Q&A with Wise John: Wedding Crasher

Who ate all your sad day sorrows?

That is very much a real question for you, because there is a definitive answer to it. There are two types of people in this world: ones who know the answer to that, and ones who are in need of an enlightenment. You would know which side of the fence you fall on based on whether or not your audible sensibilities have been stimulated by Wise John’s recent hit single, “Mr. Love.” I say that with no grain of salt, I am indeed hitting you with the whole shaker. In view of the fact that anyone who might be subject to me making them breakfast in the morning (sorry in advance); one would know! One would know that you answer that question with “Only Mr. Love Can Do.”

A conditioning has been transpiring at my house since the single has come out. And that conditioning is that when I belt out the phrase “Who ate all your sad day sorrows?” (poorly, my voice doing it no justice of course); The call-back answer to make me go away is: “Only Mr. Love Can Do.” Usually preceded with a sigh and a “Good God, Dad…”

Go listen to the track if you need to. I’ll wait. Because after you’ve listened, it is impossible to read the lyrics at the beginning of this review and not vividly hear the line of the song in your head as you read it.

A new single has been released by Wise John, “Marry Another Man.” Released on October 28th, “Mr. Love” is also included on the current release as a B-Side. Appears to be a “waterfall” strategy (a rabbit hole you can Google at another time) carrying over the success of that first single (24k streams and counting since September) into what is eventually going to be an EP released entitled, “The Mr. Love Sunset Show!” The new single also continues to carry over a theme, not only musically but aesthetically. Very retro. Outside of a phenomenal production quality that simply just was not possible back in the day, you feel like you are transported back in time to what I want to call a “pinnacle” era of 1970’s popular music. It’s like what you’d find on one of those AM Gold compilations, which I personally have no qualms about because I love that stuff. Wise John’s music is just way, way better in my humble opinion. The latest single, upon my first impression, reminds me a lot of something like Billy Joel up until the bridge of the song where it veers sharply into a vibe I would describe as part Motown and part “Vegas-era” Elvis.

Wise John and his live band featuring Andy Shimm on Bass, Dylan DFeo on Organ (a Hammond B3…*JEALOUS*), Justin Garcia on Guitar, and the uber-talented, viral, multi-instrumentalist Elise Trouw on Drums recorded a music video for “Marry Another Man” from producer Quinn Delvin’s Brooklyn residence in his living room. Despite the simplicity of that statement, it is really quite impressive. When you’re just listening to the song, it’s so easy to get swept away by the melody and the “smoothness” of it all, but watching the live performance accompanying it enhances the overall listening experience, in my opinion. A performance that, as advertised by Wise John, is “no click required”… what a braggart. Flexing or not, it is apparent just how musically competent the arrangement and the musicians are. Each person plays their part intricately and in such good taste. This would be an amazing performance to witness live at a venue somewhere.

The song is described by Wise John as a “blue-eyed soul ballad: a relationship autopsy delivered to the one that got away.” Man, that is good. What are you trying to do, take my job? I think I want to steal that. Indeed, the lyrical context implies that of deep regret over love lost, pleading, “Don’t Marry Another Man.” Vocal inflections are delivered soulfully and masterfully. In regard to the meaning of the song, Wise John has been quoted as saying:

I started writing Marry Another Man in the early summer of 2021, after an old flame of mine told me she might get married. We’d long since been just friends, by mutual agreement, so I was surprised how taken aback I felt. Something to laugh about, really.

Wise John on the latest single, “Marry another Man”

Wait, what? I am thoroughly confused as to how such a soulful and meaningful vocal performance could be borne of just “something to laugh about, really.” All in all, I guess that is another fun thing about this artist, the songs are so well arranged, obviously crafted by serious musicianship, yet his Twitter handle is “real_fbi_agent.” The project is an endearing blend of light-heartedness and serious musicianship. However, Wise John continues:

So I took that spark, mixed together bits of my parents’ long romance, family divorces, and my own unresolved feelings toward a more recent ex, and eventually got this song.

Wise John on the latest single, “Marry Another Man”

Ah, there we go! That’s where the soulfulness came from. I was beginning to think we were witnessing someone primed to win an Oscar or something. Thankfully, I had the honor and great opportunity to chat with Wise John to clear up some more of my confusion:

AMS Radio: John, THANK YOU so much for taking a minute to chat with me. I kick these things off with what I call “the big 3.” Questions I ask every artist, that I feel are relevant to be established every time. First one, what inspires you to create music? Who would you say are your biggest influences?

Hey Ben! Thanks so much for having me 🙂

Historically, I’m not the greatest at metabolizing my own emotions—at a certain point, I suppose the need for an emotional outlet smashed into my general obsession with music, and I started writing songs. I’ve been at it for 10 years at this point, writing for the sake of continuing to breathe.

My sweet spot is music that hides its own complexity, or music that carefully uses complexity in service of conveying a precise feeling. Smart pop music, maybe. I grew up on the Beatles, Elton John, and Frank Sinatra, plus Coldplay, Radiohead, and Pink Floyd are also huge influences. There’s a bit of Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, and Phoebe Bridgers in there too, these days. Bill Evans is my piano idol. Kendrick Lamar is my favorite lyricist.

AMS Radio: That’s a mighty list. I like all those artists too. Tell me a little bit about your creative/writing process. How does the music make it from concept to final product?

Typically, I’ll have little ideas for songs or lyrics throughout the week, and I track them in voice memos and Obsidian (my notetaking app of choice). I’m obsessive about my notes. Eventually, when I’m in the mood, I’ll sit down with my keyboard or guitar and develop an idea or two, and eventually finish a song. Other times I’ll have a very particular thing I want to say, or a feeling I need to get out, and a song will come out more or less fully formed in one sitting. Marry Another Man was the former—I actually wrote the first two verses in the summer of 2021, and didn’t write the rest of it until this spring.

