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Pharmacose - Interviewed

- Johnna Sisneros

Whoever said rock music is dead, hasn’t spent enough time on the genre page of Spotify. Since its genesis in the 1940s when the growly soul of the blues and the wayward pep of country music came together to create the penultimate genre of rock n roll, the paramount genre has been reinvented a million and one times. From hair metal to emo-grunge, punk to prog metal and shoegaze, rock music has given birth to a myriad of subgenres that have changed the musical game one hundred times over. With its extensive background, it can be difficult to conceptualize the possibilities of a new and innovative alternative rock n roll. While this may be the case for some, Wes Jones, the (nearly) one man band under the name “Pharmacose” has set out to bring something new to the cornucopia of rock music. With driving analog tones, wicked distortion and existential lyrics, Pharmacose is proving that rock isn’t dead, it has simply transcended to the next step in its evolution.

Tell me a little bit about how you got started in music and producing your own work?

Wes: So I have been doing music most of my life, I started out playing violin when I was a kid, played through college and orchestras and whatnot. And you know, I always kind of gravitated to rock music though, my dad was always into rock music, and so I didn't really pick up the guitar until I was 17. I ended up teaching myself how to play in college and you know, tried to play with bands here and there but just nothing ever stuck. I can tell you're a musician by all the instruments in the background. So I'm sure you know, being in a band is not always the easiest thing to do.

When I moved to Jacksonville, I had moved here from Chicago and I was in a band for a while and it… just…you know, I had to move here for a job and I actually had a kind of a mental health episode. I kind of had to put music aside when I moved down here, but because of that, it kind of made me reevaluate things. I'd always written my own music, and I dabbled in the whole production thing when I was living in Chicago, but I mean, I really didn't know what I was doing.

And so when I got down here, and after that whole episode happened, a friend of a friend introduced me to a guy named Lucio Rubino and he and I became very good friends. He and I made a record together back in like 2017. And it didn't really work out the way I had hoped. So we kind of went back to the drawing board and basically, we released another album under the Pharmacose name this time, previously known as Digital Array, but I chose Pharmacose.

And so we wrote some new stuff and I kind of went back and we revamped some of the old stuff and that was the record “Prescription Fiction" that we released last year. We had a four piece and we were getting ready to play some live shows and unfortunately COVID happened so yeah, and that really broke up the four piece. Lue and I still work together but Kevin our guitarist, and Albert, our drummer, just kind of had to move on. And so I decided around that time that you know, it was really busy and if I wanted to keep going in this then I had to really like, buckle down and learn to produce and learn to do everything. Around 2020, about the time the lock downs happened, I made that commitment to myself. And, you know, here I am. So it's been quite a process, but I think I'm starting to finally get the hang of things.

Wes Jones of Pharmacose Photo Credit: TAG Publicity

Yeah, totally. My understanding is that you’re kind of like a one man act. You do most of the writing, the vocals, the instrumentals, composition mixing and producing.

Wes: Yeah, no, I mean, I still work with Lou on some songs. So on this past part one of Ascension’s Constraint, Part I, he and I did a couple of songs together and I got the rest and so that's pretty much what we’re probably going to do moving forward just because you know, he's a full time producer and you know, I kind of have to work when I can, which ends up being at night. And so I just have to do my own thing. And if I want to keep moving forward, it's just the only way to kind of release songs on my own and work with him also.

What has been the most prominent challenge and the most prominent joy in learning to be such a self sufficient artist?

Wes: Gosh, you know, the challenge is when you first start out recording and producing and all that, this is not even talking about mixing, because I decided I was going to do that later, But you know, it just, it's, it just takes a long time to really figure out how to do it right. And you know, using the proper equipment, the proper, you know, having a proper space, having a room that sounds decent, especially if you're a singer. If you're a guitarist or bassist you know, you can just get by with a DI but if you're a singer, you kind of have to have a treated room.

And so all of these little things that you have to kind of learn and it took me a while to kind of realize that recording is like the most important part. If you don't have good tracks to work with, then your product is not going to be that great. So it just took me a while to really figure out how I was going to do everything and I finally did and then you kind of move on to editing. Then learning how to do all that and learning how to operate a doll and so it just took me a while. I recorded “Cleanse you” , the first song off that record. I think I recorded it like 20 times. I'm not even kidding. I was doing some other songs in there too, but that was the first one that I started to get going on. And you know, it's just it's just trial and error and persistence and just understanding. Last year I released some songs, the mixes, that came later. I just decided that, you know, relying on other people to mix my music if I’m going to release a song a month, then I mean it's just really difficult scheduling that. It can be done. Certainly, but you know, you add in the expense of everything and I already have everything I need here so I just needed to learn how to do it.

