Former High Flight Society frontman Jason Wilkes found a place playing bass and contributing vocals to Disciple in more recent years (he appears on the band's album Attack), but making his own music in the indie circle never stopped. Now the singer/songwriter is making music under the name WILKES, and Jason took some time out of his busy schedule to talk about his brand new EP Shells with JFH's own Bersain.
Jason Wilkes: Thanks! Being referred to as "refreshing" as an artist is one of the best compliments I could hope for. The writing process for this record was all over the place. Some of the songs have been around a while and others are brand new. "Come Now Rain Down," for instance, is probably 5 or so years old. It was ironed out, rewritten, rearranged, etc a few times over the years based on how it felt in different worship services. The other end of the spectrum would be "What Are We To Do," which was written after tracking for the record was done. I was suppose to go up for one more vocal day to finish things off, but ended up last minute tracking that song and adding it to the lineup. I wrote it by accident while testing a new audio interface (when you fall in the zone you just gotta go for it, haha). It was too good and, content wise, too close to my heart to not put it on the record.
Jason: I wouldn't say it was a conscious effort per se, but more of a direct representation of how new music arrives into my brain in its initial state. This project is more of what I naturally do. I think the other projects were actually the conscious efforts. I've always loved pop music more than any other genre. I do like rock, country, folk, etc, but it all has to have pop elements for me. One of the pop elements I can't live without is a good hook and lots of strong melodies. I really do live by the "don't bore us get to the chorus" motto. I'm not really super into hard rock personally (ironic I know). I love writing it and loved performing it in Disciple, but it's just not my thing when it comes to my record collection. In all my other projects, I've enjoyed stretching myself as an artist to pen genres that are outside of my preference, but this has for sure been a refreshing change to just record what comes out exactly how it is in my head. I will say, though, that High Flight Society was actually a pop-rock band at heart (emphasis on the "pop") and carried this same type of flavor. All the other HFS guys are into the same style as I am, we were just steered a away from it on our first record by labels and whatnot. We also recorded that debut record (that we were most known for) when we were super into Thrice for a minute haha. Check out High Flight's last record, Lights Come Down, and you'll hear hints of what this EP has going on.
Jason: Funny you ask. I've actually got a series going (that I'll kick back up soon) on my social media pages called #ShellsUnderTheInfluence that is all about records that ultimately lead to this EP being what it is. You can read write-ups I've done about those specific records using that hashtag on Instagram or Facebook. Some of them may surprise you. There are a few standout artists for sure though among those. The Killers would be my first reference. They are my favorite band alongside Jimmy Eat World and Foo Fighters. If you were to combine The Killers' Battleborn record, Jimmy Eat World Futures, & Foo Fighters The Colour and The Shape, you get Shells. At least in my head anyways, haha. Lyrically, the songs aren't really influenced directly by any particular existing music. My lyrics come as direct downloads from the air. Especially the worship songs. It's almost as if God has a Dropbox account in my mind and just dumps songs into it occasionally. I just sit and wait on the download link so I can put them to paper.
Jason: I think that's awesome you've noted this. You'd be flabbergasted at the amount of time and work that goes into the smallest details that no one notices, haha. I'm stoked you have taken notice of some of them. I live in the details of production and songwriting. Stuff buried in the mix, auxiliary instruments added to last choruses, tons of background vocals increasing in number the further you get into the song. All these types of things keep songs interesting for me as well as give records longer life. Every time I listen to Jimmy Eat World Futures or Bleed American, I hear things I've never heard before, and those have been two of my favorite albums for years. So much candy is buried in those tracks. I love that! The part you are referring to in "Wrecked" was actually birthed as an idea by Ike Thurston (my drummer), turned into ear candy by Shane Cole (guitar and bass) and then candied up more with those beautiful keys that were conceived by my buddy Dan Snyder (from the band Paper Lights). Dan actually did a lot of keys on this record. I love that section! It reminds me of Eisley, who is another favorite band of mine. I wish they came through more in my music. The production on this record wasn't too hard because I had most of it layed out in demos already. We just improved it and added to it. The most work, production wise, went into "Come Now Rain Down." Me and Shane did a long day of pre-production on that song with him on bass and me on drums, followed by another day of guitar stuff. We really worked hard on the arrangement and vibe of that one. It was a blast! Shane is a musical genius and is a huge part of how that song turned out production wise.
