A roots-rock songwriter with a rough-and-tumble rasp of a voice, Justin Wells’ music shines a light on the highs and lows of a life spent on the road. For years, he shared that road with his bandmates in Fifth on the Floor. The guys were southern rock underdogs, and they climbed their way toward success on their own terms, earning a cult following and a Billboard chart placement for their album Ashes & Angels along the way. Their songs drifted back and forth across the line between brash and broken, carried by loud guitars and louder sentiment. However, the band abruptly parted ways in early 2015.
On Dawn in the Distance, Wells’ voice still packs a Kentucky-sized punch, but his solo debut takes a look beyond the Southern stomp of his former band. Call the new sound Americana. Call it blue-collar country. Call it fiery folk. While recording the album, Wells was simply concerned with serving the songs, teaming up with producer Duane Lundy (Sunday Valley, Joe Pug, Vandaveer) and creating Wells’ most affecting album to date. Songs like “Going Down Grinnin’” (which Wells describes as “embracing failure with a smile”) and “Three Quarters Gone” (inspired by the retirement of the singer’s father) are layered with pedal steel guitar, auxiliary percussion, and keys.
Wells says of the first single off of his debut album;
On Going Down Grinnin': The song was conceived on New Circle Rd in Lexington and born in my friend Angie's house before an Orlando show. I'd done my best to condense a year and a half into a 3 or 4-minute song, speaking mostly to my uncertainty about whatever direction I was going in. In that time, I felt like folks who've been through a car wreck, always hitting a brake that isn't there while sitting on the passenger side.
Corny metaphor, maybe.
See, I'd been a part of a thing for a good decade that felt like it was gonna happen, or (with a nod to naiveté) maybe already was. That bubble gets burst for most songwriters and musicians, and at a variety of ages. Sucks every time.
I've typed up and deleted a handful of lines here. They're all corny. The resolution is that I'm putting out an album that I'm immensely proud of, and that I'm glad that I stuck with the mindset I had in Orlando, rather than the one I had on New Circle Road.
Because I can't dunk a basketball and I'm no good as a mechanic. Perseverance might just mask a lack of alternatives.
(Addendum: many thanks to Casey Pierce for masterfully capturing all of that in the music video. Killed it.)
On Saturday, Justin Wells will be joined by Andrew Leahey & the Homestead. Go grab your tics HERE!