I started releasing this stuff last year and it didn’t sound great with the mixes but I feel like that was kind of an important thing to do. You just gotta do it. That's kind of how it all came together as far as me being you know, kind of a one man show,a mostly one man show like 80%. It’s just the situation and the desire to keep moving forward. I could have quit, but I mean, I just couldn’t do it for whatever reason.

Yeah, absolutely. I really think that that's kind of the beauty of DIY, because it's kind of like what you said, so long as you have the equipment, you have the input, you have everything you need. It really is such a level of just committing to learning the skill of mixing and producing and all of that and training that ear. I think that's something that is really wonderful about underground projects and DIY artists because there is such a soul to that, in the sense that the artist is involved with every aspect of the production of their art and you can really tell a difference in that between artists that are involved in every aspect of their art and artists who maybe aren't.

Wes: Yeah, and I forgot the second part of your question I just realized. I think that's something you learn along the way, to sort of find joy in the process and not really worry about the end product, because I feel like if you just enjoy what you're doing, once you learn that I think things kind of start to fall into place. I don't know about your experience, but that was mine last year. I just really wasn't going to worry about the back end of things. I was just going to worry about what I was doing then. Obviously you got to plan a little bit but I think finding joy in that is when things kind of start to come together and you know, there’s a long way to go but still you can see the puzzle start to fit together a little.

Yeah, well it’s almost like watching the actualization of a dream. The art starts as just a concept and then through the little baby steps toward conceptualizing that concept and then eventually manifesting and actualizing it. Could you tell me a little bit about your latest EP, release and your experience in putting that together? What would you want people to know about the EP?

Wes: Yeah, so um, I kind of started out the previous one. I was kind of talking about the mental health side of things that I went through, and I kind of felt like I got a lot of that off my chest. And so I was kind of figuring out what I wanted to talk about now. I've always loved the idea of a concept album. And so I was just trying to piece together what I could talk about and you know, I started to think about the the themes I wanted to discuss and the idea of putting a storyline behind it kind of entered my head and it might have been a little bit too ambitious at first because I did start to write part of the book. What I was doing last year was I was releasing a song and that part of the book too. And I was hoping to keep that up but it was just a lot. So I kind of had to prioritize music, and I still have the storyline. I'm still gonna write that per se, but I think what I'm going to do now is to release a scene of what would be part of the book to go along with each song because I do want each song to tell the progression of the story. The setting of the story is maybe 100 years from now, it's not quite certain. The currency collapsed and corporations kind of took over rule of law in the United States. You know, and honestly, it's probably not too far off from how things are.

Yeah, honestly, it sounds like you kind of wrote a nonfiction book.

Wes: Exactly, and you know, I also want to make a fun story line, as well as kind of, you know a thoughtful one too. I look around and that's one thing that I see, corporations become too powerful and I thought “how could I work that into a setting?” So it kind of ended up being sort of like a cyberpunk thriller type thing. I've always kind of liked, you know, Neuromancer and all those other cyberpunk books and it's not full blown, maybe like proto-cyberpunk, I guess is a way to put it, but there’s kind of an espionage aspect between corporations and this kid gets caught in the middle of it, his family does and so you know, I just I wanted to just tell this story and how kind of decisions that are made on a higher level. You know, corporations or whatever affect people there on an everyday basis and without any kind of forethought. This is where I kind of get a little weird maybe but you know, the nature of reality is something that is going to be explored a little bit. Because I, when I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do with the book, I started reading a lot about consciousness. And I was really shocked about where you know, where we're at with consciousness that it actually has quantum properties, maybe possibly. And, you know, with quantum physics, if you observe a wave, that's when it collapses into a particle but the mere act of us observing it is so I mean, just our, you know, our interacting with our own environment, you know, it I'm not saying it does, but it leaves the door open to, you know, the fact that maybe, you know, our brain is a lot more powerful than we think it is in our mind and our consciousness and, you know, maybe we just don't know how to access it anymore. We're just not quite there yet, evolutionarily. So I mean, just a lot of the stuff I was thinking about, and so I thought it'd be fun to put it all together and, and, you know, from a practical standpoint, writing lyrics is not the hardest thing in the world. For me, it's kind of figuring out what to write about. So this kind of gave me a map of stuff to write about. So as long as I'm kind of moving forward in the storyline, then I've got stuff to write about.

