Wesley Cook is a busy, busy bee.
It seems impossible to live within five hours of Atlanta and not have seen or heard of him over the last year. Following his travels on Facebook and Twitter, it seems that he's constantly playing some local festival, or fundraising event, or last-minute show at a local bar, or somebody's Aunt Janey's backyard birthday party—basically anywhere that he can be heard.
He is always on the go, and that's exactly how he likes it. He jokes that there's an intense pace about his nonsense but says, "I don't like staying put because I have a lot to say."
And now Cook is asking his fans to help him get his word out—in the form of a new record. He launched a KickStarter campaign on September 24th to raise funds for a third album. His goal is to raise $11,000 in 21 days.
Cook's first record, We've Been Here Before (2005) was simply Wesley and a guitar, imagining scenarios and writing stories about how he thought things might be. 2010's New Ground featured a matured Wes talking about love and sex and lovely heartache of all kinds, with his sense of prevailing positivity backed by a full band.
"Some of the heavier stuff that I've written really jars a lot of people," he says. "I have a very consistent light, positivity thing. You know, it's like, that's the whole point. Even if it's through dark things and it's not extremely obvious, I'm saying, 'Hey, it's up to you, man. Get your act together. It's really up to you.' Stuff happens. Real bad stuff happens, and I'm not saying be immune to it. We're all human. But it really is up to you. You can let it tell you what to do, or you can be strong and work through it and work it out."
Cook knows a little bit about ups and down. In the last year, he's gone from the personal high of appearing in Rolling Stone as a finalist in the Rolling Stone Street-to-Stage competition, to what he calls the hardest tragedy of his entire life—the suicide of his brother Doug earlier this year. All of this fresh life experience has led the 31-year-old musician to write a personally cathartic record.
"This is the most honest I've ever been. So far it's been theoretical. I'd pick a really shitty, eloquent situation and be like, 'It's up to you.' But now, I've just lived a lot of some of the shittiest stuff that I've ever experienced, so this is the most personal it's ever been. It's not theoretical anymore, 'cause I'm writing about my situation."`
But Cook isn't losing sight of the positivity that is so pervasive in his music. With titles like "Give Me Something to Believe In" and "Lucky" and "It's You", it's hard not to see exactly where he's going with his simple honesty. He says that even the most personally jarring and cathartic songs that he's written for the new record have the same positive message.
Cook plans for the third record to be "a good marrying" of his solo acoustic work from We've Been Here Before with the full sound of the band and the positivity featured on New Ground. Based on his own musical influences, he wants to hire a producer who will be able to extract something Wesley wouldn't think of himself, to help make it better.
"That's one of the reasons why I'm shooting for a much bigger budget than I'm accustomed to," he explains. "I want to work with production, with somebody whose job it is to elicit the best music out of me. I've produced and arranged everything to date. I will still be the guy calling the shots... but I wanna have somebody who historically can deal with artists like me, based on my sound or whatever."
Regardless of the business side of recording, he stresses that he's predominantly an artist. He wants to make sure that he's still making good music and producing a good product.
"I'll know, yes or no, that is or that is not what I'm going for. And it's ultimately my call. At the end of the day, I gotta have control over my kid. I just wanna have help with what school I put him in. I can't hear everything; I can't think of everything. It's not about Wesley Cook being right. It's about my kids being the best they can be."
The record is 80% written. He's been playing out some of the new songs for a while, but some were written as recently as a week ago.
Cook says he has a compulsion to play and that writing just kind of has to happen. Usually he'll be playing on his guitar, then adding lyrics.
"For every kind of chord progression or groove or something, there's a natural feeling that's embedded in it. So I typically try to write based on what that feels like, and try to mimic it with a story so they marry, so they gel."
But, he goes on, lately these songs have been showing up his sleep, just making themselves known to him in full, completed form. He admits it's strange to be marrying the guitar to a melody that's just already there.
He says he's grown more into that process of writing. "Every artist evolves and gels into clumsy bits and pieces of what they were, and they kind of come together and you kind of trim the fat, in a way." He's also worked hard at being a better vocalist and is writing around his expanded range now, letting that matured warmth and depth help dictate melody and key.
Cook loves that fans tell him they're never sure what they'll get from him. It could be one mood or another, but it's often unexpected. They like his catchy melodies but then really like his songs when they listen to the lyrics.
And his fans will be a big part of this KickStarter campaign. His social media will be a big part of getting the word out about his fundraising. There's been substantial growth in his number of Facebook and Twitter followers over the last two years, but it's hard to gauge how much of the growth is from people who may contribute.
"I'm gonna see exactly what my social network is made of," he says, cautious and optimistic.
And if it doesn't fund fully, it doesn't fund.
The entire goal of $11,000 has to be reached by Monday, October 15, 2012, or Wes doesn't get any of the pledges.
"Give me your lunch money," he jokes. "Please, give me your lunch money."
"I know that people who are contributing to KickStarter are helping me for me. It's not so you can get the MP3 before everybody. It's because you care about me and what I'm doing. And hopefully it's because you believe in the music more than anything."
Maybe more importantly than his fans believing in him is the fact that Wesley Cook believes in himself.
"I've never been so firing-on-all-cylinders, in a confident way," he says.
Even in the face of everything that's happened in his life over the last year and the last six months, he says it hasn't changed him. "I'm still very, very much me. If anything, all it does is reassure me that I've been right the whole time. It just makes me stronger and gives me more perspective. And I'm glad about that. I'm irrevocably myself, and that's a good thing."
There's no bravado, no braggadocio. Wes Cook does not live in defiance of his life; his confidence is very much rooted in reality. He says that attitude determines everything, and he tries to learn the lessons from life. He says he leans into it, accepting that there is good on the other end, because he knows he'll come out better.
"I'm always happy," he smiles broadly, "but I'm not complacent. There's stuff that I want to do. I'm very, very goal- and mission-oriented. Wesley Cook is incomplete without really hard work. I need to work my ass off at something; I have to."