On so many fronts, Wesley Bright & the Hi-Lites are unlike any burgeoning musical act you've heard in recent years.
That's evident in every facet, from lead vocalist Brent Wesley's powerful voice to the accompanying trombone, saxophone and trumpet. If you search for the eight-man soul band on YouTube, you'll only come across a couple mobile-phone videos posted by concert attendees. The guys have a Facebook page, but they haven't attacked the Web like most newcomers. Fans wanting digital downloads of the Cleveland and Akron natives might want to think twice — their upcoming album, "Get It Right," will be a vinyl-only release availbe in June. The band is a '60s throwback, and that's completely by design.
Wesley and the outfit of musicians, ages 19 to about 40, are gearing up for their sixth show Saturday at the 's at the Champion Event Center. By the end of summer, Wesley Bright & the Hi-Lites will have performed at Cleveland's Beachland Ballroom and opened for legends like Booker T. and Sly and the Family Stone at Akron-area shows.
Wesley discussed how the group accomplished these feats in just one year of existence in a lengthy phone interview.
North Canton Patch: You have a large group and a wide age range. How did you guys come together?
Brent Wesley: Nick (Fritsch, drummer) and I, we've been in a band together in the past before this and have been playing music together for the past few years. Before I met Nick in 2007, Bob (Basone, bass) and Nick played together for a really long time. Over the years, they formed a really tight friendship. While I was in the band with Nick, he always talked about wanting to do a soul band, but we never had the arsenal to do it, the personnel. More recently, about a year ago, I wasn't playing music with anyone and Nick also wasn't playing, but he got with Bob and pitched the idea. The music community is tightly knit in Akron; everybody knows everybody. The jazz program is where I'm pretty sure where we recruited everybody else, from the University of Akron.
One thing led to another. We were at a rehearsal and realized that was it. This whole thing, this was mostly Nick. He got this together.
North Canton Patch: If you had to sum it up, how did you get to a point within a year where you've already booked your sixth show?
Wesley: No. 1 is the musicians are talented. In any band you can find talented musicians, but what really contributed to our success is that we play soul music. We don't play neo-soul. We don't play jazz-soul. We just play soul music. We're not reinventing the wheel at all. We just play things that people like to dance to and people can feel. When we play a song, we shoot for people to maybe remember a song they heard in the past or how they felt when they first heard soul music.
North Canton Patch: What really made you decide on that throwback sound?
Wesley: We're going for that sound because we love that music. We all love that music, and it's something that folks know already. My background isn't in music at all, but the soul sound is all I know. I grew up all around it. Some of my family is up here (in Northeast Ohio), but half are from down South: Atlanta, Macon and Alabama. It's in my family, it's really all I know. And Nick and Bob, they play it so well.
North Canton Patch: Who were some of the artists that helped mold what we hear from you today?
Wesley: Musically, the first artist that I really dug and learned all the music to was Stevie Wonder. In past projects, that was really evident. As far as what we do right now, the Famous Flames, who backed James Brown. They were really big in influencing me. Wilson Pickett was real big with his impact. James Brown, Otis Redding, Jackie Wilson. There's a lot of people you could pull from. Eddie Parker.
North Canton Patch: What's the process been like as new artists getting shows? Are you finding that you have to prove yourself a lot?
Wesley: We practice really hard, and it's the little details we're focused on. When it's showtime, we pour it all out. People really dig what we're doing. No one's really doing soul music out here, but I feel that we also do it in a real polished way. It sounds how it's supposed to sound and not fabricated. People like that. If it weren't for folks coming to the gigs, we'd just be playing in front of a few people. We're thankful for them. It seems like after every gig, something just happens. After every gig another opportunity opens itself up. People are calling us and stuff. It's very strange. I've been told by Nick, our drummer, not to get used to this. Enjoy this while it lasts.
North Canton Patch: What's an example of that?
Wesley: It was unexpected when we played at The Spot in Akron. There was a promoter or somebody who was there. I guess they spoke with Nick before the show, but they left after a couple songs. We thought they didn't like it, but Nick got a little message later that night asking us to open for Booker T. (in August). I'd understand if it was someone local, someone not well-known. To be asked to open for Booker T., that really caught me by surprise and is still not real at this point.
It's luck, man. Everyone's going to get luck and catch a break, but it's what you do with the things you catch. How you treat it, and how smart you are with those things.
North Canton Patch: What do you think of all of the success coming out of Northeast Ohio, between The Black Keys in Akron and Kid Cudi and Machine Gun Kelly in Cleveland? Do you see yourselves blowing up like that?
Wesley: Yeah, I checked out MGK. It's a lot of good local talent. I only recently got into the Keys a few months ago. I always heard the hype behind them, but I said, 'Wow! These guys are serious.' They're really, really good … This is something I need to let you know: There is an album we're doing. It's going to be available on vinyl, and that may be the only way you can get it, on record. The head sound engineer for The Black Keys (Jason Tarulli), he recorded the album for us. He enjoyed what he heard. Besides being one of the nicest people I've met, he said, 'I like what you guys are doing. We need more of this in our area.'
North Canton Patch: I guess we can say you're definitely not doing it for the money if you're only releasing this on vinyl.
Wesley: (Laughs). It's not about the money. It's not time to think about that. We just focus on making it sound so good.
Members of Wesley Bright & the Hi-Lites: Nick Fritsch, drums; Bob Basone, bass; Brent Wesley, vocals; Albert Santilli III, keys; Jimmy Parsons, guitar; Max Brady, trombone; Nathan Paul-Davis, saxophone; and Matt Garrett, trumpet.
Editor's note: Tickets are still available for the North Canton Gone Mad event. Check out the North Canton Chamber's event site for more information. Tickets are $30 in advance and $35 at the door.