Wesley Allen Hartley is leaving.
One of his bands, Dead End Armory, was among the early group of local acts I encountered when I moved to Portland in 2008, and I was immediately drawn to his songwriting and performance, which often took on an highly caustic and unpredictable nature. I love danger in music, and you’ve never heard so much danger in a man’s voice as Wesley Hartley solo in a dark room with an acoustic guitar, or fronting a rock trio on the verge of destruction while climbing on everything in sight, or decimating the expectations a Port City Music Hall audience as his alt-country group raises the bar for everybody, or, damn, doing the honor of kicking off a friend’s going away party at SPACE. Tonight at Geno’s, celebrate all the great music this friend has brought to Portland with the Wesley Hartley Farewell Show presented by Leif Sherman Curtis, featuring performances by Aleric Nez, The Coalsack in Crux, HeeBeeGeeBees and a very special duo set by Wesley Hartley and Leslie Deane (of Dead End Armory/the Traveling Trees/There Is No Sin). 9:30pm, $5. Wish Wes luck and say “thank you” from us.
Peter McLaughlin interviewed Wesley last night over a case of Sebago Lake Trout Stout, a bag of Humpty Dumpty ‘All Dressed-Up Chips,’ and a can of Pringles (Original Flavor). Special thanks to Scott Nebel for unwillingly providing the beer, Tim Alan Walker for willingly providing the chips, and Henry Jamison for, well, being there.
HT: What is your earliest memory?
WAH: I was wearing a camouflage cowboy hat at the age of four, shooting a bow & arrow into a fucking sparrow’s eye and I felt really bad that I had killed it. It was kind of unintentional but intentional at the same time. It’s what they call bloodlust. It went through one eye and out the other. Then I went and saw how beautiful it was and yeahâ€¦ Never wanted to kill anything else again.
How about your first love?
First love was a girl named Robin. I think I was like eight or nine. However old you are in the second grade. I took her out on this boat that had a hole in it and we road through this apartment complex pond that was green because they had put this chemical in it to kill the algae. So it was just this green puke disgusting pond that bread three headed fish like you’d see on The Simpsons. People would fish in it still. I took her out on this boat and romanced her. I kissed her on the lips and that was my first kiss. I told her not to tell anyone even though I didn’t really know anyoneâ€¦ But I never told anyone till years and years later. Robin. Robin was her name.
Around the same instance, there was a really profound momentâ€¦ I was running around with this group of people. They were older kids and they had jumped this other kid for some reason. I remember he had blue like snow clone dregs around his lips. They pretty much beat him senseless and I sat there and watched it and pretty much couldn’t do anything. When he walked away crying, I went home and sat in the bath tub and cried most of the night. Then my Mom asked him what happened. I told her this kid with blue snow cone lips had been beaten up and it wasn’t right. That was kind of a beautiful moment. The first time I can remember feeling compassion for a person I didn’t know: an outcast because he had blue snow cone lips. I had been beaten up a bunch because I had big ears, but I usually did the beatings. People would pick on me and I had to retaliate. But this kid couldn’t fend for himself because he had blue snow cone lips. He couldn’t control it. Maybe he could. I don’t know.
I grew up in some pretty rough areas of Houston before I moved to Kingwood. My Mother had a baby blue Gremlin and I told people it was a race car, because no one had seen a car like that. Like it was some sort of foreign race car. But it was a Gremlin that she had got for $300, because we were in the ghetto. Although that was pretty bad even for that area. I remember she pulled up to me on the street one day in front of some friends. She ha a bunch of shit in the car and we just drove to Houston and moved into a new house. I didn’t even know what was happening.
Later we moved to Porter and my mom had horses. This one time I was trying to impress a friend and i jumped on one of them bare-back. Then my friends starting throwing rocks at it. And the horse took off. I was just holding on to the mane and the horse threw me off into a barbwire fence. I have this scarâ€¦ [lifts shirt] â€¦ I don’t know if you can see it. No, that’s fuzz. Wait, it was there. It should be right here. Ohâ€¦ no. Anyway, it was right here, all the way across.
I can kinda see it.
Man, it was so prominent.
I was in the fourth grade. Well, it was me and my friend Larry Brown. He lived in the trailer across from the sewage pipe. And we used to ride down the pipe on inner tubes. And people would yell at us, “Don’t you know our sewage runs through that?” And it used to flood all the time. My mom has pictures of it. The floods. And pictures of me pouring out cowboy boots full of sewage water.
