Earlier this year, The Neverlutionaries‘ mastermind Christopher Harold Wells was stowed away with his dearest friends and co-creators at San Francisco’s Hyde Street studios, working on their debut album. What would have been a celebrated day was brought down by Wells finding out that he lost a friend the day before. But after a deep breath and a whispered tribute in pitch black darkness of —“this is for you my friend,” Wells powered on to record “Stumble.”
“The day we tracked the song at Hyde Street, before the shutdown, was a cloudy overcast day. And I was melancholy because I had just lost a dear friend, to an inevitable circumstance, the day before,” Wells told American Songwriter. “But I was on a mission not to let it derail me, so I sucked it up and did what I needed to do.”
In a rather dismal state of mind, Wells invited all the pleasures of Hyde Street studios—one of which was a beautiful, vintage 1940’s Chickering piano. It seemed he was fated to play that piano on “Stumble,” the intimate and undressed song about love, longing, and chaos, premiering today on American Songwriter.
“The piano had just been freshly tuned a few days before,” Wells said. “It played so well that it practically played itself. It sounded really wonderful. As I was in the midst of doing the first take, drummer Chris McGrew, in an effort to help set the mood, accidentally turned the studio lights off instead of down and I couldn’t see a thing. We all had a big ole hearty laugh and it was just what the doctor ordered. It totally broke my sadness and set a positive light in motion. I dug in and said to myself, ‘this is for you my friend’ and laid it down.”
The moments sewn together by rivaling emotions of sadness, loss, laughter, and creativity, captured the rest of the day and ultimately all of the LP. Wells set out to create a never-ending string of moments and textures like these in regard to his musical style, which is a clever merging of rock and jazz.
“Stumble” is a decisive marker of his jazz, R&B influences with piano, sultry, floating vocals, and minimal instrumentation, built upon lyrics about a failed relationship.
“Around the time I created it, I just got out of a really bad relationship, but I missed her terribly,” Wells said. “It was one of those things where people get used to chaos yet find themselves yearning for it and even worse—getting used to it. Like a bad habit. I wondered if I could ever trust anyone like that again and this song was a testament to that.”
With “Stumble” came the equally varied previous single, “Ariana,” a Shoegaze leaning melting pot of keyboards, effects- draped guitar tones, programming, and elegant lyrics. And though the love song stance was not new, the perspective and introspective nature was.
“I was really trying to create this love-laden dream state full of bliss and trippy, swirly guitars,” he said. “Ryan Hickey’s piano accents were spot on and Jonnie Axtell’s guitar chording fit my guitar parts like a glove. Drummer Chris McGrew knocked out his part in one take, so we had an excellent foundation to build upon. The song has a oneness in the sound to me, thankfully making it a bit different. The song initially came so naturally and damn near wrote itself, so it was about finding the right mix balance of all of the guitars tracks and piano so it would have the desired effect and not be too much.”
Finding the balance in each song between the considerable instrumentation and differing styles, was almost innate to Wells who admittedly has no formula to songwriting. And fortunately, his instinctive knowledge was paralleled by producer Jaimeson Durr, who worked alongside him in what was almost a telepathic environment for “Stumble” and the rest of the LP.
“Working with Jaimeson was an amazing experience,” Wells recalled. “He has a great ear and is a mind reader. We had a Vulcan mind-meld thing happening which made the process effortless. He is an amazing human being and has become a dear friend.”
“Instead of trying to over produce, he focuses on performances and tones,” Wells continued. “And I was a bit intimidated at first because he has worked with some heavy weights, but he is just so down to earth and positive that it’s almost impossible not to get something amazing working with him. Jaimeson understood my musical vibe before we did this record, so it was such a natural process. A big part of it is that we like a lot of the same bands, so we were already speaking the same language right off the bat. Jaimeson Durr is one of the best producers in the game and I’m glad he is getting recognized for his talents.”
While pulling from every influence of his life, Wells set out to release a debut album that could be listened to all the way through, without having a concept element to it, but more a thematic vibe hidden throughout. With Durr he accomplished that in swarms.
Wells is looking to the next chapter of The Neverlutionaries, which he assures will be even more varied and pull from his ever-expanding pool of taste. And next time, drawing on the electronic influence that he has included as mere nuances so far.
“I’ve started writing the next Neverlutionaries record which will have different and varied textures than this record,” he said. “I’ve always been an electronic music fan, so some of that will eventually find its way onto things.”
Check out the premiere of “Stumble” here on American Songwriter today and check out The Neverlutionaries self-titled debut here on Polychromatic Records, February 12.