John Wesley Harding may take his name from a Bob Dylan album and be a modern-day folksinger, but with the biting, cynical observations in his songs and a sharp sense of humor combined with winning melodies, he shows that his true forefathers are Elvis Costello and Nick Lowe with a hint of Billy Bragg. Far from being a follower or strict revivalist, however, Harding draws on a wide assortment of musical influences, pushing the boundaries of the all-too-often formulaic singer/songwriter tag to create something all his own.
Wesley Harding Stace was born in Hastings, East Sussex, England in 1965. He taught himself guitar, picking out songs by John Prine, Loudon Wainwright, and Bob Dylan, and he eventually began writing on his own as a teenager. In 1988, he cut short his Ph.D. studies at Cambridge University in favor of a career in music. An opening slot for John Hiatt attracted the attention of Demon Records, who signed him and released the live It Happened One Night the same year. In 1990, he teamed up with producer Andy Paley and members of Elvis Costello's Attractions (the association would cause Costello comparisons that would continue to haunt him) to record Here Comes the Groom for Sire. He supported the album alone in the U.S., where his spirited live shows attracted a great deal of word-of-mouth attention and a strong cult following, especially in alternative and college radio. He followed with The Name Above the Title in 1991 and Why We Fight in 1992.
While Harding received consistently good reviews, expanded on his cult following through constant touring, and finally shook (for the most part) the Elvis Costello comparisons, the lack of a substantial push from Sire led to his leaving the label by the mid-'90s. The self-financed John Wesley Harding's New Deal was finished in 1996 and picked up for release by Rhino's short-lived Forward label. In 1998, he signed to Zero Hour and released Awake. In 1999 he followed with Trad Arr Jones, a collection of traditional folk songs written or arranged by Nic Jones; 2000 saw the release of The Confessions of St. Ace. Harding returned in 2004 with Adam's Apple, after which he took a step back from his career in music, publishing two novels under his given name of Wesley Stace.
After a five-year layoff, Harding returned to the recording studio to make his 12th album, 2009's Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead, a batch of songs reflecting the influence of his literary career. Harding recruited most of the Decemberists along with Peter Buck, Rosanne Cash, Laura Veirs, the Long Winters' John Roderick, and producer Scott McCaughey, for 2011s The Sound of His Own Voice, recorded at the Type Foundry in Portland, Oregon. In 2013, Harding announced the impending release of a new solo album, and that he would return to using his birth name. The resulting eponymous long-player, attributed to Wesley Stace, arrived that September. ~ Chris Woodstra & Mark Deming, Rovi