Then we skipped school and then [removed by editor] â€¦ Larry Brown man. I would love to find him. I’ve tried to, but I don’t know whether he’s alive or dead. I hope he’s alive. He was a great one. Looked just like Townes Van Zandt. We got our first CD player together. Our first CD was P.M. Dawn. It was horrible, but it was the only CD we could get at Walmart. it was either pm dawn or something else. Later we got intoâ€¦ well, that was later. I was going to say Body Count. There was only a few CDs that we could get then.
Beside PM Dawn, what were some early musical interests?
Easy E. The album Easy Does It. UB40. And then Bruce Springsteen. I grew up on Willie, lots of country music, Hank Williams Jr– before I knew Hank Williams Sr even. “Buck Naked” and then “All My Friends Are Comin’ Over Tonight.” I love that song. Biz Markie.
He loves ketchup chips.
Huh. Well, Tone Loc. 2 Live Crew. Used to have to hide that one under my mattress. And Too$hort.
When did you start playing music?
My Dad gave me a guitar when I was in Splendora. We went to a Radioshack and my Dad got out the car and he ran around the back. I was like what the fuck is he doing. He was like “Buddy, wait here.” He came running back to the car with this guitar, which led me to believe that it had been like some kind of weird deal going down. Then he threw it in the back of the car and sped off. and I was like what’s going on here. He just said, “Yeah, I got me a new guitar. What do you want to eat?” Then we got some food at El Chocco Taco, whatever it was.
He stayed up all night playing guitar and drinking whiskey with his friend. Then he just left it sitting there. I woke up early in the morning and tried to figure it out, but I couldn’t. Then my dad showed me a G chord. Then a D chord.
And a C chord?
No. I didn’t learn a C chord til I got to Maine. But I wrote a lot of songs on G and D chords. Just G and D. Then I came to Maine and it all came together.
What brought you to Maine in the first place?
I was living in Austin, Texas working at a cancer facility. Then they merged and the job disappeared. They gave me severance pay of a few hundred dollars. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t have a job and I had bills to pay. I just had that money. I asked my Dad where could I go. He had these frequent flier miles because he travels a lot. He said, “Anywhere you want.” So I said Maine. I had always wanted to come to Maine. I had opened a Marsden Hartley book in the library. He was like the Maine artist. So I just thought I’d move to Maine. I started researching and discovered that Portland was the biggest city. So I moved there, February 2nd of ’05. I found a place on Craiglist with some people. They just wanted to meet me and they said, “Oh okay, you’re cool.” I had this half tuxedo on. It was cool. But then I started drinking heavily and painting in the basement. One guy turned out to be a jerk. I used his towel to wipe up some paint. It was just lying in the corner. And he started yelling at me. I told him I’d wash it. It was just acrylic paint. Comes right off. He grabbed my glasses and threw them on the ground and started pushing me. I pushed him back, got him up against a wall and was holding him there. Someone called the cops. I calmed myself down, went outside and waited for them. The cops showed up and said, “We heard you were beating someone up.” I told them yes even though it wasn’t like that. And they said, “Well, you just moved here from Texas, so we’re taking you in.” I spent the next three nights and jail. Finally they let me go, but I didn’t have anywhere to go.
I ended up just walking around. I couldn’t call my dad. I didn’t have a phone. I had washed it with my jacket the night before the fight. So I was walking around the Back Bay. Around and around and around all night, just to keep moving. I remember looking at the Time and Temperature building and it was 13 degrees. I didn’t know if that was 13 degrees above or below, but it was cold. I kept stopping for a second and starting to fall asleep, but I’d shake myself and keep walking around and around. I did that for another night. I tried to get a room at the YMCA, but I didn’t have any money. Then I tried to get some food at the firehouse, but they didn’t really give a shit. I finally got in touch with my Dad and he put me up at the YMCA. It was 113 a week. So I stayed there for a while and wrote a lot of poetry, which you can’t read. Please don’t read it. It’s just in those notebooks. I’m going to burn it all when I come back.
I went to Acoustic Coffee while I was staying at the YMCA. I started playing songs and the poetry that I was writing. I started meeting people. Meghan Yates was one of the first people I met. I met Leslie there. Mike. Then I got a job at Wild Oats from someone I met there. I worked there for almost a year, and that got me on my feet. It was hard. Very hard times. There’s a lot of pain in Portland, Maine for me. Walking aroundâ€¦ Just a lot of struggling. But I always pulled out of it. It’s good to have those moments. Falling down and getting back up. It’s good for the soul I think.
â€¦But there’s a lot of good people in this town. And a lot of good memories.