That sounds super sick.Those are some really interesting concepts and also it's really wonderful to see artists and creatives just in general being aware of, you know, corporatism, and the industry and you know, kind of writing a thing about it to raise awareness. I love all of that. What was your main inspiration with coming up with this concept album and this tandem book?

Wes: I just wanted to do something that I don't think people are doing. I mean, you know, how many songs are released on Spotify a day or uploaded to streaming? It's like a million per day or something crazy like that. And so, you know, if you want to get noticed, you got to kind of put the effort in to do something maybe a little bit different. And sure, you know, I could write love songs or I could write songs about other stuff, they might do better than what I could do by doing the stuff that I do now. They probably would even, but that’s not really what I'm after. I mean, I've got another career. I'm a methodologist, and so I think, going back to the DIY stuff, I mean, I used to look at Lou and kind of be envious. That's what he gets to do all day, but the more I've worked with him, I see his frustration with clients and he's a very talented instrumentalist and producer, but he doesn't always want to write his own music, but he’s been doing it all day, right. So I realize that as DIY people, we have complete freedom. We're not bound by a record company saying “No, we want you to write about this,” or any of those outside factors that would influence.

And that goes back to the whole joy thing. You get to really enjoy what you're doing and you get to really push yourself to be creative. That's how somebody who's a DIY-er can set themselves apart a little bit, and I think you almost have to right? Or else I mean, you're just another dude or dudette.

Dude, yeah like you're just another person with a guitar or something.

Wes: Yeah, and there's nothing wrong with that. I'm not trying to dissuade anybody from doing this, just the opposite. One of the reasons why I wanted to keep doing this is I wanted to push this kind of mostly DIY thing as far as I can just because I want to show that it can be done. How many great artists and musicians over the years have not been recorded just because some jerk didn't think they were good enough? I often wonder about that and I think it would be a shame to, you know, lose out on that just because somebody didn't realize that they could do it on their own.

Wes Jones of Pharmacose Photo Credit: TAG Publicity

Yeah, absolutely. I think that's a pretty salient dilemma for artists, between going in and starting your own thing or reaching out to the industry. It’ll be interesting to see how that's going to shake out over the next 20 years. I'm not super sure how it will, but it'll also be very interesting to see how the knowledge that used to be very gatekept, is now a lot more accessible to the common artist and I think that's a wonderful thing. You know?

Wes: I think you're right. I think we're kind of in a transition right now. Between the big studio versus the home studio. You mentioned the word gate-keep and I think there's still some of that you know, I try to stay off forums, but I think it's hard not when you're trying to do some research or figure out something. Unfortunately there's a lot of these older people, I think the way they talk about new people trying to get into this is really kind of rude, that's part of the gatekeeping that's still there. And I think what people need to realize is that this way of doing things is here to stay. It's not going anywhere. So I think, you know, there's so much information out there, some of it's good, some of it's not and you know, I think that as people do more DIY stuff and figure out kind of the best way to do it, hopefully we put together our own individual playbook to pass along to the next generation. That way, the people that are starting out, don't have to put up with the horseshit that we know we did.

Yeah, absolutely. It's kind of like that Brene Brown quote, where it's like, “One day you'll get through what you are going through and it will be somebody else's Survival Guide.” It kind of shoots down the whole thing of like, “well I suffered so you have to suffer too.”

Wes: yeah, you know rising tides lift all ships. This isn’t like an athletic competition. There's not just one gold medalist. You can have a playlist of how many different artists? You can listen to one person one day and one person the next day, there's ways that we can all quote unquote “win” and so I think people need to understand that they don't need to hold on to this, like it's some kind of arcane knowledge that’s only meant for a few different people.

Yeah, like this is the age of Google, anyone can just google all of the knowledge they need. It's just a level of getting with the times. I do want to ask you a little bit, I know that your mental health experiences have been a really prominent influence in your music and I was wondering if you could tell me about your creative process and inspiration for your music.