Jason: Thank you! This song means a lot to me. I was wondering how people would react to it since it's just one guitar and one vocal. We made the decision to leave it real raw like that to capture the emotion that sometimes gets lost with production elements and layers of instruments. We did one warm-up take on guitar and tracked take two. Same with the vocal. I'm stoked that it seems to be translating in that format. The inspiration behind the song came from a time when I started noticing a number of people around me who were either obviously running from God, angry at God, harboring bitterness toward Him, or just plain heart-broken and lonely. All of them were at one time believers that had something happen to them in the past that put them in that state. My heart breaks for people who are in that type head space. I had this acoustic guitar part written and had been playing it for a while just sitting around on the bus when I was on tour with Disciple. It took a while for lyrics to come to me, but out of the blue one day when I was picking through it and humming melodies (I believe it was in the back lounge of the bus), the lyric "when you're cyring, I'm crying over you" came out. I felt an overwhelming sense of grief that I believe God put on me. He started opening my eyes to his pursuit of me and his pursuit of every person on earth. I was confused at first because I have always been told to pursue God with all my heart. In fact, we were playing a run of shows then at a youth conference called Relentless Pursuit that was about that very thing. Relentlessly pursuing God. But God was telling me that He was relentlessly perusing us! He was telling me things like "when that girl at your show tonight cries alone in her bedroom at night, I cry over her grief. It breaks my hearts that she doesn't understand how much I love her." He was telling me when we are at our wits end and are no longer pursuing him at all, he's still reaching out to us. He even went so far as to show me a person, that I'm close to, that is blatantly running away from God in a very conscious effort and said, "I know he's running away from me because he doesn't want me and doesn't believe in me anymore but, even though he doesn't notice and doesn't care, I will never stop chasing him." So, even though this song isn't directly about an experience I've had... writing it broke me. The lyrics are a transcript of a conversation I had with Jesus and I really hope people hear them in God's voice. I honestly feel a little anxious about it, just recalling the urgency I felt from God as he downloaded this one to me.
Jason: Yes there was something that convinced me to make it an EP. Money! haha. I honestly just didn't have the budget to make a quality full-length. I had, and still have, plenty of songs to make another record that could be a full-length, but it's just hard to do independently. I didn't feel comfortable asking for more than I did on KickStarter for fear of not hitting the goal (and good thing I didn't cuz we made this one by the skin of our teeth). Technically, 8 tracks is barely a full-length but this record is really only 7 actual tracks because one of them is a prologue and not a full song. Originally, it was only suppose to be 6 tracks but, like I mentioned earlier, "What Are We To Do" was added very last minute and I just happened to get a big cash donation from a random couple that was the exact amount the producer needed to track it. Then I tracked the Prologue with the mix guy (Andy Bowen) at his studio while he was mixing "Wrecked." So we ended up with 2 more than was initially planned. I really hope I can get the other songs (and some new ones that I've written) out before too long as well... but again... it all hinges on budget.
Jason: That's honestly all up in the air at the moment. I would love to play this stuff live if the opportunity presents itself. Realistically, though, I would only be able to leave my family again if it made sense time wise and financially. The 13 years High Flight Society rode the train was a constant hustle. We played a ton but ran ourselves into the ground and most of the time came home getting paid literally nothing (which sadly is waaay more common than you think among touring bands). We were single dudes and we had a blast, but now we're married men with families... so hustling is no longer in the cards, haha. I am planning to at least try and do a Atlanta area EP release show in early January, shortly followed by another one for friends in Nashville. Beyond that, we will see. I'm open to talking with anyone who would want to book us.
Jason: No, thank you. Jesus Freak Hideout has always supported everything I've done from High Flight, to Disciple, to WILKES and I'm very appreciative of that. I'm glad you've enjoyed the record and thank you for your insightful questions regarding it. I really hope people walk away from hearing Shells feeling inspired, encouraged, and overall just feeling good. My favorite records make me feel awesome immediately upon hitting play. They melt away my anxiety, lift my spirits when I'm down, and put an even bigger pep in my step when I'm already walking on clouds. I just want this record to make people feel good. Whatever that looks like. Feel good music is real good music and real good music is the best.
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