Pop-folk singer-songwriter Tyrone Wells performs at the Doris Duke Theatre Saturday, August 9. He talks about his inspiration, his many television placements, songwriting, and his favorite piece of art.
A whole crop of singer-songwriters have made their name by having their songs featured on TV show and film soundtracks, and Tyrone Wells is one of them, with more than 50 placements in such productions as Grey’s Anatomy, Vampire Diaries, and One Tree Hill. Since 2000, he’s recorded 11 albums, two of which reached #1 on the iTunes Singer Songwriter album charts.
Based in Southern California, Wells is a passionate singer and songwriter—but thanks to YouTube he may be best known as a father and husband. Earlier this year, a video of Wells singing to his daughter went viral with more than 800,000 views to date. His wife Elina, a musician in her own right, is the sister of Kupa ‘Aina frontman Kevin Chang, so his Honolulu show will be a family affair, with relatives and friends joining him on stage. Wells was kind enough to answer a few questions by e-mail ahead of his concert.
We understand that you have four older sisters. How did your experience growing up with them help you to develop musically?
Growing up, there was always a lot of music going on around the Wells household. My Dad played the accordion, my Mom and several of my sister played the piano, and everyone sang. My sisters also began writing songs when I was still in grade school. So I was exposed to music regularly. If not for my sisters and their love for music, I don’t know that I would be doing what I do today.
Outside of the family, what were some of your biggest musical inspirations growing up?
I grew up as the son of a preacher man, so I was mostly exposed to gospel music, which I still love to this day. I remember hearing Stevie Wonder as a young boy and loving his music immediately. In my high school and college years I felt like I had some research to do to listen to all the great music that I didn’t hear growing up. Some of my favorites are from those years I missed. I love Simon and Garfunkel, James Taylor, U2, and many many others. I’m just a fan of a good melody and lyrics, genres don’t matter to me as much as that.
Your songs are often placed on popular TV shows like Scrubs, American Idol, and Grey’s Anatomy. How did you become TV Land’s go-to song guy?
Part of it is that I’ve been fortunate to have a good relationship with my publisher, Position Music. Position Music does a great job of getting my music heard by music supervisors that choose the songs for various TV and Film programming. Other than that, I think the songs do the rest of the work. I’m always doing my best to make the music connect emotionally to whoever is listening…so I think that helps. Supervisors are always looking to communicate emotion with the music that is being paired with the visual.
Are you working on any new songs?
Yes. I’m currently writing for my next record, which is due out in the Spring of 2015. So far I’ve written about 30 songs to be considered for the new album. My favorite part of my career is when I get to take time off of touring and recording and just write songs. I absolutely love writing.
What is your favorite work of art?
Musically, my favorite piece of art would probably have to be the recordings that Patty Griffin did for her debut solo record, Living with Ghosts. She recorded the record in her house and although the label sent her to a couple of big studios with big producers to record the songs over again, they kept circling back to the demos that she had made in her house. Eventually, after what they deemed were failed attempts at the studios, they decided to release her self-recorded demos instead. I’m so glad they did. It is a sparse and beautiful masterpiece of songwriting and performance. I absolutely love it in it’s simplicity.
The painter that most moves me is probably Oswaldo Guayasamin. I came across his work when playing some shows in Quito, Ecuador. His “El Guitarrista” is probably my favorite. It is a naked man playing his guitar. The painting is done in mostly red, gray, brown, and black. The guitarist looks like he is baring his soul and body to the heavens. If I am honest, I probably like it because that is how I like to see myself when it comes to my music, naked and baring my soul.
Want to see Tyrone on stage? Tickets for his performance this Saturday are available online.