The Wishing Wells
Still searching for that one hit song, Tyrone Wells and his catchy music drop in for a one-night performance Saturday
When you’re the sky-scraping height of 6-foot-4 and sport the Matt Scannell shorn-head look (minus the trig goatee) that makes it easy for others to spot your powder-white dome, you tend to stand out in crowds.
But more so than any of his physical attributes, singer-songwriter Tyrone Wells’ conspicuousness is owed to his uncanny ability to compose really catchy music. How catchy? Since embarking on a solo artist journey a decade ago, his songs have been featured in dozens of films and television shows, most notably The Odd Life of Timothy Green, American Idol, Scrubs, Grey’s Anatomy and Rescue Me. Additionally, his seven solo albums, including 2012 release Where We Meet, have consistently topped the iTunes Singer Songwriter rankings, and his video for Beautiful Girl, Beautiful World already has attracted more than 800,000 views since it went viral earlier this year.
All of this has been enough for Wells to carve out quite a life in the folk-pop music realm — even though he, like many other artists, continues to search for that elusive career-defining song. It remains his one wish as a professional musician.
“I’m doing a lot better than many of my friends, who I think are so amazing, but who can’t seem to make a career in music,” explains the hard-working Wells, who tours the country at least once a year to appease his ever-growing fan base with song favorites such as Freedom, Sea Breeze and Running Around in My Dreams, and whose latest cross-country trip leads directly to the Islands for an hour-long acoustic set Saturday evening at the Honolulu Museum of Art Doris Duke Theatre. (See Small-Kine Notes for additional concert information.)
“I’ve at least been fortunate to have a career and be able to provide for my family. But even though I understand the cost of success and the increasing demands that would come with it, yes, there’s still a part of me that hopes to land that one song that kind of changes everything for my family,” he tells me.
That part of Wells — the belief that his music was meant for heavy rotation on airwaves — has always been there. It was the reason he took a chance a decade ago to enter a National Association for Campus Activities talent showcase, and as a result won a 100-date tour of college campuses across the country. You can’t buy better exposure than having your songs presented in front of music-starved college students.
“Few people outside of southern California coffee shops knew anything about my music at the time, so for me to be able to engage new audiences around the country served me well by helping me to plant seeds,” says the son of a preacher man, who grew up in Spokane, Wash., listening to Christian and gospel music, but who didn’t discover eventual songwriting influences Simon & Garfunkel, Stevie Wonder and James Taylor until he began matriculating at Hope International University in Fullerton, Calif., in the 1990s. “Even today, I still meet people who first saw me as college students when I performed inside their auditorium or inside their cafeteria.”
Here’s what else Wells told Musical Notes:
MN: Your songs always seem to be on the cusp of something big, but for one reason or another, they haven’t been able to break through in a mass appeal sort of way. Why do you think this is?
TW: To me, it’s just that the market is so saturated. There’s so much music out there, a lot of which is really good. But there’s also a lot of bad music out there that gets promoted really heavily.
MN: After signing with Universal Records in 2006 and completing two major releases, you decided to go the independent artist route. In hindsight, do you believe that was the right decision?
TW: Definitely. When you’re on a major label, it certainly helps your profile because you have access to a lot of marketing money, radio promotions and what not. But on the other side, you’re not really making much money because the money you generate is always being routed back into marketing and promotions. I found that once I parted ways with the label, I suddenly was doing much better business wise.
MN: What’s next for you?
TW: Well, my wife is expecting Numero Dos and, as a result, there’s going to be one more mouth to feed in our home! Professionally speaking, though, I’m hoping to release another four albums in the next five years.
MN: And land that one hit that sets you up for the rest of your life?
TW: There you go. That’s what I’m talking about.
SMALL-KINE NOTES: Opening for Tyrone Wells Saturday evening will be his Hawaii-born wife Elina (Erin Chang) and her brother, Kevin Chang, frontman for Hawaiian group Kupa’aina. The concert begins at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $25 for general admission ($20 for museum members) and $45 for VIP reserved seating ($40 for museum members) … Saturday’s concert is part of a summer concert series put on by Honolulu Museum of Art.
Scheduled to perform in August are Saloon Pilots Aug. 20; Island Breeze featuring Jeff Peterson, Riley Lee and Kenny Endo Aug. 22; and Tuck & Patti with special guest Stephen Inglis Aug. 31. All shows begin at 7:30 p.m. For more information, call 532-8700 or visit honolulumuseum.org.