On a damp, balmy New Orleans afternoon, after a pouring rainstorm – a trademark of the city – I walk into the Maple Leaf Bar to meet a charming young man named Wesley Nance, an aspiring singer with an incredible amount of promise. I find him sipping a cup of red wine through a straw, which makes sense to me; nobody wants dark red or purple lips. He greets me with a warm hug and we proceed to the courtyard to discuss his singing and his life in general.
M: When did you first take a serious interest in singing?
W: I’ve always been very interested in singing since I was a little kid but I was actually forced into doing choir my senior year in high school and I didn’t know I could sing but they had heard me sing and they were like wtf where have you been we could have used you like 3 years ago. That’s when I was 18.
M: Awesome, sounds like a happy accident then.
W: Oh yeah definitely, definitely a good thing.
M: Totally, sometimes the coolest things take us by surprise.
W: Right! Exactly.
M: So how was high school for you, were you involved in any other extracurriculars?
W: High school for me was kind of rough because of my home life, so I made sure to be involved in everything. I was in theater, choir, marching band, concert band, track and field, cross country, swing dancing club… Um, I think that’s everything.
M: (Laughs) That is very impressive. Who first really encouraged and believed in your vocal talent and when?
W: I think the first person who really told me I could sing was the first person I fell in love with. She was very supportive of my singing.
M: Well that’s good, sounds like even if it didn’t last, it had a good outcome in the end right? Were there any interests you considered before singing?
W: I’ve always really liked English, but I didn’t really know what I wanted to do after high school, I just knew I liked English and reading. I thought about maybe being a writer but I kept changing my major over and over again. I swapped majors like 6 times, so I really didn’t know what to do.
M: Oh I know that feeling definitely. Who would you say are some of your greatest musical inspirations?
W: Growing up I was really into Michael Jackson. I was always like amazed at how well he could sing, and his range was so high and he could dance. I liked Tupac a lot too. I didn’t want to be a rapper but he was very inspirational.
M: Cool, that’s a very interesting combination (laughs) but it makes sense to me. In the videos you have on Facebook, I would say you display a very je ne sais quoi charisma. Who would you say are some of the biggest influences on your style?
W: Definitely Frank Ocean. He was different. He was the first bisexual, black person in the rap R&B area to come out and be like hey I’m not completely straight. So, Frank Ocean, Daniel Caesar, Amy Winehouse.
M: Oh yes.
W: Amy Winehouse is amazing. Anything like Jazz Soul kinda like gets my attention right away.
M: That’s awesome! I concur those are great inspirations. So if you had a time machine and you could go back in time and play a set with a late great musician who would it be?
W: Hmm, that’s a hard one, I’m gonna say… Sam Cooke or Otis Redding.
M: Good choices definitely. How would you describe your average day?
W: Um, pretty repetitive. I get up, I drink a bunch of water, drink coffee, go to the gym or I do yoga, I come home and cook something to eat, I read a lot, I do a lot of reading. I’m reading like 10 books right now, I can’t focus on one so I’ll always have a few that I’m in the middle of. I may go out to like a coffee shop and like try to write something. Really the beginning of my day is very set but the rest is like eh, let’s see what it feels like today.
M: Well that sounds a lot more productive than most people.
W: I wish it was.
M: What sort of stuff do you read?
W: I’m really big into consciousness and the nature of reality. I was raised Baptist but then I turned atheist and now I’m kinda spiritual. So, I read a lot about spirituality and different religions. I like putting the pieces together to form my own take on things.
M: I can definitely appreciate that. How would you like your music to influence others?
W: I want to make something that people can feel and I want to make something that really impacts people. I want it to help people that maybe aren’t feeling very good about themselves, cause when I was younger I was in a bad spot for a large portion of my younger days and music got me through a lot of it. If it wasn’t for music, I’m not sure I’d be here. So I want to be able to give that back to the world.
M: I hear that. What are some of your favorite things about living in New Orleans?
W: Definitely the culture. There’s always something to do, like a new restaurant or an art show. If you get bored in New Orleans, it’s your fault.
M: Absolutely I agree. (laughs) Is there a particular shout out or statement you’d like to make to the people of New Orleans?
W: Um, I’d say just keep being cool. I really wish there wasn’t so much violence. If we could like cut down on all the shootings that would be great, fingers crossed. I also want to give a shout out to my mom, I love you to death, you’re the strongest person I’ve ever known in my life.
M: Awesome, thank you so much
After our conversation, Wesley and my boyfriend Ryan choose a spot in The Maple Leaf’s not yet inhabited back bar area to shoot some video of Wesley’s profoundly excellent singing, capturing not only his beautiful voice but also his charisma. He sings his songs with his shoes off, reminiscent of the iconic Nina Simone (another of Wesley’s favorite singers and major inspirations) who opted to perform barefoot for much of her career.
Wesley and I discuss in further detail the extremely difficult home life which, while challenging, has pushed him further into his music as well as athletics. He describes in vivid detail a virtually unthinkable personal, life-altering tragedy which occurred in his youth. He tells me that this is another thing, the thought of which in singing, he also finds peace and refuge.
After our time together we say our goodbyes to Wesley, all in agreement we should get together socially in the future. After all, to know this amazing gentleman is truly a delight and a privilege!