Growing up a skinny preacher’s kid in Spokane, Washington, Tyrone Wells was discouraged from listening to pop music and only exposed to gospel. Little did he know a decade later, the roots of soul would become a key element of his passionate, irresistible and utterly unique songs. Combining pop, soul, and rock, Tyrone sings about true love, war and heartbreak with equal power and sincerity, coming across as a voice for a generation that’s both idealistic and confused.
In his five years on the music scene as a singer-songwriter, he has evolved in an honest and organic manner, first scrambling for gigs and selling albums from the trunk of his car to eventually packing out The House of Blues and having his songs featured prominently on television programs. Wells’ major label debut Hold On is a fresh release filled with new promises. The first single from the record “What Are We Fighting For?” exemplifies his ability to mingle different styles into a seamless composition. A pulsing rocker fueled by a love for R&B, the song blends organic acoustic guitar, choir vocals and chiming organ into a complete array of sound. Lyrically, “What Are We Fighting For?” is just as multifaceted, addressing subjects like the difficulty of relationship, racial reconciliation and the futility of war.
“I was watching the news, and was just overwhelmed with all the death,” explains Wells. “And as I wrote the song, it started to take on its own life. I was thinking about people, communication and loving each other and then the rest of it just came out. I think it raises some important questions and I think there’s not enough of that going on.”
While “What Are We Fighting For?” raises poignant questions, it isn’t at all pessimistic, drawing inspiration in the bridge from Martin Luther King Jr’s “I Have a Dream” speech to convey a message of hope and love: “I have a dream/One day we’ll see/All men be free/I still believe.”
Other songs on the album are equally powerful, but in different ways. “Dream Like New York,” for example, is a sun-drenched ballad full of pop splendor and romantic yearning, combining conventional pop instrumentation with strings and piano. Featuring timeless lines like “Dream like New York, as high as the skyline/Aim for the stars, above those city lights,” the track has already been embraced for its regional significance and played during New York Mets games in Shea Stadium. In addition, it was featured in “Everyone’s Hero” (an animated film about legendary New York Yankee, Babe Ruth) and the trailers of the “50 Greatest Moments at Madison Square Garden” documentary.
Born the youngest of five children – and the only son – Tyrone grew up performing in the shadows of sisters who were accomplished. Belying his present on-stage ease, he recalls that paralyzing stage fright almost kept him out of the spotlight. “I knew I had a lot of fear in my eyes. I just kept getting up, embarrassing myself and doing it again, then one day it all came together.”
While Wells wrote songs as early as junior high and high school, he didn’t take the craft seriously until he attended college in Southern California. As an emerging singer/songwriter Tyrone needed a stage. He explains, “I went down to the local coffeehouse – McClain’s – and I asked the owner, ‘Would you give me a test run and let me play every Thursday for a month?’” The one-month gig turned into a three-year run. “Getting up in front of a crowd, winning the audience, trying new songs, that, more than anything in my career, has been the best thing I did.” On-stage, Tyrone began introducing other components – even yodeling -- into his show. “Beyond being a singer/songwriter,” he avows. “I want to be a storyteller. When I feel like I’ve communicated something important to someone in the audience, that’s when I feel the magic.”
By the time he stopped playing McClain’s, the room was maxed out every week and crowds were spilling out of the doors of the venue and listening from outside. “I was like, ‘Wow, this is really working,’” Wells says. “The fact that it sustained itself and grew, and I had to go to a bigger room was great. I was selling a lot of records independently by doing things in a really grass roots fashion. I could see the growth and that was really exciting to me.”
Wells recorded his first studio album Snapshot, and then followed with Close: Live at McClain’s in 2005. He started working on Hold On in late 2005, and culled the songs from material he had written over the prior two years. Unlike his earlier records, which were primarily acoustic, Hold On is a full band album. Produced by Chris Karn, the record proves that Wells is just as capable of turning up the amps and rocking out as he is of soothing audiences with bittersweet lullabies.
“I was in such a great space when I wrote the record,” Wells says. “I was just going for it, and trying to write the best songs I could and I got totally lost in the process. I had just met my wife, I was making a living doing music and there was nobody telling me what to do.”
By early 2006, Wells was regularly selling out Los Angeles clubs like the House of Blues, The Viper Room, Troubadour and The El Rey Theatre and people in the music business were taking notice. Now signed to Universal Republic Records, Tyrone is touring full-time and his infectious, soulful voice and undeniable songs are being introduced to people all over the country. Wells said, "Whether I'm in a coffee-shop down the street or on a national tour, I'm grateful to be doing what I love."