Wesley Stace Is No Simple Man

Wesley Stace is a complicated man. Under 
his John Wesley Harding nom de guerre, he’s released nearly 20 incisive folk-pop albums. Under his real name, the 48-year-old Brit has written four award-winning novels. He’s taught songwriting courses with poet Paul Muldoon at Princeton. Convened Bruce Springsteen-oriented literary festivals at Fairleigh Dickinson University. Organized highbrow “Cabinet of Wonders” variety shows in New York City — even snookered NPR into syndicating them. Central Connecticut State University perfectly encapsulated Stace’s kaleidoscopic career with a spring 2013 class, “The Allusive John Wesley Harding/Wesley Stace.”

Those intriguing stats make Stace’s decision to release a 2013 album “Self-Titled” under his given name feel so revelatory — so surprisingly honest for a man usually seen smirking through literary smoke and mirrors. As he told Folio Weekly in a recent phone interview from his home in Philadelphia, “I just got bored with having two identities.” We totally understand.

Folio Weekly: As an Englishman who’s lived in the Northeast U.S. for decades, do you have much experience touring in Florida?

Wesley Stace: I used to come quite a lot at 
the beginning of my career. I had a friend 
who owned a record store in Tampa, and I remember playing in Miami with the Barenaked Ladies in 1993 or 1994 and winning some award for best gig of the year. Now, Florida is just not on my circuit. But I know Steve [Kistulentz], who runs the writer’s program at the University of Tampa, so Joe Pernice and I decided to make a trip of it.

F.W.: You’ll be co-headlining with Joe here. Do you have experience collaborating with him?

W.S.: I do. Although he’s a relatively recent friend from the last four or five years, we have a very nice rapport, so rather than doing two sets, we’ll sit onstage together telling stories and playing songs. We’ve both written novels and music, so it should be a nice, relaxed experience.

F.W.: How about the “Cabinet of Wonders,” which you’ve been organizing since 2009?

W.S.: That brings the music, which is social and public, and the writing, which is basically private, together in an environment that makes both of them better, with comedy right in the middle of it. I also teach at university, which I really like. But for me, it’s all part of the same project — all part of a day’s work, if you will. I’m busy all the time, which I like, so it doesn’t matter if I’m coming to Florida to read from a new novel — I have one coming out in March — or sing songs from an album, or put on a “Cabinet of Wonders.” It’s all just me living as pleasant a life as I can, doing the artistic things I like to do to express myself.

F.W.: Tell us about your new novel.

W.S.: It comes out in March, is called “Wonderkid” and is the first novel I’ve set in the present day. When I wrote my last novel about classical composers, I kept remembering things that had happened to me and writing them down, and by the end of it, I thought, “I should write a novel about rock music.” But the slant was that, since I have kids and listen to a lot of rock music made for kids, I thought, “What if I’d done that 25 years ago? Made completely normal New Wave music — just rebranded for kids between four and eight years old?” So it’s really about rolling with the punches in an artistic career. Artistic compromise. Making great music. Fathers and sons. All the things that my novels are normally about — just set in the weird world of gigs for toddlers.

F.W.: Is it hard for you to delineate between writing in the mindset of character versus writing autobiographically, which you’ve obviously embraced?

W.S.: Well, that’s not quite right — I’ve never really written from a character’s point of view. I always wrote what I call “idea songs,” where I take something I consider worthy, and bash that idea around. It just so happens that when I was considering the name change [back to Wesley Stace] — or perhaps it was why I considered it — I was writing a lot of very autobiographical songs to cheer myself up, which I had never done before so simply and so straightforwardly. That’s a whole new thing for me. Very different from my other material. It seemed ridiculous to put it out under John Wesley Harding and not Wesley Stace. I just got bored with having two identities.