlds. It is why I have stayed in the area.”

“Starry Eyes,” sends chills through you, as once again you appreciate the brilliance and beauty of Nicholas Wells’ music. Until now, we have not even mentioned his rich baritone vocals.

“The song “Starry Eyes,” is probably the heaviest track on the album. It has been a fan favorite. The (back story) is it came after the loss of a family friend, after the loss of a pet, a grandparent and a young friend of mine. There was a period of grief when I couldn’t do anything. I couldn’t write. I didn’t want to write. I guess anyone who has grieved knows that. There is a period when you can’t do anything.  I had lost hope for everything. For most of my life I have struggled with depression and I am a very sensitive person, so it was a crippling time. Eventually I started strumming my guitar a little bit and the incapacitation turned into expression. This was one of the first things to come out and then the song “The Rest of Our Lives.”

“Starry Eyes,” is unapologetic and instead of we are going to find hope this was really I have lost it (hope). (It was) events are out of our hands and the world seems indifferent to everybody. I guess you could take that in a negative way or a liberating way. If the world is indifferent you should just live life however you can and try to be happy. The song is about losing my childhood innocence to the reality of what life is. “Losing my starry eyes / To these cloudy skies.” In the second verse I talk about the struggle to get out of bed and finding the will to go on. It was a pivotal point in my life and for the EP.

If you believe that one of the true tests of good art is the strong emotional response it evokes from those who listen, watch, read or see then certainly Nicholas Wells accomplishes that. The lyrics to his songs are not just clever hooks easy for the listener to remember, so they might sing along nor are the compositions a rip-off of someone else’s beats or melodies. Each of these songs is carefully constructed, superbly orchestrated and arranged and sublimely engineered. A good actor or a good singer must be in the moment and Nicholas Wells allowed himself to be vulnerable enough to share those moments with us.

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This interview by Joe Montague  published  March 11th, 2018 is protected by copyright © and is the property of Riveting Riffs Magazine All Rights Reserved.  All photos and artwork are the the property of  Nicholas Wells unless otherwise noted and all  are protected by copyright © All Rights Reserved. This interview may not be reproduced in print or on the internet or through any other means without the written permission of Riveting Riffs Magazine, All Rights Reserved