Wes: From the mental health side, the first record Lou and I did which I didn't have any really DIY songs on that one. That was pretty much done with him to kind of clarify, although I did start some stuff here at my house. Some of the songs that were on there were written years ago before I had good treatment and was diagnosed and all this. Then there were songs that I wrote after I was diagnosed, but before I had kind of gotten better. Then there were songs that I wrote after I'd gotten better. And so it's kind of like this timeline of somebody’s struggle with mental illness. So That's kind of the way I envisioned it and really it was just different things and different feelings and different struggles that I was going through. There was one song “Checked Out” where it was about when I was in the middle of all this. I was feeling a lot better, but the medication hadn't really been optimized, so I was still kind of feeling blah. So that's where “checked out” came from. I had all this stuff that I wanted to get out and I think the creative process for that was a way to figure out and pinpoint one aspect of this whole thing. That's kind of how it was with that record. To answer your question about the creative process. It's always evolving. I used to start out with maybe I hear something in my head or you know, have a guitar part that I'd come up with or something. It's kind of evolved just because I want to write a song per month and put it out. I almost kind of just pick a vibe. With this new record, I think instead of telling what's going on in the book, I'm really sort of focusing on one character and their emotions and what's going on with them in whatever part of the book we're at. Are they in a very sad state? It might be a more sad song. If they're in a defiant state, it might have more of that feeling to it. You can even change keys based off of that. So, you know, for instance, D minor is considered the saddest of the key signatures. I got a song on there called “Unworthy,” that really has the most gravity of all the songs in there, so that one was in D minor. Whereas G minor, to me, has more of this defiant sound to it. It's kind of funny how different key signatures just evoke different feelings from us for whatever reason. So that's, that's how I've been putting things together and then choosing the correct tempo. You learn a lot when you start writing songs and putting things together in a more systematic way. I mean, it is a little bit more systematic but I don't think that affects the creative aspect because that's just like picking out how big of a Canvas you want to work on or what kind of colors you want to use. You're just kind of building a framework. You're limiting yourself and saying, Okay, this is what I'm going to do and then just go from there.

You're completely right. I am unfortunately poor and I have the basic zoom plan. So we've got about seven minutes left. I think we've covered everything that I wanted to talk about, but I do have some fun questions. So for the rest of the time, do you want to do some fun overarching questions?

Wes: Yeah sure, I’ll do my best.

Awesome, so if you could play a show with any artist, dead or alive, who would it be?

Wes: Umm, the first thing that always comes to mind is Jerry Cantrel. I always loved Alice in Chains, and even his, the newer stuff he put out with Alice in Chains after Layne Staley died, it’s a few years old now but I think the guy could do anything with anyone. So it would be cool to do something with him cuz also, I mean even just the vocal harmonies. Him or Trent Reznor.

Why not both honestly. Who would you say is your most prominent inspiration/influence as far as your own musical styling?

Wes: Probably Trent Reznor, just because I like synthesizers. I know there’s a lot of electronic rock bands but I feel like these days it more gravitates more towards the indie-pop sound, which I’ve got nothing against anything anybody wants to listen to. I’ve just always really liked, i've got a couple over here, just really heavy synths which is fun. I don’t have to do it as angsty as he does but from a sound design point of view, he’s probably been the biggest influence.

That’s so interesting, synths are having a bit of a moment in the zeitgeist right now. I’m noticing it a lot in the mainstream and in DIY. I love that we’re bringing back the synth.

What is the least glamorous aspect of being a musician?

Wes: Oh gosh, maybe changing strings all the time? I guess, you know, setting up your gear cables and making sure that all your plugins are behaving and you don’t have any compatibility issues. And man, I swear I’ll come up here ready to go and then something will shit the bed and I gotta fix it and that’ll be my night, just all the stuff that happens in the background. I don’t think people realize what you have to go through to get all these different pieces to talk to talk to one another.

Yeah, it’s insane man. What is your favorite post show meal?

Wes: Gosh, a hamburger.

Like from anywhere specific?

Nah, just not a fast food hamburger. Preferably an actual hamburger.

Like a good real hamburger? That is so fair. What is your zodiac sign?

Wes: I’m a Leo

Ok we love a Leo sun. If you could have one superpower, what would it be?

Wes: Probably, teleportation. It would save a lot of time and gas and I wouldn’t have to worry about long flights and what not.

Oh my gosh yeah, that would be so nice. Final question, if you could give any piece of advice to up and coming musicians and artists, what would it be?

Wes: Just do it and never quit, just never ever ever quit. You’ll have a lot of times where you’re thinking, “What am I doing here?” “I don’t belong here.” “These other people are so much better.” What people don’t realize is there’s a lot of editing involved and sometimes it’s almost like looking at social media and seeing how much better someone else’s life is. You can’t compare what you’re doing to what you hear on Spotify. It takes time and effort and there’s a reason why you’re drawn to it. Sometimes there’s something pushing us towards these things and you gotta listen to it. If you want to get anywhere, you just absolutely cannot quit.


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