The rising Toronto musician on his new music release and the vulnerability of being an artist who finds love
Taking home the award for Best R&B/Soul record at last year’s Junos was Toronto’s own Daniel Caesar. The troupe has seen a whirlwind period of touring and collaborations since. I got to catch up with Wes Allen (bassist on songs “We Find Love” and “Get You”) to talk about his time touring Freudian and about his new solo EP, Funny Thing, which dropped in the summer of 2018.
I met Wes at Broadview Espresso, a café in the heart of Riverdale, an East-end neighbourhood of Toronto. He was on time, noting that the café was on the way to his studio. Despite having just put out an EP, he’s already recording more songs in order to have a catalogue worth touring. Wes is well connected in the Toronto music scene and his association with Daniel Caesar isn’t his only stake in the city.
Born to creative and academic parents, he was encouraged from a young age to express his artistic side. As budding creative Toronto youths typically do, he applied to Rosedale Heights School of the Arts, an art-focused high school in the nicer part of the city.
Forming multiple bands in his early years, sometimes with the likeminded west-end Etobicoke School of the Arts students, eventually he became serious about his musical career and started his post-secondary education at Humber College as a bass major.
There he met Chester Hansen (producer, Funny Thing) who also plays bass in BADBADNOTGOOD, a Toronto avant-garde, jazz instrumental band known for their high-profile connections with artists such as Ghostface Killah, Kaytranada and Thundercat. But in the end, it was his friend Matthew Burnett from Humber who introduced him to the Daniel Caesar project.
Knowing the right people certainly helps, but friends alone don’t make a musical career. So how did this east-end kid rise to success at such an early age? He credits primarily his upbringing: “Just being in Toronto, being able to go to shows and see amazing musicians all the time.”
I asked him about the perceived advantages that artistic Toronto youth have over suburban defectors, “I was very privileged in that way. Especially going to Rosedale too. We were studying R&B basically from grade 9. People from the suburbs with their FOMO, they end up working harder at the beginning because they didn’t have that.”
But Funny Thing falls into another genre entirely. It’s that soft, sleepy sort of music that’s well suited to rainy days indoors; but the blend is eclectic nonetheless. The drums on the album are indicative of Wes’ jazz background, but the melancholic lyricism is firmly rooted in indie-folk tradition.
Chester Hansen had a hand in the production naturally, so the whole album comes together for a solemn-pop Toronto sound, a classification proportionately due to acts like Alvvays, Charlotte Day Wilson or River Tiber.
If you give Funny Thing a listen it’ll become apparent that Wes went through a break-up before it came time to write it. It wasn’t long before he started talking about how he felt, calling himself out for his feelings about his past intimate relationships. I had one burning question: what did the EP mean for his relationship with his ex?
“They’re mostly about one person,” he said. “Actually well… two. But I would hope that it’s cool. There are more positive songs that I’ve written about [her] and she knows that. Maybe I should check.”
“Have you not checked?” I asked.
“Not maybe as in depth as I should. I haven’t felt any animosity. But then again, I don’t know. Maybe I should check…”
As with any break-up, you become more aware of the ways in which you’re interpersonally deficient. Wes came to face his shortcomings when writing the song “1 Kiss,” wherein he attempts to overcome some of them.
“One of the things is just being disingenuous; it’s the hardest thing. And there are times when I still catch myself doing that. I think we all [do] if you’re in a situation where you’re not comfortable, and you wanna be something you’re not. Or you’re not yet. To say that I’ve mastered that is a lie, obviously. Definitely being more aware of it. I think I’ve gotten better.”
On completing his first solo record, “It’s a really nice feeling to have something that I did out there in the world. In terms of my day-to-day life, it hasn’t changed that much. I haven’t really been pursuing live shows yet.”
And while the EP consists of only three songs—the entirety of his online streaming library—Wes has plans for more: “I’ve been practising a lot and recording a lot more music. It was kind of sad actually. It’s hard when you finish a creative project and you put it out. You’ve been working so hard on it and freaking out about it and suddenly it’s over. Then you have to start again.”
But it has paid off. Scouring the internet for reviews of Funny Thing, you’d be pressed to find a single one bashing it. Toronto music magazine Exclaim! was the least favourable with a solid rating of 7/10. But Wes hasn’t let it get to his head. He’s just a humble guy who appreciates the journey he’s on.
“I kind of rejected bass for a little while cause I wanted to be my own thing. But the cool part about playing bass was [meeting] so many amazing people. I’m very, very blessed with a social, musical life. As much as I’m sad sometimes, I’m so lucky in so many ways. I try not to forget it.”
Keep an eye out for future performances. It would be wise to catch Wes Allen while he’s still on the rise.