My songwriting is very separate from the production process, since historically I’ve always worked with a producer. I like the experience of giving up some creative control in return for being surprised by the outcome. But I’m very picky about some aspects of the way the songs turn out, particularly the keys parts and the vocal harmonies.

AMS Radio: For sure! It seems those ebbs and flows of inspiration happen similarly with a lot of artists. Interesting. I like the way you look at working with a producer, I never thought of it like that before. Tell me about the music scene where you are from. What’s popular, what do you like or dislike about it, and what interesting things are happening?

I’ve been based in NYC since 2020. It’s the only music scene I know well, although I know some lovely people in LA too, where I went to college. I love the NYC scene because live music is really truly alive here. There’s a hundred shows going on every night across the city. Despite that, individual scenes can be pretty tight-knit and you start to run into the same people again and again pretty quickly, which is great. New Yorkers generally prioritize genuineness, craftmanship, and the ability to put on a show over online clout, which suits me since I’m relatively new to having an online presence and haven’t totally found my feet in that area yet. I’m working hard on it, though!

The major downside to the NYC scene is that it’s in NYC, which is a pretty atrocious place to live, especially for a nature lover with sensory issues (me). But the people here are so great that it’s worth sticking around.

AMS Radio: I LOVE the retro sound. Are there any plans to put this out on vinyl? Because if so, you can just take my money now.

Hey, thanks so much! Actually, I’m discussing a vinyl project now with a local specialty label called Leesta Vall Sound Recordings. I’ll definitely let you know when that happens. 🙂

AMS Radio: The video for “Marry Another Man.” At the very end, what I am watching there? There’s some brief bit about “gimme a tear or three” from someone in the room, you talk some about “been holding it back” until you finally resolve to saying, “yeah alright…” then the video just cuts. What’s up with that?

Ha! Yeah, My roommate Jonathan, who filmed the session, caught a bunch of funny little moments like that. I decided to put some of them in after the music videos, to give a sense of what it was like in the studio. I’m not sure how well that intention came across, but that was what I was going for.

That moment at the end of the video was right before the take that made the recording. We’d gotten through some junk takes and had gotten the feel of the song, but I wasn’t fully committing to the performance yet and Quinn (the producer, and tenant of the apartment we were sitting in) was trying to get something more out of me. Hence “gimme a tear or three.”

It’s a bit of a challenge, when you’ve written the song and spent so much time thinking about how it ought to sound (not to mention juggled the logistics and paid to get a session together) to finally let go of control and let the other players play. You’ve got to let the sound be what it’s going to be. That clip at the end was the moment I think I trusted Quinn and the band to bring the song to life, and totally focused in on my own performance. The video cuts right before we started to play.

AMS Radio: WOW. Super interesting, glad to have that context now! Totally hear what you’re saying about finding that perfect “spot” or headspace to be focused in the right place, hence, “letting go,” so that you could knock out your part. Which came out great. I had to show great restraint in not focusing too much on “Mr. Love” because I like that song so much! What is that song about?

Hey, I’m glad you like that one. I’m quite happy with it. : )

It’s sort of a bird’s eye view of romance—the song takes us from the light of love, into the dark of loneliness, and back again, and then closes on a moment of gratitude for both the joy and the sadness that come with falling in love. Ultimately, joy and sadness are both ways of feeling alive.

“If one day love cannot be found / a silent film that once had sound / do cry to your favorite scenes / another gift Mr. Love brings”.

I like the idea that even sadness is something to be grateful for, and that through offering your whole self into love, you earn the right to your tears.

AMS Radio: Nice. That’s very profound. The live performances in the music videos for the two singles so far! Any plans in the near future to take the show to the stage, any gigs lined up?

Oh totally. I’ve been playing those songs in gigs around the city, trying to spread the word and have fun doing it. I love playing live, and I’m really looking forward to getting to a point where touring makes sense economically. Currently trying to play locally about once a month with my band. I recently sold out my first show at a favorite small venue! I’m still coming down from the excitement of that, phew. Here’s hoping there’s more of that sort of thing coming up.

AMS Radio: Congrats on the “high,” I certainly think you deserve it. I see in your bio that it says you were a former Computer Engineer, I’m a pseudo-Data Scientist in my wage slave job, high five! Is that still a formal career of yours or have you made the switch to full time artist?

High five! Artists lost in STEM careers unite!

I quit my job in January, actually, so I’ve been doing art full time for 10 months. I used to write medical device software, and before that I worked on flight computers for spacecraft. Thought that was what I wanted to do with my career, but I just ended up depressed and feeling like I was living somebody else’s life. Nowadays I’m burning through my savings to finance the music, so I’ll have to find work again if I can’t make this cover my expenses in time. That wouldn’t be the end of the world, but it’d certainly be a drag. I feel like I have so much to make, and life is so short. I don’t want to waste time. I’m really grateful to have this chance to be full time now, though, so I’m making the most of it while I can.

AMS Radio: Brother, preach. I wish you the best. Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with me!

Hey thanks so much for having me, it’s been an honor. I really appreciate your questions and your lovely writing, so I’m very happy you dig what I’ve been making enough to have a chat about it. 🙂

Follow Wise John online:

Bandcamp // Tik Tok // Instagram // Spotify

Listen to Wise John and many more independent artists on AMS Radio and AMS Playlists:

Check out our radio station’s featured Spotify playlist, “Indie Anarchy”
Check out a playlist of artists featured in our Blog Reviews
A playlist archive of DIY and independent artists
Volume 2 of the Archives series
Volume 3 of Archives
The Heavy Stuff

This coverage was created via Musosoup #sustainablecurator