The band is Thomas Wesley Stern, hailing from Jackson, New Jersey, and their sound is a polished nugget of folk, blues and roots, gently simmered in a cleverly classic Americana style. They are a road trip of nostalgia, a trip which is not to be missed. In a day when auto tune reigns king and pop remains supreme, Thomas Wesley Stern delivers an unflinching blend of understated dynamism, direction and destiny; and has cemented it with a single incredible sound; the sound is one of true collaboration; a collaboration of longtime friends, Gary Mayer, Joseph Makoviecki, Robert Jackson, and James Black. Combined with their eclectic array of instruments, indie ideals, homegrown values and lyrical wit, they create magic.
“We play homemade songs with mostly acoustic instruments,” they explain. “Our lyrics are taken from every day conversations, inner thoughts, and sometimes just out of our imaginations. Since we use banjo and stand-up bass we’re folksy sounding, but we also use electric guitar and electric bass equally as often.”
Two years ago, as their individual bands and projects disintegrated, they began playing together. Their beginnings were humble, modest and raw. Makoviecki was going to college in New York City at the time, and the friends would gather each week to ‘busk’ in the famed Union and Washington Squares. Soon, they were playing art gallery openings and other bigger events. Busking, (performing on street corners for money), is an open door to a world stage. Nowhere else can the question of ‘who listens to this type of music’, be better answered, than on a street corner, playing for all who pass by. And as it turns out, everyone seemed to love them. Their unvarnished candor and stripped down presence, merely added to their appeal.
“We have been humbled and surprised to find that besides our peers (twenty-something’s and teens) small children and adults like our music as well,” they say.
As is true of all indie artists, challenges and benefits, come in various shapes and forms. “You can do whatever you want as far as booking shows and playing what you want to play live,” they say, “but the disadvantage is obviously how many people you reach on a large scale. For us, we want to meet everyone and play for people in person, so we don’t mind spreading it slowly.”
And sometimes, you just get lucky. One such stroke of ‘luck’ came, through an organization called The Project Matters.
The Project Matters is a grassroots charity organization founded in honor of Benjamin High, a young New Jersey musician, whose belief in music and those who make it, would last well into the future. Creating his first band at the age of five, digging the sounds of My Bloody Valentine by the third grade, Ben was a prodigy of sorts. Unfortunately, he became ill, and passed away at the age of 19. In his short life, he greatly impacted those around him, and The Project Matters was created to honor his memory and his passion; a living legacy for future generations.
Today, from strings to straps, traveling to touring, and everything in between, The Project Matters, helps local New Jersey artists kick start or continue to develop their musical careers.
“Joe knew Ben High growing up,” they explain. “They played music together and even made a few recordings. Years later, Karen High came to us with this idea of helping us for a year. We couldn’t have needed help more.”
Their first EP, Hope Folk, is a six track record full of invention and wonder; meshing familiarity with originality; forcing me to draw comparisons between CAKE, at times, Edward Sharpe at other junctures, and finally settling on the notion, that it is reminiscent, but it is not a copy.
“We never really chose what type of music to play,” says Robert. “Gary was given his banjo when a friend left for the marines; and the mandolin, standup bass, and other instruments we use just sort of fell into our lap, so we began playing our songs with them.”
In May of this year—(2012), we find the band, creating another of their own original musical experiences in their first full length album, American Pain; a lush and pleasantly fulfilling thirteen track adventure, which takes the best of Hope Folk, and moves it forward. American Pain remains oddly distinct and fresh throughout the entire 50+ minutes, leaving you wanting just ‘one more’ moment, like a summer evening drive along the ocean, as the sun drops behind the horizon.
They explain that “lyrically, we sing what we sing because we want people to interact with and be a part of the music we play. We hope to connect with people who are like-minded and entertain them, to make tough day’s easier and joyous times memorable.”
The Project Matters is a donation based charity; which simply means they need us. As we always like to mention, indie artists don’t do it alone, they do it without a major label. That being said, on Saturday, November 10th, Thomas Wesley Stern will be joining a host of other talented musicians, including St. Louis Songstress, Angel Olsen, (fresh off an 8.0 Pitchfork review), for a TPM benefit show to be held at Maxwell’s in Hoboken. Tickets are only $10.00, and it is sure to be a memorable, intimate night, awash in hipness.
As for Thomas Wesley Stern, they are a work in progress. They’ll keep making music. They’ll keep creating. And although you probably won’t hear their songs at the local disco, you’ll hear them when you want to forget about whatever worries you have and get lost in the simple joys of life. I like to imagine these guys when they’re 50, their music and lyrics informed by experience and life. It brings a smile to my face and gives me chills in all the right places.
Join Thomas Wesley Stern on Facebook by clicking HERE.
To learn more about The Project Matters, click HERE.
Editor’s Side Note: Huge shout-out to Bryan Bull of Bullhorn Publicity! He turned me onto these guys, set me up with their music and the interview–and they aren’t even his clients! Now that’s indie love!
About Heather Jacks
Vixen of Vocabulary who likes to wax poetic about the world of street art, music,busking and all things indie. She has earned two college degrees, traveled extensively and written three books. She is currently finishing the multi-media project, The Noise Beneath the Apple Art-Style Book, to be released in NYC, Spring 2013.