When it comes to songwriting, Wesley Gonzalez has always been a rule maker. There’s always been a plan for each album, right back to when he was a teenager, through his tenure as leader of Let’s Wrestle and over two critically lauded solo albums that translated his undeniable pop smarts from the scuzz of rough lo-fi to the rich production of mid-70’s soul and funk. When it came to writing his latest record Wax Limousine, however, Gonzalez had grown tired of rules.
“This new album was a process of letting it come out naturally, there was no ‘plan’ for what this was supposed to be” Gonzalez says. “It was a brilliant experience to just write with no pretence at all and to not worry about something fitting a certain musical narrative. The lyrical themes are the connective tissue of the record which came about organically from life experience rather than something altogether more conceptual.”
That’s not to say that the songwriter has left his penchant for an earworm hook behind. He is, after all, the sort of artist who possesses the rare knack of naturally being able to bring things back to the centre no matter how far leftfield he goes, and Wax Limousine is resplendent with the sort of snappy melodies that have long been a hallmark of his writing no matter what style he pushes himself towards.
Take the two tracks you may have already heard: the title track possesses an almost Randy Newman-like quality in its piano-led soul, Gonzalez going big over an increasingly theatrical build. A Taste Of Something, meanwhile, bounces along atop joyous synths and funk-fuelled rhythm guitar as Gonzalez toes the line between croon and cry.
Elsewhere, though, Wax Limousine is a record uncoupled from Gonzalez’ previous ways of working. Many of the tracks are built up from little riffs overlapping with one another, intertwining in order to form something larger than the sum of its parts – a departure from the more chord-based structures of his previous work. It’s something he says is in-part inspired by Indonesian Gamelan music, the post-punk of his youth and Prince and you can hear that influence on the likes of layered disco-flecked pop of When I Fell For You and the swirling, day-glo textural synths of Drive You Home.
There’s always been a sense of dark humour to Gonzalez’ song writing, with serious issues often dealt with a sense of wry observation. On Wax Limousine, though, he’s arguably at his most raw yet, partly due to the freedom that the songwriting for this album gave him but also due to circumstance. The artist’s mother was battling through cancer at the same time that also saw his relationship with his partner end.
It’s these two events in his life inform most of the album, many of the songs taking on snapshots of moments that took place during this period. Grateful, for example, deals with toxic masculinity and the return of an estranged family member during Gonzalez’ mother’s illness despite shunning him for years prior. 1,2,3,4,5 Just Get Rid Of It, meanwhile takes place in the radiotherapy ward where the artist would spend long days and is perhaps the most autobiographical in terms of dealing with her diagnosis and illness – lyrics detailing the journey to the hospital and the hopelessness he felt in the situation.
Waiting For Your Letter and Penelope Ditches Ulysses are more focused on the failed relationship – which ended the day before he got the news of his mum’s cancer diagnosis. The latter’s chiming keys deal with a post breakup argument. Waiting For Your Letter, meanwhile, is the album closer, a poignant piano-led ballad scratched over with guitar but otherwise giving space to Gonzalez’ vocal.
“Over the years developing as a lyricist I’ve found that I always gravitate to honesty whatever emotion that may be portrayed within” he says. “I have always been interested in writing about the darker elements of existence within a palatable set of lyrics that have meaning but also don’t come from a place of judgement or making some big statement. With this album more than any other I couldn’t hear the more uplifting qualities to the music at the time, but reflecting back now there’s some super pop stuff on it. When I was writing it, it didn’t feel that way maybe due to being in quite a heavy mood.”
Largely put together with the help of his bandmates, Joe Chilton (bass), Jack Bleckinsop (drums) and Callum Duffy (piano/synths) between home and socially-distanced studio time – with additional mixing from Jamie Neville at Teeth Studios – Wax Limousine is in a lot ways what you might expect of a Wesley Gonzalez record: unflinching, at times acerbic but wound around irresistible pop motifs.
However, on this third studio album of his there’s the undeniable sense of an artist letting go, pushing away the barriers and pushing himself to seek out new terrains. It’s a record that showcases an artist who, despite the personal sadness he’s had to document across these tracks, perhaps feels more at peace with himself than ever before.
Wesley Gonzalez (Bandcamp): https://wesleygonzalez.bandcamp.com/