His fear of performing the national anthem is the last standing relic of the person Tyrone Wells used to be.
He won’t sing it. And he’s been asked to plenty of times — by the L.A. Dodgers, by the New York Knicks. The thing is, Wells is sure he could get up in front of any crowd of eager sports fans and hit every note of the song perfectly. But the thought of standing up there and doing it makes his hands clammy — like he’s a kid in the seventh grade choir again. All eyes on him … the thought makes his stomach turn.
“I think that it’s a capella usually,” he says. “I’m sure I could do a fine job. But for some reason walking out in the middle of a field with no instrument and just singing … ” He pauses. “There’s a lot of artists who won’t do that.
“I’m probably going to have to conquer that [fear] at some point,” he says.
Wells, a Spokane-bred singer-songwriter who now performs his original music in front of crowds all over the United States, has built a career on the back of his former fears. It’s been about letting go — about changing all the ideas he once had of who he should be. And, more than anything, it is about simply submitting himself to what feels right.
Back in the late ’80s and early ’90s — before he left Spokane for college and never moved back — Wells was sure he’d follow in his father’s footsteps and become a preacher or a youth pastor.
But while attending college at Hope International University, all of that changed. He’d long toyed around with singing and playing guitar, but it wasn’t until then he fully realized his passion for making music.
“It was in my college years that I became more sure of the fact that I wanted to make music as a career,” he says. “I don’t remember a particular day that I woke up and everything changed. But I can say that as I have continued to make music, I feel like I’m at the center of where I’m supposed to be — without seeming too New Age-y.”
For years, Wells fronted a Christian alternative rock band called Skypark. Though he’s a spiritual person, Wells said the “Christian rock” label was always something he and his band had a problem with.
“I was never comfortable with that aspect of marketing faith,” he says. “We struggled with our identity as musicians. We felt like that
was a sub-market for people who had a similar worldview.
“We didn’t even want to be a Christian band, not because we wanted to part ways with Christianity, but because it was a classifier. There’s rock and folk and then there’s Christian music. That’s weird.”
After years with that band, Wells decided to break out on his own. Ultimately, he didn’t feel like his voice was a good fit for the band’s plugged-in sound.
“I started playing a weekly show with my acoustic guitar and my voice at a coffee shop. I was there almost three years, selling CDs out of the trunk of my car,” he says. “That’s really where I cut my teeth. … It was like school.”
But what he learned during those few years took him far. As a solo performer, Wells landed a record deal with Universal. He’d go on to perform in front of huge crowds around the country and see his songs dot the soundtracks of Grey’s Anatomy, One Tree Hill, Cold Case and a handful of other TV shows.
Now an independent artist (he parted ways with Universal amicably after two albums), Wells released his latest record in March. Metal & Wood celebrates his new-found realization that to truly make the music he loves — songs wrung from his soul — he can only depend on himself.
“I’m able to do my own thing and write the songs I want to write and not answer to any dude in a suit who thinks it should sound more like Lady Gaga,” he says. “I’m not in this business to sell a million records. I’m in it to write music from my heart and my soul, and do it with integrity.”
Wells has built a career on who he is, on what feels right to him. Being anyone but that, he says, would undermine all of the work and time he’s put in, and the obstacles he’s overcome.
And right now, performing the national anthem would just be singing somebody else’s song.
Tyrone Wells plays with Andrew Belle and Crown Point • Sat, Nov. 6, at 8 pm • Knitting Factory • $13-$16 • All-ages • http://www.ticketfly.com • 244-3279