There’s a distinct kind of timelessness to the music that the Columbia/Charleston punk group The Wells makes. Missing a bass as well as a few other nuts and screws, the band uses energy and sheer willpower to shambolically barrel through its riff-heavy collection of tunes, powering through garage-blues jams and would-be hard rock numbers with the dizzying intensity and atonal noise of Black Flag and the Misfits.
“There’s a lot of duct tape,” offers lead singer Justin Snowden. “When everything on stage is falling apart, I don’t think a lot of people know how to react to that.”
The group got its start in Chapin with drummer Caleb Brower and guitarist [and City Paper writer] Heath Ellison “just jamming” for years, dating back to their high school days, with little real ambition to start a band.
“Before we knew it, we had a bunch of songs written and we didn’t even realize we were writing songs,” admits Ellison. “But neither of us could really sing, or at least play and sing at the same time, so we asked Justin if he wanted to join.”
The group’s songs feel in-line with this evolution of the group, with their new six-song EP It’s The Wells! showcasing everything from the primal stomp of the instrumental, White Stripes-indebted “T-Rex Loose in a Business District” to the careening disorientation of the surf-rock tune “Great Society.” The lo-fi aesthetic and punk-rock squalls of guitar and drums unite what is otherwise a fairly disparate range of tunes, including an Eagles of Death Metal cover to close things out.
Which makes sense given where each member comes from: Snowden cites Jim Morrison and Danzig as inspirations, while Brower favors the epic blues-rock heights of Led Zeppelin. As for Ellison, he says he wanted the band to be “Black Flag meets Howlin’ Wolf.”
With Snowden in the mix, The Wells became more active participants in the Chapin and Columbia music scene in 2015, fostering a penchant for Ramones-inspired energy and goofy live show antics that matched their rebellious punk aesthetic.
The group found a mixed reception in their hometown of Chapin (“It sounds a little too moody to call us outcasts,” says Ellison ruefully. “I mean, some people liked us”), but played steadily over a year before taking a break as Ellison departed for Charleston in 2016.
Whatever creative spark the group had continues to flicker though, as they’ve reunited to put their songs on record and play live again, something each member is clearly excited about.
“We wanted to make the whole thing very rough and very raw,” explains Ellison. “It’s pretty much because our live shows are very energetic and we wanted to bring that to the record.”
The EP has the natural limitations of a home recording, with Snowden’s charismatic baritone buried a bit in the din and the drums occasionally collapsing into a cartoon-style dust cloud as they overwhelm the recording capabilities. The guitar shines best, cutting through the mix with crackling vibrancy even as it too occasionally overpowers.
The end result, though, can’t help but be true to the spirit and energy that is the band’s calling card in the first place, leaving only the full extent of their stage antics behind.
“We believe in doing it Ramones-style, just shooting through the set,” says Brower. “It’s a six-song EP, only 20 minutes. It’s pretty quick, and we just kind of cut from song to song.”
There’s something comforting about this kind of guileless proto-punk still feeling this fresh and alive, comfortably escaping easy pigeonholing or niches.
“It’s all of our separate elements brought together,” concludes Snowden. “It’s The Wells.”
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