By: Christine Terrisse
"I just dropped my wife off this morning at the airport because we were at the White House, we were invited by the Head of Air Force Operations there and we got to eat lunch in the West Wing …that was a very surreal experience, really cool," says Tyrone Wells. He is speaking over the phone while on the East coast leg of his "Roll With It" tour.
A quick glance at his Instagram and yes, there he is at the White House, posing with the first dogs. His name is even printed on the lunch menu. It's a long way from the coffee shop gigs where he first honed his craft.
Coming of age in the early naughts in North Orange County, you might have witnessed a vibrant singer-songwriter scene bursting out of downtown Fullerton cafes like The Hub, Plush and McClain's. In the heady haze of nostalgia, those years seem magical. It was a time when live music dominated Harbor Blvd. and when one could still enter The Back Alley through, well…the back alley.
Tyrone was a big part of that scene. The 6'4", bald-before-it-was-vogue transplant from Spokane had already fronted a successful alt-rock band (Skypark) by the time he went solo; picking up Thursday nights at McClain's.
Kam McClain, the feisty longtime owner of the musician-friendly cafe, recalls Tyrone's dedication where he put "as much into every song, every Thursday, every time."
After four years of weekly gigs, (one at the now defunct Plush) his R&B-tinged voice, and increasingly well-crafted songs took hold. Guest musicians were invited to play along, and he began co-writing and collaborating. And as his career moved forward, he saw the value in tireless work.
"I think there's something to be said for just doing it. Getting out there and playing and playing and playing and playing," he says. "And I have so many artists that ask me how I got from a regional artist to a national artist, or you know how I 'made it' which is always kind of funny to me because…even if you have 'made it' then you have only made it…until the next record comes out, and then you feel like you haven't made it at all."
Roll With It is his tenth full-length album (two with Universal Republic.) Since his friendly parting with the label, he has held the #1 Singer-Songwriter Album position on iTunes three times; with his 2012 release, "Where We Meet" making the iTunes overall Top 10. To date, over 50 of his songs have been placed in TV and film.
Even with recording success, the audience connection he first forged in cafe gigs remains integral."I felt like [playing live] has been the necessary component to this industry for me, personally. There's a part of me that would love to record…and sit back and have it sell like hotcakes and not have to go anywhere. But, that's not my reality, and I do love playing live…that's something I really enjoy."
The new album is somewhat of a departure for Wells. Created alongside Nashville-based producer Dustin Burnett, it has an upbeat syncopation and layered production. Amongst track standouts are the sultry "Every Night" and lyrically poignant "In Our Blood."Of the latter, he reveals, "…at its core while not saying it…is pretty much about Jesus and maybe just this idea that God has placed this love in our heart."
Closing out his tour, Tyrone will be headlining at House of Blues, Anaheim. "I'm just humbled and honored to be able to do something I love for my livelihood," he says. "You know…bottom line is; I'm just grateful…grateful to all the people who supported me, listened to and bought my music through the years."